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Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella u...
  
 
sungphoto
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


Some background on me - nowadays most of my business is commercial/advertising work, requiring a lot of flexibility on location. I will have to go between natural light indoor, outdoor, strobe only, strobe + ambient, small spaces, large spaces, complex backgrounds, and generally a lot of challenging ugly ambient lighting.

I always keep a couple 40" umbrellas in my lighting kit, along with a couple 7 ft parabolic umbrellas, a few different size octas, and a medium rectangular softbox.

The new Westcott Deep Umbrellas have my attention lately though, and I'm wondering if I should pick up a couple of the 53" white ones and perhaps leave my bigger parabolic umbrellas at home.

That said, though I've used the big 7 ft para umbrellas a lot for big spreads of light on location, I haven't used the mid/large ones much for location lighting.

So on to my questions. First, I assume the main reason why you'd keep a deep "para" umbrella in your bag is to have a large light source that has more directionality than a standard umbrella - ie less spill and perhaps slightly quicker fall off depending on how it's used.

Second question is how you all have used these type of deep umbrellas (Profoto, PCB, etc having their equivalents as well of course), in which cases you'd rather use a typical umbrella, and whether you'd just leave the regular umbrellas behind if you had a deep one in your bag. My guess on the last question is that the deep umbrella would replace your regular umbrellas - as you can change the quality of light depending on how you focus it.



Sep 17, 2017 at 12:58 AM
neoshazam
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


I like using the Paul C Buff PLMs with the diffuser a lot and they have become my main lighting outdoors.
The only time I'd use a regular umbrella over the PLMs is if I'm worried about damage or loss to them ( violent winds, potential rain, potential theft , etc. ) or want to move extremely quickly. and don't have the extra minute to assemble the diffuser.



Sep 17, 2017 at 12:12 PM
sungphoto
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


So it sounds like you prefer the light of the deep umbrellas more - can you explain why you prefer it? Is it for the reasons I mentioned - ie that it has a similar softness as it's a large light source, but is more directional, and has less spill being a more focused modifier?


Sep 18, 2017 at 12:24 AM
jlafferty
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


Parabolics have better mid tone contrast. That's what people are looking for when they use them. They also have a different shadow edge transition, but that's secondary - it's really about that mid tone pop.

The common wisdom regarding distance of a modifier being some multiple of the diameter of their face is I think a myth. If you put any modifier at a reasonable distance from your subject, say between 6 and 8ft - you can put any other modifier at this distance and see the difference they each impart, using the distance a the normalizing factor. I see standard beauty dishes, no more than 22" across, used at 8ft, to great effect. I've also seen P50 Magnum reflectors (just a 50 degree long throw silver dish) at distances of up to 30ft away, used to mimic sun.



Sep 18, 2017 at 03:26 AM
sungphoto
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


Can you elaborate on what you mean by "mid-tone contrast and pop"?


Sep 18, 2017 at 05:51 AM
jlafferty
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


Yes, I'll put together an article comparing them soon. It's a good topic.


Sep 19, 2017 at 02:04 AM
neoshazam
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


sungphoto wrote:
So it sounds like you prefer the light of the deep umbrellas more - can you explain why you prefer it? Is it for the reasons I mentioned - ie that it has a similar softness as it's a large light source, but is more directional, and has less spill being a more focused modifier?


Seems like the light is more focused and for some reason the soft or extreme silver getting diffused has a more "natural" feel to it than I can ever remember having with just a normal umbrella.



Sep 19, 2017 at 03:35 PM
Mark_L
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


Parabolic is basically a buzzword now, very few modifiers are actually parabolic, you have to look at them a case by case basis. People also get hung up on deep = focused light.

For paul buff, anything other than the discontinued extreme silver is too diffused to actually work as one. The extreme silver one worked but had stepping in the shadows.

I use a copy of the Bron paras. It gives this very distinct 'hard and soft together' look, look at the shows transitions:





[Not my pictures, from https://fstoppers.com/originals/20000-broncolor-lighting-really-worth-it-55070]



Sep 19, 2017 at 05:03 PM
sungphoto
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


I should probably add that I plan to have diffusion over the umbrella, so that additional specular pop that the silver interior "para" umbrellas and softboxes have won't really apply (I agree that the para thing is a bit of a buzz word now, and applied a bit too much which is why I started the original post with the para in quotes haha).

