There are two basic types of studio flash: powerpack-and-heads systems and monolights. The former provides a lot of power and control, but is a bit unwieldy, and the cables connecting the lamp heads to the powerpack are just waiting to trip someone. Monolights are self-contained; the lamp head and the powerpack are built into a single unit. Like the pack-and-heads systems, they can run off AC power, but many monolights also can be operated on battery power, making them great location light sources.
Most monolights are much more powerful than shoe-mount flash units. More power means you can shoot at smaller apertures to increase depth of field, especially important when using umbrella reflectors and the like, which greatly reduce intensity. While shoe-mount flash units are rated in guide numbers, monolights and studio flash are rated in watt-seconds or joules (one joule = one watt-second). Guide numbers are measures of output, while watt-seconds and joules are measures of generator power, so they can’t really be compared (output depends on generator power, flash head and reflector), but, roughly, 600 watt-seconds or joules would give an ISO 100 GN of around 80 in meters or 262 in feet (much depends on the reflector).
Monolights are also bulkier than shoe-mount flash units, so if bulk is a concern, pay special attention to the size and weight of the monolight and battery pack (if a separate unit) in the specs when evaluating units. Many of today’s monolights are more compact than previous generations. Of course, you aren’t going to use a monolight on-camera, so bulk is mainly a concern when carrying the gear to and from locations.
Battery technology is better today than in previous generations, with battery packs that are more compact and provide more flashes per charge. When checking specs, make sure you’re comparing like with like: The number of full-power flashes will be much lower than the number of 1/32-power flashes. The same applies to recycling times. A unit will recycle much quicker after a 1/32-power pop than after a full-power one. Power setting also affects flash duration. Duration is longest at full power and briefest at minimum power. It’s not a bad idea to carry a spare battery or two if you plan to do a lot of shooting at a location that doesn’t have access to AC power; in such cases, battery packs that have removable batteries are a big plus.
One of the big advantages of monolights is the wide range of excellent light modifiers available—parabolic reflectors, umbrellas, light boxes, snoots, grids, beauty dishes, barndoors and more. Many units accept standard "S" modifiers. Check to see what’s offered for each unit you’re considering to make sure what you need is available. For a wedding shooter who wants more light-shaping at his or her disposal, the array of sophisticated modifiers is incredibly beneficial.
The Gemini 750Pro monolight from Bowens provides flash durations up to 1/2300, quick 1.5-second recycling and 750 watt-seconds of power (ISO 100 GN 100 in meters/328 in feet). It features a proportional modeling light, a color temperature of 5600K (+/-300K) and optional remote radio triggering via the PocketWizard BowensGEM receiver module or Pulsar remote trigger card. The 750Pro has a cooling fan, and it can be powered by AC or an optional Bowens Travelpak battery, which can handle two Gemini units. Gemini 750Pro dimensions are 6.7×16.1×5.2 inches; weight is 8.8 pounds. The Travelpak (Small) measures 6.7×5.5×8.1 inches and weighs 11 pounds; the Travelpak (Large) measures 6.7×5.5×9.4 inches and weighs 14 pounds. The Large pack provides about twice the number of flashes as the Small. www.bowensusa.com
