Elinchrom Pro HD heads – pro performance

It’s not very often that a product comes along to shake up the world of studio photography – especially where monoblock flash heads are concerned. In fact, there’s hardly been a revolution since the idea of putting the power unit and the flash tube in one unit was first thought of. Just turn them on, set the power output and that’s been about it.

But now, Elinchrom have launched the new range of PRO-HD monoblock heads, in both 500 and 1000 W/s versions, that are not only have a faster flash duration than any of their rivals but recycle quicker, and can be used for multi-flash strobe effects or for sequence shots at the push of a button.

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Simply put, Elinchrom have taken some of the features only usually found on some of the most expensive pack-based systems and squeezed them into a more compact and affordable monoblock head. And for certain photographers they can open up a whole world of images that you couldn’t get before.

The PRO-HD heads sit slightly above Elinchrom’s range of RX heads, which are available in 300, 500 and 1200 W/s. The 500 PRO-HD head is £714 while the RX600 is currently £550. But if you factor in the new HD heads have built-in Skyport receivers, where it would cost an additional £75 for the plug-in Skyport remote for the RX unit, then the price difference is just £89. The PRO_HDs also also come with a protective glass dome over the flash tube, which is an optional £63 extra on the RX units. So it’s actually just £26 more in total. And for that, you get a whole lot more functionality despite the 100W/s reduction which in reality is only a fifth of a stop.

For the largest head, the 1200RX is currently £846 including the plug-in Skyport and protective dome while the 1000 PRO-HD is £924. Again a fifth of a stop less power but it is significantly smaller and 0.55kg lighter than the mammoth 1200 head. Compared to the RX units, the new PRO-HD heads are more sturdy with a less flimsy outer case so should prove to be reliable studio kit. And if you really do need more than 1000W/s, then the more expensive and bulky pack-based systems are really what you need. For most photographers most of the time, 500W/s is ideal and 1000W/s ample.

What sets the new Elinchroms apart from their rivals is their blazingly fast flash duration. Many photographers think flash is virtually instantaneous – incredibly short in duration and ideal for stopping action. That may be true of certain expensive studio pack-style lights or even hotshoe-style flashes at very low power settings. But often, budget-level studio monoblock flashes have surprisingly slow flash durations. So capturing a fashion shoot with a moving model, splashing liquids or even hair being blown by a wind machine is very difficult if not impossible. In fact, some very cheap Far Eastern import flashes have a flash duration of around 1/180sec. At those speeds, even shots of a model not moving are tricky to hand-hold if you are using a moderate telephoto lens. And you can forget trying to freeze any motion.

To get faster flashes to freeze the action far better, you had to move up to more pricey units like the Elinchrom RXs or a Profoto D1 which have a fastest flash duration of 1/2050sec and 1/1800sec respectively. Although there was really no way of knowing what power settings these fastest durations happened at.

With the new PRO-HD, there is a display panel that not only shows you the power setting in Elinchrom’s own scale as well as Joules, but also the precise flash duration. And they go significantly faster than any other monoblocks.

On the 1000 head, for example, the fastest flash duration is 1/5260sec at a power setting of 80 Joules. It may not be the 1/25,000sec of some of the Bron or Profoto pack-based systems, but it’s at a fraction of the cost.

If you want to freeze motion in fashion shots in a studio, the PRO-HDs are the only monoblocks that can really do it. For that, they are a great buy for any aspiring fashion photographer or portrait shooter who has subjects that just won’t keep still! It’s also fast enough for commercial photographers shooting water or fluids, too.

The screen showing flash duration as you alter power is a major benefit, as the flash duration isn’t directly proportional to the power setting. So at power setting 3.6 on the 1000 head the flash duration is 1/5260sec, but turn it up just a tenth of a stop in power and the flash duration gets much longer to 1/2700sec. That changing duration as power alters is how many flashes work anyway, but there was previously no way of knowing the flash duration setting. With the PRO-HDs, you can see the exact flash duration as you alter power, so can be aware of setting a very fast duration to freeze action or a slow one to try to get a bit of motion blur on a moving subject. It’s just another weapon in your creative armoury.

