A Walk Around the Monobloc, Pt. 1

Speedlights are great, and I use them about 90% of the time. But that does not mean they are always the most appropriate tool for the job. Nor does it mean they might be the best choice for your style of lighting.

If you have learned to use your speedlights in manual, you should not at all be intimidated by the idea of using "studio strobes." In fact, you'll probably find the typical monobloc to be very familiar territory by now.

Lose the Dogma

First of all, any time I shoot something with a monobloc, someone comments about it "not being Strobist," as if we had some kind of kosher standard going on around here. For Pete's sake, Strobist is the name of a website. I know, because I made it up in 2006. And there was no burning bush or stone tablets involved at all.

I used speedlights most of the time as a PJ, because they are the flashes I always had with me. And I created L101 and L102 around speedlights. But that is because speedlights are small, portable and the most accessible way for people to learn about lighting.

Most people learn to shoot with a little .22-calibre rifle, and save the .50 cal until a little later when they need to pierce an engine block at 700 yards.

IMO, to extend the speedlight ethic into a frame of mind where monoblocs (or pack and head systems) are somehow not to be considered is just silly. I am an available light photographer. Meaning, if a light is available I will consider using it.

Speedlight, monobloc, car headlight, iPhone -- I have used them all. If I think an ignited fart will improve a photo, then please pass the beans and matches. Speedlights are wonderful little lighting machines. But they are not the end-all, and they are not always necessarily the best tool for any given job.

There. Just wanted to be clear on that.

And I am kidding about the beans. Don't try that for a light source. At least, we don't to that in my family anymore. Not since that emergency room visit for my uncle Morris. (And I am not kidding about that, either.)

Been There, Done That

For lighting large objects (or overpowering sun at a reasonable working distance) bigger flashes simply make more sense than speedlights. My "big" flashes are two old White Lightning Ultra 600's. They are very similar to the current WL models and to today's AlienBees, except my 600's have had the crap beaten out of them.

I am currently re-evaluating my monoblocs and deciding which direction I want to go with them in the future. But I wanted to use the opportunity to take a moment and do a walk-thru for those of you who are unfamiliar with bigger flashes.

Today, we will walk through a typical control panel, much of which will be familiar to manual speedlight users.

(Click the pic for bigger in a new window.)

Here is the control end of a WL Ultra 600, which is a 300 watt-second (WS) monobloc. It is typical in layout to most other mono's, and this one is about five times more powerful than your average speedlight.

Up top, you'll see the power level adjustment. This is exactly like dialing down your manual power level in a speedlight, except in this case you are not limited to full- (or half-, or third-) stop increments. This is a continuously variable, minus 5-stop power control, and one of the reasons I love the White Lightnings and AlienBees.

Actually, power level is an area where many speedlights and monoblocs intersect, too. For example, this a 300WS monoblock. If I dial it down a stop, it is now at 150WS. Down two stops is 75WS, which is getting into the neighborhood of an 60WS SB-800. So, they cross over in power output for the range of -3, -4 and -5 stops on the monobloc.

The efficiency of the reflector in the WL gives a little more light output per watt-second. But you will still find an area of crossover between the two. This is convenient, as it means you can use both types of flashes in conjunction if you only have one monobloc and a few SB's.

On the left is the modeling light switch, which will be of less importance to you if you have grown up using speedlights. They are nice to have, but also introduce some significant limitations when you try to power the mono's with batteries. More on that later.

Across the middle you'll see buttons, jacks and lights. The red "test" button is exactly the same thing as the test button on your speedlight. You push it and the flash pops.

Just above the test button is a "dump" light. This is an indication that the flash is storing too much power because you charged it up and then lowered the power level without popping the flash to bleed the unneeded juice. Most new mono's dump this power automatically. (They call it "auto dump.") But if yours does not this, is a good thing to know. If that light glows, pop the flash, Simple as that.

That round hole is the sync jack. What is a coveted but much-missing feature on many speedlights is standard equipment on a monobloc. Which is good, as you cannot very well mount a mono on your hot shoe. Pay attention to the type of connection for this jack, when shopping for a big flash. It can either lock you into proprietary connectors or free you to use standard, cheaper cords. My preference is 1/8" or 1/4" audio-jack-type connectors.

The white "model" button at center right actually helps you to know your flash is ready by turning off the modeling lamp until the flash is fully recycled. Some flashes can be set to emit beeps when recharged. A model-off-when-charging setting just gives you a visual confirmation.

The white dome further right is the optical slave receptor. Slaves on mono's are typically pretty sensitive, but you cannot aim them well because they are always gonna point away from the direction that particular mono is firing.

Speedlight slaves typically can be rotated to different directions from the flash head, which helps a lot. This is partially offset be the fact that the mono's will typically be firing more powerful light, so slaves can usually see the pulse better.

At far right you have the power switch -- simple enough. Just below that is a proportional model switch, which can get you an apples-to-apples modeling light comparison with WL monoblocs of different power settings.

Round that out with a circuit breaker (bottom left) and a remote control jack (far left). The latter allows the power and sync of a flash to be controlled by a wired remote.

If it looks complicated, it is not. At it's heart, it is a big, manual flash with a slider power control, a sync jack and a built-in slave. You already understand all of the important stuff.

And that's really all you need to know to handle most monoblocs just fine. They mount to your stands and light mods just like speedlights, as they have built-in umbrella swivels. And all of the theory and practice is the same -- you just have more power to play with.

You'd think the fancy control panels would be where the most important differences lie. But really, it is the lighting flexibility (and power) at the business end that mostly separates these guys from the little flashes.

