Fstoppers Reviews the Elinchrom Skyport HS

Fstoppers Reviews the Elinchrom Skyport HS

A couple of weeks ago, Elinchrom released the Skyport HS, a new iteration of the very old and rudimentary Skyport. The Skyport HS seems to have everything a strobist could hope for, from the laser grid to focus in low-light conditions to the Hi-Sync mode. This new radio trigger is a welcome addition to Elinchrom's product line. At least, it is on paper. The Swiss company was kind enough to lend me a unit before it was even released so that I could play with it and review it for you.

Build Quality

The first thing I noticed when given this new Skyport was its size. If you liked the form factor of the previous Skyport, well, this is very different; it's much bigger. However, it is not for the worse. The new LCD screen and two AA batteries are the main reason for the change in size. Speaking of the AA batteries, this is a more than welcome change. There's no need to spend half an hour in the supermarket looking for the right batteries, as was the case with the previous Skyport iteration.

For sports photographers who shoot lying on the ground on a regular basis, the size might be annoying. Like the old PocketWizard Plus, it can block your view when looking above the camera and hit your forehead depending on your shooting position.

As you can notice, the Skyport HS is quite big. The height is mostly due to the AF assist laser that requires some space.

Overall, the build quality is great. The Skyport HS feels way more solid than the first version. It also has rubber that protects the hot shoe attachment to keep the camera fully weather sealed, something that will more than likely be much appreciated by action or wedding photographers that cannot choose the weather or conditions they are shooting in.

Interface

The Skyport HS has an LCD screen. Finally! My only point of comparison for a remote with LCD is the Profoto Air TTL that I used to own for my B1. So, I was expecting an interface very similar to and as refined as Profoto's remote. However, it was not, but I am not saying this in a negative way. Let me explain.

When I received my Air TTL from Profoto, I took it out of the box, and I was able to use it right away. With the Skyport HS, it was another story. While not very complicated to use, there are more buttons, more menus, and more items on the screen; plus, the interface is not as polished. In my opinion, comparing them is not really right, though. They are different products for different users. The only comparison we can really make is that, just like Profoto, Elinchrom currently offers a version for Nikon and another one for Canon. They confirmed to me that a Sony version is on its way for 2016 and I may even have heard talk of a version for Panasonic and Olympus micro four thirds cameras.

So yes, the Skyport HS is a bit intimidating at first because of the number of options it has and the weird names found in the menu. For example: ELSP, ODS, Auto MOD, and AF Light are probably not things everyone is familiar with. However, a quick read of the user guide will ensure you are good to go.

The main screen allows for easy adjustment of the units' flash and modeling lamp powers. These changes can be made for all units, per groups (4 in total), or per unit. It comes in handy when working with more than one or two lights in studio.

If we dive into the menu, things get a bit less intuitive. First, the main dial is not used to scroll through the menu options. There are up and down buttons for that. The dial is meant to change the value of the option you want to adjust. I do not really understand why this is. I hope Elinchrom will change this in a future firmware update; the Skyport HS has a USB port allowing for updates and I am sure I am not the only one who would like to see this. I have read the same complaint in other reviews.

Something else that got me confused is when you change an option, there is no "ok" confirmation displayed, but you must press the center of the dial to validate your choice. If you just change the value and hit exit, nothing will happen. It is a bit confusing because there are four buttons below the screen. The two first are meant to navigate in the main menu; the fourth is to exit the menu. Why not use the third to click ok?

Globally, the interface is well done. It might not have been easy to fit everything on that tiny screen, but they did. Frequency, battery status, current group, sync mode, and ODS are visible on top all the time. You know exactly what's activated on your trigger at any given time, unlike the former Skyport.

Features

Just like other radio triggers, the Skyport HS offers different frequencies or channels, if you prefer: 20, to be exact. They also work both in normal and speed mode. So, unless you are planning to shoot in the middle of the crowd at WPPI or Photokina, you should most likely find a channel that will work with no interference.

When using hot shoe flash, there is something in the menu called "AF assist: that will throw an IR or laser beam to help the camera focus. The Skyport HS offers the same possibility. Before, when shooting the first dance at a wedding, if the DJ didn't put any light on the couple, I had to either use my hot shoe flash at a low power to trigger my ELB400 and keep the AF assist working, or keep the modeling light on to be able to focus and shoot with my Skyport. With the AF assist being integrated in the Skyport HS, there's no need for that anymore! Everything is just a tad easier.

Even the second option I had – keeping the modeling light on – is something Elinchrom integrated in a better way. If you do not want to throw a red grid onto your subject, you can now activate "Auto Mod" on your Skyport HS. This will just activate the modeling light when your camera is focusing, preventing the battery pack from being drained after ten minutes of use.

Before getting into what everyone is reading this article for, let's talk about a couple of things that are not so great. The Skyport HS displays the power of each unit that is switched on and on the same frequency. The problem is, if you turn on a unit after having switched on the Skyport HS, you'll have to go into the menu and scan for new units. The strobes will not show up magically, or should I say, automatically.

