(copy of an APUG question - I figured there are probably people here shooting big cheap lights)
Some of us don't live in the USA, also known as the land of crazy-cheap equipment. We can't buy AlienBees etc, the voltage is wrong (though I could get a transformer... another 5kg to lug) and the shipping cost is nasty. While I'd be happy with some good secondhand Bowens, elinchrom or whatever, the second-hand market here is still pretty inflated. That basically means my affordable options come down to the variety of $200-300-class Chinese monolights on eBay.
I plan to use these lights with decently big modifiers (1-2m softboxes) , shooting medium format and 4x5"; think f/32 kind of levels from the key light. From what I understand, that means I'm going to need on the order of 800Ws - please let me know if I'm wrong there in either direction. I'm not going to be using them professionally; sessions of an hour or so once every few weeks. Very light use though I'd want them to still be working in a decade.
Has anyone personally used any of the chinese brands? Any good or bad experiences? Have you had a chance to compare optical power levels with reputable brands? I know enough to avoid the really cheap ones with only 3 stops of power range.
I was looking in particular at the Menik LD-series lights, though they seem to be unusually small and light for their power rating, which doesn't bode well - flash capacitor technology is what it is and a certain volume is required to contain the specified energy. I suspect they're lying about power ratings and/or not using flash-rated capacitors but don't know that for sure. These advertise as using Perkin-Elmer plug-in tubes, which is a plus. Their CM-series look awesome (wireless remote control of power levels!) but they don't seem to be available yet.
The other option are the older-style huge ones, e.g. eBay 150645212726. They're big & heavy enough to contain the capacitors to fulfill the rating but of course I don't know if they're good ones; a friend has a pair that look similar to these and some of the capacitors shorted out after about 2 years (I removed the duds for him and now the flash works again but max power is down by about 1/3 stop).
... or if someone in Australia has a quality secondhand two-light 1kJ studio kit they'd like to sell for $500ish?