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Michael Sewell Shares His Take on the ELB 500 TTL

Michael Sewell Shares His Take on the ELB 500 TTL

The up front and honest bit:

First of all, just so we are completely transparent, I'm an Elinchrom Ambassador. Secondly, I happen to be an Ambassador because I use Elinchrom equipment, and not the other way around.

Obviously, there are some perks to this, such as having the opportunity to use and test the latest equipment before its public release. As I use four ELB400 units for my location work, the ELB 500 TTL announced early 2018 is of particular interest to me. My four ELB400s are used most days, with a variety of subject matter, and in varied conditions. Whilst I was quite confident I'd have no issues using the ELB500 in place of an ELB400, I wondered how much real difference this new unit would make. After all, I'd been perfectly happy with my current setup for over two years. No issues, no dramas and certainly no disappointments. And considering my investment in those four units, how much advantage would the ELB500 bring, and would it put my ELB400 relationship at risk?

Manufacturer Specs

  • 500 Ws IGBT 
  • Full Asymmetry
  • 7 F-Stops Adjustment 
  • TTL 
  • HSS
  • 16.3 x 9.0 x 18.1 cm (LxWxH)
  • 2.48 KG (unit + battery)
  • 1.74 KG (without battery) 
  • Flash Duration - Action: 1/20000s
  • Flash Duration - Normal: 1/3400s
  • Recycling Times - 0.05 - 2 Seconds
  • OLED control display 

First Impressions

When I get any new kit, whether for use or review, the first job is to familiarise myself with its controls and menu system. For a review, that's kinda obvious anyway. But for use on a job, it becomes a little more critical. Besides not wanting to look like a complete spoon in front of a client, time spent fiddling erodes confidence. Not to mention it can stop you getting the best out of the kit. The ELB500 was subjected to the usual exploration, although it all seemed very familiar.

 The display is much bigger than the ELB400, and similar to the one I encountered on the ELB 1200. And like the ELB 1200, you have to select the head once they are attached. This is an improvement over the ELB400, where the head cable sockets are “live” if the unit is turned on, and attaching a head in a live state can cause issues if you aren't paying attention.

Talking of heads, the new ELB500 head is different to its predecessors. It has a less angular look and feel to its edges, and it also has a light textured finished. Now it may not seem much, but this is a welcome feature to someone who often shoots in wet conditions. On a couple of occasions, I've been seen to juggle an ELB400 head that has shot out of my hand as I've tried to maintain a tight grip on it.

The new heads also feature a fixed cable, as opposed to the separate cable on the ELB400. It's supplied with one of those rather nice, Elinchrom branded cable tidies. One less connection to make when setting up, which is okay by me. This also means if you have two heads connected, you can turn a head on or off, and not have to physically unplug it, as you did with the ELB400.

The modelling light has been improved over the earlier heads. It's much brighter and also dimmable.

And the head options for the ELB500? Just one.

Whereas the ELB400 had three head options; Action, Pro and HS. The one ELB500 head covers all requirements. To match the ELB400 Action head, the ELB500 offers an action mode, selected from the unit's menu. The ELB400 Action head offered a shortest light duration of 1/5,700thsec via port B. The ELB500 offers 1/20,000thsec through either, or both heads at minimum output.

When comparing the ELB400 HS heads, the ELB500 uses HSS for shutter speeds beyond the xsynch speed. I found this bit interesting, as I have frequently used the ELB400 with HS heads for a number of jobs, and loved the available power when doing so. Mid afternoon in Texas was a piece of cake!

The HSS v HS intrigued me, and I wondered how they would compare. This would be the first test I would want to carry out as soon as I'd done my initial inspection.

Incidentally, anyone thinking about interchanging heads with the older ELB400 or Quadra heads, don't! The ELB500 will display an error if you connect any of the older heads, and won't fire. The ELB400 will fire with the ELB500 head, but results aren't predictable, and Elinchrom state it shouldn't be done. Your warranty won't cover any damage if something silly happens. The voltage of the packs and heads are different.

The head port covers on the unit are an improvement over the ELB400. They are now a larger rubber cover, which simply pops back on a hinge, allowing the heads to be connected.

Once a head has been activated by selecting the appropriate button, the display changes, and includes the flash duration for the selected power output.

 

Selecting a second head causes the display to split, showing the information for each head.

Now, this is the interesting bit. This image uses the same camera settings of 1/8000thsec ISO200 and f8, and an ELB400 with HS head at full whack. And that got me thinking.

I'd spoken to The Flash Centre about the ELB500 and HSS, and asked about HS. The answer was a straight no. The ELB500 was designed to get the most out of HSS, and wouldn't manage effective HS. Which is obvious if you think about it. HSS utilises IGBT, and physically cuts the flash output, whereas HS makes use of voltage controlled adjustment, which extends the light curve as you turn it down. Well, I couldn't just leave it at that, and swapped to the Olympus E-M1 mkII and had a bit of a play.