More on that, in part two.


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Blogger Rick said...

Cool - I want a set of these...

March 30, 2009 12:09 AM  
Blogger SoonToBePro said...

If you go down this road with studio lighting, it is going to be great. (except for the fact that the price of used studio lighting equipment is going to end up through the roof)!

Your blog has been great and I can't wait to see where you go with this!

March 30, 2009 12:22 AM  
Blogger Matt Swalling said...

Love mono blocks, and your correct they are just like a big sb800 in manual. One trick for the optical slave, a small piece of white foam core or even paper somehow propped up or mounted a few inches behind the mono block will help it "see" the flash as it reflects back at the sensor.

I had to do this with a ceiling mounted background light that was basically hidden from the other strobes. A little reflection help and it fires every time.

March 30, 2009 12:42 AM  
Anonymous Looth Tooth said...

"If I think an ignited fart will improve a photo, then please pass the beans and matches."

That is definitely going into my all-time favourite quotes list. :)

March 30, 2009 12:49 AM  
Anonymous Mario said...

Not being an owner of any monolights,are these heavy? Would I be able to mount this up on the lp604 or the 3373 at full length without any problems?

Also,what could I do with a power pack that is at a constant watt-second? When using a light modifier,is there a point when the light becomes too powerful for,say...a softbox or a shoot through umbrella?

March 30, 2009 1:05 AM  
Anonymous Suren said...

Thanks DH. I am anticipating discussions on building battery packs for these beasts on a strobist budget!

Let the games begin!!

March 30, 2009 1:29 AM  
Blogger Kurt Shoens said...

Two little things to add. First, if you're used to fiddling with the buttons and controls on a speedlight, monoblocs are a breeze to adjust. Much less fiddly.

Second, in addition to there being no big divide functionally from a speedlight, there's also not much of a divide financially. You can get an inexpensive monobloc for not much more than the new Lumopro speedlight.

March 30, 2009 1:52 AM  
Blogger Herman Jimenez said...

I actually been thinking of making the switch to Lumedyne heads and battery packs. I have used Sunpak 544 with quantum turbo packs and SB-800s for years now. But, now I'm thinking of doing more high production portraiture I think of making a switch to stay portable and have some more power. Any suggests would be great.

Also, its been great reading this blog! I have been following it for quite a while now and has helped me grow as an artist and photographer. It has definitely opened me up more into the community of photography. Plus since I have been using portable lights for years now in my photography and well in skateboarding its a must to get around to spots and shoot these tricks quickly sometimes it helps to read this and learn some new tricks. Hope you can take a look at my site and enjoy it. It will be getting updated soon so haven't really updated it. Waiting to relaunch it. Thanks you!


March 30, 2009 1:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm really glad you are getting into the head/pack world a bit... I am one who cannot afford speed-lights and am borrowing some old studio strobes (a set of Elenchrom 500s.) I love the site but it is aways an adjustment to learning lighting techniques, having to move the ideas over a bit...

I wish there was a site where someone would run through all the pro tech and grip as thoroughly as you have with the speed-lights. I am trying to get into the business in NYC and it has happened more than once that I've been assisting and been shouted at to assemble at high speeds, an 8ft octabank or a 'pancake' light and had to use my quick intuition in the hopes of not being fired, (or tearing the modifiers [or having the whole thing fall on the famous person's head])...

I mean, just a thorough video on the ins and outs of adjusting some profoto packs would be Soo helpful...

Great work! I believe you're changing photogs for the better.

March 30, 2009 2:01 AM  
Blogger N. said...

Hi! Thanks again for and enlightening post! Again! I really can't help it, I learn so much here...

And as to some people's reservations as to using monoblocs being non-strobist... well, I don't get it. Strobe, as many sources indicate, is considered a monobloc in essence, so any opnions saying using one is not exactly strobist is... kinda haywire or at least amiss, I guess.

Thanx again, Mr. D.! Please, do go on about the monoblocs, they are something I would love to find out more about!

March 30, 2009 2:09 AM  
Blogger captaindash said...

I've firmly made up my mind at least a half dozen times about what format of studio strobes to get (pack/head, battery, or monoblocs). If you did a post on each it'd help wafflers like myself. I'm in western Canada and can't just drive down to B&H and see them all in one place and talk to someone who actually knows more than one format or brand. Help me before I just forget the whole ordeal and make myself a McNally frankenstein with a 17 sb26's.

March 30, 2009 2:27 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Only 3 years in, and they finally get theirs. ;-)

It'd be nice to show an apples-to-apples 'With Strobes vs With Speedlites in Broad Daylight' diagram/sample. I think the power these puppies can push out to overpower the sun / fill the 800 seat auditorium / blind yourself for a few minutes longer than a direct Speedlite to the face... is what escapes people when they think studio strobes are 'obsolete/overkill'.

That, and the fact that it's more enjoyable to carry a dozen AA's vs. a 10lb battery pack... ;-)



March 30, 2009 3:34 AM  
Blogger mattfogarty said...


Sweet mother of all things sacred...you can only use speedlights...your, your STROBIST...nooooo!

Thanks for another great post. I am just about to spend some time trying combining a new-to-us ABR800 (which I plan to use as a softbox, more or less) and speedlights. Can't wait to see part 2 of your monobloc-o-gram.

I love your point that the idea is how to view whatever lights are available to you as dynamic tools...think of using any light like it was a little speedlight.

March 30, 2009 3:38 AM  
Anonymous mark said...

