When I add a piece of photo gear to my kit, I always make sure to put it through the paces prior to use on a commissioned photoshoot. The Elinchrom ELB 1200 HS To Roll Kit is a little different though - instead of an addition to my kit, it will be a replacement for my Ranger RX Speed AS. Elinchrom was offering a trade in deal, making it more enticing to upgrade, so I bit the bullet. But before saying goodbye to my Ranger kit, I wanted to offer some initial thoughts into why I upgraded and to see how they stacked up.
There are a variety of reasons for upgrading my Ranger RX to the ELB 1200 but the main two reasons are weight and built-in radio. The new ELB 1200 is almost half the weight of the older unit - 4.3 kg vs 8.0 kg! When photographing architecture and interiors, most of the supplemental lighting that I do involves carrying the light around while I trigger my camera remotely with a Cam Ranger unit - so you can imagine how excited my back is to be moving on from the Ranger RX. The main reason for the drop in weight is the switch from lead to lithium for the battery. The Ranger RX battery weighs 4 kg and the new lithium battery for the ELB 1200 comes in at 1.1 kg. There is a slight drop in the number of total flashes from 250 at full power on the Ranger RX to 215 on the ELB 1200 using the “Air” battery. An alternative “HD” battery is available for the ELB 1200 weighing 1.5 kg which boosts the full power output to 400 flashes. The “Air” battery gets its name as I believe it is the largest lithium battery that you can bring on a flight in your carry on baggage. Elinchrom states on their site that two "Air" batteries can be packed in your carry-on luggage.
The other big reason to upgrade is the built-in radio. The Ranger RX required a transceiver to be plugged into the power pack in order to trigger the unit via radio remote. In theory, this isn’t that big of a deal but it ended up being one my biggest frustrations because the connection could sometimes be a little finicky - it is never fun when a client is on a photoshoot and the flash refuses to fire. In addition to the ELB 1200 having a built-in radio, the unit is configured to take further advantage of the their new remote - the Skyport Transmitter Plus HS. With the old Ranger RX, I could trigger and control the power of the unit via the Plus HS but the power settings would not be displayed on the remote. Now with the ELB 1200, the power of the unit is displayed on the radio transmitter. And as I mentioned earlier, my use of the Ranger RX involved lighting on the run and that meant I always had to be really careful to not bang the transceiver - just one less thing to worry about while on a photoshoot.
Some of the other benefits include the new LED modeling light, ability to switch between asymmetrical and symmetrical power for the two power ports, and a built-in handle. I’m looking forward to the new modeling light for two reasons: first, it is equivalent to a 250w tungsten bulb so it is VERY bright for a battery powered modeling light which should work perfectly for the light painting I like to do for interior photography and second, the light also has a silent mode switch intended for using the modeling light as a video light. I’m not currently a video shooter but it is always nice to have the option available. An additional upgrade is the ability to switch the two power ports between symmetric and asymmetric: providing further customization and more options into the lighting setups that can be achieved with this lighting pack. The Ranger Speed AS being replaced was permanently asymmetrical (hence the 'AS' in the name) which meant the two ports on the unit provided power in a 66:33 ratio. The new ELB 1200 allows the same 66:33 ratio and adds a 50:50 alternative. At the moment, I only have one head so I’ll have to provide an update to this review when a second head is acquired. Lastly, the handle. It may seem like a minor aside but the old unit did not have a handle and the only way to really move it around was by holding the strap. A simple design addition but I find the handle significantly improves mobility.
This is not the first kit Elinchrom has released to have the option of an HS (Hi-Sync) head: the ELB 400 battery powered strobe was Elinchrom's first lighting pack to provide a Hi-Sync option. So, what is hi-sync? According to Elinchrom:
Hi-Sync is the exclusive Elinchrom technology to go beyond the X-Sync of your DSLR camera. You can easily set up and trigger your DSLR camera up to 1/8000s shutter speed. This allows you to freeze motion, overpower the sun, darken background and use wide aperture.
I'm not going to go into the details of flash synchronization, for a deep dive check out this link from Fstoppers titled - Demystifying Hi-Speed Sync. Instead, I wanted to see how the HS Head performed at different shutter speeds and power settings, as well as how it compared to the other Elinchrom units in my arsenal.
