A Walk Around the Monobloc, Pt. 2

Last time, (see part one) we took a look at the control panel of a typical monobloc flash. And while they may have looked intimidating to some of you, in the end they really weren't that different from speedlights. This time we'll concentrate on the business end, where extra power is only one of the important differences between the two.

Bigger, in More Ways Than One

Granted, the monos are more powerful than speedlights. Bigger capacitors, more juice --and exact same principle.

But more important than that for light quality is the difference in their physical size, which is easy to see in the comparison above. (Click the pic for bigger in a new window.)

The monobloc and the speedlight are both shown in a typical configuration -- flash tube inside a standard reflector. You really can't see the flash tube in the speedlight, but it is in there. It is the tiny center in a relatively big reflector. And by moving that tune/reflector assembly closer or further away from the fresnel lens in front, you can "zoom" the flash's beam, too.

But no matter how much you zoom it, you have a total of about three square inches of lighting area. That's gonna give you a hard light unless you modify it, which in turn is gonna cost you some f/stops in light output.

Looking at the monobloc, with its standard, 7-inch reflector, my pie-are-square math days tell me I have over 38 effective square inches of light source, or at least ten times that of the speedlight.

From a distance, they are both hard lights. But up close, the speedlight stays hard and the monobloc starts to take the hardness edge off a little bit. Now that I think about it, that is one reason I love the LumiQuest SB-III in close.

In surface area the SB-III starts to approximate the size of a standard reflector on a big light. And any lost power is not an issue, because you are typically in close. It's a way to make a speedlight not have that signature hard speedlight look.

So, in addition to being more powerful, the monos are physically bigger light sources, which can really come into play when you are in tight. And that difference carries over to any light mods which do not increase the size of the source, such as grids.

A gridded speedlight and a gridded mono are basically the same tightened beam, but look very different due to the relative sizes of the sources.

Now, lets remove that reflector and look at the business end nekkid. Removing a reflector is very easy to do with most monos, and part of their system-oriented flexibility. So, what do we have now?

We have a bare-bulb flash, in this case with the tube being hidden from view (but not effectiveness) behind that translucent honker of a modeling light. And all of the light's power is intact.

Bare Bulb on a Speedlight

You can approximate this look with a Stofen, a plastic bowl or a (*cough*) $100 piece of Tupperware (must... restrain... self...) and they all do the same thing -- get that light going in all directions at once.

They don't make the light softer or magical, no matter what kind of "merry song" is sung to you to get you to buy the $100 Tupperware. The softness happens because that light can go out in all directions and bounce/fill off of walls and ceilings. Which means that anyone using said premium Tupperware outside had better have some low altitude clouds to get any benefit.

I'm just sayin'.

The beauty of bare bulb is in its full angular coverage. There is no magic, unless you count the part where your wallet can disappear if you are not careful and spend $100 on Tupperware.

But with a speedlight if you stick your StoFen (or hot-n-sour soup container or rubbing alcohol bottle or insanely overpriced Tupperware bowl) on the flash to diffuse and disperse that light into all directions, it costs you some serious f/stops. Not so much with the already more powerful monobloc, as that bare-bulb architecture is built right in.

But I can zoom my speedlights, right? Yes! Speedlights for the win!

Yeah, well, you can buy telescopic reflectors for your monos, too. These are usually highly polished and can get very expensive. But the capability is there and you can really amp already powerful monos with a polished tele reflector.

In the end, monos will offer you power, flexibility a fast shoot/recycle times. You will be able to back them up a good distance and still have them be very useful. You can overpower the sun. You can light large objects in decent ambient light levels without fear.

So, What's Not to Like?

What they cost you is money, space, pounds and an attachment to AC power if you want to get full use of the modeling lights. So they are no more of a no brainer than are speedlights -- just a different solution to a different set of problems.

But if you are speedlight-based, you may well consider picking up a mono as a "big gun" to work along with your speedlights. When you need more light, it tends to be needed in one place. Think sun-overpowering key, or a whole-room bounce fill.

I currently am re-evaluating my monobloc system and potentially pulling out the wallet to do some damage. I will be working through that later, but wanted to make sure there was a basic familiarity with monoblocs in general before we got into that.


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