Quick Recommendations

Modern flashes and lenses have complex, proprietary communications with the cameras. If a new company is going to make a flash or lens, it has to spend millions reverse-engineering these communications and testing its products with every different camera it hopes to be compatible. Monolights, however, have traditionally used a much simpler communication mechanism: the PC sync cord. It’s just a cord that carries a simple electrical signal that tells the lights when to fire. This simple communication standard has allowed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of different companies to build monolights. I won’t be describing them all in this book. Instead, I’ve chosen the three most popular lighting brands: Elinchrom, Paul C. Buff, and Profoto. I’ll give you quick recommendations for beginning studio setups and then provide an overview of the products offered by each of the three brands. Just as choosing Canon, Nikon, or Sony is a big decision because you’ll be stuck with that company’s accessories, choosing the brand of your lighting locks you into that system’s wireless remote controls and light modifiers. If you need to add a light, you’ll certainly want to use one from the same system. Therefore, you should first choose a brand that you want to invest in, and then select lights and light modifiers from that brand’s offerings. In other words, you should evaluate the brand’s entire offerings. Even if you’re just looking for a single monolight for your home studio, if you plan to add more lights later, and you think you might want more power, you should evaluate your future costs and upgrade options within that brand. The following table samples the different makes and models for each brand to give you a sense for what a 4-light studio setup with wireless control over the light output will cost you.

Make Model Output 4 lights 4 wireless lights Replacement bulb cost Computer controlled?
Elinchrom D-Lite 200 Ws $1,360 $1,480 $58 X
Paul C. Buff Alien Bees 320 Ws $1,120 $1,660 $35  
Paul C. Buff Einstein 640 Ws $2,000 $2,340 $35  
Elinchrom BRX 500 Ws $2,700 $2,820 $110 X
Elinchrom RX 600 Ws $4,000 $4,120 $97 X
Profoto Air 500 Ws $4,800 $5,100 $156 X

As you can see from the highlights, I’m recommending the Paul C. Buff Alien Bees system for light studio work, the Einstein system for more serious studio work, and the Profoto system for heavy-duty commercial studios. Each system has its own merits, however. Be sure to factor in maintenance costs. To help you estimate this, I’ve included the cost of a replacement bulb for each of the systems. Repair costs tend to be proportionate, with Paul C. Buff equipment being the least expensive to repair. The sections that follow provide a more detailed overview of each lighting brand.