Making the Most of Monolights
Also known as studio strobes or monoblocks, monolights are self-contained flashes that house the lamp, fan, and power supply in one unit. They deliver powerful illumination with minimal recycle time, and are extremely versatile. Most are battery-powered monolights that draw power from AC sources such as standard wall sockets. You also find battery-powered strobes that connect to DC power sources such as portable battery packs.
Using a Monolight
Setting up your monolight involves fitting it on a stand, connecting the power and camera, and tweaking the settings. Connection to the camera is usually via cords, such as 3.5mm jacks, x-sync, Prontor-Compur (PC) cables, or IR or other wireless systems. Most models feature adjustable outputs, usually comprising of full, half, and quarter power, with some models allowing outputs of as low as 1/32. Unlike regular strobes, which you can control from a central console, each studio strobe needs individual adjustment. However, remote controls are available for certain models.
Differences Between Monolights and Speedlights
Both monolights and speedlights provide flash lighting. Monolight strobes run on AC power, which means powerful illumination and fast recycling times. In addition, as you position them individually, they don't need long, cumbersome, power-sapping extension cables. However, they can be bulky, which makes them more suitable for indoor studio use. They can also be expensive, especially when factoring in the cost of accessories such as softboxes, battery packs, and umbrellas.
Also known as flash guns, speedlights are devices that you mount either on hot shoes or off camera on light stands. Compared to monolights, they're reasonably priced and compact. In addition, as they usually run on AA batteries, they're very convenient. On the other hand, they deliver slower recycling times and far less illuminating power than monolight strobes.
How to Choose a Monolight
As with investing in any photographic equipment, your choice of monolight depends on your resources and intended use. The more spacious your studio, the more power you need from your flash, and the more units you'll need.
Weight is another matter. Monolights can be bulky, so you need to be sure your stands can handle the weight and size. With power packs and strobe lighting, you get flexible options that feature flash heads, power packs, and kits.
You'll also have to consider the matter of consistency. This refers to the variance in power output from flash to flash. As a guide, units that vary over 1/5 of an F-stop are often inconsistent. Obviously, this makes it difficult for photographers to calculate aperture settings with any accuracy.
Another factor to consider when investing in a monolight is the availability of accessories and spare parts. The more solid the brand, the more likely it is to be available. Leading makers such as Profoto and Godox, for example, come with a full range of accessories.
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