The Flashpoint II 2420 Monolight; Top WS Unit Of The Line

Monolights are a handy and portable way to work and I am always interested in testing out new models. When I tested these new lights from Adorama I received an added bonus, some of their new Belle Drape Muslin backgrounds. This was going to be fun--it was like getting a new studio setup in one box. When I opened the box I found two of the Flashpoint II 2420 monolights, a small 2x2 softbox, and a set of barn doors. These are the upper end of the Flashpoint series of lights, including the 1220, 1820, and 2420, which translates into 600, 900, and 1200 ws, respectively. I asked for a small softbox because I usually use a large 4x6-foot softbox and wanted to work with a smaller light source.

The units are well made and sturdy enough for professional use. They are fan cooled and use a 250w quartz modeling light, which is very bright and can be set either to full or variable power with the output. In my studio testing at 10 ft, I obtained f/45 at full power with the standard dish reflector. Recycle time is stated in the spec sheet as 6.5 seconds, but I found that it was within 2/10 of a stop in 4 seconds and a full recycle at 6 seconds. Keep in mind that with this kind of power you'll generally only be using a fraction of it, so recycling will be very fast. There's also an audio signal that tells you your flash has fired, a feature I always seek in my monolights.

I put the softbox on one unit and the dish/barn doors on the other. The first thing I found out was that I had too much power! Keep in mind that this unit will go from full power to 1/16 power, a four-stop range. Even with the power dialed down to the lowest setting, I was not able to achieve a reasonably large f/stop for portrait work in the confines of my small studio. If I want to shoot at f/16, no problem, but I usually like to be in the f/5.6 to f/6.3 area to keep the background from getting too sharp. What to do? I cut up some neutral density gels and put them over the lights so I could at least get to f/8. The power is there if you need it, no doubt, but going for the most power in a light is not always the best choice. That's why there are lower-powered units. Consider your needs first before making that decision.

This image of Katie Doucet was made for her first communion. In addition to taking some poses with the white, I used this Belle Drape Muslin background for a more formal look. (Bella Drape Muslin background BD909S.)
All Photos © 2008, Steve Bedell, All Rights Reserved

In use, I really enjoyed working with these powerful units. The bayonet mount on the front makes it easy to change from reflector to softbox. The power is continuously variable, pretty much a requirement in the digital age where exposure must be very precise and 1/3 of a stop can make or break the exposure. The back panel of controls is straightforward and easy to figure out at a glance. These lights are an excellent choice for the pro and advanced amateur at a great price.

The Importance Of A Continuously Variable Light Source
Many older or very inexpensive studio flashes have power options instead of being continuously variable. These lights are not usually good choices for today's photographer operating in the digital environment. Here's why:
Let's say you're doing a portrait in the studio. You like how the light looks but the main light is just a little "hot" or overexposed. With a variable power light, it's a simple matter of "dialing it down" until it's perfect. With a light that just has rudimentary settings of 1/4, 1/2, and full power, you won't be able to hit the exposure perfectly.

If you want a plain white background, use seamless paper. When using the white fabric, I like to add texture and design, as in this image of 9-month-old Andrew Morrison. To soften the lighting ratio in this image, I added a fill light from behind the camera. I also applied a couple of Kubota Actions ( to blur edges and create softer color. (Bella Drape Muslin background BD701L.)

You say, "So what, Steve, just move the light back a little." Well, there are two reasons why that might not be such a good idea. First, you might not have the room to do that! Second, when you back off the light, you are not only reducing the power, you are changing the quality of the light. Moving the light away from the subject reduces the size of the light source, making it smaller and "harder," an effect you may not want. The opposite is also true of course. So while most newer lights have variable power, be aware that many older and some bargain units may not.