When I first started shooting flash, I would lug my big studio lights and battery packs from location to location. But after a while, this became such a hassle that I stopped doing it. I instead settled for using a hot shoe flash or just shooting with no flash at all. But this may change now that Elinchrom has the new ELB 500 TTL. Not only does this light offer a significant increase in power compared to a traditional hot shoe flash, but it also does it with a much smaller package than standard studio lights while maintaining the benefits of TTL and HSS.
Although this light was just announced, I have had the opportunity to test a prototype review unit for the past month. While I have had early access to the light, I’m in no way being compensated to give a positive review and these are my true unbiased opinions. That being said, let’s jump into some details.
The Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL is a pack and head lighting system. What this means is that the majority of the flashes components are housed inside the battery pack. The head of the flash is, therefore, a lot smaller in size and weight.
In the past, I never really understood the need to have the pack separated from the head. But after using this light for a handful of shoots, it makes things so much easier. Instead of packing a big light stand that can hold the weight of a large studio light, I can now use a smaller and lighter light stand that is normally only usable for hot shoe flashes. The battery pack can then be stored on the ground, or even better, attached to the base of the light stand. Because the majority of the weight is in the pack, it acts to stabilize the light stand.
On the pack you will see two ports labeled A and B. This is because the pack can actually power and control two separate heads at the same time. Unlike some other pack and head systems where the power of port B is dependent on the power of port A, each port is completely independent of one another. So you can have both ports fire at the full 500w/s of power for both heads combined (250w/s each), or you can have port A fire at full power and port B fire at the lowest power.
The pack also features what Elinchrom calls active charging. Most battery packs I have used in the past don't have the ability to charge and fire the flash at the same time. This forces you to use the battery until it dies and then wait for it to charge before you can continue shooting. But with active charge, you can charge the pack while simultaneously shooting. Even if you are using the LED modeling light. When using the light completely powered by the battery pack, you can expect to get 400 flashes at full power. I never actually reached the point where the battery died even after a full session that used a good number of full power pops. In the event the pack does run out of juice, you have the ability to quickly charge the pack from 0 to 100 in just 100 minutes.
The main feature of this light that really separates it from the competition is the fact that this pack and head system also features full TTL and HSS. So paired with the flash trigger for your brand of camera, this system can automatically adjust the power based on the metering of your scene and your camera's settings. If your shutter speed is outside the sync speed of your camera, the light can automatically detect this and use HSS to maintain proper exposure for the entire frame.
For me, one of the biggest drawbacks for using TTL has always been the possibility of inconsistent lighting. Sometimes you can take a frame and the light is too bright, so you use the lights exposure compensation to turn it down to the correct exposure. Then when you change your composition, the metering charges, which then makes the flash fire at a different power. But Elinchrom has the perfect system for this and it works amazingly. When you take an exposure in TTL mode, it determines what power to use. If you then switch to manual mode, the light will remember what power you used for the previous TTL exposure and set the manual power to that setting. You can now perform any fine tuning you need and then you are free to shoot without worry of the TTL system tripping up your light output. This means no more guessing what power to start at when you want to shoot with manual power. You simply take a TTL exposure, switch to manual, and fine tune. Most of the time the TTL exposure is spot on anyway so this take out all the guesswork to nailing the perfect light power and still gives you the benefits of shooting in manual power.
Another cool feature of this pack is that Elinchrom has partnered with Phottix so that the light can be triggered with both the Elinchrom Skyport trigger and the Phottix Odin II. So if you already shoot with a Phottix Odin II, you can integrate this light into your system without hassle. Also, if you shoot with a set of hot shoe flashes, you can use the Phottix trigger system to control those lights along with the ELB 500 TTL. Since I already use the Phottix Mitros+ hot shoe flashes, this is a perfect setup for me.
In use, this light never left me wanting more power. I have been able to easily shoot at the limits of my camera. When shooting my Nikon, I had no problem with HSS shooting at f/2.8, ISO100, and 1/4000th of a second. The Light can actually sync at 1/8000th of a second but my Nikon D750 is limited to 1/4000th. At these settings, I could easily kill ambient light even with the light 10 feet away from my subject. I could also use the light in full manual mode with my Fuji kit and shoot at the cameras 1/250th sync speed, ISO100, and f/16 to kill any ambient light I desired.
Although the light never left me wanting more power, there were instances where I wished I could use a lower power. This isn't a huge deal since you can always use some ND filters to kill some flash power. You also have the ability to use the modeling light when needed, which gets surprisingly bright and can also go fairly dim when needed. But using the modeling light is not ideal when trying to freeze motion. While this isn’t a deal breaker, it’s definitely something to consider if your main purpose is for lower light conditions.
The kit that I have in called the dual to-go kit and includes one battery pack, two flash heads, two head cables, reflectors, chargers, and the bag. One thing I need to mention is that I love this bag. Most bags that come as part of a kit are usually complete garbage. But this bag is a real quality bag. Not only that, but it can actually carry a good amount of gear. I just got back from a wedding in Mexico and inside this one bag, I fit my entire lighting kit of five hot shoe flashes, triggers and receivers, all my Magmod modifiers, a Westcott Icelight 2, the Elinchrom pack, two heads, reflectors, and all the cables and chargers I needed.
The only part of this kit I would change is with the supplied cables. The kit comes with the needed cables to connect the flash head to the pack, but the length of the cable is really only long enough to go from the pack to the top of a light stand. So if you have two lights connected to the pack, you can really only use them at close distances. If you want to separate the lights to maybe use one as a rim light then you need to purchase the longer cable they offer. I think this longer cable should be bundled with the dual kit from the start.
What I Liked
- Plenty of power to kill the sun
- TTL to manual memory
- Extremely portable for a studio light
- Awesome bag included
- Integration with Phottix
What I didn't like
- Wish the power could go lower
- Dual kit should come with a longer head cable
If you find yourself constantly shooting in low light situations, then this light may not be for you. But if you want the ability to really dial down the ambient light from the sun while maintaining portability, then this light is a perfect solution. The TTL to Manual memory makes nailing perfect exposure a breeze and the integration with Phottix allows for easy integration to existing setups. The price point of $1895.99 for the single kit and $2124.95 for the dual kit also makes the ELB 500 TTL cheaper than other competing products.