Full disclosure, I am not a fan of softboxes. In terms of a lighting modifier for portraits and fashion, your average softbox is the vanilla solution. But not only are softboxes poor imitations of medium sized windows, they also have one major drawback that I try to avoid at all costs, their inherent hot-spots. This brighter centre of any modifier can make lighting feel unnatural, plus it’s frustrating to control and manage, but when I was sent this new Pixapro Rice-bowl softbox modifier by Essential Photo to test out, I was actually intrigued by a couple of its features.
One of the main downsides of softboxes that I’m wary of, is their inherent nature to always have a slight hotspot in the centre. If you’re not familiar with what that is, then it simply means the light is always brightest in the centre and gets slightly darker towards the edges. You’ll often hear many photographers contest this happens on their softboxes and most will argue that their softbox doesn’t suffer from this so-called hot-spot problem. In nearly all cases though, the softbox is brighter in the centre, and even though manufactures add multiple layers of baffles inside of them to stop this, the flash is in the centre of the modifier and it’s almost impossible to avoid the physics that makes them brighter at the source…the centre.
As a result of this, many photographers will actually choose to use a daylight window instead of a softbox, after all, this has no hot-spot and you can nearly always tell a shot taken with a natural light window compared to a softbox for this reason alone.
An alternative to all this fuss is simply to use a modifier that has almost no hotspot and my personal favourite modifier of choice is the 22” Bowens beauty dish for this very reason.
My Beauty Dish
The reason I love my beauty dish so much is due in part to its manufactured bell shape, but more importantly its diffusion cone that sits inside it. This little dish sits in front of the light that enters the modifier from the flash and bounces it around the dish via its perfect curve and then dissipates it out of the front almost completely evenly. The resulting light this gives is utterly beautiful. In fact I’ve tested this even lighting by firing it against a white wall and taken light meter readings across it only to find that its exposure is identical from centre to edge in a very wide pool. A truly remarkable design in my opinion.
So why was I interested by this new Rice-Bowl softbox?
As I began to unpack and assemble the Rice-Bowl, I noticed that this modifier also has a diffusion cone that is affixed in front of the flash opening. This means that this little metal dish will block all direct light and bounce it around the edges of the modifier first, therefore enabling a far cleaner and hot-spot free centre.
Since we’re talking about the assembly, let’s take a quick look at what’s involved as sadly this was not quite as easy to put together as I first thought.
I assure you I’m not trying to be patronising as I take the time to explain how to set up a softbox here. My point is rather to highlight how many steps it takes EVERY time you want to set this modifier up. This time may have zero impact on you if you’re studio shooter and only intend to assemble it once and leave it up. If on the other hand you’re a shooter on the move a lot and will be assembling and breaking this down for every shoot, this process may be a consideration.
The 16 metal rods slip in and out of their pockets very easily. As a result every time I’ve assembled this, they must be reinserted each and every time.
This is the clever mechanism that allows for the softbox to be erected with one motion. Simply push this centre column down to lock into place and you’re done.
With the collar firmly locked in place, the hole for the diffusion plate is now visible.
Align the centre diffusion plate with the hole…
…and screw into position with the large thumb screw.
Next comes the inner baffle. These are held in place by these velcro tabs.
Here we can also see that the inner baffle has a double thick centre to further reduce any hot-spot that might be present.
If you look closely here, you can see just how taught that centre baffle is, but more importantly, just how stretched those velcro tabs are, they only barely reach their required tabs to hold them.
If you don’t have a softbox grid then this is the final stage. Simply velcro the outer diffusion panel to the outer edge leaving a generous about of a lip to control the light too.
This is where I attached a grid to the outer edge on top of the diffusion cover.
As I mentioned, this whole process needs to be done each time due to the rods always coming out of their holes with every use. Also, due to the easy push-up softbox mechanism in the middle, the grid, the outer diffusion and inner diffusion and the diffusion plate must be removed prior to taking it down every time.
If you’re a studio shooter who will only put this up once, this is not a problem at all. If however, due to space or not having a regular studio to shoot in, you’ll be taking this softbox down after every use, this process is certainly worth your consideration.
Shape, Size and Price
Softbox Diameter - 105cm
Depth - 42cm
Shape Hexadecagon - (16 Sided)
Interior Colour - Silver
Layers of Diffusion - 2
Fitting - Interchangeable Fitting*
Price - £84.99
*According to the Essential Photo website, this Rice-Bowl has fittings for Bowens S-Type, Elinchrom, Hensel, Broncolor (Big), Multiblitz (V-Type), Multiblitz (P-Type) and Profoto.
I’ll let the images do the talking here, but the eagle-eyed among you may now start to see the similarity to the beauty dish I mentioned. That distinctive bell curved dish is one of the reasons that beauty dish spreads light so evenly and we can see a similar shape start to take form on this softbox here too.
