Although portable, monolights tend to be thought of as studio solutions while strobes and flashes are often considered to be much more compact and portable, like a speedlight. Modern designs in both regards are very versatile and powerful, however, and many photographers will use these terms interchangeably.
An estimate of the power of a flash is given by the guide number, while the power of a monolight is given in Watt/seconds, the maximum amount of power generated each second by the fixture. Watt/seconds can be influenced by a number of factors in the design of the light, so it’s best to think of this number as a general classification rather than a clear specification. With top-notch color rendering, durable casings and reliable burst consistency, pro monolight systems start around the 1200 W/s range, while more affordable models capable of lighting a scene on their own start around the 300 W/s mark.
Remember, distance can matter as much as output, so monolights with a W/s rating below this can still be used quite effectively when positioned near your subject. Multiple strobe units can also be far more effective for your photography over spending a lot of money on a single high-end fixture. When working with more than one light, you can gain multiple lighting setups and more total overall illumination for faster shutter speeds and larger depth of field. When using only a single monolight or flash, on the other hand, the light produced will be highly unidirectional, which can result in a lot of contrast, heavy shadows and vignetting in the background.
The new Photoflex FlexFlash is available in 200 W/s and 400 W/s models with sync speeds of up to 1/250th of a second when wired or fired remotely. They can shoot at up to 1/320th shutter speeds when using the preflash optical sensor, which also makes the FlexFlash compatible with the TTL automatic metering modes of a camera. The 120-watt modeling light can be used proportionate to flash settings for an accurate preview, and it can be set to a continuous mode for video work. FlexFlash kits are available with multiple heads and reflective umbrellas. Estimated Street Price: $389 (FlexFlash 400w Monolite); $319 (FlexFlash 200w Monolite).
The D-Lite RX series is Elinchrom’s family of entry-level compact strobes. There are currently three lights in the line: the 100 W/s D-Lite RX One, the 200 W/s D-Lite RX 2 and the 400 W/s D-Lite RX 4. All three include functions that can be controlled from Macs or PCs through the Skyport Software or the iOS Elinchrom Skyport Wi-Fi app when used with the optional Transceiver RX module. Estimated Street Price: $225 (D-Lite RX One); $339 (D-Lite RX 2); $399 (D-Lite RX 4); $124 (EL-Skyport Transceiver RX).
The Paul C. Buff Einstein E640 is a monolight highly regarded for its above- average capabilities at a below-average price. With variable settings of 2.5 W/s to 640 W/s, nine stops of power can be dialed in at 1/10th of a stop increments throughout the range. The Constant Color setting maintains accurate daylight color consistency, while the Action mode allows faster flash durations in exchange for a slight color shift between bursts. The unit automatically switches powering for use worldwide. List Price: $499.
When used with the optional Jackrabbitpack II power supply, the 400 W/s Dynalite Uni400JRg monolight has flash consistency of 1/10th of a stop in between bursts. With full, 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 power settings, the range is adjustable in 1/3- stop increments, and an exceptionally fast sync speed of 1/2200th of a second is achievable when using minimum power. The light and power pack are available together in kit purchases. Estimated Street Price: $599 (Uni400JRg Monolight); $459 (Dynalite Jackrabbitpack II); $1,139 (Uni400JR Jackrabbit One Light Kit); $2,245 (Dynalite 2-UNI400JR Kit with Two Monolights).
The very affordable 400 W/s Strobelite Plus from F.J. Westcott has an adjustable modeling light and an output offering a range of illumination from 1?4 power to full intensity. The unit contains an infrared optical cell trigger and 1?8-inch sync port for radio triggers. A ready-light will indicate when the Strobelite Plus is fully charged for the next burst. The Strobelite Plus is also available as a Strobelite Plus 2-Light Kit and a Plus 3-Light Kit for extra lampheads and stands with silver softboxes. Estimated Street Price: $229 (Strobelite Plus); $699 (Strobelite Plus 2-Light Kit); $899 (Strobelite Plus 3-Light Kit).
From full to 1/64th power, the 400 W/s Impact LiteTrek 4.0 DC monolight includes five stops of variable output and color consistency that measures within plus or minus 100 degrees of 5500K daylight. A Multi Mode is available for fast strobing to freeze action over several exposures while the Quick Mode will power down the system between bursts to work with shutter speeds up to 1/13,000th of a second. The LiteTrek 4.0 is designed for compatibility with the optional Impact LiteTrek (LT) Battery Pack for up to 650 flashes at maximum power or 3500 strobes on minimum. List Price: $499 (LiteTrek 4.0 DC Flash Head); $799 (LiteTrek 4.0 DC Monolight and Mini LiteTrek (LT) Battery Pack Kit); $1,049 (LiteTrek 4.0 DC Two Monolight and Mini LiteTrek (LT) Battery Pack Kit).
The Flashpoint 180T Monolight Kit (FPBPLB) from Adorama is designed for location work at a budget price. The kit includes two batteries and a charger for up to 700 flashes at full 180 W/s power. Stepless control is provided over a five-stop output range, and the lifetime of the flash tube offers "25,000-30,000 pops if the user isn’t using full power all the time." Estimated Street Price: $250.