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Which Studio Lights to Buy – Elinchrom Test Drive

Posted on May 25, 2011 by Bo

This is Part 2 of a series on which studio lights to buy. Check out Part 1 if you missed it.

Elinchrom is based in Switzerland and is known for creating exceptional studio lighting strobes and light shaping tools at a reasonable price. I know many pro photographers who use Elinchrom lights and love them.

I decided to give Elinchrom a chance since they seemed more practical for my uses. After spending some time looking at the Elinchrom offerings, I decided to focus on these 3 units.

Strobes Used

Accessories Used

I rented each unit to use in a handful of sessions that I had coming up. I wanted to see which one best fit my needs and shooting style.

Elinchrom Ranger Quadra

I probably spent the most time with the Quadra. What a cool little unit! Beautiful light from a package that was so lightweight and portable. I got the A Head, which offers faster flash duration and recycle time (The “A” stands for Action; they do have “S”, or Standard, heads that are a little cheaper).

Pros
– Small, lightweight and portable
– Can be plugged into AC power when in the studio to conserve battery life (officially, the strobe only runs off of battery power, but when the AC adapter is plugged in the battery is charged between flashes)
– Fast flash duration
– Built-in Skyport Receiver

Cons
– Not great build quality. After using less than 2 weeks, the rubber rim around the top of the battery pack was starting to become separated from the body.
– The strap loops are on the top of the unit. If you have the strap clipped on, it’s cumbersome to screw in the lighting cord
– Requires a poor quality mounting adapter in order to use the full-size Elinchrom modifiers.
– The mounting system is poor overall.
– The modeling light automatically turns off each time the strobe fires. In some situations, the modeling light is the only light in the room at the time so it was a pain to have to turn it back on after each shot I took.

If I was already heavily invested in Elinchrom, the Quadra unit would be a no-brainer addition. For the price, it offers a nice quality light in a very lightweight and portable unit. My biggest problem is that this would be my main strobe (at least to start with), and given the build quality it made me a little nervous that this would be my starting point for building my big lights arsenal. Not quite enough bang for the buck, which is why the next unit in line was the Elinchrom Ranger RX.

Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS

This Ranger RX kit had great build quality, terrific light, easy controls from the battery pack, and the mount is much easier to deal with than that of the Quadra.

I had 2 problems with the Ranger RX: weight and power.

Let me address the weight first. After doing a couple of location shoots with the Quadra I had gotten used to it’s small size and light weight; the Ranger RX is a completely different beast. For the type of shooting I do, it would be a little too cumbersome to tote around on location.

As far as power goes, it’s not that there wasn’t enough power; it’s that there was too much! I tend to shoot with large apertures when in the studio and the RX’s lowest setting is 17 watt seconds. I like to get my light in close to the subject, but with my typical light distance the widest I could get my aperture was f/5.6 at ISO 100.

Elinchrom Digital Style 600RX

While I was at it with Elinchrom, I took the opportunity to try out the RX600 monolight. It was a well built unit along the lines of the Ranger RX, but had less of a power ranger and a rather unimpressive flash duration. The quality of light was on par with the Ranger units, but the 600RX was just a little bit more restrictive than I had gotten used to with my Alien Bees strobes.

Skyport Remote Control Speed Set

I had a chance to work with the Skyport remote control system. I was a little hesitant to leave my PocketWizards in my bag, especially since the Skyports didn’t seem to be built as ruggedly as the PocketWizards are, but I liked having the ability to vary the power with the Skyports.

Indoors, the Skyports worked as expected. The only problem was having to hold down one of the power adjustment buttons in order to turn on the modeling light. You tap the button once, and it increases your power. You hold it down for 3 seconds, it supposedly turns on the modeling light. This was hit or miss for me, and maybe I wasn’t holding it down long enough, but I eventually just gave up trying.

Using the Skyports outdoors was where I had a problem. I had several misfires when using at a range of under 30 feet. That doesn’t happen with PocketWizards (unless they are low on batteries), so it frustrated me quite a bit. But for indoor use, I really can’t complain.

Elinchrom Rotalux Medium Softbox

This was my first time using any softbox other than the Paul Buff foldable softboxes. The Elinchrom softboxes are touted as being quick setup, and this is probably true when compared to softboxes from other manufacturers. But, they obviously haven’t tried the Paul Buff foldables. I could have 3 Paul Buffs setup by the time it took me to setup 1 Elinchrom.

Aside from that, the build quality of the Elinchrom softboxes are great. I was very happy with the light diffusion it produced. I can see why many folks lean toward Elinchrom modifiers on their Profoto lights (and others). Good quality for a good price.

Elinchrom 27″ White Beauty Dish Maxisoft Reflector

The Elinchrom Beauty Dish was also a cool modifier. It comes with a few different deflector discs that can be used to vary color and sharpness of the light. My favorite was the silver.

If I had to find one fault with the beauty dish is that Elinchrom doesn’t offer grids. There are third party solutions that you can use, but again, I was missing the flexibility that the Paul Buff beauty dish was offering me.

Sample Images


For more examples, check out BoBoswellPhotography.com

Conclusion

Elinchrom is a dependable company making reliable instruments that produce terrific light. The price of these instruments is reasonable and affordable compared to the other manufacturers that are in the same league. The lower price, however, is at times evident in the build quality. And this is apparent build quality I’m talking about. Nothing broke or cracked while I was using it. It was just the feel of it. And this can sometimes be misleading.

If you are wanting good, consistent lighting and don’t yet have a huge budget, then it’s worth giving Elinchrom a closer look. For me, as far as strobes go, I wish I could mix the Quadra, the Ranger RX, and the RX600 monolight together and get the perfect strobe, but as they are separately I felt I needed to keep looking for a solution that better suited my needs.

Coming soon, a test drive with Profoto.

About the Author

Bo Boswell is a Nashville-based portrait photographer. See more work on his website, BoBoswellPhotography.com, or follow him on Facebook or @bo_boswell on Twitter.


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