Excalibur SPC1600
Strobe And Studio Systems Softboxes Easy Setup And Satisfying Results

Like most photographers, I've got a bunch of lights and all kinds of light modifiers lying around. I've got softboxes, umbrellas, and assorted parabolic reflectors. They range in color from white to silver, gold to flesh colored. Most of them just languish in a corner someplace or hide for years in a light case. You get used to working with a particular lighting system, and everything else becomes a seldom-used piece of equipment that only sees the light of day under special circumstances.

Photo 1 shows the light quality of the octagon box with no diffusion panel. No other lights are used in the four test shots. (Model: Jackie Copp.)
Photos © 2002, Steve Bedell, All Rights Reserved

I hear you saying, "Great Steve, but this is a test report, when are you going to tell us about these lights and modifiers?" Well, patience, there's a reason! You see, one of the reasons I stopped carrying around my softbox was because it's a big pain in the butt to take apart and put back together. Then I saw an ad in Shutterbug for this square and octagon shaped softbox that worked just like an umbrella. Cool! Just open it like any umbrella, pop it onto your light, and you're ready to go. If you want to travel with it, just take it off, collapse the umbrella, and hit the road. A double whammy! No sooner had I said to myself "I gotta see these babies" than my editor called and asked if I could do a test review on them, plus this nifty little light they had. It's like fate!


Photo 2 is taken with the panel in place. The model's head is also turned slightly more into the light.

First, let's look at my favorite piece, the octagon box. It now has a permanent home in my studio, and it's not hiding in some dark corner. My two favorite things about it? Its size and shape. As a portrait photographer, I prefer round catchlights in the eyes. They are much more pleasing than the square ones caused by softboxes. Maybe it stems from the fact that the sun is round and we're always trying to replicate what the sun does. That could be it, I just know I like it better and it seems lots of other people do, too. Plus, it's nice and big (37" across) so it creates a nice "wraparound" effect when used in close. This creates a very soft transition from highlights to shadows that most portrait photographers find flattering. It's also big enough to do full-length portraits without a great deal of light falloff from head to toe. A little bit is nice though, acting as a natural vignette.

The softbox I got was the 27" size (27" on each side of the square). It's a good size for photographers who would like to use it as a main light but still use a strong fill. It works great for emphasizing the face while having a pretty strong light falloff. Those used to working with parabolic lights would most likely enjoy this size box, since the character of the light is between that of a parabolic and large softbox.

Photo 3 is the square box with no panel.

Front Mounting
Both boxes mount in front of the light so your light head is shooting through the box; it does not aim in the other direction like an umbrella. The designers have thoughtfully included a diffusion panel with each box so, if you prefer, you can easily attach the inner panel using touch fastener strips. The outer panels also attach using touch fastener strips. Both panels can be left attached and it doesn't interfere with collapsing the boxes. I like the effect for portraits without the extra panel. If you're photographing shiny surfaces like jewelry, you'd probably opt to keep it in. It's a matter of preference.

Setup & Operation
So let's go through the drill. You put your light on a stand. You pop open the softbox just like an umbrella and stick it on the light. Re-attach any touch fastener strips that you pulled apart when you took it off before. Bam! You're done! I love it. I basically take the path of least resistance doing just about anything, and this is the easiest method of attaching a softbox to a light that I've ever seen. It works for me.

Photo 4 the diffusion panel is in place in this shot.

Dual-Power Light
Now let's get to the light. It's a pretty compact little number that weighs only 3.85 lbs and I'm guessing is covered in aluminum. It has a convenient handle on the back for carrying around. It's moderately powered, having a guide number of 120 with ISO 100 film and is rated at 160 joules. The unique thing about it is that it's AC/DC. You can plug it into the wall or it has a connecting cord that allows you to hook it up to a Quantum battery pack. This is a great feature for many portrait and wedding photographers who work outside and prefer to use a directional flash or add illumination to their portraits. I did not have a pack to test this feature but the spec sheet says you can get up to 250 shots with it, which should be plenty for any portrait or wedding session.

Photo 5 was taken with just the Excalibur light with the octagon box and diffusion panel. I really like the quality of this light for a full-length pose.

The modeling light, which does not function in DC mode to conserve power, is only 60w. I thought that would be a major problem in the studio, but since the light shoots directly through the box and does not get bounced around in it, it was adequate for judging my lighting pattern. You can control both the flash and the modeling light in 1/4, 1/2, and full power modes. I'm sure you'll be wanting to use the full power setting most of the time for most purposes.

Prices for the softboxes are $174.95. The light is $219.95, adapters are $12-$25, depending on the model. The Excalibur 1600 AC/DC strobe and Studio Systems softboxes are distributed by BKA (Brandess-Kalt-Aetna Group). Contact them by phone: (847) 821-0450, fax: (847) 821-5410, or web site: www.bkaphoto.com.

· Output: 160 ws
· Guide Number: 110 at ISO 100
· Power Source: 110-120v AC, 50/60MHz
· Power Control: from 1/4, 1/2 & full power with rocker switch
· Recycle Time: 4 seconds to full power, 1 second to 1/8 power
· Modeling Lamp: 60w 120v Modeling light with control from 1/8 to full power by rocker switch
· Slave Capacity: Built-in slave sensor with ON/OFF switch
· Protection: Fully safety fused
· Flash Tube: User interchangeable.
· Accessories: Flash tube, protective cover, modeling bulb, standard reflector, AC and PC cord.
· Weight: Approximately 5.5 lbs.
· Price: MSRP $219.95

Editor's Note: Right at press time, Excalibur released the SP1600C, a compact version of the system reviewed in the article. See their web site for additional details.