Having made a decision to get back into some studio work, and having sold off my other monolights five (5) years ago, I ordered a fairly inexpensive solution from RPS Studio.
I thought I would do a quick amateur's review for those that might be considering picking something up to experiment with.
If there are grades of cardboard, the packaging is on the low end of the scale. That said, everything was individually boxed inside of the carry bag. Outer boxes were black marking on thin packaging. All boxes had inner cardboard liners, and the fragile stuff was in bubble wrap bags.
- Umbrellas had sleeves that appear to be reusable for medium duty use.
- Monolights had the modeling lights and strobes pre-installed.
- Light Stands had plastic sleeves not really needed, or suitable, for reuse.
- Carry Bag has plenty of straps and strain reliefs, but zippers are light duty.
The stands are made of light weight aluminum. They are plenty strong enough to hold the Monolights, and their various attachments (umbrellas, barn doors, snoots, small soft box etc.). The stands only extend to 6.5 feet, and have a fairly narrow leg spread for that height. Legs retract up along the bottom section, so the stands are fairly compact for transport. I would recommend adding 5-10 pounds of sand bag to reduce tipping risk. Sand Bags larger than 10 lbs will be a fit issue. These are not air cushioned stands! Care must be taken when adjusting them while loaded up with gear! The sections are channeled to eliminate rotation while adjusting. I recommend repositioning of the entire light stand, when needed. Sections locks are clip type. Leg Retraction lock is screw type.
The Monolights (three included) are 160 ws each, and weight in at approx 1.5 lbs. Construction is primarily plastic (exceptions are power connectors, dish and power control), including the light stand mount. The following are some useful observations:
- Strobes are constantly variable from 1/8th to Full power.
- 75w Modeling Light does vary with power setting.
- Strobe does have audible recycle alert, which can be set to silent.
- Multicolor LED Ready Light.
- Modeling Light can be turned off.
- Umbrella mounting is via plastic sleeve, friction only
- Max recycle time seemed to average 5-6 seconds. Less at lower power settings.
- Strobes have sync cord inputs and IR/Optical slave sensors.
Three (3) forty (40) inch umbrellas are included with the package. A surprisingly nice size for a cheap kit. You will find that size matters when dealing with low powered strobes. Two (2) are white shoot through types, and one (1) is silvery, but lacks any black backing, so bleed must be considered. Anyone considering this kit for doing High Key work would want to consider more reflective umbrellas in a variety of sizes. Overall, construction seems OK, with the two (2) shoot through umbrellas generating a consistent light temperature.
IR Trigger System:
It was a pleasant surprise to find a low end kit that included this. It even included a PC cable for those in a position to use it off shoe for whatever reason. Runs on four (4) AA batteries. Although IR Trigger may sound kind of high tech and sexy, I think it is really a simple low powered strobe with a red lens. Construction is reasonably solid, but plastic. If doing paying GIGs, I would recommend going hardwire to one (1) Monolight, and the the others sync to it optically. You may also consider using Pocket Wizards, or the lower priced knockoffs. Although, if you can afford to go with PWs, you may also be in a position to purchase a higher end lighting system
I was pleasantly surprised to find that RPS Studio offers a few optional accessories for the amateur studio. I picked out a few things to add during the initial testing.
Barn Doors – At $75, they seemed a little pricey, but without a speed ring solution, I thought there was value in sticking with something that would be an exact fit to the Monolight's plastic housing. The Doors came with a 1/4” Honeycomb Grid. What I did not realize at the time was, they also include a set of primary Gels in metal holders. Fit was very secure. Finish was all black metal, and very acceptable. http://www.canogacamera.com/detail.aspx?ID=38107
RF Shutter Release – At $99, this was purely an indulgence. If you have ever tried to coax a smile out of a Grandbaby to get that “Million Dollar Shot”, you will remember that the coaxing does not happen from behind the camera, and no human is quick enough to get back there before that smile fades/changes. With sixteen (16) channels, small form factor and electronic locking for Bulb or Rapid Fire, I am quite pleased with this addition to the bag. http://www.canogacamera.com/detail.aspx?ID=35066
I already had backdrop stands, paper, and a light meter, which is a must for off camera work, so I was ready to have some fun, and will. Although I think I got plenty of value for my money, I am a hobby shooter, who sometimes makes a little money from his hobby. Those of you who are paying the food and rent bill with your art, may not be in a position to take any risks with equipment. Some things to consider:
- With low power, you will be close to your lights, and subject(s). IR/Optical triggers will be fine.
- If you plan to depend on this equipment for your living, don't! Start out with fewer lights, of higher quality, and add-on going forward.
- If you need high powered lighting for large groups, or sports etc, this is not the kit for you. You need higher end lights, and possibly radio triggers to go with them.
- You can probably shop around for bits and pieces, and save some money over what I spent ($550), but I considered the fact that the low end stuff does not support a lot of creative rigging, so I just stuck with the single manufacturer.
Best of luck to all, and have some fun out there!