Speedlights vs. Monolights for portraits

Discussion in 'Articles of Interest' started by adamhiram, Nov 10, 2019.

  1. adamhiram

    adamhiram No longer a newbie, moving up!

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2015
    Messages:
    476
    Likes Received:
    301
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    Fstoppers: Using Speedlights Versus Monolights for Location Portraits

    For anyone starting out with studio lighting and off camera flash, I found this article to be a nice validation that you can do a lot with speedlights in all but the most challenging situations. I am by no means an expert in studio lighting, but I really haven't felt limited using speedlights for smaller/shorter shoots. They are very inexpensive at $65 each (Godox TT600), easier to transport, and can be used in many modifiers when mounted in an S-type adapter. It's also helpful that they use standard AA batteries, so keeping a bag full of spare Eneloops isn't a big deal, and there are no concerns with being unable to get replacement proprietary LiIon batteries in the future when a MoC company decides to stop making this product line.

    The only limitations I've experienced are wanting more power in very large modifiers, and faster cycle times when shooting at full power. As a Nikon shooter I don't have any f/1.2 lenses, and finding open shade is easier than trying to overpower the sun in bright daylight, so I haven't had the other issues mentioned. This related article makes a great point that shooting all day with smaller battery powered lights likely means burning through a lot of batteries, but to be honest I rarely shoot for more than an hour straight anyway.


     
  2. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2016
    Messages:
    11,194
    Likes Received:
    5,249
    Location:
    Alabama
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    In studio, there's no comparison between my AB's and speedlights for power, and ease of use, plus the addition of the modeling lights. On location I use either depending on the circumstances.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  3. adamhiram

    adamhiram No longer a newbie, moving up!

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2015
    Messages:
    476
    Likes Received:
    301
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    100% agreed! Other than portability and price, bigger lights are probably better in almost every way, and may be next on my wishlist depending on how good the Black Friday sales are this year. What I liked about this article is that it answered a question I had 2 1/2 years ago when I wanted to learn more about lighting without investing too much in new gear, which didn't really seem to be addressed elsewhere at the time. Strobist's Lighting 101/102/103 tutorials stick to speedlights and umbrellas, while every Youtube tutorial from Adorama, Fstoppers, etc, seems to assume you use $2k Profoto lights.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  4. Braineack

    Braineack Been spending a lot of time on here!

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2013
    Messages:
    12,735
    Likes Received:
    5,308
    Location:
    NoVA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    • Useful Useful x 2
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Destin

    Destin Been spending a lot of time on here!

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2010
    Messages:
    3,700
    Likes Received:
    1,221
    Location:
    Western New York
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    I shoot with the xplor600 that @Braineack mebtiined above. It’s a great for on location work because it’s a battery powered monolight. It’s also far cheaper than comparable products..

    AND it offers a feature that pretty much nobody else does. It’s part of the flashpoint R2 family of products. That means it can be controlled wirelessly with an R2 trigger, just like every other R2 light they make. The product line ranges from full size moonlights and everything in between. It’s great because it allows you to use your monolight as a key light and some mini speed lights as accent/hair lights, and you can control the power of each from one single transmitter.

    IMHO, it’s the best system on the market at any price.. and it happens to be one of the cheapest.
     
    • Like Like x 3
  6. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Messages:
    45,323
    Likes Received:
    17,277
    Location:
    USA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    I enjoyed the video that was posted, the video by Gavin Hoey.
     
  7. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Messages:
    45,323
    Likes Received:
    17,277
    Location:
    USA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    I do not really look at it as a question of power as much as one of how the actual shooting goes and how the results look. I own a lot of Studio flash gear, and most of it is fairly old technology,but there is something to be said for the modeling light issue.

