I do not think that there is a tool that can adapt itself to all and to everything. You have to choose the ones that fit your needs.
We do not work the same way, and our visions of photography differ. For me, the most important thing is: « Can I get the job done ? Am I able to achieve what I have in mind with the tools that I have ? ».
I'm an action & dance photographer (at least that's how people qualify me when they look at my portfolio). When it comes to working with artificial light, I've always worked with Speedlites. They're simple to use and easy to carry. The only problem is their lack of power and the slow recycling time. I had in my hands more powerful lights, but they're often too heavy and bulkier.
A few weeks ago, I had Elinchrom's ELB 400, the brand new Skyport HS and the quadra HS. A kit that, now, has its place amongst other contenders in the hyper sync portable strobes department. No comparison will be made here. We will only focus on this kit. I only had them for 2 weeks. I've used it recently on a boxing photoshoot with fighter Steeve Valente, but I needed to test it further out in the field with the regular work I make.
Anna Maria Maas - Place de la République in Strasbourg (France - November 2015)
Finding different artists and performers in winter for outdoor shoots and getting authorizations for indoor locations wasn't simple. But we managed to sync our plans and got at least, one hour with each one of them to play with the kit. This will not be a geeky technical review, but just my return of experience on what this kit has to offer for a photographer like me.
Virginia Danh - Aubette in Strasbourg (France - November 2015)
What was my first impression?
First of all, the built quality. I'm going, to be honest, here, It feels a bit too plasticky for me. I want to be reassured. I want it built to last, and not be afraid to break it every time I have it in my hands. It didn't break during these 2 weeks, so the whole thing is sturdier than it looks like, and people around me know that my stuff goes through a lot on my shoots. But I just wonder if this would last through time.
The second thing that comes to mind when I hold it is: « Wow, this thing is lightweight and small, and my back will sure be thankful for that ». Unlike other well-known brand, head and unit are separated. Connected by a cord, you can use the ELB400 and its battery as a counterweight on your light stand, avoiding having all the weight on top of your light stand.
Set up is quick and easy and, with the new Skyport HS, you can control and see everything you do on all the strobes connected to your device! No more traveling back and forth from your shooting point and strobe, you can see and manage everything from a distance on the Skyport's screen, and that's a huge plus.
I wanted to try multiple consecutive shots at a high output power to see how it performs. The intensity and reaction diminished progressively and this was not a surprise, but it also dramatically changed the color temperature after 5 to 6 shots. I rarely do this, but for those of you who do and need to shoot in burst mode, you might consider this.
I didn't have any problems with my muay thaï shoot, remote and unit behaved perfectly. But misfires can happen if your ELB400 is not visible. I kept it under 50 meters from me, but sometimes the unit was hidden by a wall because I didn't want it in my shot. This caused a loss of signal, and I had to rescan for my ELB400 to make it work again. Fortunately, it happened only on a few shots because I still haven't found a strobe capable of working through walls.
In this picture, the Rotalux deep 70 and ELB400 are hidden behind the 2nd wall.
Fanny George - Barrage Vauban in Strasbourg (November 2015 - France)
So why is this kit so appealing for photographers like me?
Is it just the fact that I can carry it everywhere?
What is all the fuss about?
I said it earlier, I often use Speedlites. If you do too and need more power, I believe that this kit is for you. With bigger lights, we used to be stuck at around 1/250th of a second. Our camera was unable to sync with the flash above this shutter speed. If you went higher, it would cause unwanted black bands on your picture. (Understanding Hypersync)
With the Skyport Hs, Quadra Hs, and ELB 400 you can go up to 1/ 8000th! This opens a new world of possibilities where you can play with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
Robin Ohl - Aubette in Strasbourg (November 2015 - France)
Shot at 1/1000th F2.8 ISO 800
I used a 70 – 200mm on this picture at 3.2. I wanted to have that dark contrasted environment. With that aperture, I had to avoid having too much light coming in so I raised my shutter speed at 1/500 :
Valentin & Monica - Pavillon Joséphine (November 2015 - France)
Another use of this is to keep the details of a nice cloudy blue sky. To have a correct exposure on Fanny and to keep the sky like it is on this picture. The use of a strobe for such a result is inevitable :
Fanny George - Barrage Vauban in Strasbourg (November 2015 - France)
Shot at 1/1000 F2.8 ISO200
The Hypersync was for a long time restricted to Speedlites, and with the lack of power, you had only one solution: use multiple Speedlites. But as my goal is to bring the minimum gear with me, this solution does not make any sense. In almost all the pictures of this article, I worked alone without any assistance. I had a sciatica a few months back, and with a heavier kit, it would have been impossible for me to work alone.
Jean Baptiste Le Jay - Petite France à Strasbourg (Novembre 2015 - France)
Shot at 1/1000 F5.6 ISO320
Luckily for us, new tools are arriving regularly to make our work easier. Apart from the "shooting through walls" problem that I mentioned in the first part, and if your work doesn't depend on being stuck in burst mode, this kit is a killer weapon. I would have loved to work with it a bit longer though to see how it behaves in the long run. According to others reviews on the web, this kit works flawlessly. If I have the opportunity to work with it again, I will be glad to share a 2nd opinion.
Last but not least, let's also mention that it is one of the most affordable pieces of gear on the market. This is something important... If we can deliver quality results without breaking the bank, it's another huge plus!
For the quality of the light, I will let you judge, here are all the pictures that I made with the Elinchrom kit, all in one gallery :
So folks, It all depends on your work. Personally, it would perfectly suit my needs. I'm a one-man crew on a lot of my photoshoots, and I walk a lot. So I have to pack light to work quickly and efficiently and also to preserve my back. Hypersync is a must-have for me, so this combo looks like a winner. I would definitely seek feedback from travel and other action photographers like me in the long run with this.
If you decide to own this kit, I can tell you that it won't be a bad decision.
I would like to thank the event department of my beloved city, Strasbourg, and M. Deputy Mayor Mathieu Cahn for their help. Thanks to Elinchrom for letting me use their gear and post an unbiased review. Thanks to Kelvin Pro for sending me everything last minute, you guys rock!
I would also like to thank the incredible performers that joined me on this one: Fanny George, Virginia Dahn, Cécile Adamow, Anna Maria Mars, Monica Barbotte & Valentin, Robin Ohl, Jean Baptiste Le Jay, and Steeve Valente.