[Studio Lighting] Could This Be The Best Light For The Photo Studio?

As photographers, we are always in search of that new unique lighting modifier to add to our bag of tricks. I recently saw this video on Strobist where Amber Gray claims her Broncolor Para FB could actually reduce the amount of post production on her models. That statement seemed a bit bold when I first heard it; usually I credit a great makeup artist for awesome skin texture rather than a specific light. I've never used a ring flash inside a parabolic reflector before but it just might make sense if you could essentially create a HUGE soft ring light that wrapped around your subject and created that flat ringflash look without the harshness often associated with a ring flash.

At more than $5,500, I still might prefer shipping my images to a retoucher but it does have me thinking a bit. Has anyone else used a nice focusable Parabolic Reflector in place of a large octobox for beauty and fashion work?

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25 Comments

I use an 86" PLM quite often. It makes sense because the bad skin and pores showing you see a lot of time is from light falling across the skin and not filling in the pores, leaving shadows and dark spots. When you have a large light source like a PLM, especially shooting straight on, it's going to fill in those shadows of the pores for a nice smooth skin texture. I use mine all the time, I never use an octobox.

Sean Shimmel's picture

1. I know the debate is old, but: how similarly could you craft the results with the $79 Paul Buff version?

2. Would anyone even notice anyway? They'd more likely look at the inherent beauty (facial structure, etc) and performance (pout, pose, etc) of the model and then the attention span would quickly drop from there.

Andrew Houser's picture

Was just thinking about how I can mount my ABR800 inside my 84" PLM. Have a shoot this afternoon. Frankenhack coming up, I think.

 Please tell me how that goes! I have the same gear . . . .

I'm not 100% sure but I think the umbrella adaptor that comes with the ABR800 should allow the PLM to fit. Then again it depends on if you have the on-axis speedring mount or the umbrella mount PLM. If that could work, I might have to place an order with Mr. C. Buff.

Doug Wyrick's picture

I have the Paul Buff PLM in Bright Silver and routinely use it. Total poorman's Parabolic (and I use it with 2 580 exII's... like I said, poorman is poor.) The quality of light is good. Think "umbrella ++" Softer than a regular umbrella and the light is much larger and brighter than my softbox. I suppose if I had the the 86" version in soft sliver and an actual strobe, if would be nicer than the 64" setup I have. Cheap too, like under $100 cheap (and yes it ain't no bron and yes I do still need to edit...) Example close up SOOC one light setup for those who care.

Let's no lie to ourselves here... Im about to drop 3-4k on a complete Alienbee kit for my wedding photography and other needs but I'd give my left nut to have a Broncolor kit with pack and everything else that comes with it. I do believe however that higher end products like this would be mainly for those that do very high end commercial work. Patrick is right, maybe its also worth sending out the raw images to be processed by a pro retoucher too. 

FYI, the link "Broncolor Para FB", doesn't seem to work. 

Anyways, I have always heard such great things about this product but unless your making serious good money with your photography this product is limited to only a few because of the price.

I'd LOVE to see the FS Team do a DIY on this and see how good they can recreate one with good results (hint hint)!

Patrick Hall's picture

I'm not sure Fstoppers is really the DIY group...I think we'd just buy it if we needed it.  I've seen pretty rough results with the Paul C Buff version and I'm sure we can't make anything better than that LOL

Look to the right. Amazon.com, B&H... That is how FS makes money. This post is also the advertisement and the link to Broncolor Para is an affiliate link. DIY is against their business.
There is nothing wrong about it, but just so you understand reality ;)

Lee Morris's picture

We are all about helping people find out a cheaper way to do something but we aren't about to make our own Parabolic reflector!  I think Patrick is a bit skeptical that a $5k lighting modifier does what the commercial is claiming....we actually make very little relatively on affiliate programs.  

