Anyone who likes to bring a light or two on-location knows the frustration of wanting soft, controllable light that won't weigh you down or break the bank. The Westcott Apollo Orb is, without a doubt, one of my favorite lighting modifiers. As you'll see below, the Apollo Orb has just about every feature you could ask for in its unique, somewhat-brolly-box-style design, all at a modest price point.
The Westcott's Apollo line comes in several different sizes including the Apollo Orb, a 43" octagonal brolly-style softbox (as reviewed below), the Mega Apollo, a 50" square softbox, the Apollo, a 28" square softbox, and the Apollo Strip, a 16" by 30" strip box. All of these are designed for use with a single speedlight or small monolight to be as quick and mobile as possible. I personally chose the Apollo Orb because it gave a good balance between modifier size, price, and ease of use.
Setup of the Apollo Orb couldn't be easier. When broken down it's quite a bit like a normal studio umbrella, it's quick and easy to open. A lightstand or monopod (if you're using a V.A.L.S.) slips right in through a zippered space in the bottom. After you've put in the speedlight, the diffusion material can quickly be Velcroed into position and you're ready to roll.
While it's certainly not the smallest modifier out there, the Apollo Orb's 43" design is big enough to give beautiful, wrap-around light in a studio setting while also being small, light, and portable for shooting on location.
When I bought my first Westcott parabolic umbrella a few years ago, I was very pleasantly surprised by the build quality and attention to detail. The Orb is absolutely no different, even after handling it for a couple minutes you'll notice the painstaking precision in the manufacturing, and the robust feel of a product that you'd assume was twice or three times the price of the Orb. As seen below, Westcott uses fiberglass supports rather than traditional metal ones which can bend out of place easily.
While I love a silver umbrella as much as the next person, I think it'd be pretty rad if they made the Orb in flat white like some of their other products. If they did, I'd probably end up using the Orb without the diffusion material from time to time when I wanted a different look without breaking out a different modifier.
In addition to the included diffusion material (I wish I could buy a second layer), Westcott offers a 40-degree egg crate that I still have yet to play with. While it's a little on the pricey side (given the price of the Orb itself), it's another way to get several different looks out of the same piece of kit.
Of course, I can talk about a product until I'm blue in the face, but it won't do you any good until you see the results it can produce. Below are a few images I've shot with the Westcott Orb as my only modifier over the last couple months.
Again, the unique design of the Orb gives it the benefits of both an umbrella and a softbox. As seen above, the light is soft but also very easily controlled to not allow spill on my neutral gray backdrop. The closer you place the modifier to the subject, the more dramatic the falloff, and because this is a speedlight modifier, you can shoot with it really close to your subject at low power which will allow you to shoot at fairly wide apertures.
When backed away from the subject, the Orb gives flawless, even light. The setup above was shot with the Orb slightly offset to the right and daylight fill with a white reflector below.
Back the Orb even farther away and you get lovely even light. The image above was shot with the Orb offset to the left. While I have used the Orb to light a full-body, it's always been in a situation where I'm filling an otherwise naturally-lit scene. I'll be sure to update this article if I do something with a full-body studio shoot with the Orb.
What I Liked:
- Design. The Apollo Orb's unique design takes what I love about umbrellas (soft-as-heck, easy-to-use light, easy setup) and softboxes (directional, controllable light) and combines them in a single modifier. Apollos are the only modifiers I bring with me any more.
- Build. Even after a couple months of abuse (being stepped on, blown over by the wind, etc.) the Orb is holding up like a champ.
- Ease-of-use. It takes 60 seconds to have a lightstand setup, the Orb put on it, a speedlight set inside it, and the diffusion material added. Try doing that with a normal soft box. Its 43" design makes it big enough to give some lovely wrap-around light while also making it manageable for hauling around all day (even if you have a friend-sistant doing it).
- The results. It's hard to argue with the light this system produces, especially at its sub-$150 price point.
- Price. Again, at $129 for the Orb, you really can't argue.
What Could Be Improved:
- Accessories. I may be the only one, but I don't like the idea of paying an additional 50 percent on the cost of the modifier for an egg crate. I'd also love, love, to be able to buy another layer of diffusion material.
- Product diversity. Most of Westcott's other products come in a variety of flavors including diffusion white for shoot-through, silver-lined, and white-lined. I'd love to see Westcott roll out a white-lined Orb or even a gold-lined one for the adventurous types.
- Bigger. I'd love to see a 60 inch plus Apollo Orb that's designed for either two speedlights or a monolight.
Hands down, the Apollo Orb is currently my favorite modifier and is the reason my Softlighter II has been left at home a lot recently. I'm still finding new ways to use the Orb and couldn't be happier with my purchase.
You can pick up your own Apollo Orb from B&H for $129.90 on its own or a kit for $149.90 which includes the Orb, a light stand, and shoe mount.