Fstoppers Reviews the Most Versatile Light Shaper, the Broncolor Para 88HR

Fstoppers Reviews the Most Versatile Light Shaper, the Broncolor Para 88HR

Broncolor is recognized in the photography industry as one of the most high-end flash brands available on the market. They are best known for their very reliable power pack systems and their extensive range of light shapers. Amongst the latter, there is one in particular that makes any photographer's eyes light up, and it’s the Para. It’s such a gorgeous piece of gear that some people even use it to decorate TV shows. But don’t think for a second it means it can’t perform just because it’s beautifully designed. It’s quite the opposite as you’ll discover through this Broncolor Para 88 kit review.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to play around with a Para 88 for a couple of weeks. I implemented it in my workflow very easily and quickly. It’s so versatile I could use it on any of my shoots, from beauty to portraits, or even some still life sessions.

Build Quality

The Para 88 kit comes with a nice rolling case in which you can fit everything: the para itself, the focusing rod, and the tilt head. The para fabric feels very solid, and one of the reasons why it feels so rugged is because it's also heat resistant in its HR version, but the original one feels very solid as well. In practice, that means you can use it with your Broncolor HMI lights as well.

All of the pieces included in this kit are beautifully designed, and there is nothing to criticize regarding their build quality. Assembling the para takes less than a minute, and it doesn’t require you to be strong or own a Ph.D.

Features

This is where the para takes all its sense and how we can explain its high price tag. The parabolic light shapers are incredibly versatile. You can use it as either a huge foldable reflector by mounting the flash on the back (without the focusing rod) or an indirect reflector. With the second option, you can zoom in and out your flash head to change the light characteristics. In its fully zoomed position, the beam of light is focused, and it will result in a contrasty, almost similar to a fresnel light.

Using the Para 88 slightly zoomed in to replace a beauty dish

When the strobe is fully zoomed out, the flash light will spread across the 24 facets of the Para and create a unique light, one you can only explain by giving this beast a try. It creates a unique 3D look that makes your portraits come alive. In a more understandable way, Broncolor describes it as being a soft arrangement of 24 small hard lights that produce a fabulously beautiful cloud of light, which envelopes and gently illuminates everything while emphasizing the structure of objects.

Portrait shot with the Para 88 fully zoomed, placed at about 5-6 feet from the model's to the camera's right

In plain and simple words, this light shaper could be comparable to a fresnel spot on steroids. You don’t have to worry about breaking the glass of a fresnel, it only weighs around 12 pounds and is super portable, it’s even more versatile, and it’s around the same price as some fresnels such as the Elinchrom one.

An important fact regarding the para is that you can fit any flash on it. It doesn’t have to be Broncolor’s. I’ve put my trusty Elinchrom ELB400 with the universal adapter, and if you have a Profoto strobe, it’s even easier to mount with the dedicated ring. The only thing your flash must have to truly take full advantage of the para design is a non-recessed flash tube. Something such as a Profoto D1, B1, or B2 won’t work exceptionally well for example. So if you are looking at the para in lust but don’t have Broncolor strobes, it’s not an excuse not to buy one. It could actually be your way in the system. Just be sure to check out with your Broncolor dealer that your strobes aren’t too heavy for the focusing system. It wouldn’t be exactly delighting to break it on the first day of use.

Elinchrom Quadra Pro Head mounted on the Para Universal Adapter

Price

Broncolor Para 88 is priced at $3,273.20 or $3,578.90 for the HR version, both with the focusing rod, tilt head, and rolling case. On this base, you can add the universal adapter for $383.10, a Profoto adapter for $408.60, as well as different diffusers or a grid ranging from $270 up to $850. This may sound expensive at first, but as I said above, the para is an incredibly versatile light shaper, and it could just as well replace different ones you already own. When I used it in my studio, it replaced my deep octas, beauty dishes, and deep umbrellas in most scenarios. Not only did it replace these light shapers, but it also added something unique to some of my pictures, something I couldn’t get with my other light shapers.

What I Liked

  • Versatility
  • Build quality
  • Portability
  • Can be used with hot lights in its HR version
  • Grids and diffusion cloth available making it even more versatile

What Could Be Improved

  • Price, but again, this is incredibly versatile and a unique light shaper, so it’s hard to criticize its pricing
  • I wish at least one diffusion cloth would be included in the kit

Conclusion

I’m not one to be tender when reviewing products and I like to express my feelings, but here all I can share is love. Before giving this light shaper a try, I thought like many it was just an overpriced piece of equipment. Truth be told, it’s far from being too expensive for what it offers. If you are looking for that tiny thing that will make your lighting standout next to other photographers, this might be it. It’s a fantastic light shaper, and you should at least try once in your life if you cannot justify buying it. The 88 size was perfect for my use as it could replace my beauty dish, but if you like to shoot full body, be sure to check out the 133 or 177 as these might be even better choices.

Have you already tried the para from Broncolor? Did you like it? Is it something you’d like to add to your kit? I’d love to hear all about your experience with this incredible light shaper in the comments below.

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18 Comments

Johnny Rico's picture

Does your Para have a little wiggle/play in the Bron mount? Mine has ever since I've bought it but, it is my only Bron modifier and am unsure if it is just the way the Bron mount is.