I started off shooting with white lightning strobes but have since been tired of lugging around heavy equipment and have used speedlights on location for quite a few projects since stumbling upon this site. Thanks for expanding my thoughts on lighting with small strobes instead of the huge white lightning 1200's which are overkill for the majority of work. Light is light no matter how big or small. Again, thanks.

March 30, 2009 3:39 AM  
Anonymous Virginia Smith said...

I appreciate the available light options considered in your post, as always, whether serious or tongue-in-cheek I am inspired to really "see the light" (in the photography I admire and hope to achieve).

I once read an interesting thing about a photographer I admire and wish I could meet - Toshi Otsuki who photographed many things for Victoria Magazine. A homeowner said her and her husband held matches to help create soft bits of light for the photographs of their home. I imagine their awe of such a fine photographer yet their fear of burning their own house down if they dropped a match.
This made me wonder, how many strobist followers would light flatulence for you?

March 30, 2009 3:55 AM  
Anonymous John Reid said...

Great post! I'm really looking forward to the second post, though I can tell from the strobist flickr forum why you want want to spend time removing the dogma.

Strange how photographers are so quick to dismiss equipment that they don't have or don't understand. I know so many photographers who use available light exclusively and claim that artificial light looks "un-natural"

Btw, I would love to read your opinion on Bowens Travel Pack battery. IMO, it is the closest monoblock system to a fully portable speedlight system

March 30, 2009 3:58 AM  
Blogger EricFerguson said...

Treason! Who is this Dave guy, anyway, telling us we can shoot strobist pictures with farts and monolights?

"Modelling lights"....


(Enjoyed the post, cool to see a closeup of the back of one of these puppies... it's easy to forget that an Alien Bee actually costs about the same as an SB-600, or less! Lots of options out there for off-camera light)

March 30, 2009 4:05 AM  
Blogger Scott Margetts said...

With the new TrouserWizard wireless fart ignition radio poppers I can synch my farts at 1/1000s remotely! Though avoid beans, as those bad boys can slip through and models don't like it...

March 30, 2009 5:01 AM  
Blogger Bruko said...

Don't you ever feel like you're starring in Monty Python's Life of Brian?

After a couple of years of playing around with both I think my favourite set up in a studio is to use monoblocs as main lights WITH sb800s as kickers/fill light/wathever, since they are so much more flexible and easy to hide...

March 30, 2009 5:13 AM  
Anonymous jeremy earl said...

its good to see you venturing into this relm now, i for one used to have speed lights, then i realized i could get alien bees for cheaper, and they would light up a gym much better, so i hope to see more of this!

March 30, 2009 6:55 AM  
Blogger Jason O said...

I think the point that David tries to make is that as photographers, we cannot ignore the fact that we could use any type of light to get the job done.

March 30, 2009 6:59 AM  
Anonymous Stephen Gosling Photography said...

I sounds like someone has been giving you a hard time about speedlights my friend. Sorry to hear that. I also shoot strobes (90-95% of the time) mainly in studio. I have the exact model you use and a few AB1600's too. They are perfect little tools, a lot of bang for your buck and I have never had any issues with them. Their customer service dept. is a dream too!


March 30, 2009 7:32 AM  
Anonymous Rascal said...

I have one mono-light, an Alien Bee 800 and I use it with my Canon 550EX and Sunpak 120J flash. The AB800 is more powerful, but it doesn't take much to knock it down to even out with the smaller flashes. The AB800 is a great work horse along with my small flashes.

March 30, 2009 7:36 AM  
Blogger alohadave said...

What is the color temperature of a fart, and how would you gel that?

March 30, 2009 8:29 AM  
Anonymous Javier Freytes said...

Tnx. David,

I hope in a future post you can also talk a little bit about powerpacks and the advantages and disadvanteges with monoblocks. I've been reading your block for sometime now and it help me a lot clarifying a lot of things.

March 30, 2009 8:47 AM  
Anonymous Dan Depew said...

The price of White Lightning Ultra800's just doubled on eBay.

Thanks Dave. Liked this post a lot.

March 30, 2009 9:04 AM  
Blogger b lorenz said...

nice post Dave, I've used studio mono blocs on location for years, but never thought of them as "bigger 580s, sb800's" etc....

March 30, 2009 9:28 AM  
Blogger Kevin Halliburton said...

Dangit David! I've been saving a portion of my photo profits from each job and watching White Lightning 600's on E-bay for a couple of months now just waiting for a deal I couldn't pass up to float by and then you have to go and post this!

I'm feeling all sly like I'm going to get an Alien Bees caliber light for pennies on the dollar then all of a sudden there is this huge price spike on older White lightning monos.

Man, if I could just get your posting schedule on these little jewels you are going to drop into the lighting community I could do better than insider trading. :)

In all seriousness though, old lights get more valuable overnight because you teach people how to use them effectively and for that I'm greatful. If not for you, I probably wouldn't have been in the market for a more powerful off camera flash in the first place.

I'm still feeling pretty smug about discovering Vivitar 4600's with vari-power slave modules for a fraction of the cost of 285HVs though... Shhhhh!

March 30, 2009 10:13 AM  
Blogger Josh Evilsizor said...

Thank god! Finally! Hopefully this will shut up most of the strobist "purists" on the flickr site... "strobists" were almost getting as bad as Mac users.

March 30, 2009 10:13 AM  
Blogger paul said...

