In a podcast with Jason Anderson we talked about lighting and the disparity in cost between speedlights and a monolighat. A Canon 600EX II-RT speedlite costs $479, a SB-5000 AF speedlight cost $596.95 and while it might be argued that both speedlights are capable shoe-mount flashes, it can be equally argued that a monolight kit, like Elinchrom’s D-Lite RX 4/4 Softbox To Go Kit—that includes two monolights, lightstands, umbrellas and cases to carry it in costing $824.99 is easier to use and get started making portraits right away.
Here are a few features to keep in mind when considering a monolight for your lighting needs. As in all photography this involves trade-offs between functionality, ease-of-use, and cost.
Continuously variable output: Some monolights have power settings of ¼, ½, ¾, and full but sometimes you need more control. Continuously variable output allows you to fine-tune the exposure to get precisely the aperture and depth-of-field you want.
Proportional modeling light: Some monolights provide a simple on or off light that gives an idea of the final lighting effect but may not show the true effect. Monolights with proportional settings allow light output to vary with flash output. Although the modeling light may be bright it’s not as bright as the flash and when you use low power settings the effect of the modeling light may be difficult to see under high ambient light.
Fan cooling: Placing the modeling light, power supply, and flash tube inside a housing creates heat. A fan-cooled monolight is better than an air-cooled model but sometimes makes the monolight bigger, heavier, noisier and more expensive. That is not the case with the compact Elinchrom D-Lite RX One (where the fan only comes on when needed) so maybe the trend is changing.
Portability: The ability to have power supply and light head in a single package makes for simple set up and greater portability. That’s why lots of companies offer packages consisting of monolights, umbrellas, light stands, and even a case for a ready-to-go package. Portability is also why some people prefer speedlights even though they are much more expensive.
If you’re interested in lighting and shooting portraits, please pick up a copy of “Studio Lighting Anywhere” which is available from your favorite book or camera stores as well as Amazon.com, where your purchase helps this blog.