I'm not really looking for that mix of hard and soft light that a para is known for, as though I quite like that quality of light, it's not something I use much for my commercial work. I can get a similar quality of light to those photos with my Westcott Rapid XL and XXL, with just the inner diffusion panel and reflector plate installed. One of my favorite "fashion" style large lights is my XXL in that setup as a key.

Primarily just wondering why someone would use a deep umbrella (profoto deep, PLM, and Westcott's new Apollo Deep umbrellas) versus a standard umbrella, or perhaps something like a similar size softlighter.

The more I visualize how a proper deep "para" style umbrella would work (diffused), the main advantages over a standard umbrella would be:

1) More directional, and as a result less spill and more focused
2) Completely round catch light versus an octagon shaped one that a standard umbrella would make
3) If properly focused and non-diffused, would have that interesting property of paras in essentially being a large soft light, while also simultaneously being many semi-hard lights combined (which again isn't necessarily something I use much)

All of these things make it sound like kind of a middle ground between a softbox and an umbrella - less spill than an umbrella, but perhaps not as focused and directional as a softbox (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), while having the advantage on location as it doesn't require a speedring etc (so same advantage there as a standard umbrella). Also would be slightly less deep than a softbox so might be better in a tight environment.

Am I on the right track here?



Sep 19, 2017 at 06:42 PM
MayaTlab
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


Lots of things to cover here. Let's start with the general bits :

a) Regarding the term "parabolic" : it has a precise definition that entails a precise result, and as Mark_L wrote, most modifiers sold as "parabolic" simply aren't shaped at all like a paraboloid and aren't even trying. Parabolic doesn't mean that the modifier is deep, it means that it conforms to a specific mathematical definition of the arc shape - wikipedia's article on the matter is explicit enough in that regard.

As a result, NONE of the deep umbrellas on sale today are parabolic modifiers, because their arc shape is nowhere near the definition of a parabola. In fact, a shallower Paul Buff PLM is closer to that definition.

A perfectly parabolic reflector with a perfect mirror finish has a focal point, and if a light source is at this focal point, it will reflect the light rays from the light source in a perfectly parallel beam, like this :


Courtesy of Parabolix.

An example of a modifier that tried to get as close as possible to that definition is the Broncolor Satellite, and it's very shallow :



As a result, a shallower Paul Buff PLM can send light at a rather tight beam angle. Below, a Chinese copy of the extreme silver PLM vs a 20° grid :



b) White materials will scatter the light in all directions, regardless of the angle of the light ray that hits them. A perfect mirror will bounce the light at the opposite angle at which the light ray hit it, a bit like a ping pong ball (without spin ). Silver materials are, in a way, imperfect mirrors. They vary in terms of reflectiveness. Some of them are quite reflective and won't scatter the light much, others are designed to scatter it a bit more. To sum it up in a over-simplified way :



The result of this is that :
- there isn’t such a thing as a white parabolic modifier. Since the main property of a parabolic modifier is its ability to re-direct light rays in a specific direction, a material that scatters light rays in all directions negates the interest of the paraboloid shape. Some would argue that Paul Buff’s soft silver PLMs aren’t parabolic reflectors either as the material scatters light too much, but I have a less finite opinion.
- Moving the light source inside a white reflector will not change much the beam angle of that modifier : it’s always going to scatter light in all directions. Differences will be marginal.
- On the contrary, silver reflectors are more or less heavily relying on where the light source is positioned relative to them. Moving the light source relative to the umbrella, either laterally or closer/further out, can very significantly change the beam angle, or the effective size of the modifier (from the subject’s point of view). The more scattering the silver material is, the less sensitive it is to light source position.

Paul Buff used to sell the exact same umbrella shape (the PLM) in white, and two silver materials, with different scattering properties, soft silver, and extreme silver, to benefit from the different characteristics of each material.