@John Reid
Paul C Buff Inc. (who incidentally makes the White Lightning strobe Dave shows above) also makes a battery pack system to pair with their strobes, similar to the Bowen unit you refer to, albeit at a much more tolerable price point (just over half, IIRC). It's called the Vagabond II Portable Power System

March 30, 2009 10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you kids do decide to light up some farts, always, always, always keep your pants on. Tight jeans work nicely. Been there. Nice blue light if the methane builds up.

March 30, 2009 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Peter Wine said...

It doesn't surprise me to see David talking about monoblocs.

I've often seen references to the big monsters in his writings, and have realized that the theme of the blog was to talk about stuff that others weren't talking about.

I think the idea of carrying a monobloc around the way you would a speedlight is crazy, so since David was doing the On Assignment series from his perspective as a photojournalist, and he carried the speedlights around, that's what he wrote about most often.

If you were assigned the task of going to three, four or five places each day, you'd likely carry speedlights as well.

But there are times that the speedlights just don't have enough THERE, there, to provide enough light (unless you're Joe M. but that's not most of us) that can be set up quickly. (I mean which is faster to set up, two monoblocs or five or six speedlights.)

But you really need to know in advance which is most appropriate, so you know what to carry.

And an Alien Bee can cost less than either an SB-800 or a 580EX.

I don't have any monoblocs yet, but every so often, I find that it would make life easier. (Just not often enough to justify buying one, so far. One of the new Pocket Wizards would be of more value to me on a day to day basis.)

March 30, 2009 10:29 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

As the proud owner of a alienbee 800 and a vagabongII and a 47 inch octobox, I'm very pleased to see this. I agree with a lot of people who say the monolights are cheap, and provide more light. In conjunction with strobes, you can do just about anything.

I really look forward to more post on using monolights.

Sometimes, single strobes just aren't enough. No strobe could fill that octobox... and damn it's pretty light.

March 30, 2009 10:45 AM  
Blogger Pixyst said...

'beans and matches' Dave? Looks like hanging out with Joe is beginning to rub off!

March 30, 2009 10:53 AM  
Blogger David Finkel Photography said...

I am a long time Alien Bees user (as well as Canon Speedlites).

One thing about the slave function of the monoblocs is they can sometimes be triggered by others (something that doesn't happen with my Speedlites!) I have occasionally had problems where other people (using a point and shoot camera) have tripped my lights because the in camera flash set off the slaves. Very annoying when you are trying to work.

The slave function on AlienBees is disabled when you plug something into the synch port, such as a synch cable. You can even plug an empty banana plug in just to switch off the synch port (the lights get triggered by another type of control cable in this case).

Ever since I switched to using PocketWizards with my lights this hasn't been an issue because the cord between the PW and monobloc disabled the slave.

March 30, 2009 10:57 AM  
Anonymous John said...

I only use a pair of Ultra 600s but long ago recognized the applicability of your lessons to my work. Indeed, I learned how to use monolights from Strobist, so keep up the good work. I would add one thing: I LOVE the model lights, which White Lightning has thoughtfully mounted in the middle of the light so what you see under the model light is truly what you get when the flash pops, and they proportion the model light to the power of the flash, Again, WYSIWYG! I would not trade my White lightning for any other light source,farts included.

March 30, 2009 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Using a mono-light is much the same as a Speedlite. The relearning time is near instant especially if you have used your flash in manual.

I have some Bowens Esprit 500/250's and D Lite 400's and find them very easy to jump to.

I think the Strobist "Speedlite Only" way seems a bit awkward at times, so expanding the thinking out to fully allow and appreciate any form of light "not on camera" is a great thing.

Sometimes we need one or two Speedlites and sometimes we need to run 2000WS of studio lights.


March 30, 2009 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Bruce Philpott said...

In addition to my 580EX's, I have some Alien Bees and recently I've resurrected a pair of my old Norman 200B's. All it took is new batteries and flash tubes. Now I have the output of Alien Bees B800's in battery powered flash units (twice the power of a 580EX).

Now I have four battery powered flashes, any of which can go into my Photoflex medium light domes... out in the field/vineyard! An outdoor studio.

FYI, two Norman 200B's and their battery packs and some PW's will fit in a Think Tank Airport Antidote backpack.

March 30, 2009 11:12 AM  
Blogger PhotoGuy said...

Haven't laughed so loud for a long time!

Have a few things on my mind, so here goes:

1. Thrilled you are going to cover monos. I have 5 Travelite 750's which are my workhorses and rent heads/packs as I need them.
2. You may want to mention benefits of one brand vs. another, apart from price.
3. I've ignored Speedlites (I have a Canon) till now but McNally is forcing me to rethink my approach (btw, The Hot Shoe Diaries is one of the best "cook" books I have come across in ages).
4. Thanks for an incredible site. When I need inspiration (which is most days) I come here.


March 30, 2009 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glade to see you will talking more about barebulb flashes. I use some 120j's and Qflash's. Even with no mods they put out wonderful round light.


March 30, 2009 12:06 PM  
Anonymous Chicago photographer said...

Every piece of gear will either work for you or against you, depending on needs and conditions. Know your needs, keep it simple and use whatever works to stack the deck in your favor.

March 30, 2009 12:28 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Lehman said...

This is awesome!! I hope to see a Lighting 201 section... I am ready for another leap in education.

March 30, 2009 12:54 PM  
Blogger iintrigue photography said...

Sweet! I've been hoping for a post on monoblocs for some time now. Do you think you could post a review on the different brands available for someone looking to get into them just a tweensy little bit?


March 30, 2009 1:08 PM  
Blogger John said...