Although the Ranger RX “S” head (one being traded in) was not specifically designed for Hi-Sync, the head’s relatively slow flash duration allowed for it to work with Hi-Sync. So I wanted to compare just how much better the new ELB 1200 HS head was at Hi-Sync. And while I was at it, might as well throw some other Elinchrom heads in the mix to show their HS capability. Heads tested include the ELB 1200 HS head, Ranger RX S head, Ranger Quadra Pro head, and the ELC 500 Pro HD monolight. Elinchrom states the ELC 500 is not compatible with HS so I just wanted to throw it in there for a baseline, to show what happens when Hi-Sync is not an option. For more information regarding compatibility with Hi-Sync, check out this table from Elinchrom. It should be noted that based on that link, of the heads tested below only the HS Head is marked green, i.e., recommended for Hi-Sync. The Ranger RX S Head and the Quadra Pro Head are both marked yellow - "Not Optimized for Hi-Sync. High shutter speeds might produce unexpected results depending on the flash unit, power levels, camera model and sensor size." And the last head tested; the ELC 500 Pro Head, is as expected marked red - "Not compatible with Hi-Sync."
NERD ALERT: Some parameters to discuss the testing. The power setting for the A port on the ELB 1200 ranges from 2.7-7.5. Based on that power range, I tested the the Hi-Sync capability at 7.5(full), 5.1(half on A port), and 2.7(minimum on A port). For each power setting, I took exposures of 1/250s, 1/500s, 1/1000s, 1/2000s, 1/4000s, and 1/8000s and those exposures are shown from left to right in the images below. Another item to note, all images were photographed using a Nikon D810.
Pretty impressive! Although my test is not scientific, i.e., the light might not be perfectly square to the background and I can’t really control the spill of light in my small studio space: the light seems to be fairly uniform across the frame. Usually when you start running in to flash sync issues, you will see either a black bar or banding across the top of the image (would be the left side in these images since test images were photographed in portrait orientation). And in my non-scientific estimation, it seems that with each stop of shutter speed, the power of the light exposed through Hi-Sync is dropped by around a stop. For example, I took the last exposure at 1/8000s and brought the ISO up 4 stops and then 5 stops and you can see the images below are pretty close to the original image taken at 1/250s.
Next we have the Ranger S head:
I have to admit, although there is more gradient from left to right as compared to the HS head, it is still respectable and useable. I’ve photographed BMX using Hi-Sync on the S head and you just have to be cognizant of where the banding is going to be in your frame when composing the photograph. Similar to the ELB 1200 tests, here is the S head at 1/8000s when boosting the ISO by 4 and 5 stops(FYI seems I forgot to do test shots of boosting the ISO when firing the S head at power setting 2.7):
Next in line is the compact Ranger Quadra Pro Head. The Quadra is a less powerful unit than the ELB 1200 and Ranger RX so these tests start at the maximum power setting of 6.0.
Definitely more gradient in flash exposure as compared to the ELB HS Head and Ranger S head, but still could be useful in a pinch. Keep in mind that if these images were taken in landscape orientation, the gradient would be across the top of the frame which can actually be a nice effect when shooting outdoors where the sky makes up a significant portion of the image. Below are the 1/8000s exposures, boosted 4 to 5 stops using the ISO.
Lastly, I wanted to test the ELC 500 Pro HD. Elinchrom states that the monolight is not compatible with Hi-Sync but I was curious if it worked at all. The ELC 500 interface displays the flash duration for each power setting so I used a power setting of 5.8 as that corresponded with the slowest flash duration of 1/2040s and should give us our best chance at Hi-Sync.
As expected, the gradient is too strong to be useful in any practical sense.
Why is Hi-Sync a big deal?
The obvious answer is to be able to use higher shutter speeds than your camera's standard sync speed. But why would you want to do so? Here are the common reasons:
- Shooting a shallow depth of field outdoors on a bright day
- To darken a bright sky
- Freeze action
But a couple creative/alternative uses of Hi-Sync:
- Essentially achieving a lower power setting in the studio, e.g., if you'd like to shoot with lights really close to your subject or maybe at a shallower depth of field, most of time studio strobes are too powerful.
- When shooting in spaces where controlling the ambient light is not possible, using the higher shutter speeds to kill any unwanted ambient light.
I'm sure I'll come up with more alternative uses for Hi-Sync as I use the light but those were a couple off the top of my head. Overall, I'm very excited about the upgrade to the ELB 1200 and associated possibilities. But for now...