The problem with most small LED fixtures is the quality of light that comes out of them. While little LEDs may be useful for tucking into small corners, the harshness of their light can limit their usefulness for on-camera interviews. Adding a softbox significantly changes the quality of light, translating the source into something pleasing even close up.
Gaffer and cinematographer Tom Guiney has come up with an extraordinarily simple solution for adding a softbox to nearly any small on-camera LED fixture. He calls it Airbox Lights.
Typical softboxes require tent poles or spring metal for expansion and a retaining ring, both of which can be heavy and cumbersome for small fixtures, even if they’re on stands. Guiney’s Airbox simplifies this setup in a wonderfully portable, lightweight and effective solution.
Airbox looks a bit like a child’s inflatable pool toy. It’s made of PVC and can be inflated with a few breaths to an expanded softbox shape. I was a little frustrated by the lack of an auto-seal on the blow-up valve—the same frustration I had with many pool toys in my youth. When you take your mouth away from the valve, air quickly escapes and the box deflates.
The front and rear of the box feature a frosted translucent panel, while the sides are opaque black. A pair of Velcro straps attaches the box to any small LED fixture, with no need for an accessory frame or complicated mounting rig. The user may insert an additional layer of diffusion or color correction gel in the clear vinyl panel on the face of the Airbox.
Airbox currently comes in two versions: Macro (8” x 11” x 6”) and Mini (5” x 9” x 4.5”). According to the web site, models are coming soon for 1’ x 1’ and 6” x 13” LED fixtures.
I received the Airbox Macro with eggcrate option for my review. The eggcrate is a hard plastic light control grid that attaches to the front of the Airbox with Velcro.
The face of the Airbox Macro is 10.5” x 7.5”, which I feel is the perfect size to increase the face of small LED fixtures to create a lovely soft light, yet still be small enough to work on top of a camera without being unwieldy.
I tested the Airbox with several fixtures: Litepanels Croma, Litepanels MicroPro Hybrid, Litepanels Micro, F&V Z96 and Switronix TorchLED Bolt TL-BT200.
Airbox fit perfectly on the Croma and MicroPro Hybrid. I had to cross the Velcro straps to secure the Airbox on the Micro, the smallest fixture I tested. TorchLED Bolt is the thickest fixture I tried it on, especially with a Sony battery on the back. The Velcro straps were long enough to accommodate even this beefy unit.
Airbox Mini with Eggcrate
When deflated, the unit folds up to about the size of a paperback book, at a fraction of the thickness, and easily packs away in your camera bag. It was too large to fit in my small Litepanels case but fit nicely in the Croma case. The plastic eggcrate has no real portability, however. It would be great to have a fabric eggcrate for the face of the fixture that could fold down and pack with the Airbox itself.
I found it best to not inflate the Airbox completely. If I left it a little deflated, it fit more snugly against the face of the LEDs and showed a flatter front profile. (When inflated completely, Airbox’s front and back bulge a bit.)
Airbox is phenomenally priced at $63.99 with the eggcrate option or $42.99 without. For smaller fixtures, Guiney offers the Airbox Mini for $39.99, or $54.99 with an eggcrate—although I found that the larger version, Airbox Macro, works equally well for small fixtures. I prefer to have the flexibility of the larger unit to cover more options.
As it is, the fixture receives a near perfect rating for its beautiful simplicity and effectiveness.
Pros: Lightweight, versatile, great quality, inexpensive.
Cons: No internal valve stop.
Bottom Line: An inexpensive, innovative and efficient solution for creating softer, more pleasing light from small LED fixtures.
MSRP: Airbox Macro $43, $64 with eggcrate; Airbox Mini $40, $55 with eggcrate