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Friday, February 7, 2014

High-Power Monolights

For versatility in and out of the studio, these high-output strobes are ideal

Labels: GearLighting
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Paul C. Buff Einstein E640; Bowens Gemini 750 Pro

When it comes time to invest in in serious strobe lighting, many photographers opt for the versatility of monolights. Whereas pack-based systems typically provide greater output (measured in watt seconds, or ws, equivalent to joules), monolights are modular, self-contained and less expensive—making them the ideal entrée into the studio strobe lighting universe.

But the typical monolight is limited by power. The most prevalent monolights are under 600ws, commonly in the 300ws range. While these relatively low-power lights can work fine in the studio, they can present a major problem outside of it: They're practically impossible to balance with daylight.

A typical sunny-day exposure is 1⁄100 sec., ƒ/16, ISO 100. This requires a lot of light from a strobe to equal the sun's intensity. The workaround with an underpowered strobe is to position it very close to the subject. To overpower daylight—that is, eliminate its influence in the image and rely solely on the strobe exposure—even more power is needed. For lighting flexibility, high-power strobes are crucial. Thankfully, high-power monolight options are increasing.

Interfit Stellar X
Monolights are inexpensive and modular because, unlike pack and head systems, they can be purchased one light at a time, and different brands of lights can work together. Although you're not locked into a single system with monolights, it can still be wise to consider the variety of modifiers available—from umbrellas to reflectors, snoots to softboxes—before investing in a particular brand. Proprietary speedrings and connectors could tie you to a specific line, anyway.

Adjusting one monolight's output has no impact on the power available to other lights, and if one monolight fails, the remaining heads continue to function. If you're using multiple lights over a large area, monolights can be helpful. They have built-in photo sensors for slaved triggering across distances, and better units have integrated (or atleast optional) radio receivers for syncing multiple units without having to maintain line of sight. Some of these remotes can also adjust output settings, as well. As long as there's electricity near the position of each monolight—or an optional battery pack, a popular monolight accessory, is used—they can be placed as far from one another as necessary. By comparison, a pack and head system tethers each light to the same pack, limiting their spread, and isn't as easily powered by battery.

High-end monolights increasingly offer more features and benefits over their entry-level cousins. Color consistency—the ability to precisely reproduce the same color temperature every time, flash after flash, even as bulbs age and voltage changes—is the mark of a well-made monolight. Other indicators of the best lights are build quality, "fine-tunability" (the ability to make very small adjustments to the light's output) and recycle time. A full-power flash may take five seconds to recycle in an inexpensive unit, but only two seconds in a high-end model.


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