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Light modifiers for studio strobes go a long way to making for better photographs. While soft boxes are a popular choice amongst studio photographers, there are plenty of other choices out there. One popular alternative for photographers on a budget is the Photek Softlighter II. The Softlighter II comes in several different sizes.
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Using the Softlighter IIRating
This review covers the largest, the 60-inch SL 6000. Even with its large size, the Softlighter II is eminently portable. It sets up easily, and with practice, quickly. It also produces beautiful, soft light. Unlike a soft box, which fires the strobe through the box's diffuse material, the Softlighter II points the strobe away from the subject.
Light from the strobe fires into a big, umbrella-like reflector where it spreads out and bounces back through the Softlighter's diffuse white covering. It's also possible to remove the black cover and turn the Softlighter II around use it as a shoot through umbrella making it work more closely like a soft box but still with round catchlights instead of square ones. Since the main umbrella shaft can be unscrewed with the Softlighter II set up, the unit can be moved very close to the subject. This produces an incredibly soft light.
The Softlighter II comes with several parts which must be assembled before the light can be used. The first part is the main component, which resembles a big photo reflective umbrella. The shaft is threaded through the strobe's umbrella mount, then removed after the diffusion cover is put in place. This is done by fitting the eye holes over the tips of the umbrella. The center of the diffusion material has a sleeve opening to permit access to the strobe's controls. While attaching the diffusion material can seem a bit tricky, with a little practice it actually goes on pretty quickly.
The entire Softlighter II can be assembled or taken apart in just a couple of minutes. Once in place, the Softlighter II produces nice, round catchlights in the subject's eyes. Once disassembled, its components fit into its sleeve (main component) and pocket (diffusion material). So long as it's handled with care, the Softlighter II is durable enough to hold up to heavy use.
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Price to ValueRating
At $79.95, the Photek Softlighter II is an excellent value. It produces terrific light, works with a wide variety of studio lights and is relatively easy to set up and dismantle. It's also much less expensive than a comparably sized soft box. This is a solid choice for someone outfitting a photo studio whether they're on a tight budget or not.