ELB400 with HS head at full whack – 1/8000thsec ISO400 f11

 

ELB500 standard mode and full power - 1/8000thsec ISO400 f11

And it looks about half a stop brighter to me. Now, there's a couple of things to bear in mind here. First, in my experience, the mirrorless cameras tend to wring that little bit more out of HS than full frame cameras, as there isn't the slight delay for the mirror to swing out of the way. This means it makes a little more use of the main body of the flash curve. After all, we are talking tail hacking here, although the Skyport HS system is more complex, providing adjustment to get the very most out of the available light curve using ODS with their HS heads.

Secondly, the ELB500 can only be used in this manner when firing at full power (hence the hack reference), otherwise the tail of the light curve is cut by the IGBT, and your shutter basically misses the light output. Whereas the ELB400 allows complete power adjustment when using HS, and is therefore more flexible than the ELB500 in this tail hack technique; The ELB500 is seamless when using HSS, as there's no head change.

The setup for the HSS/HS test

 In Use

My first client shoot with the ELB500 was fabrics on one of the coldest days of Winter. In a warehouse. With no ruddy heating. Meh!

Well, apart from being so damned cold, I learnt a number of things about the ELB500 compared to the ELB400.

First of all, when using the ELB400 and you accidentally twitch on the shutter release and take two quick successive images, you get a good image and an unlit image. You also get an angry buzz from the unit. With the ELB500, you get two good images. Anything less than 5.0 on the ELB500, and you're instantly ready to go.

I shot all day, and ended up with over 500 images. All images were lit with an ELB400 with an Action head, firing at 2.0. And also an ELB500 firing at 2.6. At the close of day, the ELB400 was down to two bars on the battery indicator, and from previous experience, I would expect it to drop to one bar within another fifty or so shots.

The ELB500, which was used at a higher output, had barely moved on the battery indicator.

Something else I noticed, was the fact the ELB500 has a quieter ready tone than the ELB400, although I haven't actually checked to see if I can turn it up.

Oh, and there is no waiting for the power to dump when turning the power down on the ELB500. Turning the power down on the ELB400, from full to 2.0 or below, seemed to take forever for the ready beep to sound.

I had the Miops Splash kit to review. Normally, speedlights are chosen for water splash capture, as they can be placed very close the water impact, and have a very short light duration when turned right down. The ELB500 was going to be an ideal choice, as I wanted my light sources to be further away, and I could still make use of an extremely low power setting. I used two heads, and the full asymmetric capability meant it felt like I was using two completely separate light sources. Unlike the ELB400, which has a 2 to 1 split, the ELB500 has no such restriction. Simply select the head by a quick push of the head button, and then adjust the output. Repeat for the second head. No longer do you have to juggle with the lightstand, moving the head back and fourth to match the required exposure, because you can't turn it down without effecting the other head too.

The asynchronous feature is quite liberating. 

BTS for the water splash stuff. 

Then it was a motorcycle or two. The above was lit with an ELB500 frame left, and an ELB400 frame right. I also used a speedlight just to spot the underpan logo and radiator. 

Food photography. I normally have to use three units, due to similar power settings needed for each head for the main and accent light. I would also need a third, in case I needed to capture steam etc. This time, I only needed the ELB500 and two heads for main and accent. Making for a much smaller volume of kit to take, and just easier to use. I still had an ELB400 set up and ready to go if I needed to capture steam.

The last image is the ELB500 in use, showing the power distribution between the two heads. The B port is the key light, whilst the A port is the accent.

Conclusion

Well, I've already let slip I've changed over from my four ELB400 units to ELB500 units. All four of them.

The ultra fast recycling and the ability to shoot at a high burst rate, plus the ultra short flash durations were the first things to grab my attention. Not to mention the much better charge life and the single head that does everything, along with the better display and easier menu. No longer having to stand around waiting for the autodump tends to be a bit of a boon too.

To be honest, I struggle to recall all the advantages pertinent to my shooting styles and needs, but there's a lot!

My biggest surprise? The price the ELB500 has been pitched at. It's been priced to match the ELB400, before they reduced the ELB400 price. So, for the same price, you're not only getting the technological advances and better power performance, you also get a single head that does the same, or better, than the Action and HS heads. So if you squint a bit, the ELB500 is actually cheaper than the ELB400 used to be with an Action head and an additional HS head.

Oh, and you also get the “Snappy” case included.

To see more of my work, and reviews on Elinchrom visit my site at https://www.focalpointpro.co.uk

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