    Modeling lights allow you to preview your lighting effect, and you can see Shadows and highlights, and you can see where the catchlights fall, and modeling lights cause the pupils of the eyes to constrict giving more color to the eye, and much less of that wide pupils or "heroin look" or the cow-eye look. I personally do not like the look of formal studio portraiture done with speedlights. A studio light is a remarkable tool, and a speedlight is a different tool. Sometimes you can substitute one tool for another, but there are certain situations in which there is no substitute for the right tool.

    For example, let's say we need a great deal of flash power, or we need six flash heads to light up a very large interior such as a gymnasium or Banquet Hall. For $350 or so you could buy a very powerful used 2400, Watt-second, 6-outlet Speedotron Black Line power supply, and could buy used 103 heads for $100 each with bulbs. I bought five of them without bulbs about a decade ago for $40 each. For using with a portable battery I bought the 103 style flash heads, because they have no fan cooling system, and are therefore much more efficient when used with a portable battery such as my Innovatronix Explorer. I feel that a 2400 Watt-second Speedotron power supply will give a tremendous output equal to approximately 24 to 36 speed light flashes. The two 2401 b or 2403b power supplies that I have owned since roughly 2000 will give you six flashes of up to 400 Watt-seconds each. One power pack of this output level is all I have needed for almost every shoot I have ever done for the last 30 years. For roughly the past 10 years I have become a big fan of the Brown Line D402 power supply which will power four flash units, and with a splitter cable or Y cable as some call it, the pack will power one additional flash, for a total of 5 units. You could use four Y cables and power eight flashes if you wanted to.

    Box and Cable Systems, especially used ones, are very smart economically, especially if you want to use 4 or 5 or 6 flashes. Used Brown Line flash heads are available on eBay for $35 to $100 ,with new prices on $100 e-Bay heads being around three hundred bucks today. I am speaking of the M11 model which retails for $299 today, but on the used market is often available for an equivalent price of roughly $40 when purchased as part of an outfit of one pack and three or four heads. Flash heads for this system are often deeply discounted when bought as part of a complete kit, but bring a lot more money often times when sold a la carte.

    A few years ago a friend of mine asked me to help him light a job that he had been hired to photograph. He was afraid that his White Lightning and Alien Bbe monoights might overheat. The job was a company headshot session with about 97 people and a very short time frame to shoot, on location, at a tech company in Portland. We used a 2400 Watt-second Power supply and 3 fan-cooled heads, and it barely broke a sweat, even though we shot hundreds of photos per hour for basically three hours straight.

    The key is to have the right tools for the way you want to work and for the type of results that you seek. In the case of high speed sync, there are quite a few good speed light solutions, but very few monolight solutions.
    Size, weight, price, portability, and power meaning electrical power, as well as flash power--all of these things can factor into the equation when you need to determine what the right lighting choice is.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2019
    • Like Like x 2
    • Agree Agree x 2
  8. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2016
    Messages:
    11,194
    Likes Received:
    5,249
    Location:
    Alabama
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    "Heroin eye" LOL, that's actually a good description. In addition to preventing the "Heroin eye", and facilitating light setup, the modeling lights provide light on set to keep you from tripping over stuff and falling on your face. (Don't ask :irked:)

    Not mentioned is the gradual changes in light output/color temperature that happens with a speedlight as the batteries drain.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Winner Winner x 1
  9. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Messages:
    45,323
    Likes Received:
    17,277
    Location:
    USA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    Another benefit in studio especially is the improved lighting that leads to easier focus acquisition especially with relatively slow lenses such as f/2.8. I have a wide range of flash heads with modeling Lamps ranging from one, single 25 -Watt night light type bulb, to three 25-Watt bulbs, to one 100 Watt quartz, one 150w quartz halogen, to one very bright 250 Watt quartz halogen. There is quite a bit of difference between having 750 total Watts of quartz halogen light and 200 or fewer Watts in the way of modeling lamp output. One can also use the 250 Watt lamps to light for video.

