If you have been pricing soft-boxes for your home studio, you have definitely suffered from sticker shock. How can they charge hundreds of dollars for a couple of pieces of cloth and a metal mount? An average amateur photographer is not going to spend that kind of money for a soft-box, and why should they when there are other options available. Cowboy Studio has been a really good source for me for affordable photo gear, so I decided to give their 20 x 28″ soft-boxes a try. At under $30 each, shipped to your door, they are a steal if they are even remotely usable. But we will find out as we assemble and test them out.
CowboyStudio 20 x 28in Photo Softbox for Strobe with Carry Case
Time to step up?
As you progress with your photography skills you are eventually going to come upon the time when you want to take some portraits. You can definitely do portraits with numerous variations of lighting, but the best way is using a good adjustable strobe, like the Menik Sw-400 and a soft-box. The results you get will be so much more pleasing to you and your subjects. The problem is when you start pricing some of this gear you will get sticker shock pretty fast. A decent strobe is going to run upwards of 600 to $1000 and the soft-boxes can range from $100 to $500 for some models, and you still need a stand. So whats the solution? Pretty simple really. If you check out our reviews of the Menik Sw-400 Strobe and the soft-box we are reviewing here, you can get a single strobe complete setup for under $200, with a stand. Sounds lot more appealing for someone who is not shooting for a living doesn’t it?
What you get.
When you remove the soft-box from the case you will find the black outer-shell with a reflective inner surface, the 4″ spring ring for mounting it to any strobe. four spring rods, an inner diffuser panel and an outer diffuser panel. Everything is pretty lightweight except for the spring ring which is made of cast aluminum and appears pretty beefy. The diffuser panels are nylon and very light and smooth looking. no distortions or blemishes at all. The outer shell is a vinyl of some sort with an aluminized interior coating that does a really nice job of reflecting light.
The spring ring as Cowboy Studio calls it is a universal mount that utilizes four clamp screws to mount to just about any strobe out there. Some utilize Bowens or other custom mounts , but they are then dedicated to one form of strobe or possibly a speed light. I can mount these on my Menik strobes, Alien bees or Cowboy studio brands strobes. With a little finessing you can even make these work on a speed light on a stand. So the mount gets a plus from me for that fact. But as far as quality, the mount could be made or finished a little better. It is solid, it works and does what it should, but the finishing of the item is a little rough. Not all the casting burs are filed down really nice and the paint finish is a little rough. The screws are a tiny bit sloppy in the holes. But it does work just fine as designed. Just take special care to make sure you snug the screws up good on the strobe and make sure it is solid.
To mount it to your strobe open up the 4 screws wide enough to slide it onto the lip of your strobe, then snug then down evenly so the ring is centered. I usually do this after I completely assemble them, the pictures here are for illustration only. The spring ring also allows the ability to rotate your strobe without removing it from the light itself. On the front of the mount are four Shiny screws that lock and unlock this feature. This allows you to rotate the soft-box from the horizontal to vertical position, or any one in between. A pretty nice feature for the photographer.
The first step is to get the Spring Ring into the back of the outer shell. The easiest way is to lay it on a table and slide one side into the hole in the back of the shell. The hole has an elastic edging that will stretch. It does not do so easily, but with practice it will get easier to install. Just slowly work your way around the edge until you get the elastic in the groove all the way around the spring ring. Try to orient the square back edge the same as the outer edges of the soft-box. This will assure the set screws are located on the top, bottom and sides of your strobe when you install it later.
Orient the Ring
Once installed you need to orient the inside ring so that the four holes for the rectangle soft-box are located in-line with the seams of the shell. The image to the left shows you the proper orientation. The Spring ring includes holes for square soft-boxes as well so you need to make sure your using the right holes for this rectangular one.
Once oriented your ready to start inserting the spring rods that will support the outer shell of your box. Before starting check out all four corners of the shell. You will see that there are 3 corners that have a solid sewn in pocket to accept the end of the rod. But there is one that has a Velcro flap. The one with the Velcro flap needs to be the last rod we install.The first step is to insert the small end of the rod into one of the holes you aligned with the seams of the outer shell in the previous step. Then insert the end of the rod with the plastic tip into the pocket on the outer shell by bending the rod upwards away from the shell as shown in the image to the right.
For the last rod we need to open the flap on the corner that contains the Velcro. Open it up and slide the small end of the rod through the pocket in the corner and insert it into the hole in the spring ring. Once it is all the way in you will want to start by making sure the other rods are all bent outwards like they are supposed to be, then bend the last rod outwards until the tip is all the way inside the Velcro pocket. then simply close the Velcro flap and you will have a soft-box shell completely setup.
If your wanting a reflective umbrella then you can use your soft-box in this manner without any other diffusers. The light may be a bit harsh, but it has its uses.
Inner Diffuser installation.
The next step is to install the two diffusers on the unit. The soft-box comes with two white diffusers. One internal piece that Velcro’s inside, just in front of the strobe lamp. There is also an outer diffuser that stretches around the outer shell. The inner diffuser has a Velcro tab attached to each corner using a piece of elastic banding. To install it just press the Velcro tab to the matching tab inside the soft-box located under each spring rod. These serve double duty to keep the spring rods in place and prevent them from popping out. The elastic bands do a pretty nice job of keeping the inner panel nice and taut to help remove any wrinkles. When your done you will have another way to use
your soft-box with a little bit softer light than before.
Outer Diffuser Installation
The final piece to assemble is the outer diffuser panel. You will notice that the outer panel has elastic banding on the edge. To install you simply stretch it over the corners of the outer shell. There are also Velcro strips located on all four sides of the shell and all four edges of the outer diffuser panel. Align these and press them together to tighten the cover and prevent it from catching the wind if you use them outdoors.
I put the first one of these I bought on my first Menik Sw-400 strobe and within about 10 minutes of assembling it took the unedited picture of my daughter to the right in our living room. They allow you so much more control of the dramatic affect of the lighting on your subjects. There is just no comparison to the quality of light you get from a soft-box. You don’t have to be a Pro photographer to get professional quality results. What I have found is we just need a few pieces of gear we can use, and some time to get it right.
The final assembled soft-box seems to be a nicely built unit. Especially considering the price. I purchased two of them to use on my Menik Strobes and have been nothing but satisfied with their performance. The only recommendation I have is that if your really picky, you could iron the front diffuser on a low setting to remove the wrinkles from transport and storage.
I would completely recommend you get a couple of these and use them with your strobes. For the money and the quality you can’t go wrong. I have included some links below, as well as a link to the stand and the Menik Sw-400 Strobe we reviewed earlier.
So until next time Keep shooting Str8!
Latest posts by Kevin Woodyard (see all)
- Q-strap (QuickStrap) Double Camera Sling for Digital SLR’s - April 30, 2014
- Merry Christmas From Str8shot Photo - December 20, 2013
- Cowboy Studio 2 channel Remote Trigger - July 30, 2013