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I'm looking for an entry-level studio monolight (two, actually). They range from $150 (Cowboy studio) all the way up to $1000. I'm not prepared to spend $1000 yet. I would like to get recommendation about an affordable device for entry-level lighting.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Look for something that has a track record and available parts/accessories. Retail support would be nice, but with the right vendor you don't necessarily need to see it in brick-and-mortar stores. Saving money is nice and all, but you don't want to have to buy them again in six months.

If you're in North America, there's probably no better choice than Paul C. Buff's AlienBees series for entry-level kit. Outside of North America, they can be expensive or utterly impossible to get, and service is anecdotally a nightmare, but in North America, they're probably the best bang for the buck. Very reliable and consistent, more than reasonably rugged, with decent service, good parts availability, and prices that reflect a direct-to-consumer supply chain.

There are also rebranded Chinese units sold by Adorama and B&H. They're no better than the no-name versions in any real sense, but they are supported well by retailers who are pretty good at making things go right, so if you do get a dud/lemon, you'll usually get a replacement with little or no hassle. The more upmarket units within the "house brand" category are actually pretty good, but they don't have quite the solid history of the Buff units.

Another option worth considering at the entry level is the Elinchrom DLite RX series. At retail, for $1000 you can get a kit with 2 400 watt-second (Joule)fully remote-controllable monolights, a wide reflector, 2 stands, 2 reasonably okay softboxes, a pair of shoulder bags for portability and a radio trigger/controller (200 and 100 Joule kits are cheaper; a DLite One kit is about $650 in my area). It's also fully-compatible with their "pro" units — it can use all of the same reflectors, softboxes, triggers, etc., so you can gradually build a system without having to throw all of your "n00b toys" away.

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