Dude, all I have to say is go to Shoot LA or Shoot NYC and experience the Broncolor lighting systems  along with Hasselblad cameras, there's more to the story than what's in the video, i.e. all kinds of light modifiers for the para, etc. I went to Shoot NYC and saw a bunch of those and was blown away by them. Here's one image of them from my trip - http://www.flickr.com/photos/jkoncepz/6295194688/in/set-72157628011643380

For the Fstoppers staff, this is the third time you have posted this video. Still good, I guess.

harry's picture

F-Stoppers needs to man up and go to a real photography/videography expo to see what gear like this can do in person.  May I suggest Photokina 2012? 
http://www.photokina.com/en/photokina/home/index.php

Been there and must say seeing stuff in videos or in print is nice but touching, using and experiencing gear that none of us can afford first hand speaks volumes.  Plus, FS could use a worthy expo show to write about.  Hell, maybe even make it some kind of trip an FStopper could win!  Weekend in Koln, DE...yes!

I have the ABR800 and the Moon unit. . . AMAZING!

I also have the 86" PLM White/Silver unit and it would be very hard to tell the difference between the Bron and the PCB . . . especially with my Einstein 640. I guess that even if not the same quality, the photos will be amazing and the difference will be HARD to see. I THANK PCB immensely for making products to challenge the high name brands that cost lots of money.

Either way, whatever you have, be thankful and the photography will be amazingly lit!!!

Garrett Graham's picture

I would be willing to bet my 86" silver PLM from Paul C Buff and my Einstein could rival the results. The new PLM's are easier to deploy and you can move the light closer and further from your Einstein with relative ease...so it has a focus feature too. Consider it a $500.00 investment for an Einstein, a $80.00 PLM, a $70  Yongnuo YN-560, a $60.00 light stand and a $240 Vagabond ($950). Not only more affordable...it is more portable. I own 3 of the 86" PLM's, one Einstein and 2 YN-560's which I find less frustrating than my old 580EX II. The image I included is not meant as a compatible beauty shot, but how I can stop motion in complete darkness with serious movement. I shot it with the 2 YN-560's and two of the PLM's.

Garrett Graham's picture

Here is a shot I did a month or so ago in the garage at night with the Einstein and the silver PLM. I did very little processing on the shot, mostly brightness, contrast, shadows and eyes. Settings: ISO 160, 1/250, f/5.6, 24mm on the Canon 24-70mm.

Sean Shimmel's picture

PS... While we're all comparing and contrasting, I bet even an AB 400 would do quite nicely.

Garrett Graham's picture

I don't disagree that was why I was pointing out the YN-560's I think a couple of these or three would be  more than enough power to compare. You could nearly duplicate the results for much less money. I think the work should speak for itself and I see nothing in that video that I could justify the cost under any circumstances.

Sean Shimmel's picture

We think alike Garrett. I was simply building on your point.

And if Joe McNally were in the mix, he'd probably build on the point even further be shooting with a handful of Nikon Speedlights.

Michael Kormos's picture

For what this reflector costs, it better do some magic!  :-)  Though most commercial, fashion or editorial work goes through a retoucher anyway, and is considered part of the workflow.

harry's picture

 No crap in turn means less time for the retoucher to have to RETOUCH.  Less time spent retouching one photo means more photos being retouched in a day, week, month and so on.  Time is money in any business and if you can cut down time spent fixing things on one image imagine how much more work you can bring into your work flow.  Just thinking broader spectrum as any smart business minded person should do.

I have 2 PLM's and have rented a Broncolor 220 at Calumet in Hollywood. After renting the Broncolor I too can say I'm sold. The Broncolor has a lot cleaner light output compared to the PLM's. The PLM's light is inconsistent like waters projecting beams of light onto a wall. For some that is not a big deal but for someone who would rather shoot with a nice even clean light with minimal post processing after only the Briese and Broncolor can achieve this that I know of.  It also looks cool as a background prop and clients really love the way it looks too and since every hobbyist does not have one it is also a great tool to close bigger paying deals.

I'm so excited to have my Paul buff ring light delivered. This should be a really nice tool for me to get some amazing wedding and senior pictures

After seeing this video I had to try it. I removed the hot shoe mount and 1/4 20 threaded rod from a Westcott umbrella adaptor. Screwed on an Elinchrom ring flash eco and mounted a 7' parabolic umbrella to it. You can even 'focus' the light by sliding the umbrella closer or further from the mount. Here is what it looks like with the umbrella slid as far towards the ring flash as possible. It works alright but I don't see much if any of a difference between using the ring flash with this umbrella vs. a 600rx. Maybe it would be more noticeable with a silver umbrella.
While not dirt cheap, it comes in at less than half the cost of a ring flash P alone.