Broncolor offers Siros monolights in 400- and 800-joule models. The Siros 800 S provides flash durations up to 1/8000 (with a special HS flash tube in HyperSync mode), recycling from 0.02 to 0.95 seconds and 800 joules (watt-seconds) of power. It features a proportional modeling light, a constant color temperature of 5500K (thanks to Enhanced Color Temperature Control) at all power settings and remote control via WiFi and smart device, plus radio control or PocketWizard control. The Siros has a cooling fan, and it can be powered by AC or the optional Move battery pack. The Siros 800 S dimensions are 5.1×12.6×7.1 inches, and weight is 7.9 pounds. The Move battery pack dimensions are 8.3×6.7×9 inches, and weight is 13.7 pounds, including battery. www.hasselbladbron.com
Dynalite’s Baja B4 battery-powered monolight features built-in wireless control. The 400 w/s Baja B4 provides flash durations from 1/500 to 1/12,800, recycles in 0.2 to 3.7 seconds, and delivers up to 550 flashes per charge at full power and up to 3600 at minimum power. It features a 5W modeling light, a color temperature of 5500K (+/-200K) and a 2.4 GHz wireless triggering system that works up to 590 feet away and can control up to six groups, with up to 16 channels per group. Dimensions are 13.5×4.8×8.6 inches; weight is 6.1 pounds. www.dynalite.com
Elinchrom’s Ranger system consists of three monolight heads and the Ranger RX Speed AS portable battery pack. The Ranger A (Action) head can deliver durations as fast as 1/5120 via superfast channel B. The Ranger S (Standard) head is excellent for general purposes and ideal for outdoor use with HyperSync high-speed flash. The Ranger RX Ringflash 1500 encircles the camera lens, providing shadowless lighting for close-ups and fashion. All provide up to 1100 watt-seconds of output, color temperature of 5500K and recycling to full power in 3 seconds. The battery pack provides EL-Skyport radio remote control and triggering; an optional WiFi module and the EL-Skyport app let you control things from your iPad, iPod touch or iPhone. The S and A heads both measure 9.4×5.5×8.3 inches and weigh 5.2 pounds, including cable. The Ringflash head measures 9.0×7.9×12.6 inches and weighs 3.9 pounds. The Ranger RX Speed AS battery pack measures 7.5×5.5×11 inches and weighs 17.6 pounds. www.elinchrom.com
The Flashpoint RoveLight 600 monolight is a self-contained, battery-powered unit with a 16-channel TRS radio controller. It provides flash durations up to 1/15,000, recycling from 0.3 to 3.5 or 0.3 to 4.5 seconds, and settings from 1/128 to full power (600 watt-seconds). It features a color temperature of 5500K (+/-200K) and an LED modeling lamp. Dimensions are 5x5x10.5 inches, and weight is 5.5 pounds. www.adorama.com
Hensel’s Porty L 600 and Porty L 1200 portable battery units can power a number of Hensel AC monolights. The L 600 provides up to 600 w/s, with flash durations of 1/4200 to 1/7650 and recycling times from 0.15 to 1.1 seconds. The L 1200 provides up to 1200 w/s, with flash durations from 1/2400 to 1/5200 and recycling times from 0.2 to 2.1 seconds. Both units measure 7.8×8.9×8.5 inches; the L 600 weighs 11.9 pounds, and the L 1200 weighs 13 pounds. Hensel monolights include the Expert D (500 and 1000 w/s, with three built-in radio receivers), the Integra Plus (250, 500 and 1000 w/s, with built-in Strobe Wizard radio receiver and freemask, which takes a normally lit image and another using only the backlighting for easy masking in Photoshop), the compact Integra Mini (300 and 500 w/s), and the Speed Max, which can deliver durations as brief as 1/66,660 second and up to 31 flashes per second. hensel.eu
The Xtreme300 Flash Head from Interfit is a 300 w/s unit that can be used with AC power or the optional Stellar Xtreme Battery Pack, which provides more than 100 full-power flashes per charge. The Xtreme300 head provides power settings from 1/16 to full, 2-second recycling to full power (on AC) and a color temperature of 5600K. There’s a 150W modeling lamp (AC operation only), and the mounting bracket is on a rail so you can balance it easily when using large light modifiers. The Xtreme300 measures 17x10x5.5 inches and weighs 4 pounds; the Xtreme Battery Pack measures 7.5×6.5×3.5 inches and weighs 3.1 pounds. www.interfitphotographic.com