Broncolor’s smaller 88 and 133 paras use a slightly more scattering material than their bigger ones, because it improves the quality of the illumination from the subject’s point of view (see “d”) and most people don’t really like the look of a really hard parabolic modifier anyway.

c) "Spill" can have various origins, but one of the most common causes with umbrellas is bare flash tube spill, i.e. when the flash tube isn't covered on the sides by a spill kill / umbrella reflector. In the following photo :



- the blue arrow corresponds to the area that's illuminated by the light reflected by the umbrella,
- the red arrow to the area that's illuminated by the strobe's bare flash tube if it hasn't been properly killed by a spill kill reflector or by other means. Very often people say that umbrellas, even silver ones, have massive spill, while they don't bother to effectively kill the spill from the bare flash tube,
- and the green arrow to the area that's illuminated by the light reflected from the subject (if your subject is a white wall, it will matter).

That's been taken with a Profoto B2 without a spill kill modifier, and with the Cactus umbrella slightly forward from the head (hence why you see a streak of light coming from the bare tube). If I had used a flash with an external flash tube and without a spill kill modifier, bare tube illumination would be massive and cover a much wider angle.

Bare flash tube spill can be useful, for example if you want to benefit from the flash tube’s exposition to use a bounce reflector in addition to the umbrella. But it’s a good thing to eliminate it properly, at least when comparing spill from different modifiers .

d) effective modifying size and appearance from the subject’s POV (i.e., what it will look like on your subject in terms of specularity, shadows, etc.) can be different from the physical size or appearance the modifier.

With silver reflectors, since they bounce and re-direct light, only the areas of the umbrella that effectively re-direct light towards your subject will directly contribute to the light quality falling on your subject. From the latter’s point of view, these areas will be illuminated. The areas of the umbrella that re-direct light somewhere else, or don’t receive light in the first place, will look dark from its point of view. With deep umbrellas, what you get usually is this (compared here a Profoto deep with a shallower PLM-like silver umbrella) :



The result is that for most intents and purposes, deep silver umbrellas are much smaller effective modifiers then shallower pseudo-parabolic umbrellas like PLMs.

You can also notice that both umbrellas are illuminated in a bicycle wheel pattern. That’s because of two things :
- the silver material used in both of these umbrellas is quite reflective, and
- because they are 16 sided fabric modifiers, they are imperfectly shaped, and only the middle area of the fabric between the ribs is effectively in the right orientation to be able to re-direct light rays towards the subject.
The result is that catchlights might exhibit this bicycle wheel pattern, and you may see multiple, stepped shadows appear.

Paul Buff’s soft silver umbrellas use a silver material that’s just scattering enough that this bicycle wheel pattern doesn’t appear. It will look like this (extreme on the left, soft on the right) :



But since the material scatters light a little bit more, it isn’t quite as directional as its extreme silver cousin (soft on the left, extreme on the right) :



That being said, you can still see in the above shot that the soft silver can have a hot spot that more or less corresponds to the area lit by the more extreme version, with the head in the same position. So some of its pseudo parabolic DNA is still there.

All of these comparisons were made with the light modifier on axis with the camera’s lens (i.e., the subject), but you may very well want to feather the light (albeit with highly directional silver umbrellas, there isn’t much feathering room to be honest). when you feather the light, you will see the effective modifying area of the umbrella change, move to the side, etc…

Since white reflectors scatter light in all directions, their fabric doesn’t have to be in a precise orientation to re-direct light towards your subject. As a result they don’t suffer from this bicycle wheel pattern look. But how your strobe is positioned, how its flash tube is designed and which reflector is used can still matter in terms of illumination evenness.

e) Regarding diffusion : I’m sorry, but adding diffusion over a parabolic, pseudo parabolic, or deep silver reflector will instantly negate its directional aspect and turn it into a sort of softbox . Here is, on the left, an extreme-like silver umbrella, without diffusion, and on the right the same umbrella, but with Paul Buff’s front diffuser :



Some diffusion materials might be weak enough that they will scatter the light only a tiny little bit, but I don't think that they're sold as front covers for umbrellas.

And now your questions more specifically :

The following presumes that bare flash tube spill has been effectively eliminated.

