The last couple days have seen the hard-working fellas in our Colorado and California warehouses unpacking our shipment of the new UNPLUGGED series of monolights by ProMaster. By the end of the week, you’ll be able to stop by any Mike’s Camera and check these out, but here’s a rough overview to whet your appetite.
What’s a monolight?
As opposed to a “pack & head” system, which runs several lights from one power “pack,” a monolight is a self-contained, studio-strength light. Its settings are independently controllable, and it has its own power source.
As you may notice in the example above, these lights are not plugged in to anything. The big advantage of the Unplugged series, as the name suggests, is that they are all battery powered. Speaking as someone who has had to get creative many times when setting up wired event portrait lighting, having the ability to pop a light on a stand and start shooting is a big deal, especially because these lights aren’t massively bigger than a comparable wired setup. This is not a product ahead of its own technology, either; the most inexpensive light gets 240 shots at full power on a full charge, with the other four models rated at 320-360. That should be more than enough for any small-to-medium event; with an additional battery or two, you should have enough power for any shoot you could possibly want to do cordlessly. Even if you’ll be shooting somewhere with power available, don’t forget that removing cables from your setup means removing hazards and creating a cleaner presentation. (AC adapters are available as well, for maximum versatility.)
Monolights are available in both manual and TTL versions, with standalone firing kits, a creative three-speedlight receiver mount, and Canon/Nikon-specific transmitters with additional TTL functionality (only compatible with TTL-series lights) available.
m-Series Manual Monolights
The ProMaster M300, M400, and M600 are fully-manual daylight-balanced monolights. All three models feature a constant LED modeling lamp, an easily replaceable traditional flash tube, and a built-in receiver (transmitter included as well, of course). These lights are very capable, but do require some know-how on the part of the photographer, as nothing about the flash intensity is automatically determined by either the camera or flash controller. That said, for the photographer seeking creative freedom, this is not a bad thing—these manual lights allow the user to dial in the exact intensity necessary to unite with the positioning of the flash units themselves and the exposure values set on the camera to create the perfect image. Feel free to mix and match with other flash or speedlite systems of any brand—just add an mFiring Kit, 3-mFiring Kit, or mReceiver.
The three models increase in size and maximum output power, corresponding with their model numbers. All three are available as standalone lights (mountable via the Bowens-compatible ProMaster-S mount) or two-light kits that include stands (m300 kit, m400 kit, m600 kit).
TTL-Series Intelligent Monolights
The ProMaster TTL400 and TTL600 provide the same basic daylight-balanced flash functionality seen in the m-Series monolights, but with significant upgrades to the high-tech, highly-appreciated non-essentials. The sync speed is a rock-solid 1/8000 second (compared to 1/250 second as found on the m-Series), the modeling LED lamp is variable, and the flash can be synced to the rear curtain of a long exposure for creative effect. Additionally, the TTL series brings the user the ability to upgrade firmware when available, faster recycle times, an audible firing alarm, and, most importantly, TTL metering abilities when paired with a compatible receiver (Nikon and Canon are available now; not included). TTL stands for “through the lens,” indicating that the flash will emit a brief “pre-flash” right before taking the photo to allow the flash controller to automatically set the flash’s intensity, based on the actual reading provided by your camera. The only way to fine-tune this measurement is with the “flash exposure compensation” setting (usually indicated by a lightning bolt arrow next to a square with a plus and minus inside). This is one of the few areas the TTL-Series falls behind its manual counterpart—there is not quite as much manual control available with the TTL models. These lights can also not be mixed with other light sources, unfortunately.
Why use a monolight?
While LEDs have allowed major developments in continuous lighting to happen, a traditional strobe is still the most compact, resource-conscious option for (non-video) photographic lighting. Action is more crisply frozen by an extremely quick burst of light, and continuous lighting does not offer the same precise creative control as a flash that can be synced to the fore or rear of a long exposure (among other techniques). Take your controlled-lighting photography places you never thought you might—stop in and see the Unplugged series on your next visit to Mike’s Camera!