The SMDV Alpha Speedbox: Lighting on the Go

Posted in General with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2016 by kendoophotography
SMDV Alpha Speedbox with adapters for Profoto, Bowens, Elinchrom, and Balcar.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with speedring adapters for Profoto, Bowens, Elinchrom, and Balcar.

Introduction

Technology and development is fast paced in the world of digital photography. Every year (or every other year) manufacturers introduce dozens of new innovative tools and equipment at large photography shows such as Photokina in Germany or Photoplus in New York. Innovation may be large or small, but if a new product can actually make my job as a professional photographer easier, that is what makes it a worthwhile investment to me.  The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is one of those innovative worthwhile investments that has found a place in my studio, and especially when working on location.  When surrounded by announcements of the latest fast lenses and 100 megapixel medium format digital backs, it may be difficult to get excited about a studio lighting modifier. But I think the SMDV Alpha Speedbox does a pretty good job here. SMDV was established by JS Kim in 2003 and is a relatively small company headquartered in Busan, South Korea. The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is not an inexpensive lighting modifier and should not be confused with cheap photography products cranked out by some Asian companies. On the contrary, the quality of materials used here is top-notch. Pricing starts at about $300 depending on mount selected and the size of the modifier. Warranty service and support is provided by SMDV USA. The US Distributor is www.legioaerium.com

36" Alpha Speedbox and 44" Alpha Speedbox shown with optional grid for more light control

36″ Alpha Speedbox and 44″ Alpha Speedbox shown with optional grid for more light control

Background

The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is a parabolic softbox designed for studio lights. It is available in 32”, 36”, 40″, and 44” sizes. In a sea of “parabolic” lighting modifiers, what makes the SMDV Alpha Speedbox standout is the quality of its feature-set in a packable lighting kit for working on location. Oh, yes—and it’s easy to use and speedy to set-up, hence its namesake.

Following my review of the KPS T5 geared ballhead, the US Distributor for the SMDV Alpha Speedbox asked if I would be interested in trying their relatively new softbox. Eh, not really I replied, but then again I had just acquired a Profoto B2 on location lighting kit from Capture Integration in Atlanta, along with a Profoto B1 and Profoto Acute2 B600 pack also for working on location. I was not impressed with Profoto’s diminutive 2’ OCF Octobox, so maybe trying some new on location lighting modifiers wasn’t such a bad idea after all. And SMDV had just added a Profoto speedring adapter for the Alpha Speedbox. Speedring adapters are also available for Bowens, Elinchrom, Broncolor, Hensel, and Balcar.

At the end of September 2015, I received two Alpha Speedboxes, Profoto speedring adapters, and accessories. No compensation was received from SMDV. I was asked to simply use the Speedboxes and provide input and a review. Unlike many reviews where a product is “used” for a scant few hours, I used the 36” and 44” Alpha Speedboxes extensively over a period of three months in a variety of situations both in studio and on location, primarily in portraiture as well as at two destination weddings.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox softcase shown inside my hardcase, along with lightstand and Profoto umbrella---ready to go.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox soft case (similar to a tripod soft case) shown inside my hard case, along with light stand and Profoto umbrella—ready to go.

Optional grid comes in its own soft case.

Optional grid comes in its own soft case.

SMDV Grid in case WEB

The Meat and Potatoes

The Alpha Speedbox is a parabolic softbox with an internal baffle and a removable outer diffuser. Once set-up, both the internal baffle and outer diffuser may be left attached to the Speedbox. Using the Profoto adapter ring adds several inches to the length of the modifier when folded.  The 36″ Speedbox (with Profoto adapter) is about 28-inches in length when folded; the 44″ speedbox slightly longer of course. The diameter of the Alpha Speedbox when folded is just under 8-inches. The entire kit is easily packed into its included “to-go” zippered soft case, which is similar to a tripod case with handles and shoulder strap. The grid comes with its own protective soft case. An available cloth honeycomb grid is easily attached for further light control. I was very surprised when I first handled the grid. It is a slightly heavier material and its quality is surprisingly better than grids I have seen from Profoto. The grid attaches easily to the outside of the Alpha Speedbox with velcro tabs.  The optional grid is expensive, starting at approximately $150-$190, but the quality is also apparent. The grid is a special order item that is hand-made in Korea. I am told that an optional deflector plate will also soon be available providing lighting similar to a beauty dish.

