This is one for the tech driven guys – one for the boys so to speak. A review on the Elinchrom Deep Octa, after almost two years of use. A wonderful light modifier indeed - and one that sucks too. It sucks because the Elinchrom guys – apparently being a bit over excited on having a new toy with a cool message to market - did forget one thing. One. Important. Thing.
Good news first: the Rotalux survived. Which did mildly surprise me, as I had my doubts when I unboxed it at first. The material of the lightbank itself does feel a little bit on the thin side, easy to be perforated. The unique folding mechanism did appear solid, but you never know how time and careless handling will take its toll. Despite these initial second thoughts, the box was pressed into service outdoors and indoors, it served its duty in rain and stormy conditions, tipping over several times and I also did send it for an unintentional swim. Just to see what happens, to check its floating capabilities (it actually does float, yet only for a short time), all of this solely for the ever so eager internet audience.
Over the time it became my second best modifier of choice on location, only to be beaten by the Wok*. Setting up the Deep Octa takes only a few seconds more than opening an umbrella. Same goes for disassembling it - the unique Rotalux folding mechanism is absolutely worth every penny. The lightbank itself has a better survival rate than bigger boxes and – sure thing - brollies, maybe because of its unique streamlined shape. If used in windy conditions, it will first turn into a weather vane before finally tipping over. Which gives you some extra time to reconsider your strategy on weighting the light stand.
You can add an additional layer of diffusion to the box when applying the diffuser cap. Making the light as soft as an Italian in Paris, caught in a very romantic mood. Or skip one or even both diffusion sheets, and have something that may resemble a giant beauty-dish. So it is quite versatile as well.
But is it unique in terms of being something special, given its “deep” shape? I’d say "yes". It does. Sort of. To some extent. One should not forget that there is a lot of marketing involved when it comes to equipment. A soft box does not create soft light automatically, nor does a beauty dish deliver beautiful light by default. Same goes with the Deep Octa: When used within its sweet spot – dictated by its size - you gain superb modulation. Which does skip any necessity of dodge & burn in post, as the results in portraits do looks awesome right from the sensor. It has some soft, but directional quality that I have really come to like. If used outside its best specifications – too close, too far away – it still gives a decent light like all modifiers with an octagon shape. Nothing special, but nice. It can be trivial in its ordinary softness, but it is really hard, if not impossible, to go completely wrong and wacky with the Deep Octa. Which holds true – as said – with any Octabox.
The Elinchrom bayonet is a bit annoying. It lacks the some kind of feedback I would like to have. You never know if it’s really locked. That’s also the reason why I did send it for a swim. So you need to handle this with at least some care. Same goes for the adapter to fit into the smaller ranger heads – a bit on the fiddly side. Given its hefty price tag, the adapter should have resembled more a lock & load feeling in terms of mechanical quality.
There are two sizes available; I picked the Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa 100. You can limit or shape its diameter with cinefoil, but it will be very difficult to increase the size of it. So the 100 is possibly a good if not the best choice. I could have bought the Octa 70 by now, just because of some serious gear acquisition syndrome (thanks to Zack Arias, who invented that term). The fact that I did not is because that even with all its merits there is one thing what I really dislike.
Elinchrom is based in Switzerland. Wonderful country. Friendly people with two languages and a funny German accent**. A country which has kept its currency, just like the British did. Famous for its engineering and marvelous landscapes. Maybe the latter is the exact reason that the Swiss engineers apparently never thought of controlling the spill of their modifiers: Looking for a grid to fit a Rotalux? Look somewhere else. Can’t you see that we are all just a litte bit busy illuminating the Alps right now? No need to control spill if you have landscapes like that. And we will need every single photon for it, can’t waste them on an egg crate my fellow plainsman.
Means: Absolutely no grids for the Octabox from Elinchrom. Nada. They just neglect it, same as they did for a long time with the grid for their Beauty Dish. I never understood why. That’s a shame, as it means your ability to control the light goes down like an avalanche. Grids for Rotalux modifiers (or egg crates) are only offered by a third party called Lighttools and you will need to buy an additional frame for the grid as none of the Rotalux modifiers do have a recessed front. That totals some 400 Euro. For a Grid. Ouch. And that’s exactly why the rest of my lightbanks came from Creative Light. Decent quality, excellent light – but no Rotalux mechanism. And they ceased to exist, but their product line up is now sold under the Profoto brand.
If you just skip the marketing voodoo, the Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa is a very decent modifier. Not cheap, but the folding mechanism makes it a joy to use when on location. It delivers wonderful light, but you can't expect wonders from it - this is not the silver bullit you possibly are looking for. It's solid, if it survived me, it may survive at your end as well given its decent buildt quality. The mild hype it created in the beginning was maybe a bit over the top. You can live without one. But if you decide to go for it, you will surely like the Deep Octa. And maybe the Swiss will also review their strategy on grids also over the time to come. Once they have illuminated the Matterhorn, of course. May take a while. But hey, they're Swiss. Precision takes time, doesn’t it.
* Wok: also known as Beauty Dish.
** Nothing against the Swiss. Really. But after that Arosa incident that I had back in 1982, nothing was the ever the same.