Elinchrom has always been known for its superb light modifiers. But the strobes designed by the Swiss flash manufacturer are just as good. Now marks a new direction for the brand with the introduction of the ELC 125 and ELC 500.
While the ELC Pro HD I reviewed a few years ago here on Fstoppers is still a fantastic and very capable compact flash unit, Elinchrom's mid-range needed a refresh. The BRX 250 and 500 were getting a bit dated, and many photographers would either buy the very affordable D-Lite or go for the higher-end units instead. The new ELC 125 and 500 are precisely what Elinchrom needed to replace its BRX range and complement the ELC Pro HD offer as well.
I've been using the unit for a bit over two weeks, and I wanted to share with you my thoughts about it instead of just sharing the press release you could find on the web.
The new ELC line comes with a brand new, slick design, breaking up with the previous products we were used to seeing from Elinchrom. The handle on top was redesigned to make it easier to manipulate the unit, and the electrical plug is now placed on the bottom, so it's easier to plug in when the unit is mounted on a stand. Because the plug is on the bottom instead of the rear, it also allows you to lay the strobe flat on its back, so you don't need a small light stand when lighting the backdrop or using it as a fill. It's a little detail, but it truly made a difference for me.
Another detail that made a big difference in my workflow on set is the Elinchrom logo on the side. It follows the new brand color schemes with a different color attributed to each group, making it easier to know what unit is in what group. It may sound like a small and meaningless change, but trust me, this is one I wish they had implemented earlier on other strobes. The tilt-head is also different than the one found on the BRX or most other Elinchrom strobes; it feels a lot more robust, much like the very rugged ELB 1200. And to be honest, the overall unit feels much more reliable and sturdy, which is something I'm quite happy about since the BRX didn't seem much more solid than the much cheaper D-Lite.
Another appreciated change regarding the design aspect of the units is the replacement of the halogen light by an LED for the modeling lamp. It's a 20 W LED, equivalent to 120 W halogen light (3,000 lm), balanced at 5,700K, with a CRI of 92. It'll be much appreciated by photographers who love using gels, as they won't have to worry about melting anything anymore. People getting into videography may also enjoy the LED. But more on that later.
I know many love the Profoto bayonet, and unfortunately for you, if that's your preference, Elinchrom hasn't changed its bayonet on this unit. However, the locking mechanism is far better and easier to use than on the BRX. They took the concept from their D-Lite units, redesigned it a bit, and put it onto the ELC, adding to the overall feeling of sturdiness.
The Photographer's Point of View
The ELC 125 and 500 come with a few differences. The ELC 125 produces 131 Ws, while the ELC 500 provides 522 Ws, meaning they have about two stops of difference at maximum power. On the other end of the scale, they both can reach 7 Ws, which is also where they produce their shortest flash duration: 1/7,750s at t0.1 of the ELC 125,and 1/9,430s for the ELC 500 in Fast mode.
One important note regarding the power on the Elinchrom strobes, in general, is that the brand uses a standardized scale, meaning if you take an old Style RX set at power 2.0 and then take the brand new ELC 125 at 2.0, you'll get the same result power-wise. It's excellent for photographers who have an evolving kit and use different Elinchrom units on set. I love it! However, it comes with one downside. When designed, the minimum power of 0.1 was 7 Ws. So unless Elinchrom decides to update the firmware of all their strobes and change the scale, we won't see an Elinchrom strobe going lower than that. I'd love to see the scale being altered to allow for even lower settings, also allowing for even shorter flash durations. But until then, we still have a 5-stop range to play with on ELC 125 and a 7-stop range on the ELC 500. But, as you'll see in a few lines, there's a way around the minimum power.
Color accuracy and power stability are about the same as on the BRX. The color stability over the power range is +/-150 K for the ELC 125 and +/-200 K for the ELC 500, and the power stability is +/-0.5%. Recycling time has been improved compared to the BRX, and the ELC 500 gains a few milliseconds. It now takes 1.1 s to recycle in Fast mode at full power. Those specs are not as good as the ELC Pro HD, but for the price, it's definitely quite good and will be more than sufficient for most studio photographers. Only the most demanding still life, beauty, or fashion photographers may require the specs of the ELC Pro HD.