Several months ago I put together a sine wave inverter and 12v 18ah battery. Now I've used my hensel 500 more outside the studio than in.

March 30, 2009 1:13 PM  
Anonymous Amanda from Edinburgh said...

I learned about lighting in the studio and was scared of speedlights until I was enlightened by reading strobist. Now I just see any light source as the same as the dimmer switch in my dad's living room. Turn it up = more light, turn it down = less light.

March 30, 2009 1:28 PM  
Blogger CanonShooter said...

The inner middle-schooler in me is rejoicing...fart..heheheheheee!!!

I purchased an Interfit exd200 light kit just before discovering your site, and I've wondered if I should have gone with speed lights for the flexibility they offer. I'm glad I started with a pair of mono-lights, and as my budget (and wife) allow, I'll add some speedlights for kickers and additional lighting options.

Thanks for the great discussion!

March 30, 2009 1:34 PM  
Blogger R&D said...

David, I believe you owe me a new keyboard. I was unlucky enough to have a mouthful of coffee when I read:

"If I think an ignited fart will improve a photo.."


I was able to wipe down the screen and change my shirt, but the keyboard has, I fear, suffered irreparable harm! (Using a different one to type this, obviously.)

March 30, 2009 1:41 PM  
Blogger falcopics said...

I can see where you dropped the ham sandwich on the control panel, but can't quite make out if that is French's classic yellow mustard?

March 30, 2009 1:44 PM  
Blogger Kory said...

Thanks so much for the breakdown... big lights have been very intimidating and you brought it down to a speedlight (albeit more powerful) level of function.

March 30, 2009 2:33 PM  
Blogger John Sargent Barnard said...

We use white lightning at brooks for background lights in the studio because for some reason they do not always like to work with Hensel monoblocks. If you have the money, buy Hensel. These are freaking bomb. All digital, super easy.

The white lightnings are made from old vietnam helicopter parts, so they are quite sturdy...and cheaper.

March 30, 2009 2:35 PM  
Blogger John Sargent Barnard said...

We use white lightning at brooks for background lights in the studio because for some reason they do not always like to work with Hensel monoblocks. If you have the money, buy Hensel. These are freaking bomb. All digital, super easy.

The white lightnings are made from old vietnam helicopter parts, so they are quite sturdy...and cheaper.

March 30, 2009 2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Monolights are nice but heavy requiring that the light stand be directly under the powerpack/head combo. Some people like the individual heads so that they can leave the powerpack on the floor and only mount the light weight head, which is boom-able.

March 30, 2009 2:53 PM  
Anonymous Marc Photography said...

Ha. I love the Rifle reference. So true.

March 30, 2009 3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see that Joe been a big big influence now with a 60 foot tripod light stand and 20,000 Ws of power but where's the bucket crain for the photog?

Only Joe King--we do learn from each other. Immitation is the greatest form of flattery

March 30, 2009 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Shawn Grimes said...

I just graduated to a 3 pack of WL 1600's. Glad to know I made a good decision, or at least in good company.

I had my first shoot with them Sunday and I REALLY enjoyed the short recycle time. The short recycle time made working with the model very easy and we didn't have extra pauses while we waited for the lights to charge back up.

March 30, 2009 3:18 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Byrnes said...

This strobe reminds me of the Alien Bees. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the Alien Bees and if you think they would be a great set up to run.

March 30, 2009 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Frank Nachtman said...

Things I hope are in part II:
1. Color temperature variations between lights
2. Color temperature variations with the same light at different power levels
3. Modifiers that work well with monoblocs that are difficult to replicate with speedlights

March 30, 2009 4:01 PM  
Anonymous Doug Churchill said...

Oh I'm so happy that it's cool to once again use my 2 Norman 2000 powerpacks with 4 LS-2000 heads and mods. Plus my 3 "Coffee Can" White Lightning 10,000 (circa 1985).

In addition to my strobist approved 2 SB-800's, 1 SB-26, Metz 64T, and 2 Norman 200B battery strobes.

Thank you for strobist Dave, I've learned a lot about using small strobes in new ways. I've used the smaller strobes when I can and the bigger strobes when I have to.

March 30, 2009 4:28 PM  
Blogger Dr.Myron Berney, ND LAc said...

WOW, just to show how fixated I can get, I was just about ready to buy 3 of the new pocket flash from MidWest and mount them all on a 3 way head from Bogen/Manfrotto to power up into the monoblock range--looks like with three heads I might be hitting 120 nearly a stop shy of the monoblock 300Ws. I wonder which would be more portable and flexable the monoblock or the 3 way pocket strobes.

March 30, 2009 4:52 PM  
Blogger Light Sorcerer said...

Yes, monos are nice and all, but let's see if you can stick one of those in a chicken.

March 30, 2009 4:52 PM  
Blogger JLykins said...

I have 3 white lightning 1200's and a white lightning 600. I love them! The 1200's are really a lot of power for in my studio, but when I get outside with larger groups or bright sun, they're great!

March 30, 2009 5:23 PM  
Blogger Samuel Seth said...

Thanks for defining what "Strobist" means. I totally agree.
I posted a "Strobist attempt" photo on a photo forum in which I used an AB800 and 2 430EX's and was flamed for improperly titling the thread with the word "Strobist" in it since I used an Alien Bee...
Thanks again.

March 30, 2009 6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Light is Light and if it is not bolted down is available

March 30, 2009 6:53 PM  
Blogger Jeremy B said...

Thank god...

I don't visit the strobist flickr ground much these days because how someone else put it - "they are getting as bad as mac users".

