Unless you’ve had prior experience with power packs, you’ll likely find the monolight less intimidating to work with—in fact, not much more involved than your trusty shoe-mount, perhaps even simpler. However, you’ll probably want to add a flash meter, since exposures are made entirely with the camera in manual mode. Monolights, by and large, are also more economically priced than power-pack systems, and sometimes more affordable than a high-end TTL-dedicated shoe-mount. The one drawback is that each monolight is, in relative terms, a behemoth.
What You’ll Need For The Photo Shoot
As key light, the monolight should be 300 to 600 w/s, to give you the depth of field needed, unless you prefer to shoot at wider apertures for selective focus. A backlight or hair light can be half the output of the key light. You don’t need a lot of light if the head is positioned close to the subject, but you’ll need a progressively more powerful monolight the more you soften the light.
You may find yourself lowering output on one or more lights to take advantage of shorter flash durations and faster recycling, thereby extending battery life. If possible, choose lights that boast a constant color temperature, so that shorter flash durations won’t affect color balance. I also prefer lights that have continuously variable output (down to 1⁄10 stop increments)—and I find dials easier and faster to adjust than digital settings (but that’s just me).
Be aware that some battery packs can be relatively heavy and bulky, while others are quite compact. The inherent drawback to compact packs (given current technology) is limited capacity. If you can deal with getting only 100 pops (give or take) out of a full charge, at full power (much more, however, when output is reduced), then, by all means, opt for the lighter and more economical package. Smaller packs fit neatly into a kit. But you might want to tote a spare in case the shoot runs longer than expected.
Many AC/DC and DC-only monolights come in kits. These kits routinely begin with the monolight itself, a reflector (dish), flash tube, modeling lamp (if applicable), sync cord and AC cable. The battery pack may actually be optional for monolights that operate off both AC and DC (battery) power.
Battery-Driven Monolights: The Good And The Bad
The monolight is self-contained, except that it requires an external power source. For our purposes, a rechargeable battery pack (NiMH, Li-Ion or lead-acid) provides the required energy. That energy may come in limited doses, but it should be enough to see you through a photo shoot.
Note: Features listed may not apply to all battery-driven monolights.
• Individual monolights are fully controllable, independent of any other monolights in a setup, so output can be adjusted as needed without affecting the other lights
• One battery pack may drive up to two heads (applicable to select higher-priced systems)
• Many monolights don’t support any modeling lights when on battery power
• Monolights are more cumbersome to work with
• May be difficult to see and adjust settings when positioned out of reach
• Ready light may be out of sight (if available, engage audible signals)
• Flash durations may not be optimized to your needs Primary use:
• Lifestyle & portraiture