FJ Westcott has been doing umbrella frame softboxes for a while, and I like their Apollo line EXCEPT when you want to wirelessly control your flash with infrared. Because the flash is "in the box" infrared control fails most of the time. Westcott recently released a new family of products called Rapid Box. There are two octagonal softboxes and a small strip light. All use an umbrella stay collapsible system to make the units transportable, but most importantly, place the hotshoe flash on an included bracket outside the box. With the support of Chris and Louise at Henry's in Newmarket Ontario, I was able to do a test of the Octa versions of the Rapid Box units.
Assembly of the box itself is a no brainer if you have ever used an umbrella. Then simply attach the bracket on the box to the flash bracket that comes in the box by rotating the bracket arm and screwing in the flash arm. The only way it could be simpler is if it came fully assembled but that would defeat the superb portability of the unit when packed into the included travel bag. Total set up time including putting the whole thing on a light stand is less than five minutes if you pace yourself.
Mount the flash on the bracket and adjust the height so the flash head just fits inside the opening so all the light from the flash gets into the box. The octal and strip boxes are lined with a high quality silver foil for lots of efficiency and there is a simple diffusion panel that velcro attachs to the edge of the box at the front.
Using either the Nikon Creative Lighting System, Canon Creative Flash System (Infrared) or Canon RT Flash System (Radio) is a breeze. Set the camera flash to be master and to act solely as a trigger. Set the flash attached to the Rapid Box to Slave mode and start shooting. In order to confirm ease of use, I tested in eTTL, eTTL II modes on Canon and iTTL on Nikon. The exposures were excellent without any real need for compensation, leaving control in the hands of the artist. I even made some test exposures using old Canon 580EX units at my friend's home and the shots were beautiful right off the bat with soft clean light that wrapped very well when the light stand was placed properly.
The general rule for any soft box is to put it as close to the subject as possible while keeping it out of frame. Used in this way the Rapid Box is a great choice. Regular readers know that my raved about offering is the Lastolite Joe McNally Signature soft box and I still prefer it for portraits because its light is so creamy. However, I would say that the Rapid Box is as good as the regular silver interior Lastolite and much nicer than the Westcott Apollo collapsible softboxes. The 20" octal sells for around $169 and the 26" octal for around $199. The strip box is 10" x 24" and sells for around $199. There is also an internal reflector disk available to force more internal bouncing around for about $25. I have one of these for my Elinchrom Deep Octa and it does serve to reduce hot spots, although I did not try the Westcott Rapid Box version.
You can find Westcott products online or at Henry's locations in Canada. Support them if you would in thanks for providing evaluation products to me to test.