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    MICHAEL MOWBRAY: PHOTOGRAPHER, TEACHIFIER, PHOTO EVANGELIST -- Since launching Beautiful Portraits by Michael in 2001, Michael Mowbray, M. Photog, has three times been named a medalist in the International PPA Photographer of the Year competition, and has garnered multiple “Best of Show”, Judge’s Choice, Elite Collection, Kodak Gallery, and Fuji Masterpiece awards for his wedding and portrait photography. You can see more of his photography at www.beautifulportraits.com. Michael is very involved in photography education. He teaches portrait photography at Madison College, and his best-selling flash photography book Shoot to Thrill is available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.

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Doubling up with the Westcott Rapid Box Duo

xrapid-box-duo.jpg.pagespeed.ic.CFGnqa8OsSIn our never-ending quest to battle the sun on location, there is one constant: one can never have too much power. But often that power comes at the cost of a lot of weight to carry around. This one reason I am a fan of the Godox/Neewer Witstro AD360 super-speedlight:  it kicks out a lot of light (360 watt seconds) in a small form factor that is both lightweight and durable. To compare, the AD360 equals the power output of 4 standard speedlights. With its ability to achieve high speed sync (HSS), the AD360 also makes for an ideal OCF for weddings and senior portraits when we’re out there battling the midday sun.

When used in a bare bulb configuration, we have power aplenty.  But what if we want to soften the light with a soft box or umbrella?  Umbrellas are cheap and do soften the light, but they are overly prone to the Mary Poppins effect when the wind gusts, and I don’t want my investment in lighting gear floating over the rooftops.  Softboxes are a bit better (though still tippy), but we lose an average of two to four stops of light with the most common portable soft boxes.  One of the best, portable softboxes I have found is the Westcott RapidBox series.  The RapidBox is a pop-up umbrella-style soft box, but unlike cheaper boxes, the durability and build-quality is high end.  There’s excellent light efficiency with these boxes as well, and with the optional beauty dish reflector that screws into the center, you also have a great on-location beauty dish option.  They should work great outside with the AD360 in HSS, but because of the light loss caused by HSS coupled with the light loss from the diffusion of the box itself, you need to work pretty close to your subject.  Great for headshots, but not so great for full-lengths, couples or groups.  I’ve thought that the answer would be to get two lights to fit in the RapidBox, but unfortunately there is only room for one in the original version.

2050-speedlite-mount-topLuckily, the engineering geniouses at Westcott read my mind and just released the RapidBox Duo.  It’s a 32″ pop-up octabox-style version of their original RapidBox with one major update:  it can hold two speedlights.  And I’m not talking just stand speedlights.  I just tested it and it will work with two AD360 flashes as well.  Score!

The inner diffusion panel simply and easily snaps into place.

The inner diffusion panel simply and easily snaps into place.

The new RapidBox Duo also comes with an inner diffuser fabric that is easy to attach/detach.  This creates a double-baffled diffuser that reduces specularity, creating a more pleasing portrait light.

The RapidBox Duo is just as easy to setup as the original version.  The build quality is leaps and bounds above the cheaper boxes on the market.  This is truly professional-quality gear.

Westcott’s well-designed mounting bracket attaches easily to any light stand, and the ergonomic tension knob allows you to tilt the box up and down — an excellent feature!

But the true beauty of this box is the ability to mount two speedlights on the back bracket. I show above how it works with standard speedlights.  Does it work with the AD360-size lights?  Absolutely!  Here I show two AD360s stacked together with the bare bulbs projecting into the box.


Two Godox AD360 flashes fit perfectly into the RapidBox duo


The bare bulbs from the AD360 project into the box.

The bare bulbs from the AD360 project into the box.

It’s a little tight, but works like a charm. In fact, I like the tight fit because it helps to protect those bare bulbs. They felt safe and snug once mounted in the box.

Another addition is the drawstring closure at the back entrance to the RapidBox.  This helps to secure the two speedlights even more, and prevents stray light from coming out of the back of the RapidBox.

I started this all off by talking about power.  So, what kind of power can one generate with this setup of two AD360s in a 32″ Rapid Box Duo?  Check it out.

 From 5ft@ISO 100 1/2 power    1/1 power
No diffusion f22.4 f32.2
Front Diffusion f11.3 f16.2
Inner + Front diffusion f11 f11.6

 From 10ft@ISO 100 1/2 power    1/1 power
No diffusion f11.9 f16.7
Front Diffusion f5.6.8 f8.0.7
Inner + Front diffusion f5.6.5 f8.0.4

So, what does all of this mean?  There’s plenty of light to play with. In practice, it means that I can easily photograph a family or small group with both diffusion panels in place and achieve f11 at ISO 100 with the flashes at 1/2 power.  Setting to 1/2 power is important because it will dramatically lessen the recycle time on flashes and extend the life of the battery.  Turn the ISO up to 200 and you can set the flashes to 1/4 power, or use just one at 1/2 power.  Options…I like options.The next question is: How does this impact HSS performance?  Excellent question and one I am dying to answer as well.  I just need to wait until the temperature gets warm enough that immediate frostbite won’t set in here in the great white north.  It’s been c-c-c-c-c-c-c-o-l-d.  Look for a follow up article on HSS coming soon (I hope).

Yongnuo 600EX-RT Caution

YN-600EX-RT_6n2Oh, I had such high hopes for the new Yonguo 600EX-RT flash.  At $180, it was a bargain as a replacement for the great but pricey Canon 600EX-RT.  Unfortunately, I am definitely jumping off the bandwagon for these flashes, at least until their QC is improved.

After buying 3 around the first of the year and testing them to quite good in-studio results alongside the Canon 600EX-RT, today I decided to give them a moderate stress test. I set them to manual 1:1 power and triggered with the YN-E3-RT. After about 50 flashes (I kind of lost accurate count in my stupor of triggering the fire button over and over) flash number one blew. Powers up, but the tube is out. Nada. Flash number 2 lasted 35 full power flashes. Flash number 3? Let’s just say that I got to 35 and decided to quit and not tempt fate. To me, this is a moderate stress test compared to a wedding day in full sun and needing to rely on these flashes in HSS.

The YN-E3-RT remote is wonderful and is still a recommended buy at $100.  As for the flash, the features are wonderful for the price. But features and a low price mean nothing if the tube going to fry that easily. I had high hopes for this flash.