In the studio is one thing, but using fast flash outdoors can be where things can get really creative. We teamed up the heads with Innovatronix SE battery packs to use them on location.

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Of course, when mixing ambient light with flash the limiting factor is your camera’s sync speed, which on most pro models like the Nikon D4 we used is 1/250sec. At this speed, with the ambient light underexposed by roughly a stop, there is still a slight “ghost” image recorded of course. But by using a very fast flash duration, there is also a very sharp rendering of the subject too, which most times is very pleasing and negates most of the ghosting. Being able to adjust flash power and see flash durations change is an ideal way to play with the mix of how the flash and ambient light registers on different subjects – from a motorbike jumping to a girl leaping up and a speeding cyclist. It’s something you could have done before – albeit at slower flash speeds – but it would have been total trial and error.

The extra benefit of adjusting flash duration means you can also dial in a very slow but powerful flash, which works especially well with Pocket Wizard’s Hypersync system that allows you to go over your normal sync speed. So on location, you have a very real choice of techniques that you just don’t have with other monoblocks.

The only issue we had was the Innovatronix battery pack wasn’t able to provide enough juice to power up the flash to its highest settings. The flash head is intelligent enough to measure this and shuts off, showing a message that it can’t draw enough power to recharge. Elinchrom’s importers The Flash Centre recommend using the Godox LP-800X lithium battery packs which should go some way to sorting the problem. These are only rated to 750W so may still not be enough to charge the 1000 unit fully, although the 500 unit should be fine.

In terms of speed of recycling, Elinchrom is now the new king of the hill. At full power, the 500 recycles in just 0.6sec, compared to a full second on the RX600 unit or 0.95sec on the previous speed king, the Profoto D1. For the 1000W/s units, the PRO-HD is 1.2sec which is a fast as many of the top-end power pack systems.

Whatever clever technology Elinchrom have used to make this fast recycle work means that they have also introduced the first genuine stroboscopic monoblock flash. By accessing a menu and selection Strobe, you can then dial in a flash frequency between 1Hz to 20HZ, and a duration between half and five seconds. So in a dark studio, you can set a shutter speed of between half a second a five seconds, and the flash with pulse between once a second to 20 times a second depending on the settings. So you could actually capture 100 flashes on a single frame, if you wanted.

That’s ideal for scientific work, or for more creative work. Like a dancer leaping, a bird in flight, water splashes, a boxer with a skipping rope and much more. Even our lucky Chinese waving cat! It does take some trial and error to get the required frequency and duration, but it’s something no other monoblock flash can do.

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We did try to use the strobe outside on our cyclist, but to set a shutter speed long enough for the strobe effect to work just let in too much ambient light – even though it was shot as night fell. And our battery issue meant we couldn’t put the power up enough to use a narrower aperture to cut down on the ambient light. Using a stroboscopic effect is a learning curve, for sure.

Of course, it couldn’t do 100 flashes in five seconds at full power even if plugged into the mains, but it will try! If it fails to keep up, the flash beeps to warn you all isn’t well. Most of the time, you would want to use quite low power anyway, as this would give you access to some of the faster flash speeds to really freeze the motion.

As far as the rest of the flash is concerned, it takes Elinchrom’s workhorse RX units and brings them right up to date. The OLED-style panel is a real bonus, as it lets you access the menus to change lots of settings and, of course, see the precise flash power and duration you have set. The biggest problem is that the screen is just too small. The flash power figure is large but all the other figures are very small. If you wear reading glasses, you’ll definitely need to put them on before you can really see what settings you have made.

This menu-based system lets you set things like how loud the recycle beep is, and how fast you want the flash to recycle which could be important if you are running on battery power. There’s even one menu that shows how many hours and minutes the flash has been used for.

