The first point is to re-emphasise just how small and light this kit is compared to most other portable flash equipment - even Canon and Nikon Speedlights with external battery packs aren't that much bigger or heavier.
The second point is that being small and light doesn't appear to make this gear any less robust or well made than anything else. As a long time user of Lumedyne kit I can vouch that the combined weight of a Lumedyne Signature pack and head is almost identical to the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra. The Elinchrom pack, however, seems infinitely more robust with it's rubberised edges and properly weather resistant control panel whilst the head is both simple and tiny. Connecting the two is a sensible and nicely made piece of cable with easy to use fittings. I have just been and tried the "heavy winter gloves test" and can report that it is very easy to attach and detach the cable with them on.
At this point I had better introduce a small criticism, lest anyone think that I'm doing a PR puff for the manufacturers. I like to attach my packs to the stand to give a bit more stability in the wind and the Lumedyne packs had very functional 'D' rings at either end that allowed you to attach a strap and anchor the pack to the stand. The Elinchrom Ranger Quadra pack has well made but small eyelets through which you have to slot either a large split ring or the small karabiner type ring that was supplied with my kit. Neither is a good solution and I will be on the lookout for a better way of attaching a small strap.
Whilst I'm doing the criticism thing, I have an admission to make: I wasn't all that keen on the battery catches when I first got the kit. I found them to be stiff and not easy to use. Something has happened and I'm now completely fine with them. Maybe they have loosened off a touch or I have just worked out my technique. Probably a bit of both, but the end result is that the batteries come on and off nicely now and I withdraw my earlier critcism.
At the moment I am only able to use umbrellas with the heads because there isn't a good way of attaching a softbox yet. Elinchrom have designed a simple adapter to allow you to use any light modifiers designed for their studio or original Ranger system heads with the Quadra A or S heads. I haven't got mine yet (it's on order) and I hope that Photoflex and Chimera come out with suitable speed rings soon too because I am betting that this package will be even stronger with a softbox option.
That's the construction out of the way. What about actually using them? I have read through the manuals for the head, pack and Skyport remote trigger system and it is all pretty logical. If you buy this kit, I would strongly recommend that you go through a few practice sessions before going live because some bits of the menu system are not too obvious without the book. Changing stuff like the duration of the beep that signifies that the pack has recharged or whether the readout is in f-stops or watt/seconds isn't too much of a problem but switching Skyport channels for the first time isn't all that easy. Getting the hang of how the asymmetrical flash output works with two heads attached to one pack isn't something is obvious either. The manual is well written and it doesn't take long to master these functions once you know what goes where and which button to press first. It isn't second nature yet, but that will come soon.
Much excitement has been generated by the LED modeling light and the idea that it can double as a video light. I have a pair of Canon EOS5D MkII bodies and am starting to shoot some video with them. The amount of fill light that these LEDs put out is very useful and I would argue that they give the Elinchrom a really strong market advantage over other systems.
The real joy of this system is the light that it puts out. The light quality is great in every measurable way. Every flash at a given setting gives out an identical amount of light and the colour of the light doesn't change when you dial the power up or down. The colour temperature of the tubes seems to be about 5300K and so I have set up a custom balance on my cameras for that. The only light modifier that I've used with it so far has been an Elinchrom 40" (100 cm) shoot through umbrella and my gut feeling is that I will use this combination a lot over the next few weeks.
The maximum power output is 400 w/s and for my money that figure is accurate. More importantly, it seems to be more than 1 f-stop more powerful than my old Lumedyne 200 w/s outfits. There could be any number of reasons for this but the outcome remains that I have more power at my disposal than I had before.
Having the audible charge indicator is great and being able to turn it off is also a bonus. I have already made use of that function on more than occasion. The recycle time is a little slower than the Lumedyne 200 w/s kit and I found on the first couple of shoots that this was a possible issue. It has gone away now and I am getting used to the extra half second delay - especially when using the audible indicator.
The final point that I wanted to make was about the Skyport system. The pack has a Skyport receiver built-in as well as a synch socket (3.5 jack) and an optical slave. My kit came with a single skyport trigger and I have bought a second one along with a receiver that will work with either a Canon speedlight or one of my old Vivitar 285s. The system seems to work very well and I am not missing my Pocket Wizards enough to get them out of the boot and connect them up. My only criticism of the Skyports is that the transmitters don't lock into your hot shoe and can be knocked out relatively easily. I'd like to see a transmitter with a lever style lock on the market from Elinchrom so that the system is foolproof rather than just very good.
I will be happier when I can post some pictures on my blog for others to judge the key ting - how good the pictures look. It will take another half dozen jobs using the Elinchrom to get the full picture about using them to their full potential but so far, so very good...
© Neil Turner, June 2009