What is a monolight?
A monolight is a self-contained light source in which the flash head contains the lamp, modeling light, cooling fan and power supply, as opposed to component systems featuring separate heads and power packs, which are commonly referred to as generators, power packs or pack-and-head-systems. Depending on the make and model, most monolights also feature infrared (IR) slaves, radio slaves or a combination of the two.
I’ve heard monolights referred to as monoblocks. Is there a difference between the two?
It’s called marketing. In the real world they’re one and the same.
What are the advantages of monolights over component flash systems featuring separate heads and power packs?
Monolights have several benefits. Unlike component systems, which are tethered by power cables measuring a certain number of feet in length, monolights are self-contained, and as such can be positioned further from one another without having to add the power-robbing extension cables that connect heads and power packs. You lose about ¼-stop of light output each time you add a cable connection with a component system.
The lack of cables also makes it easier to hide your lights from view behind walls, columns, etc., without having to bury cables under the rugs or carpeting (assuming there are rugs or carpets) or retouch them out after the fact.
Many location photographers prefer monolights because, depending on the make and model, monolight systems are more compact than most component flash systems, though it should be noted that both Dynalite and Comet manufacture extremely compact component-based flash systems.
Lastly, unlike component flash systems in which a failed pack can put up to four heads or more out of commission, if you blow the power supply in a monolight, only one head is sidelined.
Are there any disadvantages to monolights, compared to separate heads and power packs?
The downside of monolights is that unlike component flash systems, with which you can control the power output of multiple flash heads from a single control panel, with monolights you have to adjust the output levels of each head individually, from the control panels located at the rear of each head.
A workaround to this problem is to use remote power controllers. These are manufacturer specific and they're designed to control monolight power levels.
Which are “better”—monolights or separate heads and packs?
The best choice is whichever type of system best fits your needs. You can’t go wrong either way.
Can monolights and component flash systems featuring separate packs and heads be used together?
Absolutely, and since flash systems communicate via IR or radio control, you can even mix brands, though you can’t mix packs and heads from different manufacturers.
What kinds of power ranges are available in monolight systems?
Monolights are available in a power range of 160 to 1500 watt/seconds.
What about light-shaping tools and other lighting accessories? Are they available and interchangeable with component flash systems?
Depending on the make and model, monolights can be used with any number of OEM and third-party accessories including umbrellas, softboxes, strip lights, reflectors, grids and snoots. In almost all cases, these same accessories can be used interchangeably between monolights and component flash systems from the same manufacturer.
Are monopacks available in kit form or solely as individual units?
Both. They are available as kits or á la carte.
What about multi-voltage monolights?
Monolights are available in 120V, 220-230V, and multi-voltage configurations.
Are monolights only available in the form of electronic flash?
No, in fact many of the newer fluorescent-based lighting systems are self-contained monolights, as are most tungsten, LED and HMI lighting systems.
- Monolights are self-contained lighting units that contain both the power supply and lamp head.
- Monolights are also referred to as monoblocks.
- The benefits of monolights over flash systems consisting of separate heads and power supplies include compactness and the ability to place monolights further apart than heads tethered to power supplies. Also, since each monolight has its own power supply, if one power supply fails, the remaining heads remain fully functional.
- The disadvantage of monolights is that, unlike lighting systems with separate heads and power supplies with which you can control the light output of each head from a central control, each monolight has to be adjusted separately, which when shooting under the gun can eat up valuable time.
- Most monoblocks and head-and-pack systems can be integrated and used together in the studio or on location.
- Light-shaping tools (umbrellas, light boxes, snoots, reflectors, grids, etc.) can almost always be used interchangeably between monolights and head-and-pack systems from the same manufacturer.
- Monolights are available in a power range of 160 to 1500W/s.
- Monolights can be purchased individually or in kits of multiple units from most manufacturers, and are almost universally available in 120V, 220-230V or multi-voltage configurations.
- Though most commonly available as electronic flash units, monolights are also available with tungsten, LED, HMI and fluorescent light sources.