As wedding photographers, my husband and I make frequent use of off-camera flash, mostly to light receptions. We each use a one-light setup to create dimension and interest during dancing, toasting, and candid shots. Typically, this includes a light stand, a speed light, and a shoot-through umbrella.
At the most recent wedding we photographed, we were able to take the 28″ Apollo light modifier by Westcott out for a spin (below).
This is an umbrella meets softbox light modifier; the soft box is built on an umbrella frame, so it opens up and collapses like an umbrella.
When we took it out of the box we were impressed by the build quality. We have used our fair share of cheap and flimsy light modifiers, but the Apollo felt strong and durable while still remaining lightweight. The frame is very sturdy and the soft box material is thick and of great quality.
The ease and speed of settling the Apollo up makes it perfect for on-location shooting. If your flash is already set up on your light stand, all you need to to is open up the frame like you would open an umbrella (five seconds), unzip the bottom so you can pop it over your light stand (another five seconds) and put in the front white panel (ten seconds via a velcro strip that goes all the way around). The panel fits perfectly over the opening with no gaps, so you won’t get any light leaking out there.
One thing we found was missing was a strap to secure the Apollo when it is collapsed; as it is now, it can easily flop open and doesn’t roll/fold up nicely like an umbrella does; a storage sleeve would do the job as well, but it’s not currently included.
As we tested the Apollo, we found that the light we were getting from it was much more controlled than what we get from our shoot-through umbrellas. In our testing situation, we had to set up the light stands at the far end of the room, but the control provided by the Apollo allowed the light to reach our subjects despite the distance of the setup. Also, it allowed us to use a lower percentage of power from our flashes. I find this is really helpful when I take a few shots in a row during times of action (like laughter or speaking) so I can get the most flattering shot of a person. If I’m using the flash at a higher power and doing this, it can stop firing to recycle which means I might miss the shot. While I was using the Apollo, this never happened. In other situations I can see this coming in handy, like with family portraits taken indoors.
The Apollo performed well for a quick guest portrait, creating flattering light with soft shadows and it allowed us to create some drama during first dance shots as it directed concentrated light towards our couple and allowed the guests behind them to fade more into the background, which I really liked the feel of and meant less dodging and burning in post.
One issue with the Apollo is when you tilt it, the zippered opening at the bottom (configured in a ‘+’ shape) won’t fully close against the base of your light stand. This leaves a bit of an open gap at the bottom of the soft box where the zipper has had to open to accommodate the light stand base, and you can have light leaking out here. If you wanted to avoid that, you would need to use the Apollo with a boom or have an assistant tilt the entire stand.
Overall, at $129, the Apollo is a good light modifier and it performed well at the wedding we photographed. The light it created was flattering and even. We can also see it doing well in studio applications when photographing one or two subjects. If you are an avid softbox user and need something that is great on-the-go or you are a shoot-through umbrella user and are looking for more light control than your current system, you might want to check the Apollo out for yourself.
Review by Sarah Nickerson.