Hopefully your post opens their eyes a bit... seriously.

March 30, 2009 7:01 PM  
Blogger Majesta said...

My first thought: cool! monoblocks..or at school (I go to Brooks Institute) we frequently refer to them as strobes but anyways...
I actually laughed out loud when I saw the white lightning! (no insults, I think it's awesome) At school it's a big joke to use white lightnings as anything other than a background light and even then we've gotten some crazy color shifts, but power to ya for using those White Lightnings, those things are BEASTS of light.
The most popular brand at the school studios, for efficiency, accessibility and convenience because they come with a wireless transmitter, is the Hensel monoblocks. Don't know if you've looked into them, but they are awesome.

Great blog :) Ralph Clevenger talked about your blog frequently throughout class when I had him a couple months ago.

Best Regards!

March 30, 2009 7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone up for starting a new site, "The Fartist"?

March 30, 2009 7:58 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I bought my pair of little sb600s because they were affordable and I learned (here in large part) how to make good pictures with cheap portable lights.

Like you, I have no exclusive love for speedlights. As my skills and/or needs grow, I'm sure I will eventually purchase mono bloc studio lights.

I want to make great pictures and I'll use whatever I can get my hands on to accomplish that goal.

The write-up on your WLs was great for me. I was surprised how familiar the controls seemed. With a few test pops, I think I could get great results.

March 30, 2009 7:58 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

Im really stoked you posted this. I was getting tired of the way people think of strobist like its some kind of religion. There are people out there who wont use anything but small flashes and they deny that anything else could work out better for them..

As for the guy who made the comment about studio lighting costing a lot of money, one Alienbee light costs less than an SB800 or a 580EXII, yet I see some of the strobist fanatics going all mental having 3 of those flashes and pocket wizards for each one.

You can easily get 2 or 3 Alien Bees and a set of Elinchrom Skyports for way less than 3 flashes and pocket wizards. It hasnt stopped people so far.

Thanks for pointing this out on the blog though. Maybe now some people can calm down and learn to open their minds a little. Sales of White Lightning lights will probably go up like crazy now.

March 30, 2009 9:53 PM  
Blogger David said...

I have a feeling that Mr. Buff is about to have an alarming increase in monobloc sales!

March 30, 2009 9:57 PM  
Anonymous arnel Garcia said...

My friend told to me to check out your site. He is a fan of yours. And you happen to be discussing monoblocs. I just would like to share this with you and your readers. For many years now, I have always mixed my Canon speedlites with WL, in almost all my assignments. I have set up a mobile lighting for my event coverages, with a WL 1600, powered by Tronix Explorer. Here is how it looks: http://www.colorsoflife.biz/flashmobility/h28e47615#h28e47615. More power to you.

March 30, 2009 11:58 PM  
Anonymous C. Nam said...

Thank you! Not that I don't use speedlights but people have been ignoring the benefits of using larger lights. Bigger modifiers, larger production photos outdoors, etc. etc, just hope to see more about this in the future. Half the so-called strobists won't even touch studio lights until the man himself mentions it.

March 31, 2009 12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yea Ive been waiting aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa llllllooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnggggggg time for this to show up... Thanks DH

March 31, 2009 2:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its great to see you writing about bigger lights. In future articles, I would be most interested to see you explore the power differences between monoblocs and speedlites. How much more bang do you get for that increased buck?

March 31, 2009 3:30 AM  
Anonymous John Reid said...

Thanks for the info Paul.

I live in London and Bowens is quite affordable here(about half the price of Elinchrom) Do you know if different battery packs are compatible with different systems(i.e. Bowens lights with the Vagabond pack)

March 31, 2009 4:20 AM  
Anonymous Michael Zelbel said...

It's not the power - it's the modelling light

Great post! It shows that your are open minded - very appreciated.

But is it the power which sets apartstudio strobes from speedlights? No, not at all! In times when when you can shoot at ISO400 with no visible image quality degradation, do I really need power? Not at all.

What sets the studio strobes apart is clearly the modelling light. Especially when it comes to portrait and artistic nude, then it is such a great thing that I can EXACTLY see how the light will flow arround the models features. This is something which I cannot do with speedlights - also not with the teststrobe function of the modern speedlights.

Cheers, Michael

March 31, 2009 4:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only reason I'm against monoblocs is because of their size and weight. They aren't cheap too (power packs, heads, lamps, bigger stands, softboxes, grids...).
Ideal for studio, not so good on location. You'll definitely need an assistant and a car/van to carry the equipment.

For me, strobist was all about "minimalist way", using little lights & crafts to create big pictures.
There are many monobloc-tutorials on the net, but not many about speedlights.

Anyway, it's early to talk about that, let's see what mr. Hobby had in mind.

March 31, 2009 5:08 AM  
Blogger paladinphoto said...

To anonymous in NYC who seems to have a terminology problem. Get a copy (download) of the b and h lighting catalog. Has great technical info in the front and a very good multi-page glossary of lighting terms in the back. Study that and you'll be better prepared. I use it in writing and I used it in my studies too.

March 31, 2009 7:31 AM  
Anonymous hon fai said...

For the ignited fart .. i wonder where you would mount the umbrella shaft .. teeehehehehe.

March 31, 2009 7:49 AM  
Blogger Steve Gray said...

Thanks for the info, David. And for the clarification on the dogma, because some people need to lighten up (heh).

March 31, 2009 9:07 AM  
Blogger Heipel said...

