I'm a sucker for using a "beauty dish" and I just wanted to share how awesome a more recent piece of gear I purchased is and how it solved a small problem I had when it came to transporting and location gigs. The Westcott Rapid Box Collapsible Beauty Dish. It's a mouthful to say, but I'm so in love with it.
Except the price. I hate the price. Read more after the cut:
I'm a big fan of the beauty dish. I've been using one in my studio for many years. I have two different dishes: the first beauty dish I had was the Paul Buff Silver 22" dish. I had purchased that dish specifically for when I wanted to totally overpower the sun with a harsh, contrasty light.
Some years ago I found a used powdered white Paul Buff 22" dish on Craigslist that wasn't available on their website any longer. I instantly fell in love because it was a softer light than what the silver dish put out and the minute I picked it up I put all my softboxes on the wall and started using the dish exclusively.
I really love that dish. But it became difficult when it came to using that dish on location gigs. It's big, it can be cumbersome, and it seems like every time I turn around I'm putting dings or dents in it when I take it to location gigs. My OCD flares up when I look at it and all the little dents just make me sad. I kinda wished that they made something that was a beauty dish but could fold up like my Westcott Apollo softbox that I also love to death. It turns out, they do, and I just picked one up a few months ago and I want to talk about it a bit. It's awesome, but at a high price.
Over the years I've come to really love circular catch lights in my subject's eyes.
I've used square softboxes for a long time, and as you can see in the images above, it's a subtle look, but aesthetically I was never completely happy with the squarish catch lights. I still like them, and on occasion I'll still use a softbox that is a square or rectangle shape, but overall I just love the round look. The great thing about photography is that every shooter likes to shoot certain ways; from camera models and brands to lighting equipment and in some cases, specific looks that certain types of modifiers give off. Square. Round. Take your pick. Flip a coin. There is no right or wrong.
I've been doing more commercial jobs that take me out of town and I'm bringing my favorite powdered white beauty dish with me. It's a pain in the ass to transport; it doesn't fold, it's big, it's clunky, when it falls off the cart it can make a big !CLANG! noise. I carry it around in a Christmas-red colored wreath bag. It looks so stupid. I could drop forty bucks on a padded beauty dish case, but it's still large. It still gets dents and dings. Sometimes I'm not even sure how it gets them - it just does. My heart cries every time I find a new ding on it. They don't make this particular dish any longer and I get sad when I know that some day I won't be able to replace it.
Then one day I came across the Westcott Joel Grimes Rapid Box Beauty Dish. Jeeze that is a whole mouthful to say. Could you squeeze any more words into that title, Westcott? I call it the Rick Grimes Dish, because I'm a Walking Dead fan and because it makes me laugh a hearty, nerdy laugh on the inside.
The Westcott Rick Grimes Rapid Box Collapsible Beauty Dish
Right away I was impressed that it makes a perfect circle, despite it having all kinds of rods inside. Actually, its because of all those rods that it makes a perfect circle. The beauty dishes come with specific speed rings permanently mounted to them: I ordered the dish that comes with the Balcar/Alien Bees mount because I would be using this specifically with my AB mono lights that I use in the studio and occasionally on location.
I liked the blue ribbing on the outside. I liked the look of the "powdered" looking inside. I liked that it has a little inner reflector disc that pops inside it to help control the "hot spot".
"That looks exactly like the thing I've been searching for" I would say. And then I would look at the price: $300. "Ehhhh, maybe I'll keep looking around" and the price would scare me away.
Finally, after a long, long time of avoiding it because of the price, I threw caution to the wind and bought it. I did so reluctantly, as $300 seemed overly expensive for this item. I still think it's overpriced. I feel kinda dirty that I paid 300 clams for this still to this day. I kinda hang my head in shame when someone asks me how much it was. I'm embarrassed to tell people what I paid.
But I ordered one. And a few days later it arrived and I opened it up, and my initial reaction was that it's not a bad little piece of equipment. It feels like there is a heavy magnet that connects to the part where the reflector plate is placed, and it sorta *snaps* into place and it feels pretty robust. The inner fabric feels like a heavy-duty cover-type fabric, and is a soft, powdered white. The ribs that open up are the only thing that feel a little hinky, but I do think it would be able to take a little abuse. With the diffusion panel on, it makes a nice, perfectly circular modifier. From base (mount) to the edges of the circle on the other end, it's length is longer than a beauty dish. Not a drastic different amount, but if you sat them both on the ground and measured up, the Westcott is definitely longer/taller.
I've been using this little guy for both studio shooting as well as location shooting, and it's working really, really well. I really love it. I haven't touched the metal dish in studio situations since I picked this up.
For my first test, I took it out on location with me for a session with a local musician. I got that sucker up on the light and started firing away, and I was instantly in love with the quality. It worked like gang-busters; so easy to set up, and very light to work with - it was almost like having no modifier on the light at all! I was really impressed with how well it performed, not to mention broke down when the session was over - it just breaks down like an umbrella (just don't forget to take the reflector plate out first) and tucks away nicely in it's own little travel bag.
a week later and I was again outside with it on a c-stand for some location head shots:
Once again, this little beauty dish worked perfectly for this location inside/outside job.
So - what are my thoughts on this thing? I think it's pretty darn awesome. I've been working on refining a "perfect" one-light location setup, and, for me, this portable beauty dish, along with a c-stand, a vagabond mini-lithium and an Alien Bee strobe makes the "perfect" little location rig when I need a little more power than my speedlights can provide. (I say "perfect" because it seems most logical for me, and might not fit everyone's needs/style/etc). It's lightweight, folds up/down really easy, and it just fits perfectly and makes a really soft, yet kinda contrasty light. It travels perfectly. No more big clunky metal beauty dish that ends up getting dings and dents that doesn't travel or pack very well. This little guy folds into it's own little travel bag and I can toss it right on the pile of gear bags and cases without worrying about it crashing and burning.
But lets talk about the one feature that I'm not cool with: the price.
Look, I get that quality things cost money. I get it. I provide a quality service, too, and I deserve the rates that I ask (even more!), so I get it. Quality costs money. But 300 clams for this thing is just ... ehhhhhh. I get that it's got Joel (Rick) Grimes' name on it so he's gotta get his share of the cash and everything, but c'mon Westcott; stop strangling me with the pricing. I know, I know, it's worth it. And it is, but I would have bought this much sooner if it had a lower price point. $200? I'd pay $200 for it with very little thought. $150? Shit, if this was $150 I'd buy it and really push it on my other photographer friends. If it was $100 I'd buy two.
"But Sid," you say "you bought it at $300 anyway. So STFU". Yeah, I know, I get that. I did buy it. And it's awesome. But it's at a price point that kinda makes me hang my head in shame when I tell people I bought it. Which is a dumb thing to write, but it's true - I bought it reluctantly, but it's so damn awesome. It's cool, but expensive. Let's leave it at that.
Do I recommend you get one if you are looking for a portable beauty dish? Absolutely. There are other types of modifiers out there, even some made by Westcott, that are kinda/sorta like this, but they aren't perfectly round. Now, paying like $50 bucks for a foldable octabox or $150 for a rapidbox is cheaper, it isn't a beauty dish and it isn't a perfectly round modifier. It's worth it for me to have that. It replicates the light I get out of my big clunky metal beauty dish. It's portable, it hardly weighs anything, and it has fast become an absolute necessity in my kit and toolbox.
I love this thing. I don't love the price. Such a conundrum, right?
Hit me up if you have any questions about it.