The Photek Illuminata
As a working pro I'm
pretty familiar with all of the pro lighting companies. My studio looks
like a well stocked camera store, with virtually every diffuser, umbrella,
and softbox known to man. When something new comes out, I usually wind
up with one.
I'm pretty much a softbox
kind of guy, with the occasional shoot-through umbrella for location people
stuff. While the Illuminata looked nice, I figured that it was more for
the portrait market, where Photek does most of its business. The Illuminata
is a large octagon shaped umbrella like shell with a form-fitting translucent
cover that turns it into a nice round softbox. Like any good reporter,
I figured that I would withhold my praise or criticism until I had a chance
to run it through its paces in my studio. A little while after the show
the UPS truck pulled up and I was in business.
Once out of the box, it was a matter of figuring out how to put the thing together. Unlike softboxes, the fiberglass rods in the Illuminata don't need a tremendous amount of pressure to fit into the holes in the steel mounting unit. You must be sure to bolt the flash head to the clamp system first, otherwise once the rods are in the clamp adjustment screw is blocked. This is somewhat of a hassle if you wish to swap light heads, since you'll need to remove at least one of the rods to access the adjustment screw. I chose a Balcar U series flash head to mount, since it has a flat outer surface. First you adjust the three movable metal clamps, and then tighten the adjusting screw on the fourth one. The clamps hold the head rock solid, and offer the ability to use any light source. Such as flash, HMI or tungsten, without expensive adapters or paraphernalia. Since softboxes mounted on my Balcars often have a bit of "droop" due to the loosening of the Balcar's reflector clamping system over the years, the rigidity of this Photek clamp was welcomed. Once assembled the large 54" diameter shell looks just like the massive Briese parabolic reflectors that most high-end rental studios offer. By adjusting the depth of your light head via the clamping system you can subtly change the quality of the light reflected by the shell. While Photek has designed this unit to be used with all three pieces in place, I actually found the shell alone to be an amazing light source, looking like the world's biggest polished aluminum reflector. It gives you a big, moderately soft, highly directional light.
The next nice surprise was
the inner diffuser. Photek designed this largely to remove the hotspot
caused by the flash head. The silver reflector prevents the direct light
of the head from hitting the front panel, thus giving you a much more
even light at the front diffuser. I'm an experimental kind of guy,
so I shot without the front panel, just with the inner one. Wow, what
light. Soft and smooth with a nice punchy specular quality. Even better
is the beautiful bright donut reflection in the model's eyes. It's
like a big ringlight that's really efficient and portable.
For more information, contact Photek, 549 Howe Ave., Shelton CT, 06484; (203) 924-1522; fax: (203) 924-9388.