JTL offers 300, 400, 600 and 1000 w/s Mobilight monolights that run off AC or battery power (and come with both cord and battery), as well as the DC-600 and DC-1000 600 w/s and 1000 w/s Mobilights, which run on battery only, providing up to 500 full-power flashes with the DC-600 and up to 260 with the DC-1000. All have a built-in photo slave and a 360° universal radio receiver for wireless remote control. The AC units have 150W modeling lights, while the battery-only ones have a 10W modeling lamp. Color temperature is 5600K. The AC/battery units weigh from 3.3 to 5 pounds, and the DC-only units weigh 5.5 pounds. Dimensions for the DC-600 are 5x5x8 inches. www.jtlcorp.com
Paul C. Buff
Paul C. Buff offers two battery packs, both of which can be used to power up to four of its monolights—White Lightning, AlienBees, Einstein and Vagabond. The compact Vagabond Mini Lithium (3.5 pounds) provides 200 to 250 flashes per charge with 1280 w/s, with recycling times from 1 second (with 150 w/s connected) to 20 seconds (with 3200 w/s); the Vagabond Lithium Extreme (6 pounds) provides more flashes per charge and provides recycling times twice as fast. The all-digital Einstein E640 monolight has a built-in fan and miniSD slot for firmware upgrades. Four AlienBees units (160, 320 and 640 w/s, and a 320 w/s ringflash) offer power settings from full to 1/32. Three White Lightning units (330, 660 and 1320 w/s) offer dual power; high is adjustable from full to 1/32 and low from 1/4 to 1/128. All offer quick recycling and built-in slave triggers. www.paulcbuff.com
Photogenic’s compact StudioMax III monolight line includes three models that can run on battery power, as well as AC. The AKB-1 battery pack can deliver more than 200 full-power flashes with the 160 w/s AKC160B and 150 with the 320 w/s AKC320B units. The battery pack weighs 3 pounds, as do the monolights. The monolights measure 5.3×5.3×7 inches, and the battery pack measures 8.8×4.4×1.9 inches. The AC320BR monolight has a built-in radio remote receiver. www.photogenic.com
The MBX500 and MBX1000 from Priolite provide studio power (500 and 1000 w/s, respectively) without the hassle of cables or heavy external battery packs, thanks to the exchangeable lithium-ion batteries built into the back of the lights. With the power of 10 to 20 speedlights packed into one unit, the MBX series allows you to balance out bright sunlight when on location. Both units feature a quick duration of 1/4500 at full power, modeling lights, optical slaves and bidirectional radio controls. The MBX500 measures 15.7×6.7 inches and weighs 7 pounds, including battery. The MBX1000 measures 18×6.7 inches and weighs 9.9 pounds, including battery. www.priolite.com
Profoto has recently added the B2 250 AirTTL battery-powered monolight to complement its B1 500 AirTTL monolight; the new unit is a lighter, more compact counterpart to the B1. Both units provide TTL exposure control with Canon and Nikon DSLRs. The new B2 can deliver up to 250 w/s with settings from full power to 1/256. Flash durations range from 1/1000 to 1/9300 (to 1/15,000 in Freeze Mode), recycling times from 0.03 to 1.3 seconds (with 20 flashes per second in Quick burst mode). The included battery pack provides up to 215 full-power flashes. Built-in AirTTL provides wireless sync. The B2 head measures 3.9 inches in diameter and 4 inches in length, and weighs 1.5 pounds. The battery unit measures 6.3×3.1×6.7 inches and weighs 3.5 pounds. Despite the B2’s compact size, it can use all Profoto light modifiers. profoto.com
Visatec by Bron
Visatec offers two lines of monolights, both of which can be powered by AC or the Broncolor Powerbox 900 battery unit. The Solo B line (130 to 1200 w/s) is lower priced, yet versatile; the Logos line (300 and 600 w/s) features higher-end units. RFS models use the Radio Frequency System remote control via transmitter for PC or Mac. The Powerbox 900 can provide up to 240 flashes at 300 w/s and can supply up to 900 w/s of total output. www.hasselbladbron.com