Photographed by Amy & Tony Hoffer

Disclaimer: This review is meant for fellow photo-nerds like us. As mentioned in the video, we’ve had a relationship with MagMod for a while now. However, they don’t ask us for things like this. We’re doing this review because we LOVE the MagBox… Feel free to watch the video. The text that accompanies the review is meant to write out some of the same features from the video.

The world of photography lighting has been changing… a lot. In particular, studio lights are becoming more portable. Speed lights are becoming more powerful. It’s a blend of options that’s super exciting for a photographer. With all that, the world of light modifiers hasn’t changed much. For the most part, softboxes are used in studio and faster/harder options are used on location. As two people that use softboxes everywhere we go, we were ready for the MagBox.

The short version of the review is this: If you haven’t used on-location softboxes before, you may not realize what a game changer this thing is. We’ll go into the reasons below… but its like when the App Store first opened. The excitement isn’t only for the product itself, but for what the potential is in the future. This will allow for more and more flexibility and ease when shooting on location. So, while a small octabox like this isn’t the be-all-end-all for softboxes, it’s an amazing start to a new category.

The Problem

Before any review, I think it’s important to think through why this thing exists. What problems are we currently having that could be solved with something better? In the case of softboxes, there’s quite a few:

  • Weight: This has been improving the last 5 years
  • Clunkiness: Setting up and tearing down has ALWAYS been annoying
  • Portability: Packing and carrying boxes can be tricky
  • Noisy: Thanks Velcro
  • Gelling: Very difficult
  • Loss of Power: Diffusion kills power. Fine in studio, not great outside.
  • Modularity: Because of above, most boxes are either studio or location. Not both.

Our Six Favorite Things About the MagBox

The Weight

The MagBox is light (thanks to a plastic interior) and the weight is centered on the back. As we said above, this is becoming a standard in softboxes over the past few years and it couldn’t be more welcome.

The Bag

This is quite simply brilliant. Most softboxes aren’t meant to be moved. Setting up and tearing down is annoying. Taking them on-location usually requires you to throw them in a random bag and then to re-assemble all the metal rods when you get there. This bag fits like a glove, which makes it so easy to take on the go and set-up again when you get there. On top of that, it can be checked as-is at the airport.

The second great feature of the bag is the extra pockets. Now we can fit a lot of our most needed lighting gear in with the MagBox as we go to a wedding or a shoot. We even fit a monopod inside it for our last destination wedding. That was wonderful.

Gels

The MagBox brings the easy-gelling ways of the MagMod products into the world of softboxes. This is HUGE. Anybody that’s ever used boxes knows that once you decide to break them out, you have to answer a question: Am I going to use gels and deal with scissors and tape OR am I going to start shooting and deal with the color of the light as-is. That is no longer an issue with the MagBox. That’s exciting for a few reasons, but the biggest one will be down the road. As this system grows, having a full lineup of gel-accessible softboxes will be tremendous.

Power to the left of me. Gels to the right. Here I am. Stuck in the MagBox review.

Power and Modularity

As mentioned above, one of the frustrating things about most boxes is that most photographers have to decide if it is a ‘strobe box’ or a ‘speedlight box’. Because a lot of boxes suck up a lot of power, they automatically get disqualified when being used outdoors. Likewise, many of the boxes made for speedlights don’t produce a good enough quality of light to be used in a studio. This is the first box I’ve used that preserves enough of the power from your light to be used inside and out… while still maintaining great light quality.

On top of that, the gel-ability of these boxes makes them very easy to use in any outdoor situation. Plus, when it gets really dark you can throw on an ND gel and knock your light power way down.

Fabric and Focus Diffuser

If you’re looking into a MagBox and wondering how you can add a grid, the focus diffuser is for you. While it produces a slightly harder light (I prefer it with a studio strobe for softness), it acts just like a grid on a regular softboxes. However, unlike a grid, this actually ADDS more light power compared to the fabric diffuser. Most grids just take power away. On a day with harsh sun, the focus diffuser makes the MagBox so valuable.

The MagShoe

This this seems like it should have been invented 20 years ago. You can probably find everything you need to in the MagMod promo videos. I’m just here to say that this thing rocks. You can feather a light down to 90 degrees without having to hold your stand. You can handhold your light using the pistol grip. It’s just SO convenient.

Conclusion

So that does it. The MagBox rocks. I’m so excited to have a super-portable box that maintains a quality high enough for the studio. Much more than that, I’m excited for the potential that this brings in the future. All of these things will be big time when there’s a whole suite of options to shoot with and I’m really excited for what that means for our work.