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Light gets almost always come with three heads so if you are buying your first light kit, make sure you get three heads. I will explain that in the next episode.
Light sources also come in two basic flavors, the mono light, which has everything built right into the head and the head, and pack system which is what I have here. The head and pack system requires the light head and a pack, also called a generator and you need both parts for that to work.
Now I recently received a question asked about the differences between the two. David Farley wrote, “Would you mind a brief explanation of why a power pack kit is better than a mono light kit. One feature that I love about mono lights is the controlled and tight spaces.”
That is a great question, David. Now a pack and light kit is not necessarily better than a mono light kit, they both have jobs to do and they both do them very well. So when you are buying your light source, you really need to consider nine things.
With the pack and head system, all the controls are right here on the pack so it makes it really easy to control each light setting. With the mono light system, controls are on the back of the head itself and it does not seem like that big of a deal until the head is 12 or 13 feet in the air and you have to make several adjustments. The other nice thing about the pack and head system is that the trigger is right here on the pack. So if you are slaving the lights to a different flash, there is a little photo cell here so it detects the flash and then it makes all of the lights fire.
Well, on a mono light system, that little slave is on the back of the mono light and so you trigger one mono light and the light from that triggers all the rest. Well if you have a big huge soft box or something ion front of your light, sometimes the light does not reach that trigger in the back and that can make sinking all your lights a nightmare. You do not have that issue with the pack and head system.
Flash duration is the amount of time that the flash is on and the flash fires. If you are capturing motion, like ninjas bouncing of walls like Chase Jarvis did, you need to have a really short flash duration, think of it like shutter speed. Now a pack and head system is going to have much shorter flash durations than a mono light system.
Recycle time is the amount of time that the system needs to recharge between flashes. Generally, shorter recycle times are better and pack and head systems are going to have shorter recycle times than mono light systems.
Power output is measured in watt seconds, the more powerful a light is, the brighter the light will be. If you are shooting very low ISOs like ISO 25 or ISO 50 or you need really small aperture settings like f22 or higher, you are really going to need more power. If you are shooting outside in bright sunlight, you will need to overpower that ambient light we will need more power for that.
If your source is going to be a long distance from your subject, again, you will need more power or if you are using a lot of light modifiers, specially diffusion, those can change the output of your source by a half or even a full stop so you need to compensate for that.
However, if you are working in a small space, a home studio or something like that, you do not need quite as much power because generally those light sources will be much closer to your subject. In fact, most portrait photographers working in home studios or smaller studios are just fine with 600 to 1200 watt seconds. However if you are doing a lot of sets and complicated lighting set ups with multiple models or you are shooting outside, shooting cars and things like that, you will probably need more power. Most professionals use 2400 to 4800 watt seconds in their setups. Mono lights are generally 1200 watt seconds or less and so if you want more power, you are going to have to go to a pack and head system.
Now for a full explanation of watt seconds, check out the bonus materials that we have posted at studiolighting.net.
Durability is how long your equipment is going to last, you are going to be moving these things all over in your studio, hauling into different locations and things like that so you really want to get something that is going to last. Make sure you buy metal equipment, avoid plastic because plastic is going to break but metal will last a very, very long time.
Output consistency is measured both in terms of power and color temperature. You want your light to be the exact same power from flash to flash so that your exposure remains consistent from frame to frame. You also want to make sure that your color temperature is consistent especially if you are shooting commercial photography like floating catalogs and things like that. Pro photo and other high end systems are best if you are concerned with this issue.
When you buy a system, you want it to be very flexible. All manufacturers are going to allow you use standard reflectors, umbrellas, soft boxes, snoots and things like that but higher end systems are going to give you even more choices with more flexibility, you will be able to use more modifiers, specialized reflectors, wireless triggers and other innovations like that which leads me to availability.
For many photographers, the ability to rent equipment is very important to them, pro photo is the most rented light equipment in the world. One of the reasons I use them is I know I can go and rent any reflector head, generator or other pro photo equipment in any major city anywhere in the world, you would not be able to do that with most other manufacturers.
Now you have to balance all of this stuff with your own personal style of photography and your budget. Now the price differences can be really staggering. For example, as of today, you can get a complete Photo Flex three light set up with stands, mono lights, soft boxes and umbrellas for less than this pro photo head, there is a pretty big difference. You can also get some great used gear, in fact I just recently bought a Novatron three light setup with a case, stands, umbrellas, generator and three heads for $100.00. So look on EBay, there is a lot of great deals out there.
All right, from all of this discussion, it probably sounds like I am saying that the pack and head system is the best. Well that is just not true. You have to balance everything out. So if you are shooting mostly portrait photography or you are going through a lot of locations if you are budget conscious, if you have a small studio, mono lights are probably going to be much better for you than the head and pack system. If you are not really sure what you should do, I suggest you go to your local camera store and rent some gear just to try it out.
Now a lot of camera stores actually have free seminars where they demonstrate all of the different equipment, you can try it out and see what works best for you, and if you are not sure, just ask your local camera store and they will let you know if they do that or not.
Speaking of local camera shops, we are going to go to our local camera shop and we are going to check out a bunch of other equipment and other options for lighting gear so stay tuned for a special bonus episode of Digital Photography One on One coming soon.
Now the next episode is going to be wrapping all this up, we are going to be showing you a basic three light set up and we will show you how all of this fits together, I will see you then.
This episode is brought to you by snapfactory.com and studiolighting.net. For more information about our workshops, visit snapfactory.com.