First off I wanted to test the Rice-Bowl up close to see how the wrap of light worked on a headshot. The image here was taken on a 105mm lens and the softbox itself was probably no more than arms-reach from the model off to camera-left. The softbox also had the grid attached.
With the modifier being so close, the drop-off of light was fairly quick resulting in some strong shadows. I personally like this more dramatic look and this is why I often have my modifiers very close to the subject. One downside of having modifiers close to the subject though is that you’re limited to a smaller spread of light. In smaller modifiers like the 22” beauty dish, you can really only successfully light a headshot, plus you also get very little spread onto the background surrounding your subject. With this far larger 105cm modifier we can clearly see we get a very generous spill of light onto the background which makes for some very easy portraits in almost any space.
Next I wanted to try some wider shots so I pulled the softbox back and behind me. I had the softbox up high and about 2m (6ft) away from the subject. For this shot, I removed the grid from the front.
Even at this range, the softbox was able to spread the light quite quickly, but more importantly, very evenly.
For me, I think this is where this modifier excels. These 3/4 length or even full length body shots is where this softbox is going to be doing its best work. A 22” beauty dish excels at that short range headshot and for me, its sweet-spot is really when its in nice and close. For this far larger 105cm softbox, pulling it back and letting it light a larger area is where we see it doing its best work. This shot is one light with no reflectors of boards and we can immediately see just how even the spread of light is throughout the body, even down towards the legs where we normally see the biggest drop-off with most softboxes of this size.
Working with other lights
I personally never, ever use a single light in my shots so my next test was to see how it worked with other lighting but more specifically gels. I would ordinarily use my beauty dish for shots where I have a coloured gel fill, as I need to have a lot of control of the light to ensure I have some strong shadows to add a coloured gel to them.
With the Rice-bowl grid now reattached, I was pretty impressed by the way I was able to control this very large modifier up close like this.
Even with this giant modifier in place, I’m able to control the light enough so that I still have shadows to add coloured light to. The big softbox also has enough spread so that I’m able to throw light onto the background to simultaneously light that as well with minimal shadows being cast.
For me personally, I was pretty impressed with the overall adaptability of this Rice-bowl. No I am not a fan of softboxes ordinarily, but that diffusion dish on the inside, plus the double layered inner diffusion, really does go a long way to reduce any unwanted hotspots. It’s also worth noting here that it becomes harder and harder to evenly spread the light around a modifier the bigger it gets. The 22” beauty dish is tiny compared to this 105cm softbox so it has a far easier time when it comes to spreading the light. As the modifiers get larger like this softbox, it becomes almost impossible to spread the light completely with no hot-spot. After all, the strobe in the middle isn’t getting bigger and all it wants to do is send light on the easiest, shortest path, straight out the centre of the modifier.
Another example of this is stripboxes. I have a couple of 1 meter stripboxes and the light power at the edges of those is nearly a whole stop darker than the centre of them. Having an even spread of light throughout your modifier is crucial and this Rice-bowl goes a very long way to offering some of the cleanest light I’ve seen.
For my style of lighting where smaller controlled pools of light is required, it’s going to take a lot for me to turn my back on my beauty dish. But with that being said, if you’re a shooter who is looking to shoot 3/4 or even full length shots of even, beautifully soft light, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a modifier that does it as well as this one does, especially for this price.
Bottom line, I think you’re getting a lot of modifier for your money here. This is a decently crafted piece of kit that has clearly been designed specifically to spread light evenly. The distinctive bell design shape as well as the internal diffusion plate and double-thick inner baffle all work to provide a very clean and beautifully even light for 3/4 length and full body shots. If that’s your thing, then you could do a lot worse than this for the same money.
My only slight gripe with this Rice-bowl is the pain-in-the-ass assembly each and every time you want to use it. Sure it’s probably less than 10 minutes, and you may have a ‘domestic-helper’ around the studio to do it for you, but it’s still worth considering. Of course, if you have the space to keep this up and ready to go all the time, this is not an issue at all.
If you’d like to take a closer look at this Rice-Bowl modifier or consider purchasing one, here’s a link to the one I have by Pixapro on the Essential Photo website. 105cm 16-Sided Easy-Open Rice-Bowl Softbox
Essential Photo also gave me a discount code for you guys, but please be aware that I receive no commission on sales, this discount is purely there if you want it. The code I use is HICK5-OFF.
Thank you as always for checking out my article and spending a little bit of your day with me here. If you have any questions about the Rice-bowl, feel free to let me know in the comments below. I can’t promise to have all the answers, but I’ll certainly do my best to answer what I can. Thanks again for stopping by.
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