The Alpha Speedbox, “Alpha” referring to its aluminum construction and metal speedring, is a twelve-sided dodecagon shaped softbox, as opposed to a more popular six or eight-sided octobox. The dodecagon shape is more circular and lends itself to better catch-lights. The ribs are metal and workmanship and quality of materials is excellent. The reflective material is held taut by the unique engineering of the modifier. The modifier is quickly deployed in about thirty seconds—not minutes—simply by pulling each steel rib upwards until it clicks into place. I have found that by skipping every other one and then rotating the modifier until each rib is locked into place is the fastest method to deploy this modifier. There is no fumbling with color-coded ribs into speed ring slots or struggling to set-up a large softbox. Ease and speed of set-up is particularly important for photographers who often work alone or without the luxury of assistants. Few other lighting modifiers offer both the speed and ease of set-up as the SMDV Alpha Speedbox, and certainly not with the same level of light control and available accessories.  All this—in an easy to pack along, lighting kit.  Putting the modifier away is even faster: simply squeeze the six tab locks together and the modifier instantly collapses down ready to put into its case.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with Profoto Speedring Adapter

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with Profoto Speedring Adapter. The band attachments are now even stronger with a new reinforced rubber.

So, how is the SMDV Alpha Speedbox as a portrait lighting modifier on location?  Put it this way, if given the choice, the SMDV Alpha Speedbox 90 (36″) is my first choice. I had a hard time deciding whether to purchase the SMDV Alpha 36″ or 44″ Speedbox or both. In the end I opted for the SMDV Alpha Speedbox 90 (36″). It is a nice size yet still easily maneuverable on location.  For a destination wedding in Sedona, Arizona, I chose to use the SMDV Alpha Speedbox 90 (36″) paired with Profoto’s more portable B2 lighting kit.  Special thanks to Don Libby of IronCreekPhotography in Tucson, AZ for providing the short video clip.

https://youtu.be/V5eqIuWHgp0

Engagement Session in Sedona, AZ. Phase XF with IQ180, Phase SK 75-150mm LS; SMDV Alpha Speedbox with Profoto B2

Engagement Session in Sedona, AZ. Phase XF with IQ180, Phase SK 75-150mm LS; SMDV Alpha Speedbox with Profoto B2

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with grid, Profoto B2

Profoto B2 and SMDV Alpha Speedbox with optional grid.

As a portrait photographer, I often work alone. Being able to set up quickly is a value that I place a great premium. For individuals, couples, or even small groupings, the SMDV Alpha Speedboxes are an excellent choice. I like the flexibility that the Alpha Speedboxes offer with removable diffusion panels, grids, and soon a deflector plate. Its parabolic shape makes it easy to feather the light when needed, and its flexible design makes it easy to change the quality of light from a diffused source to a more distinct light.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with grid

SMDV Alpha Speedbox with grid

Packing “light and tight” is a necessity to fly across the country for a destination wedding. Setting up quickly for portraits after the wedding ceremony and racing the setting sun can be a challenge.  The SMDV Alpha Speedbox with Profoto B2 lights excels easily at both. The design of the Alpha Speedbox and its flexibility as a modifier make it an easy choice to take on location.

Parents Portrait with the SMDV Alpha Speedbox 90 (36") at a destination wedding. Canon 5Ds and Profoto B2

Parents Portrait with the SMDV Alpha Speedbox 90 (36″) at a destination wedding. Canon 5Ds and Profoto B2

What It’s Not

The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is not a knock-off. The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is not cheaply made.  And the SMDV Alpha Speedbox is not at all like Adorama’s Glow Parapop modifier. During the course of my review, another photographer pointed out to me the Adorama Glow Parapop as having similar features. I was intrigued, so I bought Adorama’s Glow Parapop 38-inch modifier, a bundled Glow Parapop kit with a Balcar mount for Paul Buff’s Alien Bees or Einstein monolights, to compare.  Apparently some parts were licensed by SMDV to Rimelite who in turn sold them to Adorama for their Glow series. The Adorama marketing description made the two modifiers seem strikingly very similar. But once in hand, it is abundantly clear that there is no comparison. It is not even close.  The reflective materials and the diffusion panel materials are markedly different. The quality of materials and design of the SMDV Alpha Speedbox are clearly superior.

