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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Build quality
- 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
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.