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The modelling light can be set to full power, proportional to the power setting of the unit or off, and the built-in optical slave can be turned on or off. And you can alter the frequency and response speed of the Elinchrom Skyport wireless trigger. At standard settings, the wireless trigger introduces a slight delay so your effective flash sync speed typically drops by a third of a stop. By setting the Skyport to “Speed” mode, you’re back to full speed although the range of the Skyport is reduced. But we never had any problems.

The OLED display also lets you set the flashes to a sequence mode. If you had several of them, you could set them to fire off in sequence as your camera rattles through its motordrive. This could be idea for using lots of flashes to illuminate a snowboarder soaring over a huge leap, for example. Or you can use a single head and sync it with the frame rate of your camera.

There’s also a new delayed mode, when you can alter the flash sync timing. This means you can now use second curtain sync, for example, just like on many hotshoe flashes. But uniquely, you can actually change the flash timing to mid-way through the exposure so you could get motion blur in front of and behind a moving object. In fact, you can set the flash to go off at any time so could experiment on different moving subjects.

Nice touches include a second umbrella hole, which takes conventional 8mm shaft accessories. The typical Elinchrom 7mm shaft also remains, though. And the arrow buttons on the back of the unit let you alter the power in full stops with a single push, rather than having to turn the control dial round for ten clicks. The flash tube itself is also user-replaceable, as is the push-in modelling bulb.

What you also get in higher-end studio flashes like these is a guarantee of consistency in terms of exposure and white balance. And in this case, the PRO-HDs perform well. Intensity is totally consistent every time. And the colour temperature of the light shifts only very slightly as the power is changed from the super-low setting of just 8J right up to the max of over 1000J. And that’s impressive.

Coupled with Elinchrom’s huge range of decent-value light modifiers – from softboxes and beauty dishes to spotlights and more – the new PRO-HD heads are great workhorse flashes with enough technical tricks to keep even the most ambitious photographer happy.

CONCLUSION

With strobe mode, sequence mode and delayed mode being all new on Monoblock flash heads, there is a whole new world of creativity that has just been opened up by Elinchrom with their new ELC PRO-HD heads. The surface of what this can do has only just started to become scratched. And as they start to come into more widespread use, new and exciting photos – that you just couldn’t take with other flashes – will start to emerge. It’s an exciting time.

Of course, the more technical benefit of the new PRO-HD is their super-fast flash recycling time and blazing fast flash duration that you can actually see and set yourself. That’s a very real benefit to anyone who uses flashes to capture any sort of motion, especially in the studio.

With a better build quality, great colour temperature and consistency that you’d expect from Elinchrom plus a price that’s not much more than the current RX heads, the HD-PRO heads are real winners that should stimulate the whole studio flash market.

Ideally we’d like to see a much bigger screen and the overall looks of the units may be a little dowdy. But it’s the results that really matter and the new Elinchroms are as good as it gets for feature-packed monoblock studio lights.

Elinchrom ELC PRO-HD 500/1000 Specifications

CONTACT www.elinchrom.com

PRICE £714/ £924

FLASH FUNCTIONS Normal, delayed, sequence and stroboscopic

TRIGGERING Built in Skyport, optical slave, 3.5mm sync socket

UMBRELLA ATTACHMENTS 7mm and 8mm

ACCESSORY FITMENT Elinchrom

MAXIMUM POWER OUTPUT 500/ 1000 W/s

RECYCLING TIME 2-0.6 seconds/ 4-1.2 seconds

FLASH DURATION T0.5 (FULL POWER) 1/2330 seconds / 1/1430 seconds

FLASH DURATION T0.5 (FASTEST) 1/5000 seconds / 1/5260 seconds

COLOUR TEMPERATURE 5500K

MODELLING LIGHT 300W halogen

POWER CONTROL 7 stops in 1/10th stop increments/ 8 stops in 1/10th stop increments

POWER RANGE 7-500/ 7-1000 W/s

WEIGHT 2.35kg/ 2.9kg

*First published Photo Professional magazine