David T's picture

My local rental studio has the 133 Para with Broncolor Siros.
Never even touched the beauty dish there :)

https://fstoppers.com/photo/194675

I wonder if I could put a color gel in there though.
The rod is on-axis with the strobe, not like with the universal adapter from this article.

Alex Cooke's picture

I think of the Para as when I want the d&b look without having to d&b. Love that thing.

jurian kriebel's picture

Exactly my thoughts. I had the change to shoot with a 133 for a month while I was still at school. There is just nothing that comes close to it in my opinion. When you put it close it just gives this lovely soft light that is still specular. I fell in love everytime I used it.

This is a great example of that, shot for my graduation project:

Felix Wu's picture

For those of you who wish to purchase this expensive light modifier, Broncolor usually has Christmas discount offering 25% off on most of their modifiers including para. And jump straight to para133 if you wish to cover a larger area and still be close enough to subject. Para88 is portable and probably good for outdoor use but then 133 is not much longer. They all come in the same rolling case. Mine came with the older large case (handle poorly made).

From what I heard the rolling case is quite awkward to use as its too tall and easy to fall sideways.

For the price of a para you could probably buy a beauty dish, umbrella, octa and still have money to spend of other modifiers. Once you have the para you may need to buy diffuser and grids that come in a hefty price! Unless you diy something. A multi-light set up with many different modifiers works better than a single para source only set up for me. You can achieve a 3D look by using a octa or umbrella as long as you know how to use it.

For onlocation editorial where you need to move fast and have dedicated assistant, I really like having the para because it takes almost no setup time moving from location to location. You just unfold it and chuck it into the car and hen fold it backup again, yes like a typical umbrella. Para is just really well made and sturdy that a typical umbrella couldn’t compare. But if you need to travel by plane and are limited by weight and size of your luggage then an octa or smaller umbrella might be the way to go.

Would I buy more para? Maybe the 222 if money is not an issue, but I would definitely invest in other areas of the business first. Or perhaps a 7ft Profoto Giant umbrella would be sufficient if I needed broad light. Paras are surely nice and its price can be justified if you are using it over a long period of many years.

Just some random thoughts.

Alex Cooke's picture

The larger Paras are pretty hard to offload too since they're so niche, so if that's what you want, you can get them surprisingly cheap on the used market. I got my 220 for less than the cost of a new 88.

Felix Wu's picture

Much cheaper are the giant umbrella still..and I cant say para are always better. The 220 is the older off axis model which could only benefit when using with the ring light but I have never used one. There are tons other large parabolic reflectors on the market now, although different they might be worth considering as well, for far cheaper.

Stephen Kampff's picture

If anybody's looking for constants, I love the look of a Joker bug (400 or 800) on a para. You can get an adaptor right here: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1098270-REG/broncolor_b_33_489_08...

Ett Venter's picture

As an owner of the Para 177 and Para 220, I can 100% confirm that it doesn't work well with the Profoto B1 and D1 heads.

Anyone want to buy my Paras? lol. No kidding, I'm literally willing to let them go for $3k each, and these are like $6-7k each.

Have you tried it with the glass dome attached? Just curious, since that's usually what it takes to make profoto play nice in some situations. I don't own the dome myself, that's just what I hear.

Jay Jay's picture

I read a review elsewhere that using the glass dome with the B1 on a para like this doesn't improve the output very much, compared to a non-recessed strobe.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

The thing is the dome doesn't change the fact that the tube is recessed. Sure it will help spread the beam of light a tiny bit compared to the original flat glass the B1 and D1 have, but it won't make the tube stand out of the unit and spread the light the same way a non-recessed tube does.

Jay Jay's picture

I read the frosted domes have minimal effect as well. Unsure why Profoto decided to recess their bulbs since most other strobes are non-recessed, and the strobe itself takes a hit on light quality. It's a shame, because if it did, as well as have the ability to plug a main into it for power, would make the B1 a perfect strobe.

Definitely interested in the 88, however after seeing Karl Taylor's review of the 88 against the 133, the 133 beats it in terms of light quality by a substantial margin (Obviously, the larger size is the main factor). So now unfortunately, i am thinking of spending even more money. Here's the review if you want to check it out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NrNpQlabnE

Great review on the Bron, it's not often you find reviews on their paras anywhere. :)

Jay Jay's picture

Ett, what problem did you have with your B1's on the Bron?

Claudio Lacerda's picture

It is an impressive light, but the real inventor of this type modifier is the already known Mr. Briese.

Briese, the company that bears his name, has cases in the USA and Europe against Broncolor which copied all the pieces developed by the German company.

Small parts that have been researched and developed for years have been copied without the slightest credit or bonus.

If we are going to talk about this type of modifier it is necessary to speak about who has developed and developed it.

cheers

Jay Jay's picture

The article isn't about the history or para's, it's a review of a Bron para. Briese can be mentioned, sure, but again, this isn't a review of a Briese, it's a review of a Bron para.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

Absolutely true, Briese has designed similar light shapers. Then, I don't know what was copied, or designed in-house, I'm not working for Bron and I'm not a lawyer either ;) All I know as a user is that Bron Paras are wonderful just as much as Briese. However, Briese is quite a bit more expensive… but it would be a dream to own some of their light shapers!

Bryan Gateb's picture

I love my Paras. Have the 88 and 133; looking at a 177 next, as a 222 is too big for most space -- in a dedicated studio/warehouse, sure...