I bought the Westcott Apollo 50″ Softbox a couple of years ago and as modifiers go this is definitely one of my favourites. It’s a big light that’s quick to deploy, folds up small and gets amazing results. I’ve used it in the studio and out on location. I’ve taken it on the bus, the train and the tube. I’ve made some amazing images with it.
This modifier is a serious piece of kit that gets serious results. All the images on this page were made using this modifier.
The Westcott Apollo 50″ Softbox Review
As with all the other Westcott Apollo softboxes, this one is a square umbrella with a diffusion screen over the front. Don’t be mislead though, it’s not a brolly. It just folds like one making it very quick to set up.
Lightstand access is via a cross-shaped opening on the bottom that can be closed with 4 zips. If it has a weakness in it’s design though it is with this opening. It isn’t really large enough to allow much of a tilt angle so needs to be used within a few degrees of vertical. Westcott does make an adaptor that you can buy to overcome this but I haven’t tried it myself.
Given it’s size you’re also going to need a sturdy lightstand. I’ve tried it on a Manfrotto Nano inside but I wouldn’t recommend it – it’s just too big for such a lightweight stand. Most of the time I use the stand that came with my Elinchrom lights. A bit heavier to carry around, granted, but much less chance of anything getting damaged. If I’m outside I’ll very often use my kit bag to add ballast but if there is even a light breeze I tend to err on the side of caution and go for a smaller softbox.
Diffusion is provided by a single screen that is sewn along the top edge and has velcro along the remaining three sides. It can be easily pulled away to gain access to the flash but cannot be completely removed from teh softbox. I find that when I don’t want to use the diffuser, simply draping it over the top of the softbox is sufficient although this won’t work outside in windy conditions although with a softbox this big, that will be the least of your problems 😉
With the diffusion screen in place there is a 6″ deep recess to control light spill and improve the directionality. I feather the light quite often with my work and I find the recessed softboxes give me a much better fall off zone than the unrecessed ones do.
Use in the field
Despite it’s size, when folded the Westcott Apollo 50″ Softbox packs into my lightstand bag with enough room to spare for two stands and it’s smaller 28″ cousin. Granted it does stick out the top but it fits nevertheless and makes for a very portable, lightweight solution. I effectively have a three light studio with me: two softboxes and the sun.
I’ve taken this kit, with my backpack on buses, trains and the tube without any issues (although you do need to be mindful of headroom on the London Underground). It’s ideal to take out on location or on-site to a client’s premises. It’s very quick to set up, use and pack up. With practice it’s possible to do a complete shoot within 30 minutes: turn up, set up, shoot, pack up and leave. Job done.
Outside, wind is an issue. It’s a big light after all and quickly turns into a 50″ sail with the slightest breeze. If there is a bit of breeze around, I’d strongly suggest ballast or an assistant to hold it steady.
Putting the softbox up is as quick as unfolding an umbrella. The sequence I follow is…
- Set up lightstand
- Fit the umbrella adaptor
- Unfold the softbox
- Mount softbox on lightstand
- Fix the speedlite and radio trigger to the umbrella and set flash the power
- Check the radio triggers are working
- Fix the diffusion screen in place
… and you’re good to go. You just need to adjust the height and angle of the light and the set the flash power. Because of the diffusion screen you’re far better off if you can do this remotely or you’ll be fiddling around with the velcro quite a bit. I normally just tack the corner down until I’m happy with everything and then secure everything in place.
Packing up is simply the reverse.
This is a big light and you need a big space to use it in. You’ll also need a set of radio triggers too: the speedlite faces into the softbox and when the diffusion screen is in place the liklihood of an IR signal being “seen” is very remote (sorry for the pun).
Many so called “experts” have told me that you can’t put a speedlite into such a big softbox. It’s always amusing to hear their arguments and even rants sometimes about what will and won’t work. On what experience they are basing this I have no idea. All I can say is that they clearly haven’t tried it. It does work, and works very well for that matter. You’re not going to be able to overpower the sun with this kit, certainly not with a speedlight at least but you are going to get some great results. It’s all a question of perspective, practice and confidence in your abilities. Then going out and nailing the shot.
Would I recommend this to anyone else?
Absolutely. It’s light, portable and goes up in a flash (sorry, couldn’t resist the puns). The Westcott Apollo 50″ softbox is my “go-to” light both in the studio and on-location. I wouldn’t be without it.
In summary: the Westcott Apollo 50″ Softbox is definitely worth the investment. It’s a big light that delivers big results, time and time again.