Buying Your First Monolight

You’ve reached a point in your photography where you feel that shoe-mount flash just won’t cut it anymore. You want something with more panache that says, “I’m good; I’m taking professional-level pictures.” Well, you can get studio strobe lighting, which will cost little more than a good speedlight, without making any great sacrifices. Of course, you know the old adage, “Spend more, get more.” That holds true with studio lighting. And the best place to start is with a monolight.

AlienBees ABR800 Ring Flash

What Is a Monolight?

Look at a flashlight. It’s long, it’s round, and everything you need to operate it is right there. Now put that flashlight through that Honey, I Blew Up the Kid machine, add a few bells and whistles, make some of the key components interchangeable, and voilà! You have a monolight. When push comes to shove, a monolight should be no more difficult to use than turning on a flashlight.

Broncolor Minicom 80

Okay, maybe that’s oversimplified, but not dramatically so. Let’s begin by pointing out that a monolight, sometimes called a monobloc, is self-contained. By this we mean that, like your speedlight, all the controls, circuitry and the capacitor are centralized and integrated into one body together with the business end—the flash head.

Calumet Travelite 750R

What’s more, the monolight needs to be plugged in somewhere. Most are AC-driven off household current. Many are single-voltage; others may be dual-voltage, perhaps with auto-sensing circuitry (not something you’ll need for a home studio). Some monolights plug into a battery, and select AC units may have a battery option.

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