What!!? Shoot with other than Speedlights! We can only expect the blame for the next major earthquake, volcanic eruption, locust infestation or sale on small strobes to be blamed on you, David! :)

I've been using Speedlights exclusively for the past several months -- can't blame you though as my brother borrowed my 400w elinchromes and I haven't seen them since!

Looking forward to more on lighting with anything we've got in future posts.

And the fart lighting line... Well, let's just say it brings back memories :)

March 31, 2009 10:10 AM  
Blogger Danie Nel said...

Look, Speedlites are great and I shoot them often, (great for quickly doing portraits and food), but once you go outside or light in-studio, mono-heads and packs are just so much cooler.

At 50 ISO with my Profoto 7IIb's I can properly fight back the sun and still shoot at f16-f22....with light shapers. (in South Africa the sun is hard...) BUT they way a TON!

Yet, for simply shaping your available light outside, the Speedlights are great.

I use Visatec (division of Bron) and Bowens and Electra in studio (buy up 2nd hand and you get this situation), but Fotoflex has great light-shaper adapters to make them all work on the same boxes etc.

Great post. High time.

March 31, 2009 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Douglas Burger said...

This post gives "shooting by the light of the moon" a whole new meaning... :-))

March 31, 2009 11:12 AM  
Blogger 7hokie9 said...

Why is it that the Stobist always does some radically different or crazy around the 1st of April. Was it last year that he wrote an article about getting more power from your speedlights using a series of button operations?

I guess tomorrow we will see that if you push certain buttons in a particular order, the Paul C. Buff has included some actual "white lightning" in each of his lights.

As such, I will definately be here tomorrow to see where this leads us.

March 31, 2009 12:37 PM  
Blogger Michael Gratton said...

Great post! I should go pick one up today!

March 31, 2009 1:17 PM  
Anonymous Carl said...

Oh, geez. I just got my speedlights and now I need to buy these, too? Agh.

At what point does it begin to make more sense to buy the high-powered studio strobes, instead of throwing more hotshoe strobes at a problem?

March 31, 2009 2:07 PM  
Blogger MH Media Online said...

I'm too poor/mean/unprofitable to be able to afford a "real" photograph mains power pack so was wondering anyone has ever used a computer UPS instead? Would the 'bloc be seen as an inductive load I wonder?

March 31, 2009 3:09 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

Ditto modeling lights. Went to a studio meetup/workshop and what was immediately obvious was how well the modeling lights worked...much better than chimping and adjusting speedlights. It's too bad you can't use them when on batteries for long :-P

March 31, 2009 10:06 PM  
Blogger Don said...

Look at the Elichrom Bx 250 with the Skyports , Nice control and the Color Temperature stays true.

March 31, 2009 11:01 PM  
Blogger José Quiroz said...

BY the way... I found a way to fire a pocket wizard using a common car's alarm remote controller... as long as it has the "Panic" button. Those buttons use a wider radio frequency and it is about twice as powerful as the normal buttons. It won't work 100% of the time, but if you point the PW antenna towards the RC and set it to channel 3, chances are it will fire everytime you press the panic button. Not sure is that's an useful feature though... David... I know you can come along with a noble use for this ;o)

March 31, 2009 11:33 PM  
Blogger Mick O said...

I've wanted a higher level intro to these for a while. What are the basic components to a studio lighting setup? A light, a power supply, a cord? How do you know what lights can go into what power supplies? Do some lights not need a power supply? I see studio setups on craigslist ALL the time, but don't know the basics. Are there other types of studio strobes besides "monoblocs" ?

April 01, 2009 12:24 AM  
Blogger djaef said...

Hi David,
Thanks for the blog, mate. It's really awesome. I've been lurking away here for six months or so, reading up, researching, reading some more and finally buying some kit. I'm a very slow learner, and even slower at making decisions. :) But now I have a 580EX, an SB-26 and an SB-800 and three PWs, so I'm away. Now I just have to practise a few million times. But I am totally smitten. I am even dreaming about lighting every night (my wife thinks I've totally lost the plot by the way).
But to the point, I use studio lights whenever I get the chance, and if I could I'd also have a home studio and some 500WS heads arounds the house. Why not indeed. Light is light and there are times when big studio lighting is just easier. I look forward to Part II.


April 01, 2009 5:39 AM  
Blogger epinion said...

at last, I was waiting for this day. You are right a monobloc is the same as speedlight. Very easy to use. I teach studio lighting and suggest my clients to read your lighting 101's and work using flashes, to get experience and then invest in some good heads. Great direction for the strobist and thanks for the advice.

April 01, 2009 9:26 AM  
Blogger Joey B said...

I've been using "studio lights" for years now, and have actually JUST started using speedlights off camera after reading your blog. I really like how you're blending the two together here in this post. They really are just large speedlights, and hopefully that will make it easier for those out there that are scared to invest a little extra into their lighting equipment.

Actually, it's not that expensive to get into... I use Alien Bees heads and they're fairly inexpensive, reliable, and very light/portable.


April 01, 2009 9:55 AM  
Blogger Keith said...

I want my left-handed Nikon !!!

April 01, 2009 10:53 AM  
Blogger Steven W. Hopkins said...

aww. no april fools joke? bummer.

April 01, 2009 11:11 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I have 2x Sb-600, 2x alien bee 800s and 3x pocketwizards plus the cabling that lets me use any pair of the four lights.

I like both sets. I pulled my alien bees out and one on full power over exposed the room I first used them in. I was instantly impressed.

The big lights are going to my next wedding and my formals should turn out much better.

