If you’re just starting out or simply looking to expand your filmmaking toolkit, soft box lights are a must. Knowing how to diffuse and soften your light is just as important as knowing how to light the shot itself. So whether you’re a hobbyist or beginner-enthusiast ready to get your first studio kit, it’s good to know what’s out there. So let’s get into the best softbox lighting kits for 2021.
Featured photo courtesy of Spectrum.
What is a soft box light?
What is a softbox and what to look for
A softbox’s purpose is to diffuse light to give a more natural look and feel to your shots. A soft box light is made of a translucent cloth that is attached to a light source, often a speedlight or strobe, that sits on a stand. The cloth on the inside is usually white or silver, surrounded by a black cloth on the exterior, and is wrapped around a framed box that has a diffusion panel.
Filmmakers and photographers use softboxes to soften light and diffuse light--they increase the size of a smaller, brighter source. They also control the shape of the light and its direction, often working much better than an umbrella. Because they are so often rectangular in shape, soft box lights have the added bonus of producing a natural shape and light as if produced by a window.
Depending on your goals will depend on the size and shape softbox you’ll want to purchase. But keep in mind, a larger one might produce super soft light, but it also means you’ll need enough light output to fill the box.
Some things to consider.
Generally, softbox size should be about the size of your subject. If you’re shooting portraits and headshots, an 18 to 24 inch box would suffice, and you’d want to double the higher end of that for full body shots. For most situations, especially for beginners or hobbyists, one or two rectangular softboxes 24 by 24 and a 20 by 27 inch should suffice. In terms of purchasing, softbox lighting kits that have two boxes fulfill most situations. Ensure the kits you purchase have sturdy and good rotational stands and high wattage bulbs.
Being able to pick up and move your gear adds to the experience whether you’re in the industry or a hobbyist. If you have a studio, this might not apply to you. But for most people, having portable equipment makes your life so much easier. If this kind of thing matters to you, there are many softbox lighting kits that come with carrying cases or at the very least, their general design is easy for transport.
Light and Stand Quality
Ensure your light source is steady, especially if you’re shooting video, but more importantly the quality of the light matters. Its brightness and ability to diffuse across the area you’ve intended is key. Additionally, it’s not just about the light or the diffuser, the stand these are sitting on matters just as much. You want reliable stands that won’t wobble or deteriorate over time. A solid rotation is over 200 degrees with adjustable heights ranging at least 27 to 80 inches.
Shape and Color
There are a variety of shape options for your softbox. The most common is rectangular or square, but octagonal are also used.
While there isn’t a big difference, the shapes determine how the light is cast. A rectangular casts a longer light, while a square is more even. Octagonal tends to be best for close-up human subjects, but a basic kit with two rectangles or one square and rectangle will get most jobs done just fine.
A white interior lining keeps the light neutral and softer, while the higher reflectivity of a silver interior lining may appear with specular and with greater contrast. We’ll consider the best across a few categories, best softbox lighting kit on a budget, best soft box lights for portability, durability, you get the idea. Let’s jump in.
Best Softbox Lighting Kit w/ Boom
To help better position light sources, boom arms on these kits make it possible. Though normally, they’re sold separately and for more cash. This model from Mountdog includes it making it highly directional. Additionally, this boom stand can be used as a third softbox.
This kit contains 3 rectangular 20 by 28 inch light enclosures along with softbox diffusers. Three 28 to 80 inch adjustable stands, the boom mount and a sandbag. Each enclosure includes one 135 watt fluorescent bulb, a spare, and a carrying case.
Overall the portability of this kit is superb. It weighs in around 16 pounds and isn’t cumbersome. That being said the boom mount isn’t as sturdy as it could be, but for everything else and the price, it is a really solid option for the price.
Most Durable Soft Box Lights
This wins for most durable and long-lasting. It’s an incredibly practical kit ---it includes a fairly long power cord to position anywhere, an LED light with a diffuser built in, as well as a heat sink function so the bulbs don’t overheat. The company claims that the LEDs will last 25 years. The softbox comes with a rubber protector and a tear-resistant fabric. This softbox lighting kit will likely last you a lifetime.
However, it is square in shape rather than the typical rectangle and is considerably smaller with dimensions at about 19 by 19 inches.
Best Budget and Quality Softbox Light
A dual light system that comes with octagonal lamp, rectangular and square options. These are great for shooting or filming human subjects. This 700 W kit is low cost for all it comes with--- a carrying case, tripods, two softboxes, and detachable external diffusers with white front covers.
It comes with a pair of softbox enclosures along with two 85W 5500K CFL bulbs, along with two adjustable stands ---41 and 88 inch. And of course, a carrying bag.
It uses typical E27 fittings and can be switched out with other bulbs. The bulbs have a low operating temp so as not to overheat.
A solid choice from a reliable brand.
Best Starting Out Studio Kit
This is a great option for newer studio photographers. Available with either one, two, or three-light variants, three-lights comes with the version listed.
It comes with three stands that can be adjusted up to 90 inches, along with three lamp heads each with 5 bulb sockets, and three 20 by 28 inch softboxes. Each lamp head has three switches for controlling power to each socket. It also has a boom stand, sandbag and carrying case.
The boom stand isn’t as sturdy as it could be and the boom lighting box has only one bulb. Otherwise, it’s quite a lot of equipment for the price and quality. If you’re looking to step it up without hurting your wallet too much, this is a great option.
Best Portable Softbox Lighting Kit
Not only is this soft box light travel-friendly, it’s cheap! Less than 50 bucks you can have a pair of softbox enclosures at 24 by 24, each with one 85W 6500K fluorescent bulb, with two adjustable stands up to 86 inches. It comes with a durable carrying bag, and the kit weighs just about 10 pounds, a considerable difference compared to the others.
Some downsides are due to the price and the quality of the fabric and stitching, as well as the stands--not the most durable. Still a solid choice for the price.
Now that you have a jumping off point, you can make a more sound decision. Only you know what you’ll be shooting, so only you know what you’ll be needing. If you need an octagonal shape for your softbox, go for it, if you want a three-light variant instead of two, each of these companies have a variety of kits to choose from!
Best LED Photography Lights
Where would your toolkit be without the latest and greatest option for lighting your shots? The safe and long-lasting LEDs. LED photography lights (great for video too), are a new mainstay in the lighting world. Which ones should you choose? Read more to get the scoop.