Light modifiers or in this case, speedlight softboxes, are camera accessories that can easily polarize photographers. Not so much in their application or uses, but rather some buy only what they need, while others acquire them like an obsessive collector. Both avenues of thinking are valid, but why use a speedlight softbox in the first place?
There are plenty of light modifiers on the market, but softboxes are the usual go-to accessory as they generally have a reflective inner surface along with a diffusion panel or two. This allows the most light to travel in the direction you want it, with enough diffusion to make your subject look flattering.
Diffusion panels can be removed or even added to, allowing the average softbox to be used in a variety of lighting situations. But, like any camera accessory, they do have their caveats.
One size softbox doesn’t fit all applications. A 60-inch softbox may work great for a small group but may be a poor choice for photographing insects. They also come in various shapes and sizes, from the traditional box shape to oval and octagonal shapes.
Then there is the case of build quality. If the softbox is made from flimsy, hollow aluminum tubes, they tend to break more easily than solid aluminum versions. If one breaks on you in the middle of a shoot, you’d wish you’d bought the higher quality version in the first place.
Therefore, let’s check out the speedlight softboxes which have the most general use for a variety of applications.
1. Fotodiox F60 Quick-Collapse Flash Softbox (Overall Winner)
The initial impression with the Fotodiox F60 Quick-Collapse Flash Softbox is that it feels extremely well made. This version is 24 inches in width with a hexagon shape and can be mounted to a camera stand or handheld, weighing in at three pounds.
Along with the main diffusion panel, there is an extra internal diffuser baffle to further soften the light. Plus, this softbox also comes with a grip for easy handheld lighting and maneuverability. The whole package has its own carrying case with shoulder strap, for convenient transportation.
As this softbox is quite deep, the resulting light is fairly directional, which means it’s more ideal for portrait head shots. Considering the build quality and price point, this is a reasonably sized softbox with uses in a variety of scenarios.
The Neewer 24×24 inches Bowens Mount Softbox has plenty of appealing features, not just its reasonable price point. The square design can be easily folded down into its own carrying bag and the Bowens mount design is a great way to centralize a speedlight inside the thing for even light coverage.
The mount itself isn’t the most sturdy version in the world, but with careful usage it should last a long time. The diffusion panels are quick to fit and the included grid is a nice addition to further focus the light source.
If you need a small and portable softbox that also has two layers of diffusion, then the Neewer is a good option.
The Neewer 32 Inches Octagonal Softbox with S-Type Bracket Holder is a reasonable size for most applications. It features good build quality and a very useful S-Type bracket holder. The total kit includes the Octagonal Softbox, bracket mount, front diffuser, and carry bag.
The front diffuser attaches to the softbox via Velcro attachments and is very easy to set up and breakdown. This unit can be used for bounce flash or as a regular softbox to provide soft and quite directional light. This makes the setup a possible choice for close portraits or small subject matter.
However, a light stand must be slotted through the softbox. This seems logical at first, but it also severely limits the up-and-down movement. This means that the softbox can only be used straight on or at slightly tilted angles.
If you need lighting from very high or low angles, one of the other options on this list will better suit. In all other respects, this softbox is a cost-effective solution.
There are square, octagonal, and round softboxes, but there are also scenarios that need something longer and rectangular such as the FOTOCREAT 8″x35″ Collapsible Strip Light Softbox. These units are usually used for lighting full body shots or for things that are tall and thin.
This soft box measures 35 x 8 inches, with a speedlight needing to be mounted at the bottom of the unit. The package comes with a diffusion panel and grid, plus its own carry case. The soft box will also need to be held from a light stand or with the help of a willing assistant.
Apart from this softbox feeling quite flimsy, it does a great job of diffusing light. The softbox is useful for things like backlighting, full side lighting of a person and with the grid attached, more concentrated areas of light.
While the softbox is useful for more specific applications, it goes to show how these softboxes can come in various shapes and sizes.
5. Waka Flash Diffuser Light Softbox (Budget Winner)
For those out there who want to use an on-camera flash, but want more diffusion than a bare flash provides, then the Waka Flash Diffuser Light Softbox can fill this gap. At a very affordable price, this package includes an 8-inch octagonal softbox, an 8″x6″ Rectangle Softbox, a cleaning cloth, and a carrying case.
Both softboxes fold down into a nice, compact package and easily fit most speedlights with a Velcro attachment. Extra diffusion panels can be inserted into each softbox, providing extra light diffusion. Both units are just large enough to not stray into the field of the camera lens.
Both speedlight softboxes provide far more diffusion than the usual plastic cap and with slight angling away from the subject, they can provide some lovely soft lighting. These things aren’t going to give the spread of light of much larger units, but considering the cheap price and usability, they are a great solution for an on-camera flash.
Choosing the Best Speedlight Softboxes
The list above should give you a taster of the different types of speedlight softboxes available, both big and small, and in a variety of shapes. Before you start hoarding any of these units, it’s a good idea to start off with how you are going to use them. Will they be for portraits, group shots, small or large scenes, or product photography? This will largely dictate the size and shape of the softbox you need.
There is also the case of if you want to use these on or off a camera. Off-camera softboxes used on light stands can fit the largest to the smallest versions, while on-camera softboxes can only go so large before obscuring the lens.
Owning at least one large softbox covers a lot of bases, while a small, portable version is the most convenient. These smaller speedlight softboxes have lots of uses from weddings, portraits to even macro photography.
Size, shape, intensity, and distance from the subject are all factors for how a subject is lit. Therefore, practice is key when using a softbox, as even a slight change in distance from a subject can dramatically change the quality of light.