Speedlights vs. Monolights for Photography Lighting

Most photographers tend to ask the wrong questions when looking for lighting advice. Rather than matching their shooting style with the type of light that can handle those requirements, they go about choosing a light and then trying to make it work. In this video, photographer Joe Edelman addresses some myths and answers some basic questions about speedlights and monolights:

First things first. Edelman discounts some myths that surround these very popular external lights.

Speedlights (sometimes also referred to as Speedlites) and monolights are both flashes and they are both strobes. The smaller one is also referred to as an off-camera flash, while the larger unit is commonly referred to as a monolight. In the right hands, both speedlights and monolights can be used to produce identical results.

speedlight or monolight?

One of these images was shot with a speedlight. The other with a monolight. Can you tell which is which?

You need a monolight only when you need to light a large area, shoot multiple frames per second, or when you need to supplement natural light in an outdoor shooting situation. For most other situations, a simple speedlight is just as capable.

Questions like, “I’m looking to get my first flash unit. What is the best one to buy?” or, “Should I buy a speedlight or a monolight?” are irrelevant. The answer to these questions can never be a clear model number or even a brand name. These are very general questions and can at best be answered by more questions. Questions such as “What do you want to do with the flash? Are you using it for portraits, events or sports? Where will you be using the flash?” Questions like whether you would be using modifiers or using the lights in a studio or outdoor environment are also relevant.,

Speedlights are typically used in dark environments, at events or when you need a light to supplement the ambient light in a scene.

Monolights, on the other hand, are better suited for larger areas, a basketball game. They are also used in studio environments, especially in commercial photography settings. The power and coverage of these lights make beautiful crisp images of moments frozen in time—the type of you see in sports magazines.

should i buy a speedlight, or a monolight?

Monolights are ideal for illuminating large areas

Monolights are inherently more powerful when compared with speedlights. They are also more expensive than speedlights. Recycling speeds are an important consideration for shooting in quick succession. Monolights recycle faster than speedlights. But speedlights are more portable.

Monolights are mostly manual. Speedlights are mostly TTL and automatic. There are, however, exceptions. Thus, strobes with some semblance of TTL and speedlights with manual only options are available.

Speedlights have fewer options in terms of modifiers.

Speedlights are ideal when you need to stop fast action. They can work with high shutter speeds.

Watch the rest of the video for some invaluable insights into how to use a strobe’s modelling light as well as how to use the zoom feature on standard speedlights for creative effects.

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One response to “Speedlights vs. Monolights for Photography Lighting”

  1. hasenpfeffer says:


    none of that is realistic.
    nor relative.

    don’t listen to this garbage.

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