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Mono-light or Speedlite?

Chris Backhouse , Jul 26, 2013; 03:34 a.m.

I'm pondering over some flash equipment and can't decide what type to get. Just wondered what your collective experience might say.
Most of my flash experience is in Architectural/Property photography and at the moment I use it to fill in dark areas. I merge multiple frames together so I'm not too worried about getting everything covered in one go, though that would be nice.
I do a little outdoor Portraits, not much and tend to use a speedlite with a small softbox off camera + reflector and that is adequate .
Recently, I've been commissioned to do some group photos, a mixture of indoor and outdoor and for the indoor I'm thinking I'll need to get in something a bit more powerful (in a chateau so want some features in the background).
At the same time, I'm thinking it might be useful to have something more powerful for my Property photos as any time I can save in Post Production is a bonus - but I have to balance that against trawling to much kit around a house. Some shoots take me 6 hours as it is!
I'm wondering whether to go the speedlite route, get one more speedlite and a pair of umbrellas or go for something much more powerful like an A/C powered mono-light.
Budget is important so I'm looking at the "starter" end of the market...
Any thoughts would be appreciated...


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Paco Rosso , Jul 26, 2013; 08:00 a.m.

Handheld flashes ("speedlites") are under 150js power while compact flashes ("monlight") are from 200 to 1500js.
I think the best is a kit with 2 compact with 400-600js and one handheld.
(Bowens gemini, elinchrom BX or Dlite, profoto D1, etc).

Rodeo Joe , Jul 26, 2013; 09:38 a.m.

You can't compare speedlights to monolights by their power alone. I often use some Nikon SB-25s where there's no mains power, or sometimes just for their convenience, compactness and speed of setup and knockdown. They're among the most powerful hotshoe units you can find, but they're only 75 Joules or so apiece. Even so, the light they put out is equivalent in power to those cheap 120 Joule (but advertised as 180 W/s) little studio strobes.

The difference is in the efficiency of the reflector and tube, which is much higher for hotshoe units. IME, to gain any real light power over a top-of-the-line speedlight, you have to start with a reputable make of 200 Joule monolight, and even then the gain is probably less than one stop. However the spread and quality of light is better with monolights, even before you start adding modifiers. Basically, you pays your money and you takes your choice. Do you need the ability to easily take modifiers and have a bit of power in hand, with the inconvenience of being tied to mains cables or an expensive and heavy battery pack? Or do you want to travel light (pun entirely intended), maybe risking running out of covering power and having to jig modifiers onto lights they were never intended for?

BTW, there's no way that Bowens Gemini or any of Profoto's gear could be described as "starter" kit. Elinchrom I'd personally steer clear of because of their proprietory speedring fitting.

Craig Shearman , Jul 26, 2013; 10:53 a.m.

How many speedlites are you currently using? Architectural work is typically done with multiple lights, not just one light trying to blast the whole room. If you are only using one flash, adding a second or third in the appropriate position can open up backgrounds and let you highlight features of a room. They don't necessarily have to be super powerful because sometimes the idea is to add just a little light here and a little light there. You should visit www.strobist.com -- he shoots almost everything with speedlights.

There are obviously situations where you need the power of monolights, but for this type of work (and most other work) you'll need more than one. I have Novatrons, which are affordable, and lots of people like Alien Bees. Keep away from the $100 toys -- you get what you pay for.

Chris Backhouse , Jul 26, 2013; 11:30 a.m.

Thanks Craig and Rodeo Joe,
I think my preference would have veered towards speedlites both for portability (having cables all over the house and having to lug it all up 3 flights of stairs) and also as Craig mentioned, lighting different parts of a room.
I currently only use one speedlite but as I'm merging frames with enfuse, I move the speedlite around ... but as mentioned, I would love to cut down on Post processing time and effort
I was just wondering if a single monolight would blast enough light into a room not to worry about multiple speedlites ...
Joe: Interesting to hear that a low end monolight isn't that much different to a good speedlite.
I don't need to use light modifiers ... at the moment

Matt Laur , Jul 26, 2013; 12:46 p.m.

I was just wondering if a single monolight would blast enough light into a room not to worry about multiple speedlites ...

The problem is the inverse square law. You sure can blast a lot of light into a room with a powerful monolight - but that light is going to be a lot stronger on the end of the room nearest the light, and get weaker at the square of the distance. Careful placement, good bouncing, etc., and some work in post can help to balance things out ... but strategically placing more lights can make more of a difference.