Not comparable in shape, quality of materials, or light output.

Not comparable in shape, quality of materials, or light output.

The SMDV Alpha Speedbox was designed with studio lights in mind. The speedring and adapters are made of aluminum to handle heat generated by modeling lamps. The ribs on the SMDV Alpha Speedbox are made of steel. The ribs on the Parapop are fiberglass. The Parapop is advertised by Adorama and recommended by them for use with studio lights, but to do so I think is irresponsible. The provided Balcar adapter is held in place by some really tiny screws, into the plastic Parapop base.  Really tiny screws. Plastic base. Really inappropriate. It is a disaster waiting to happen—and it did.

Tiny screws shown with the Balcar adapter. Trouble waiting to happen...

Tiny screws shown with the Balcar adapter. Trouble waiting to happen…

Within minutes of attaching the Glow Parapop to the Einstein monolight, the Parapop came crashing down on the studio floor. The heat from the Einstein modeling lamp had expanded the plastic screw mounts, and the tiny screws holding the Balcar mount adapter in place slipped out! Both the plastic mount and Balcar adapter remained very hot for quite some time.  Luckily no damage was caused to the Einstein monolight tube.  The Glow Parapop is not designed for studio light use (as was marketed). Obviously I was not able to do further studio testing of the Parapop. But frankly, in light of the glaring differences in materials used, there is no legitimate comparison to the SMDV Alpha Speedboxes to begin with. I found the two release tabs on the Parapop plastic base were very difficult to squeeze and close the fiberglass tines on the modifier.  In contrast, the SMDV Alpha Speedbox uses metal rods which easily collapse down when released. The six pairs of tab locks on the Alpha Speedbox provide added strength and tautness to the modifier. Oh, and by the way, the Glow Parapop “38-inch modifier” is not 38-inches—it really is only 36-inches.  SMDV does make a different line of modifiers for speedlite use, but even those are made with steel ribs and the same high quality diffusion material that is used on the Alpha Speedboxes. Note the differences in diffusion panels and light quality in the image shown above between the SMDV Alpha Speedbox and the Parapop.

Inner baffle differences in both size and quality of materials used. The SMDV diffusion panel is markedly better.

Inner baffle differences in both size and quality of materials used. The SMDV diffusion panel is markedly better.

Note the differences in reflective materials and tautness of the modifier

Note the differences in reflective materials and tautness of the modifier

Conclusion

The SMDV Alpha Speedbox is an excellent lighting modifier. It is easy to use, truly quick to set up, and fast to break down. SMDV has put together a nice on location lighting kit in a single bag.  I am able to pack the SMDV Alpha Speedbox in its softcase, SMDV grid, a light stand, and a Profoto shallow medium umbrella (for those bigger group portraits) in my own hard case for additional protection when traveling. The hard case that I use is a US Art Supply 10-inch drafting tube that telescopes from 36 to 59-inches.  One of the things that I like about small companies like SMDV is that they are responsive and focused on providing high quality photographic gear for professionals.  The owner of SMDV, JS Kim, was also a professional photographer and seems to have a good understanding of photographer’s concerns.  The quality of materials and workmanship on the SMDV Alpha Speedbox is excellent and makes the investment in this lighting modifier worthwhile. I look forward to trying the optional deflector plate that will be available shortly.  I am also told that SMDV is working on Alpha Speedbox Stripboxes too.

SMDV Alpha Speedbox

SMDV Alpha Speedbox: Professional lighting modifier to go

After using the SMDV Alpha Speedbox on dozens of individual portraits, engagement sessions, and travelling with it for two destination weddings, I’m glad to have the SMDV Alpha Speedbox as part of my lighting arsenal.  For professional photographers that work frequently on location, the SMDV Alpha Speedbox is a great lighting modifier to-go kit.  You can obtain more information or order the SMDV Alpha Speedbox online from the US distributor of SMDV products,  www.legioaerium.com

Ken Doo, www.kendoophotography.com

Ken Doo has been a professional portrait photographer for fifteen years, with a boutique studio in Carmel, California. He and co-conspirator Don Libby lead the Capture Integration in Carmel medium format digital “not a workshop-workshop” sometimes affectionately referred to simply as, “Pigs.”  Ken is also a fine art printer for artists and photographers, and recently launched his fine art printing website, www.carmelfineartprinting.com  He enjoys long walks along the beach, holding hands, meaningful conversation, and sarcastic humor.

