Monolights are the unsung heroes of the studio photography world. While they’re compact and transportable, they’re less powerful than pack-based studio gear, and many studio photographers consider them to be a second-tier lighting solution because of the complexity of setting them up and triggering them. New battery-powered monolights and wireless triggering, though, make monolights much more powerful, and should be a serious first choice for the wedding, event and location photographer.
Much of the negative opinion about monolights is outdated and has to do with limitations of previous generations of the lighting tools. Studio lights have the advantage of being able to be powered via a single electrical connection—connect the pack to an AC outlet, and the pack then powers each individual light.
The same wire providing electrical power to the individual strobes also provides the signal to trigger the strobes, so all lights can be triggered with one connection to the pack.
While a monolight doesn’t need to be connected to a pack, it still needs its own source of electrical power. You might be able to run four or more lights from a single studio pack (which only needs one power cord connected to an outlet), but the monolight traditionally needed one power outlet per unit and then would require a second connection to trigger the strobe.
Historically, studio packs were able to output much more light than a monolight, and adjusting the output to any of the lights connected to a studio pack can be done from the pack itself, as opposed to walking from light to light and turning dials. Having to move between monolights to change settings can make them less useful in a multi-light studio setting.
This has changed in recent years, thanks to the advent of the battery-powered monolight and remote triggering systems. It’s now possible to run a group of monolights without a single AC cord in sight, and the wireless remote systems integrated into these units allows them to be adjusted right from the camera. Return to the studio, and the battery-driven monolight plugs into an outlet and becomes a powered unit.
Some monolights now offer TTL functionality for Canon, Nikon and Sony systems, which makes shooting with monolights as simple as shooting with on-camera flash. Combine this with high-speed sync speeds, and the monolight becomes a truly compelling choice for a variety of location photographic work.
Truly, the battery-powered monolight has hit its stride thanks to advances in battery power and new wireless technology. Battery-powered units still aren’t capable of hitting the high-end output of a 1000Ws studio strobe, but they’re getting ever closer—500, 600 and even 800Ws units are now available, and that’s more than enough light for many shooters.
With a number of choices in battery-powered lighting from the most respected names in lighting, it’s hard to go wrong. Here’s our guide to the current crop of must-have battery-powered monolights.
Broncolor Siros L
The Broncolor Siros L packs a studio-like punch at 800Ws. The battery-powered monolight produces fewer flashes per battery at the highest setting (220) but has more power than the other units and can be dialed down to a low 2Ws. A 70-minute charge replenishes the battery. A Speed Mode allows for flash sync to 1/8000th of a second. With a minimalist design, a main dial on the back controls all of the monolight’s features. The Broncolor RFS 2.2 transmitter is available for Nikon, Canon and Sony systems. Price: $2,350. Website: bron.ch/broncolor
Dynalite Baja B4 and Baja B6
The Dynalite Baja B4 and Baja B6 fraternal twins share a similar design, with different top speeds. The Baja B4 is a 400Ws strobe, and the Baja B6 is a 600Ws strobe, and both have an impressive 1/12,800th of a second top flash duration that can be adjusted in 1/10th stop increments. The Baja B4 has a six-stop range, while the Baja B6 has a seven-stop range. The smaller Baja B4 unit provides 550 flashes on a single charge, while the B6 can handle 400 flashes, and the batteries charge in around five hours. The (included) 2.4 GHz control can operate the units at up to 590 feet with a 1/250th sync speed, and works with Canon and Nikon systems. Price: Baja B4 ($600); Baja B6 ($750). Website: dynalite.com
Flashpoint XPLOR 600 TTL HSS
The Flashpoint XPLOR 600 TTL HSS is an affordable, powerful monolight with both TTL and non-TTL versions available. Combine the XPLOR with a Canon, Nikon or Sony transmitter to enable full wireless TTL control of the 600W/s monolight using a 2.4 GHz transmitter/receiver. The battery provides more than 450 full-power flashes on a single charge. High-speed sync is available up to 1/1000th of a second thanks to it stroboscopic flash tube. The unit has both first and second curtain sync and an LED modeling light, and creates output at 5600K. Price: $749. Website: adorama.com
Impact Venture TTL 600w/s Monolight Kit
The Venture TTL 600Ws monolight (also referred to as the VETTL-600, by the company) has an eight-stop range and can produce 500 full-power flashes on a single charge. Compactness is a goal of the unit, and the company says it takes up as much space as a standard 24-70mm lens or a few on-camera speedlights. The remote system has nine channels and three groups, and it works with Canon, Nikon and Sony systems. A Quick mode recycles the flash in 1.2 seconds, and a Power mode recycles in three seconds but offers more output. A built-in 15W LED modeling light helps set up a scene before shooting starts. Max flash duration is 1/18500th of a second. Price: $1,250. Website: impactstudiolighting.com
The Interfit S1 is a 500Ws monolight that has a top High Speed Sync speed of 1/8000th and a top speed of 1/11000th of a second, with a nine-stop power range adjustable in 1/10th step increments. The system provides TTL control with a Canon, Nikon or Sony remote, with a range up to 328 feet. The TTL remote automatically adjusts the power from a low of 7.8Ws to the full 500Ws. Color accuracy is guaranteed +/-100K across the full flash range. Price: $750. Website: interfitphotographic.com
Profoto B1 500 AirTTL
A cousin of the popular Profoto D1 Air monolights, the B1 adds battery power, enabling the unit to hit the road. With a max recycle time of 1.9 and as fast as 0.1 seconds, the B1 500 AirTTL can sync at 1/8000th of a second and can freeze motion with a minimum duration of 1/19,000th of a second with a nine-stop range. The unit gets 220 flashes on a two-hour charge or a one-hour charge with the company’s quick charger unit. The Air Remote TTL-C, Air Remote TTL-N and Air Remote TTL-S give Canon, Nikon and Sony users (respectively) the ability to shoot without thinking about flash settings. The units work from up to 330 feet and can control three groups. Price: $2,100. Website: profoto.com
Bowens XMT500 TTL
The Bowens XMT500 TTL is a 500Ws monolight that works (depending on the model) with Nikon, Canon and Sony TTL systems, which means that photographers can just turn on the strobe system and set their cameras, and metering will be set automatically. This can be overridden, of course, with a direct control of the nine stops of power from a low of 2Ws to the maximum 500Ws. The system uses a 2.4 GHz wireless system for control of all the light’s functions, including power, high-speed sync settings and sync delay. The TTL transmitter unit (sold separately) gives the XMT500 TTL a range of just under 300 feet. Recycle time is as low as two seconds, and the battery will produce around 500 full-power flashes. [As of this post, Bowens is in liquidation and presumably up for sale, but its lighting products are still available from third-party sellers.) Price: $1,700. Website: bowensusa.com