    Real studio flash uses modeling lamps for a number of reasons. Speedlights on the other hand typically have only stroboscopic, weak modeling lamps, which give you a rough idea, but are in no way a substitute for real modeling lamps.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2019
    • Like Like x 1
  10. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Messages:
    45,323
    Likes Received:
    17,277
    Location:
    USA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    I have purchased only one Studio lighting kit brand new, and that was in 1986, when I bought my first one. Around 2008 the prices on used Studio flash gear and on film gear hit what I considered to be their historical lows. I went into basically a year-long E-bay Studio flash acquisition program, and when I was done I had something like six different power supplies and 24 flash heads. And all of the new gear cost me less than I payed for my original setup,which was one power supply of 1600 Watt-seconds and three Brown Line M11 flash units and a Bogen heavy duty boom stand.... all of that equipment, and I mean all of it, is quite serviceable to this very day and has never once needed service or replacement.

    I really feel that buying Studio lighting equipment used is the smart way to go. An hour or two a day spent on eBay over a week will show you just how much bang for your buck you can get!

    There are also some incredible new made in China Lights which do not cost much, and which offer a lot of good features. I have become convinced of the wisdom of going to the new Flashpoint R2 system. The efficiency of having a built-in radio triggering system that works across a system of both speedlights and battery powered monolight flash units... simply beyond words.

    A few years ago Yongnuo was the leading third-party speedlight maker, but they have lost the plot and have scads of arcane compatibility issues, and this forum was filled with users who had compatibility problems with them for about 5 years. So many people had so much difficulty with what was supposed to be a "system Flash, but other brands such as Godox/Cheetah/Flashpoint have really stepped up their game, and now offer products that look pretty good, especially for the amount of money. Studio flash monolights and box-and-cable systems are one of the few areas in photographic equipment that has not been refined until fairly recently. Within the past 5 years there have been some major advances both in speedlights and in studio Flash gear.

    There has even been a sort of hybrid which is sold as the Streaklight by Adorama. I know that@ronlane here on TPF has one. In reading the Forum the other day, I noticed that I had written a post about the Streaklight 180 a couple of years ago. And just this week I re-watched the intro video for that unit on YouTube. The big difference between the Streaklight and other shoe Mount type flashes is that it uses a traditional elongated round flash tube, and does not have the fresnel type of lens in front of a very tiny little flash tube.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2019
    • Like Like x 1
  11. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Messages:
    45,323
    Likes Received:
    17,277
    Location:
    USA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit
    I really like to use a small plug-in box and cable speedotron flash generator, even on location. I have a D202 which is a very small 5 lb pack with a built-in power cord and only two outlets. It offers not very many power combinations, but it does have symmetrical and asymmetrical distribution and I have one Y- cable, so I can power up to three flash heads. This is a very small unit , and I also have three 400-watt packs, two Brown Line D402 models which have four Outlets, and one Black Line 405B,which powers only three flashes, but which has finer power output levels via a click-stopped rheostat. I quit using speedlight flash for most everything except Run and Gun about 20 years ago. I personally prefer working with the same equipment both in-studio and on-location, and have a portable sine wave and Battery unit called the Tronix Explorer. This is a fairly big unit and weighs in around 18 lb, but the Paul C buff company has a _much_ smaller product called the Vagabond.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2019
  12. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2009
    Messages:
    45,323
    Likes Received:
    17,277
    Location:
    USA
    Can others edit my Photos:
    Photos OK to edit


    20191001_142622.jpg

    _153961784.WdQOevbS.StarfinalexportD3X_2138V1Proof3_LR reduced.JPG _145261293.QIk3dqyw._D3X9737_LR reduced.JPG

    Here are three pictures made with about 100 watt seconds of light as the main light. Locations were a small bedroom, a hotel room, and the TV room at the little girl's house, where they had an old style projection TV which used a very large light gray screen, which I used as a backdrop and fired a pink gel at. These images have been edited very little, and this type of equipment is available for less than $300 used on eBay every day, all day.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2019
    • Like Like x 1

Share This Page