By Joe Farace
I’ve always preferred compact monolights for on-location portraiture. Most of my reasons are practical; small lights take up less space, pack well for travel, and cost less than big ones. With their variable flash power output settings, easily replaceable flash tubes and modeling lamps, and built-in slaves, Adorama’s affordable Flashpoint II monolights are clearly designed for professional use. At PMA 2007 the company announced some additions to its Flashpoint II family. The first is the compact Flashpoint II Model 320 that’s engineered for the budget of aspiring pros and professional photographers who make on-location portraits. The Flashpoint II Model 320, which should be available in June, has the kind of features that are expected in a workaday monolight, yet it’s compact, lightweight and delivers the performance that portrait and wedding photographers need to go to work.
Light, as they say, is light
The Flashpoint II Model 320’s main housing is a metal shell trimmed with plastic elements to absorb the kind of abusive handling that usually happens on location. A rear-mounted handgrip allows quick positioning of the head on a light stand and makes it easy to schlep around. The Model 320 features a modeling lamp, continuously variable flash power output, and a built-in slave allowing it to be tripped by another flash, even an on-camera unit if you like. It can also be fired with the supplied sync cord with a mini-jack connector and plugged into to your camera’s PC (Pronto-Compur) outlet. Since some digital SLRs lack a traditional PC connection, the optional ($9.50) Adorama Hot Shoe-to-PC Adapter will solve that problem. More important, flash sync voltage is six volts—so you won’t fry your brand-new digital SLR.
Caption: Dawn Clifford as Molly Brown for a production of "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." Shooting on location, I used three Flashpoint II Model 320 monolights for this portrait. I placed one Model 320 with a 42-inch F.J. Westcott umbrella to the right and near camera position. The main light, with a F.J. Westcott Halo lightbank attached, was on camera left. I positioned a third Model 320 with the standard reflector in the back left to skim the model’s hair and brighten the background. All three lights were set near their lowest power output, yet the image was captured at f/22 at ISO 200. With a small working space, I had to place the lights close to the model. [Canon EOS 5D and EF 28-135mm IS lens at 75mm] ©2007 Joe Farace
Controls on the back of the Model 320 include a green flash-ready LED that visibly tells you that it’s OK to shoot again. A knob lets you set power output, and the dial is continuously variable so you can set it anywhere to establish any specific f/stop you might want to use for a particular shot. In addition, there’s a power off-on and a separate modeling lamp off-on switch.
The Flashpoint II Model 320 comes with a power cord, sync cord, modeling light, and an umbrella reflector with an opening that aligns to a shaft-holder built into the light’s mounting base. The Model 320 is a good match to the 45-inch F.J. Westcott umbrellas I that use, as well as the Westcott Halo and Apollo lightbanks. The front bayonet mount on the monolight makes it compatible with every accessory available for Flashpoint II series monolights, including barns doors, snoots, 16-inch “beauty” reflector, 24x24 and 24x36 lightbanks.
In the Field
The Flashpoint II Model 320 is proof that inexpensive doesn’t mean cheap. There were no signs that inferior materials were used to cut costs. Granted, the monolight lacks some of the bells (or beeps) and whistles that other more expensive lights offer. There is no beep to tell you the flash has recycled and is ready to be fired again. While there is a green LED ready-light, it probably won’t be visible from your camera position. But, since the monolight has a 1- to 3-second recycle time, the flash should be ready when you are. I missed the audible beep because the modeling light only has off and on settings with no intermediate setting for it to dim and brighten on recycle. Like all monolights with exposed modeling lights, they can be fragile, and I managed to break a couple of bulbs during testing. They costs less that $15, so bring spares.
For most of my portraits, I don’t need to shoot at retina-searing apertures and work using f/8 or so, or sometimes f/11 when I want a little more depth of field. I was surprised to find that I could use more than one Model 320, set them at the smallest power output, and work at small apertures to photograph one or two people. Groups, of course, is another story. For that you would need monolights that produce more power, like Adorama’s new Model 2420.
Caption: I exposed this capture for 1/60 second at f/13 with a Canon EOS 5D in Manual mode. The main light was a Flashpoint II Model 320 monolight with a 42-inch F.J. Westcott umbrella placed at camera right. Fill was from a 32-inch Adorama 5-in-1 Collapsible Disc reflector on camera left. A second Model 320 monolight was placed at camera left and behind the subject. Both monolights were set on approximately half-power. Model: Tia Stoneman. Make-up by Diana Lareé.©2007 Joe Farace
All of the attributes of the Flashpoint II Model 320 that make it look great on paper performed like a good Sousa band—strong, in-line and in-step—on location. It’s lightweight enough to be used on a boom arm to act as a hair light. All of the operations aspects of Flashpoint II Model 320, despite its modest size and price, tested reliably and never once failed to deliver sharp, well-lit images. What more do you want from your lighting gear?
SPECS: Adorama Flashpoint II Monolight Model 320
Power: 150 Watt Seconds
Guide Number: 110
Power Control: Stepless from1/8 to Full Power
Flash Duration: 1/600 sec
Recycling Time: 1 to 3 Seconds
Fan Cooled: No
Modeling Lamp: 60 Watt
Color Temperature: 5600 K
Synch Voltage: 6 volts
Voltage: 110 volt
Built-In Slave: Yes
User replaceable flashtube: Yes
Size: 8x5x5 inches (w/o reflector)
Weight: 3.25 pounds (w/o reflector)