A deep white umbrella won’t send light at a significantly narrower beam angle than a shallow one. It might be a tiny, tiny bit narrower, if you’re illuminating only the centre of the umbrella (by shoving the light deep inside - with the same reflector you used to kill bare flash tube spill when the light was further out -, or using a narrower reflector for example), since the un-illuminated sides are “flagging” the light a little bit. As a consequence though, you’ve just slightly reduced the effective size of your modifier from the subject’s point of view, since only the centre of the umbrella is illuminated. Shadows will be a tiny bit harder. Overall we’re taking minute differences here. Personally I wouldn’t buy a deep white umbrella if I wanted a narrower beam angle.

An example of a deep white umbrella with a Profoto B2 head :



A deep silver umbrella won’t send light at a narrower beam angle than a pseudo-parabolic one, such as Paul Buff’s PLM.

That being said, a lot of variables come into play here : if you manage to hit only the centre of the deep silver umbrella with your light source, it becomes, in a way, a smaller shallow pseudo parabolic silver umbrella, since the central portion of deep silver umbrellas can be seen as being reasonably parabolic. But you have to manage to light the entire central portion and only the central portion from a specific point within the umbrella, since, as written before, silver materials bounce light rays at the opposite angle. You can’t just randomly shove the light inside, or use any reflector, like you would with a white umbrella. The problem with this approach is that you’re basically carrying useless extra fabric and bits. A 160cm deep silver umbrella, in that scenario, will look, from the subject’s point of view, basically like a 110cm shallow pseudo parabolic umbrella, and shadows won’t be softer.

Putting diffusion over a silver reflector, including parabolic ones, turns them into softboxes.

Putting diffusion over a white umbrella... is a waste of power IMO .

As far as I’m concerned :

- I prefer to use deep white umbrellas over shallower white ones, but that’s mostly because I use Profoto heads with an internal flash tube design, that sends light in a quite directional way. Using a deep white umbrella allows me to light the inside of the umbrella more evenly when positioning the head at the umbrella’s rim than a shallower one, which would require the head to be much further back to be evenly illuminated, and, as a result, require the use of a spill kill reflector. That’s because the shape of a deep white umbrella means that the distance between the head at the rim and either the sides or the centre of the umbrella is more constant. With a shallower umbrella, the head is much closer to the centre of the umbrella than to its sides, which is why you get a hotspot inside the umbrella.

- I have yet to find a good reason for deep silver umbrellas to exist, at least in their current form. So I don’t use them. Instead I mostly use PCB’s soft silver umbrellas, and if I need an even tighter light beam, I also have more directional shallow silver umbrellas. If you carry two 54” PCB PLM, one extreme silver and the other one soft silver, you can do basically everything a 160cm deep silver umbrella does and more, without the drawbacks, and without a significant difference in weight. A soft silver PLM produces a light that isn’t far from a typical gridded softbox (there are differences, but they’re small), but it’s way more efficient, so for battery-operated situations it’s very useful to me. I rarely use the more directional silver pseudo-parabolic umbrellas, as I don’t like the stepped shadows and the bicycle wheel pattern, but that’s a personal preference here.


Edited on Sep 20, 2017 at 12:28 PM · View previous versions



Sep 19, 2017 at 07:55 PM
 

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Mark_L
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


I knew I remember reading an epic post on these from someone before. Thanks @MayaTlab.


Sep 19, 2017 at 10:04 PM
sungphoto
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


This is an amazing response. Thank you so much for taking the time to put this together.

This totally answers my question. It also helps me understand something that I have not liked about the "para" umbrellas I own in terms of their bicycle spoke light pattern, even diffused.

Unfortunately, PCB no longer offers the 51" PLM umbrellas in silver. They only sell them in the 64" size. The 51" PLM available on their site now are white shoot throughs, but can be modified with the black backing to become white bounce umbrellas.

From how you'd described the quality of light they produce though, the 51" silvers seem to be ideal for what I need them as on-location lights. The 64" ones are a bit too large for me, as I'd like to have them serve double duty in my home studio and I don't have super high ceilings



Sep 20, 2017 at 01:06 AM
MayaTlab
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


I assume that you're talking about the soft silver. Indeed they stopped selling the smaller one (and all their extreme silver PLMs).