Of course you run the risk, with multiple lights, of casting some very unnatural-seeming shadows coming from multiple directions. Every room is different! When I can, I really prefer to use a tripod, drag the shutter to make the most of every bit of ambient light, and then fill only as needed with flash. Hoofing it up to the third floor with speedlights sure is easier than lugging the big guns! Nikon's speedlights are a delight, for me, because I really like their CLS system.

Ellis Vener , Jul 26, 2013; 08:55 p.m.

The big advantages of an AC powered monolight over aspeedlight are - more energy. - far faster recycling between flashes. - a modeling light.

Surprising as it is three years after its introduction the state of the art, best value for the buck in moonlights remains the Paul C. Buff Einstein 640. (And yes i have used the current Elinchrom and Profoto monolights as well.)

An Einstein costs approximately the same as a Canon 600 EX RT Speedlite or Nikon SB-910 Speedlight. Very consistent light quality, energy is controlled in tenth stop increments, compatible with the Pocketwizard ControlTL wireless sync/control system, and a 250 watt quartz-halogen modeling light. PCB inc also makes a crackerjack

For what you do, also look at the new Lumopro LP180 purely manual hotshoe mount flash. Similar in size, as well as maximum and minimum energy to the aforementioned Canon and Nikon hot shoe flashes but 2/5ths the price. They have slave modes that allow them to work perfectly in conjunction with E-TTL controlled Canon Speedlites and iTTL controlled Nikon Speedlites.

Rodeo Joe , Jul 27, 2013; 01:28 p.m.

I think what Ellis said about the Lumopro's slave compatibility needs a bit of expansion.
No offence meant Ellis, but it does read like this flash is E-TTL and/or i-TTL compatible - It's not. It's also not CLS or Advanced Wireless Lighting capable either. What it has is a built-in optical slave that can be programmed to ignore a set number of pre-flashes, which is a bit different.

What you get with the Lumopro LP180 is an all-manual flash with good control of its power and excellent synching ability, but a cheap set of radio triggers could add that to almost any flash. There's a review of the LP180 here, with a fuller explanantion of its facilities.

I'm not knocking the Lumopro, but for even less money you could buy a 2nd user Nikon SB-25 with manual power regulation down to 1/64th in 1/3rd stop decrements - below that, quite frankly, you might just as well strike a match! I've not paid more than £30 UK (about $50 US) recently for an SB-25, and wouldn't be without them. Plus they have an extremely reliable Auto-Aperture mode and a repeating flash facility. Recycle time from full power is under 4 seconds and they're just as powerful as the latest (and very overpriced) SB-910. You would need to get some additional triggering gear, stands and hotshoe clamps, but you could still end up with a kit of 4 or so very useful lights for under $350 total.

Ellis Vener , Jul 27, 2013; 01:45 p.m.

I guess the "purely manual" part confused you. I'll try to write more simply next time.

Marc Williams , Jul 27, 2013; 03:11 p.m.

Studio strobes beat speed-lights for quality of light, consistency of light, quantity of light, versatility/modification of light, recycling, and durability (pounding a speed-light at full manual power in many commercial circumstances will just shut it down ... been there, done that, won't do it again).

As of recent, monolights like some mentioned here already, are hardly a burden ... and if shooting with batteries, Lithium battery packs are now smaller and quite portable. However, I haven't shot in any houses that didn't have power outlets all over the place.

When larger areas need to be flooded with light, either globes or lantern modifiers can be used up high. Or strategically place the strobe to bounce off a white or neutral ceiling. I like using a strobe in other distant rooms that otherwise would go dark and would need a dozen speed-lights to illuminate it. Also, I've used gelled strobes outside to simulate sunshine flowing into a room's windows when mother nature isn't cooperating with the shoot time or the sun,s location/direction.

When I shoot commercially, I like to work at the native ISO of the camera to provide the highest quality file I can. Combine that with stopping down as far as possible before de-fraction sets in for depth-of-field ... and you have the need for a LOT more light. The larger the area, the more that's needed. Once you get it down pat, most post work will disappear or be lessened significantly.

I still occasionally use speed-lights for accents, or to tuck way behind something to add a bit of extra back light.

Maybe just get one strobe to use in combination with the speed-lights and give it a whirl ?

- Marc

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