 

New Year New Approaches

Posted in Events, General, Landscapes, Nature & Wildlife, Portraiture, Weddings and Bridal with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2016 by kendoophotography
Me and my boys with  Grandma in studio.

Me and my boys with Grandma in studio. Phase XF, IQ180, Schneider 40-80mm LS.

The New Year holiday is often a time of introspection and promises of resolutions for the near future. When in reality it is something that everyone should be doing throughout the year. I am constantly gauging for myself what works and what may be improved. 2015 was a very busy and good year, but also one filled with the stresses of how to handle and protect a loved one afflicted with dementia. It hasn’t been easy. But we’ve also been very fortunate to have the resources and discipline to do what is both best and necessary. We have moved my mom from the Bay area to Monterey, making it much easier to spend time with her. It was definitely the right decision and just in time for the new year. There won’t be broken commitments to the latest fad diet or unused gym memberships–that’s never been a problem for our family! 2016 will be a reaffirmation of family and the things that are important to me in life. Professionally, I have decided to remain focused on fine portraiture, commercial photography, and fine art printing for artists and photographers. I will no longer do corporate event work. I will limit the studio to one wedding per year (yup, only one).  And yes, that means taking more time to travel for landscape photography.  2016 is going to be a great year.  kmd.

Light Ignition Provides Alternative Profoto Reflectors

Posted in General with tags , , , on October 29, 2015 by kendoophotography
Light Ignition Magnum clone and the original Profoto Magnum Reflector

Light Ignition Magnum clone and the original Profoto Magnum Reflector

Profoto lighting equipment has always garnered the respect of professional photographers worldwide for the quality of their studio lighting equipment and their modifiers. That high respect also commands high prices for their equipment. The Profoto Magnum Reflector retails at B&H Photo for $327. The Magnum reflector is actually known to increase light output by approximately one full f/stop. When using comparatively lower powered, albeit lighter and more portable, lights such as the new Profoto B2, the use of the Magnum Reflector is a great accessory making it easier to overpower the sun. The extra stop of power means the diminutive B2 becomes equal in output to its bigger, heavier, and more powerful brother, the B1.  Of course, the Magnum Reflector is a perfect complement to the B1 as well!  Light Ignition, distributed through Ebay by a Chinese company, sells a reflector for Profoto studio lights that by no mistake is a clone of the venerable original Profoto Magnum, yet at a much lower cost of approximately $215 shipped.  I had to try it myself.  As you can see in the above photo, the modifiers are nearly identical. Fit and finish is very similar, with the edge being given to Profoto. The original Magnum feels just a tad heavier, though both seem to be well made from metal. The original Magnum has a better lip as can be seen in the photo.

Inside view of both reflectors.

Inside view of both reflectors.

Reflector mount view

Reflector mount view

The rubber mount of the Profoto Magnum is softer and more pliable. The Light Ignition rubber is noticeably firmer though it may soften with use. As you can see in the photo, the Light Ignition mount is not as concentric as the Profoto Magnum. The stiffness of the Light Ignition mount made it slightly more difficult to install on my Profoto B1 light.  The insides of the reflectors are nearly identical.  I tested each reflector using a Profoto B1 with the frosted glass dome and with the standard flat frosted glass plate. Although designed to be used with the optional glass dome, an increase in power by approximately a full stop was still noted with the standard frosted plate glass cover over the B1 tube.  Quality of light may be better with the optional glass dome in place. Unfortunately the glass dome is available only for the B1 and not the B2. Regardless, I have noted an increase in output of one full stop using the Magnum reflector with the Profoto B2. In this comparison, each reflector was set at approximately position 6 on the B1. From a distance of approximately twelve feet, I measured f/22 at 1/125th, ISO100. The Profoto Magnum measured about 1/10 of a stop higher output than the Light Ignition reflector, and certainly well within the margin of error of this informal test to be a wash. Both reflectors also work well with Honeygrids. The Light Ignition Magnum clone Profoto rubber mount is probably its only shortcoming, though that may get better with use. I find that the Light Ignition reflector does what it is supposed to and provides a suitable alternative to its more expensive brother.  www.kendoophotography.com

As also stated elsewhere in this blog, no compensation has been received by distributors/manufacturers of equipment that I may review. Sometimes I like it, buy it, and share my experiences with fellow professional photographers.  ken

 

Beach Blast Gymnastics Tournament Photos!