As far as I know, there isn't another brand selling an umbrella similar to the soft silver. And from what I've seen in terms of alternatives to the extreme PLM, I'm not sure that I'd like them anyway (the extreme copy above, a Cactus, uses a material that shifts WB too much IMO, for example).

Sometimes, one of them pops up on Ebay. Just be warned that there are a multitude of different versions, some with a regular 8mm umbrella shaft, some designed to attach to a cage with a PCB or Elinchrom mount, etc.
Be warned too that I'm regularly looking for them too .

If you have enough room and if it is a practical solution, you can use one of their bigger ones, and a reflector that will constrain light to the central part of the larger soft silver PLM.

I also suggest you to send them an email about re-starting production of the smaller soft silver. If there is enough demand, they'll do it.
They did so for the 86" soft silver, for example.



Sep 20, 2017 at 09:32 AM
MayaTlab
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


Mark_L wrote:
I knew I remember reading an epic post on these from someone before. Thanks @MayaTlab.


Haha, it probably was me. If it isn't obvious already, I am pissed by the deep silver umbrella craze. Profoto, what hast thou done ?



Sep 20, 2017 at 10:17 AM
sungphoto
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


Yeah I mean the soft silver, and I sent them an email

Your comparisons showing spill caused by improper usage of a bare bulb without a reflector is awesome though. I have to admit that I have been a little lazy in bringing my 7" reflectors with me, so your post is a good reminder that I need to make sure that I have a couple in my lighting bag.

The 64" is tempting but my goal for these is to have a versatile on-location modifier, and a lot of the spaces I shoot on location have ceilings around 8 feet tall, so the 51" one is just about perfect as they're about 43" opened, so would be good if I wanted to use it as a high key or fill, or if I wanted to stack a couple to create a quick wall of light especially in tight spaces where I'm having to put the modifier right up against a wall.

The 46" photek softlighter is seeming more like the best solution in the interim what I'm going to use it for, as I'd used it occasionally as a fill before it died on a windy outdoor family shoot - doesn't take much for an umbrella to get wrecked in a fall.



Sep 20, 2017 at 07:19 PM
sungphoto
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


Just got a response back from PCB. No dice - wah wah:

"Thanks for contacting us! As of now, we do not have any plans of offering the silver PLM in the 51” size. However, if that were to change, we would definitely post it (as well as any other new announcements) on our social media and websites."



Sep 20, 2017 at 07:44 PM
MayaTlab
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


Bare flash tube spill also causes a loss of power since not all of the light coming from the flash tube goes into the umbrella, so on location with battery powered strobes it's a double win .

PCB's answer is to be expected. They won't put it back into production just for you and me, but at least that's two extra people interested in its return they're now aware of.



Sep 20, 2017 at 08:03 PM
Mark_L
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


MayaTlab wrote:
Profoto, what hast thou done ?


Don't worry, I'm sure a $1,000 speedlight will make you feel better.




Sep 21, 2017 at 11:30 AM
sungphoto
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


@mayatlab do you know of anyone that makes a decent knockoff of the 51 PLM? I know you referenced the cactus one but I believe that is no longer in production (if I recall correctly they were sued).


Sep 23, 2017 at 07:38 PM
MayaTlab
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · Deep "parabolic" umbrella vs regular umbrella use cases?


Cotswoldphoto sold on Ebay.co.uk a copy that I found OK-ish of the extreme silver PLM (I had one but broke it, which triggered the search for alternatives). I don't know if they still sell it. I've also tried the Phottix para-pro and the Cactus, which are basically exactly the same umbrellas, and both shift the WB too much towards green IMO. All three of them used a similar silver material in terms of reflectivity.
That being said I don't recommend the extreme silver or its knock-offs if you found the bicycle wheel pattern or the stepped, multiple shadows problematic.
I only recommend the PLM copies in small sizes. I tried the 150cm Cactus, and because they just don't understand what they're doing, the canopy wasn't properly tensioned between the ribs, which amplified the bicycle wheel pattern.

There is no copy that I know of of the soft silver PLM. I have yet to see a silver umbrella with the same sort of material. It's truly unique.



Sep 23, 2017 at 09:30 PM
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