Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolight Review
160W / 300W Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolight Flash
$69.95 / $99.95* www.adorama.com
*click here for information about international shipping
Annie Leibovitz, David Lachapelle, and all such other major studio photographers make a living by manipulating light. This can be quite an expensive endeavor, and a financial hurdle that every serious photographer must leap at some point. It also doesn't help that there exists a plethora of lighting options with price gaps that rival the Grand Canyon.
For instance, high-end brands and models like my Elinchrom BRX series run around $1400, which consequently took a few commercial shoots to pay for. Those who don't necessarily need the power of 1000 watt seconds or have the money up front to drop on an entire kit will need to find more wallet-friendly options, like the Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolights.
Offered in 160W ($70) or 300W ($100) power intensities, Adorama's Budget Studio Monolights are geared toward studio photographers who are just starting out and are constrained to modest budgets. I received one 160W and one 300W model to test in order to see if I could obtain results that rivaled my more expensive pro lights. At a fraction of the price, will the Flashpoint Budget Studio lights prevail? Let's find out.
160W Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolight Flash
- 3.5m sync terminal
- Built-in umbrella/tilt bracket
- Adjustable variable power control
- 145 guide number at ISO 150
- Recycle time of 4-6 seconds
- Removable 60W modeling lamp
- 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, and full flash intensities
- Can be triggered via 12 ft. sync cable, firing another flash via built-in photo slave, or with Flashpoint 8 Channel Radio Remote Control Set
- User replaceable flash tube
- 5600° Kelvin color temperature
- 7.75 x 7.0 x 4.0", 2 lb
300W Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolight Flash
- Durable Aluminum Housing
- Rapid 0.5 - 2 second recycle with audio and LED alert
- Sync via cable or optical slave
- 190 guide number at ISO 100
- 4 stops with 1/2 stop increments (8 dial increments)
- 1/2000 - 1/800s flash duration
- 75W quartz modeling lamp
- Modeling lamp with ratio control from 1/8 to full
- Pre-flash test button
- Switchable Optical slave/preflash slave/master setting with LED indicator
- 5A fuse protected circuit
- Replaceable flash tube
- Umbrella shaft lock
- 9 x 7.0 x 4.25", 2.3 lb
Adorama shipped me both the 160W and 300W Budget flashes, which differ in price by $30. The 300W is longer and slightly heavier, but it also has a nicer interface with extra buttons like beep sound toggle and optical control / anti-preflash switches. The 300W also has a broader stepped exposure range that offers four full stops in 1/2 increments (8 total dial steps). The exposure control dial is flanked by LED indicators, which keep track of what exposure level is set, and also give it more refined aesthetics.
The 160W has a stepless exposure control dial that offers full, 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8 flash intensities. Obviously, the 160W offers a little more fine-tuning, but the 300W makes it easier to set exact exposure levels.
|The horseshoe-shaped flash tube and 75W modeling lamp is the setup on all Flashpoint Budget Monolights.|
The 160W is supposed to ship with a 60W modeling lamp according to the product specifications, but Adorama included a 75W modeling lamp in the kit that they sent me, which is what comes standard with the 300W. Both the modeling lamps and flash tubes are user replaceable, but the flash tube in the 300W is larger and a different model than that of the 160W. Both flashes are sturdily built with aluminum housings and both feature air vents. One thing missing from both lights though is a protective cap in order to shield the flash tubes and modeling lamps during transport. Why these are not standard pieces in the box is beyond me.
Both flashes have identical mounting clamps, which are unfortunately made of plastic and screwed to the bottoms of each unit. A notched angle adjuster can be ratcheted down to set the light upward or downward across a nearly 180-degree range. The stand clamps can fit a majority of standard lightstands with a 5/8" or smaller mounting stud, and ratchet down with hand-operated pinch bolts. Lastly, the Budget Studio Monolight flashes have umbrella clamps with a smaller hand-operated pinch bolt in order to keep it fastened in place.
One thing about both flashes is that no stand or umbrella is included in either box, and must be purchased separately. But consider the fact that Adorama offers 160W and 300W Budget Studio Monolight flash kits, the 160W kit ($109.95) and 300W kit ($139.95). So, it's almost a no-brainer to spend a little more for the whole shebang if you don't have any stands or umbrellas lying around.
|The 300W Flashpoint Budget Monolight triggered with the Phottix Odin transceiver.||The 160W Flashpoint Budget Monolight interface.|
The 300W Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolight has a guide number of 190 at ISO 100 while the 160W Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolight has a guide number of 145 at ISO 150. To me, the guide numbers were not as important, as I used the flashes for product shoots and tested them with a few portraits. For most tight shoots, the 160W provided plenty of illumination, especially when coupled with a decent reflector. I didn't even have to use the 300W on the food shoot. The model lamps are adjustable and dim or brighten with flash exposure adjustment. As a two light setup, the 160W and 300W make a good team.