Posted in Events with tags , , , , on October 25, 2015 by kendoophotography
Working the Beam. ©2015 Ken Doo Photography

Working the Beam. ©2015 Ken Doo Photography

Monterey Bay Gymnastics Academy held their annual Beach Blast Gymnastics Tournament over the October 17-18, 2015 weekend.  The tournament was attended by fourteen teams from the central and northern california area.  Photographs of the floor exercises and beam were taken by me and fellow photographer Kim Lemaire during all seven sessions of the tournament, resulting in over 4,700 images! Great memories recorded young talented gymnasts.  Images from the Beach Blast Tournament may be viewed and purchased online at www.kendoophotography.instaproofs.com  Galleries have been set up for each individual team that attended the tournament. All orders printed and fulfilled in house by Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction.  Contact the studio if you have any questions.  831-626-1844  Ken

 

Three Studio Artist Tour Hosted by Emy Ledbetter, Sandy Robinson, and Arlene Stigum

Posted in Events, General with tags , , , , , , on September 23, 2015 by kendoophotography

Studio Tour 2015

 

Don’t miss this three artist studio tour being held this weekend in Carmel, by Artists Emy Ledbetter, Sandy Robinson, and Arlene Stigum.  Studios open September 26 + 27, 2015 from 12 Noon to 5 PM.  Details on the flyer!  Both Sandy and Emy also have featured artists galleries at www.carmelfineartprinting.com ken  For more information on fine art printing on archival OBA free canvas and fine art papers, contact the studio or Carmel Fine Art Printing & Reproduction, the area’s premier fine art printer.  From Vision to Print!  Easy online ordering of your photos on canvas or fine art papers.

Studio Tour 2015, Better-1

CHS Water Polo Wins Season Opening Tournament at Wilcox

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 7, 2015 by kendoophotography
Tournament MVP Kevan Auger.  ©2015 Ken Doo Photography

Tournament MVP Kevan Auger. ©2015 Ken Doo Photography

The Carmel High School Varsity Boys Water Polo Team opened its season by winning the Wilcox Tournament last weekend. This year marked the second year in a row that CHS Water Polo has won the tournament.  Images from the Wilcox water polo tournament may be viewed and purchased at www.kendoophotography.instaproofs.com  Proceeds help to support CHS Water Polo.  Ken

Hell Week Marks the Start of the CHS 2015 Water Polo Season!

Posted in Events with tags on August 25, 2015 by kendoophotography
Push-ups and Burpees

Push-ups and Burpees

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Coaches Peter Dew, Carl Hertlein, Aaron Gaily, and Graham Evans.

A longtime tradition, CHS Water Polo begins each fall season with “Hell Week” as a jump start to getting ready for the intense polo playing season.  As the sport and league has become increasingly more competitive, more athletes are swimming and playing year round. Hell Week has consequently also become a source of camaraderie and socializing. This is my seventh season photographing water polo for Carmel High School. It’s not unusual for me to photograph over seventy games in a season, not to mention club water polo games for Legacy Water Polo.  Game images are available for viewing and sale at www.kendoophotography.instaproofs.com , with an anchored link found to the right.  Proceeds help support CHS Water Polo! Parents that enjoy sports photography that would like to assist with photographing the Frosh or JV water polo teams contact me!

Frosh Team!

Frosh Team!

Coach Carl with the Frosh Team

Coach Carl with the Frosh Team

This year’s Hell Week was buckets of fun.

Fireman's Drill Relay Race---buckets of water can't touch the water

Fireman’s Drill Relay Race—buckets of water can’t touch the water

A race to fill the larger cans to the top!

A race to fill the larger cans to the top!

Coach Gaily oversees the race

Coach Gaily oversees the race

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Final bucket for the win!

Final bucket for the win!

 

See you at the Pool!  ken

 

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