Thought I'd give you a quick "preview" of a product - The Umbrella Softbox - that might be of interest to Strobist readers after a recent post on rethinking umbrellas. So first the background:
The Strobist post was comparing reflective umbrellas to shoot through umbrellas and then after a while softboxes got brought into the debate through the comments. So what tools of the trade work best, particularly for speedlight applications (small light source)?
The consensus seems to be that for most applications shoot through umbrellas work best unless you have a large group and need the added efficiency of a reflective umbrella where you can't just bring it closer to the subject. Anyway more info on the reasons for that in the post I liked to above.
Now we come to softboxes, I haven't ever used them so forgive my ignorance and correct me if I'm wrong, but they seem to be about having more control over your light. They can give you a more directed light source and less spill out the back which allows you to isolate where you put your light. In contrast to using a shoot through umbrella where you almost create a bare bulb type light source. So this begs the question, why use umbrellas?
Umbrellas are quick to set up, pack down small and are cheap! So basically it is a cost and convenience thing, they work pretty well for most circumstances, plus if you know their limitations you can work around them. But is there a better way?
I saw this "Umbrella Softbox" at the Envisage IT and Photo eBay store a while ago when looking for another umbrella and very nearly bought it. At the time I was a bit strapped for cash so I just bought a standard umbrella but I'm thinking it could be a great balance between an umbrella and a softbox. It will still act as a shoot through umbrella for the forward 180º but the black cover will greatly reduce the spill out the back and may prevent some lens flare if you have it position between your camera and the subject. On the downside it looks like the flash would have to be choked up the shaft quite a bit more so some form of wide angle adaptor may be required if you want an even spread of light.
I've seen them for sale a few place but drop a comment if you know anywhere else that sells them or what your experience is with them.