When it comes to triggering, the Budget Monolights offer a few different options. First off, they come with sync cords right out of the box. This is fine for most applications, until you need to add more flashes. However, there is a way to get around this limitation. I was able to manually connect the sync cable to the 300W unit and rely on the 160W's built-in photo slave, which fired the flash when it detected another flash firing. To go entirely cord-free, I used the Phottix Odin transmitter attached to my Canon EOS 5D Mark III, and connected an Odin transceiver to the 300W Budget Studio Monologht. This eliminated the need to be attached to the light itself via analog means, and fired both flashes at once, thanks to the slave trigger on the 160W.
If you want to stay within the Flashpoint family, the Flashpoint 8 Channel Radio Remote Control Set with Transmitter and Receiver will offer radio wireless control for one flash, and additional receivers can be purchased. While the price of the Radio Remote is quite attractive, the user reviews seem to be a bit of a mixed bag. Either way, the Budget Studio Monolights can be fired several ways, which is a good thing.
I shot with the Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolights in a few different environments with my Canon EOS 5D Mark III. This way, I was able to get a feel for what it would take for a working photographer to start out with this lighting setup. I had to use a set of stands that I had lying around, as well as two white umbrellas. In addition, I needed a method of transport, so I used a Tamrac roller photo bag. As mentioned previously, I brought along the Phottix Odin kit to trigger the lights. So realistically, a set of stands, umbrellas, and carry bag will be needed to do the job.
As an option, a triggering system of your choice will make life a bit easier. Buying the Budget Studio Monolight kits will take care of the umbrellas and stands, so really all you'd need would be a bag. The ability to do professional photo shoots on a budget of roughly $300 is pretty spectacular.
Setting up the lights was a piece of cake, but I was quite concerned about the quality of certain parts. While the housings of the lights are made of rugged aluminum, the clamp brackets are plastic and simply bolted to the bottom of the flash bodies. While this probably won't ever be an immediate problem, I can envision issues over time after transporting and setting up the units numerous times. As a point of comparison, my Elinchroms are far more rugged in the clamping department, and I don't see them ever failing. The Flashpoints are a bit more awkward to ratchet down on the light stand and umbrella, but I never had an issue with the flash or umbrella moving or slipping.
|Drinks at the Side Street Cafe in Bar Harbor, ME shot with the 160W Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolight and reflector.|
Whether the Flashpoint Studio Budget flashes were triggered via the sync cords, the Phottix Odin, or manually via the Test Flash function, neither unit ever failed to fire. The modelling lamps were consistent as well, gradually dimming and brightening when I adjusted the exposure levels on the flash units. In addition, I never experienced a misfire. The recycling times on both flashes are fairly respectable, and they recharge in around two seconds - certainly fast enough to compliment the pace of the shoots that I've done with them. Beeps can be enabled or disabled, and in my time with these flashes I opted to leave them on. It's not an obtrusive beep, more of a 'chirp', and not obtrusive.
For the food shoot I did with these heads there was some natural light, but it was limited. I used the one 160W flash and placed it about 7-10 feet away from the drinks and entrees. For the most part, flash power was set to half. A reflector complimented the 160W Budget Studio Monolight nicely. At the end of the shoot, I was convinced that I could use the Budget Studio Monolights for paying gigs. I then shot some self-portraits using a modified two-light setup with the 300W up high and angled down and the 160W low and angled up.
|Self-portrait shot with the 300W and 160W Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolights.|
While portraits are not my thing (I like product photography because the subjects don't speak or have opinions), I found that I was able to capture some fairly decent images via the two-light setup. Obviously, I'd want to add some highlight illumination and perhaps some color, but for the photographer just starting out in a home studio, the Budget Studio Monolights will suit you just fine. Again, I never experienced any problems throughout any of my shoots.
The Flashpoint Budget Studio Monolights from Adorama give hope to aspiring photographers and students who are looking to take the next step up to the paying job realm. While the individual flashes themselves will not provide a solution right out of the box, my advice would be to opt for the Budget Studio Monolight kits. Two 300W kits will run you $240, which includes the flashes, stands, and umbrellas. That's a steal, considering the fact that I dropped around $1,500 on my two-light Elinchrom kit.
Granted, the Elinchroms provide 400W of additional power, but there are many times when I feel as though the Elinchroms provide too much illumination for the types of shoots I'm using them for. I'd estimate that $300 would cover everything you'd need for the Flashpoint Budget setup, and that's awesome.
Of course, I wasn't crazy about the plastic mounting brackets on the Budget flashes, and the fact that they don't come with protective covers is a serious omission. If Adorama is to improve these lights in any way, they need to add protective covers in the box. Otherwise, you'll have to rig your own setup out of peanut can lids or duct tape. Regarding the reliability of the lights, I experienced no issues on either the 160W or 300W. I would definitely recommend these lights to those who are just starting out and are on a tight budget.
What we like:
- Adjustable output
- Attractive price tag
- Multiple triggering options
What we don't like:
- Plastic clamping brackets
- No protective covers included