In terms of features, the most notable changes are the added HSS and TTL modes. As I said previously, the minimum power setting could still be too powerful in some cases. However, by using the HSS mode, you'll be able to cheat a bit and be able to lower the amount of light visible in your frame without having to rely on ND filters or having to close down your lens.
While HSS can be used to have full creative freedom over flash settings and also make it easier for beginners to use strobes, it's also great to freeze motion. Using a shutter as short as 1/8,000 s should help you freeze just about anything in your frame. The implementation of HSS is similar to what is found in the ELB 500; it's seamless. There's nothing particular to set, aside from one option in your camera or remote the first time you use it, and then you'll be able to forget about it. It's something I genuinely love about HSS on the ELB 500 and know I'll love on the new ELC just as much.
As for TTL, I'm sure most professional photographers will say it's only a trend or gimmick and absolutely useless in studio. I'm not one of them. TTL doesn't replace a flash meter and the knowledge required to create great pictures with artificial light. However, it's a fantastic tool for beginners to get into flash photography. It makes flash less scary for them. For people more used to strobes, it can have other benefits. When shooting in a pinch, TTL helps to make sure even the first test shot could be used if necessary, as the light will be at least decent. Then, you can switch to manual mode and refine the settings. So, it helps setting up faster and making sure even the very first shots are usable. And well, if you don't like TTL, no one forces you to use it, but it's there in case you need it.
Before I move on to video use – yes, you read that right – let's talk about the user interface. Since the ELB 500, Elinchrom has made considerable improvements to offer user-friendly products. The ELC 125 and ELC 500 are no exception. They are straightforward to use with only the necessary menus and options. The physical button layout is clear and doesn't require a user guide to be understood, unlike Sony's menus. It even has a favorite or star button, which you can set to whatever feature you most need to change quickly — for example, change from fast to normal recycling mode or put the unit in a different group.
Using It for Videography
The ELC 125 and 500 are not designed with videography in mind, but I know many photographers also shoot motion or video nowadays, and having a unit that can do both would be amazing. So, why shy away from the subject? Like I said previously, these new units come with an LED modeling lamp, which is usable for video, but it's not the most powerful on the market. You'll not be able to use the largest modifiers when relying on the LED unless you don't mind raising your ISO. With smaller light shapers, power shouldn't be an issue, as long as you don't plan on working in a very bright environment.
While the LED is great for video, there is one issue when recording audio: you can't switch off the fan like you can on the ELB 1200. It's an option I wish was available. The fan isn't very noisy, but there's no control over when it activates or stays off. It's much better than the BRX or D-Lite in terms of noise and much smarter as far as when it enables. But still, if you record audio close to the light source, it may be a problem.
The ELC 125 and 500 are usable for videography as well, but I definitely wouldn't buy them solely to shoot video. I wish Elinchrom could have implemented the same LED as the one found in the ELB 1200, which is very bright, or a bi-color LED to open up more possibilities. Hopefully, in a future generation, this will be improved, and photographers won't have to buy another unit for video.
The Elinchrom ELC 125 is available for $619.99, while the ELC 500 costs $899.99. The units are also available in kits; for example, the Elinchrom ELC 500 Dual Kit is available for $1599.99 and comes with two 500 units and a travel bag.
What I Liked
- User-friendly interface
- Colored Elinchrom logo to know what unit is in what group
- LED modeling light
- Customizable button
- HSS and TTL
- Bayonet lock system
- Sold tilt-head
- Compact form factor, making it easy to use on a boom arm, especially the ELC 125
- Apparent flash tube
What Could Be Improved
- No battery-powered option
- LED could be more powerful or bi-color
- Minimum power could be lower, though it can be solved by using HSS
The new ELC 125 and 500 are competent units that will answer the needs of most studio photographers, even those who shoot a bit of video, without having to break the bank. The ELC 125 and ELC 500 are definitely the easiest Elinchrom flashes to use to date. The added TTL and HSS features coupled with the very easy-to-use interface sets the tone for the future of Elinchrom. The changes made to the product compared to the D-Lite or BRX show that the brand listens to its consumer base. It makes me excited to see what's to come next!