April 01, 2009 12:35 PM  
Blogger Todd said...

I could post a comment of substance but that's been covered. Instead I'll post a comment as to why I read your blog. It's because you are such a class act, exhibited thusly...

"If I think an ignited fart will improve a photo, then please pass the beans and matches"

The info you impart is good but the way in which you impart is...priceless.

April 01, 2009 2:01 PM  
Anonymous Steve Johnston said...

I like strobes a little bit more than speedelights, but why does it have to be one or another. i use both at the same time on alot of shoots.

April 01, 2009 2:57 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

This was right on time! I tried using my Vivitar 285hv's to light my motorcycle in my "studio" the other night. I found out that using a 43" convertible umbrella with the cover on in reflective mode really eats up the light power (I had to use both Vivitars at full manual power to get f/8 and it was still a little underexposed). And I want to buy a 60" Softliter?

April 01, 2009 3:28 PM  
Anonymous virginia photographer said...

To help out my fellow ebayers "I wouldn't touch White Lightnings with a barge pole!" Did that help drop the final price? No!!
Personally the slide bar power thing is so 15 years ago. With digital being so sensitive you need to really be able to fine tune your lighting up and down without the guess work of the slide bar power modulation. Sure you have confirmation in 0.1 sec but then it's back to the slid thing and the guess work. Maybe the newer WL models are designed.
You need something like the elinchrom or Hensel (worth the money - for the money makers out there) where you can tune up and down by 1/10th of a stop.
I used WL with tranny (RZ) for many years at the WPost- maybe it was their particular lights ( all four did it) but those things changed flash duration and color temp terribly as you changed power.
Many love 'em (WL) not not a fan - don't hate me. Digi heads/Lights for digital photography is my belief.
I'm into body building so I also favor a hunking big pack any day - that's just me - old fashioned or stupid.

April 02, 2009 2:42 AM  
Blogger tangcla said...

Curious to know more about Uncle Morris :P

Also, what does the model tracking button do? I don't think you described it - or am I blind?

April 02, 2009 4:48 AM  
Anonymous Sndr said...

Hey Strobist, you're not being a Strobist! :D

Great post. I imagine these monoblocs have a lot more power than regular Speedlights...
Also, must be a delight not having to charge numerous AA batteries.

April 02, 2009 5:03 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

OK, so I needed some extra light this morning and I thought, jeez, This would be a perfect time to use David's fart lighting trick. I had plenty of gas, so that wasn't a problem and I kept my pants on just to avoid any, uh, embarrassment. I figured the nice orangy glow I would probably get would do wonders for my models skin tones.

I had a problem though. I couldn't get ignition. I don't know if my jeans weren't tight enough and the gas was getting caught in the airspace. Or maybe, my gas to oxygen ratios were not right. I'm really not sure. Are there any experts out there who can help me on this? David, any ideas?

I went through a whole book of matches, almost singed some important things and finally had to let the model go because I just couldn't get it right.

It's so embarrassing not to be able to get the light you expect using what should be a sure fire technique.

Please help! Anyone?

April 02, 2009 3:21 PM  
Anonymous Joe Mirenzi said...

More importantly for me anyway:

Please explain how to meter your flashheads/cameras when using manual mode in flash and camera.

Being self taught - not BFA in photography - learing how to meter with flash/camera in manual mode has kept me away from monoblocs and in love with ttl and auto modes with my sb800s and quantum tdr5s

April 04, 2009 12:47 PM  
Anonymous Dave Brinda said...

That's great - I thought I was the only one still using his old White Lighting 600s (Circa 1987)! I picked mine up in highschool, and they got me thru ArtCenter and still use them regularly today. They are fantastic...totally reliable workhorses.

I actually just picked up an AlienBee 800 to see how it compares. I'm looking forward to seeing how the CyberCommander remote works to control output wirelessly/remotely.

Have fun in your adventures with monolights!

April 09, 2009 2:10 AM  
Blogger QuintusPhoto.com said...

I bought the Bowens 750 w/s Strobes (technically I bought the Calumet-branded strobes that are made by Bowens). I've been pretty happy with them, especially the 5-year warranty (I do NOT work for Calumet, I swear!).

But I'm sure there are many other monoblocks out there at a similar price point. They are more expensive than the Alien Bees but still reasonable (I bought a kit that came with 3 heads, a softbox & 2 umbrellas with reflectors).

For some reason the regular Bowens come with only a 3-years warranty, so "caveat emptor"! Whatever brand you buy, ask about the manufacturer's warranty.

They do really "milk you" on the accessories: want to add grids? Just buy a reflector for each strobe -- at $80 e piece! A reflector is just a metal dish, I can only imagine the markup they are getting on this stuff. I bought a kit of 4 Speedotron grids which are great...

I use the RadioPopper PX units with my Canon 580 EX II speedlites, so I'll probably buy some RadioPopper Jr.'s which allow you to mix your small speedlights (Nikon or Canon) with the big studio strobes! Very cool…

Great article by the way! I prefer my small Speedlites ("Speedlights" to my Nikon comrades) to the big strobes whenever possible, but as this article clearly outlines, sometimes the big guns are more appropriate.

Having said that, David Hobby has pushed the limits of these small speedlights further than I ever would have imagined and for that my lower back is grateful: the big strobes & stands & accessories are a LOT heavier! I much prefer the small shoot-through umbrellas (using the Strobist "clamshell lighting" technique) to big softboxes and studio strobes.

Thanks for yet another superb article!


February 17, 2010 11:36 AM  

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