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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hi-Tech Studio: Monolights

As ideal lighting for studio or location photographers, monolights give you a great combination of power, control and portability

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Westcott Strobelite 3-Light Kit
Besides maximum power, you should consider the ability to adjust the power of the flash burst. It's easier, in a multi-light setup, to adjust the power of each flash head appropriately than it is to physically move each unit closer to or farther from the subject to establish the desired lighting ratio. Lower-cost units might operate only at full power, or at full and half power. Better units might let you adjust power down to 1/32 power or less, in full-stop or fractional-stop increments, or even continuously.

With some flash systems, the color of the light changes with the power. Shooting RAW with digital cameras, you can deal with this in postproduction, but it's best to get a system that minimizes color shift with power setting. Some manufacturers provide data on this, others don't.

Better (generally, higher-priced) monolights have better repeatabi-lity—each flash at a given power setting is just like the last one. Lesser units might provide slightly stronger or weaker bursts from flash to flash.

Flash Duration
Camera-mount auto-flash units have very short durations—generally, from around 1/1000 second at full power, down to 1/20,000 or so when used at very close range or set to minimum power in manual mode. Studio flash units have slower durations— often starting much longer than 1/1000 and rarely going above 1/2000. This isn't a major consideration, unless you want to do those "frozen-milk-drop" kind of studies, in which case a camera-mount unit is a better choice than a studio unit.

Flashpoint II FP320MPK Monolight Kit
Modeling Lamps
Because the flash burst is very brief, you can't study your lighting as you can with continuous "hot" lights. So, most studio flash systems provide modeling lamps, which are continuous-running bulbs adjacent to the flash tubes that let you see what the lighting looks like. Unless you work in a very dim environment, you'll want a system with powerful modeling lamps. In multiple-light setups, it's also helpful if the modeling lamps are proportional; that is, if they automatically brighten or dim to match the power setting you use for each flash head. With some systems, you can manually adjust the brightness of the modeling lamps.

Recycling Time
It takes time for a flash unit to recharge between bursts, and this is known as the recycling time. With some types of photography, it doesn't matter if you have to wait several seconds between shots; with other types, quick recycling is essential. Flash manufacturers publish recycling times for their units at various power settings (units recycle more quickly after brief low-power bursts than after longer full-power bursts). Bear in mind that these published times may be somewhat optimistic, especially for battery-powered units as the battery wears down.

While dedicated camera-mount flash units are triggered via the camera's hot-shoe, studio flash systems are triggered via sync cords. So you need a camera body that has a PC socket to connect the studio flash system. All pro DSLRs and many mid-range models have this.


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