Also, but this might be a firmware issue, if you change the power up or down too quickly, the display will not refresh properly. You might experience a difference between what the unit is set at and what the Skyport HS shows, hence the "Refresh" button that lets you make sure the info you have on your screen is correct. It is a good habit to press on it every time you change the power of a unit, just to make sure you have everything in sync.

For both of these negative points, I wish Elinchrom had created a menu option allowing the user to choose if the Skyport HS would regularly refresh on its own, particularly after each time something was changed by the user.

One last thing I wished could be found in the menu is the flash mode for ELB and ELC units. It'd be awesome to be able to adjust the strobo, sequence, and delayed mode right from the trigger. There would be no need to walk back and forth to the units to change this. Why not even allow one to change these settings for multiple units at a time? It would a timesaver for people using these modes on a regular basis, even though I doubt many use the strobo or sequence mode day in and day out.

Hi-Sync

With Profoto getting into TTL and HSS, Elinchrom was left behind with its ten-year-old Skyport. When I reviewed the ELC earlier this year, Elinchrom told me that the future was hi-sync and/or high-speed sync. I thought it was a joke, because to use hi-sync with Elinchrom units, you had to buy into the expensive Pocketwizard system. However, now, at just $249.95, the Skyport HS is way more affordable, and you do not need to buy receivers. You can use the built-in radio system of your Elinchrom units. It is compatible with most previous units, even for Hi-Sync. You can check the full list on Elinchrom's website to make sure your units will work with it.

I won't go too much into details regarding the difference between HSS and Hi-Sync; this would make this article way too long. But keep in mind that HSS and Hi-Sync are different. HSS is light being pulsed while the shutter is open in order to create an illusion of continuous light for the sensor. On the other hand, Hi-Sync works just like HyperSync. It is a precise sync of the flash and the shutter of the camera to get a part of the flash curve. The following diagram might make more sense than my words do to explain Hi-Sync:

In simple words, this fancy Hi-Sync mode allows you to forget about the x-sync of your camera. You can now sync your strobe up to 1/8000 of a second if the head you are using has a long flash duration, or otherwise, up to 1/600th of a second.

Elinchrom lent me the 3 Quadra heads available to try out and see the difference. The HS head was developed to be used in Hi-Sync mode. It has a long flash duration of 1/600 s, making the Hi-Sync results optimal. With the curve of the Action (or A) heads being very steep (more of a peak shape), the sync is not so great, and the results are far from good at high shutter speeds. I took a couple of shots on a white background at different shutter speeds to show you the difference between each head. The first row was shot with an Action head, the second with a Pro head, and the very last with an HS head. All of the shots were taken with the ELB400 at full power, ISO100, and aperture closed down to f/8.0. Only the shutter speed changed.

Shutter speeds from left to right: 1/200 s, 1/500 s, 1/1000 s, 1/8000 s
Note: the white balance was fixed in camera; the shift on the very last picture is not a camera problem. Images are unprocessed raw.

As you can see, when the shutter speed is fast, there is some vignetting or gradation showing up. This is because of the flash curve. The longer the flash duration, the less it will show. However, Elinchrom developed something called ODS (Over Drive Sync). ODS make it possible to move the point of synchronization on the flash curve (see the graphic above). This way, you can diminish the gradation effect and get the most power possible. The same test as before, but with ODS correction gives us these results:

The first image of each pair is with ODS off, while the second one is with ODS at the best setting possible. The three first pairs were shot with the action head and the last one with the Pro head. The difference with the HS head is minimal.

Elinchrom claims a gain of up to two stops when ODS is adjusted correctly. While I didn't measure it with a light meter, I can assure you that it does make a real difference.

In The Studio

When Elinchrom lent me the Skyport HS, they told me it would work with my BRX. Happy with that great news, I went straight to my studio the day after receiving it, and I gave it a try. I did not play much with the power and used only the 500Ws units I have. It worked great, and I could sync up to 1/500 s or 1/800 s without too much of a problem. I had some minor gradation showing up, but nothing I could not fix in post.

It is far from the 1/8000 s, but still, it is way better than the x-sync of 1/160 s or 1/200 s. It made just enough of a difference to allow me to shoot at wide apertures such as f/1.4 or f/2.0 with my BRX without using ND filters. Being able to quickly change my aperture from f/2.0 for portraits to f/5.6 or f/8.0 for full body shots with my BRX is great!

The possibility of setting low power to shoot wide open was one point that could have made me upgrade to the ELC. Well, with the Skyport HS, I can keep my cheap BRX!

Using a BRX 250, I could sync easily at 1/400th of a second and shoot in-studio at f/1.4.

Since my first test, I went back to the studio and shot a couple more sessions with it. I noted that when using the 250Ws or 500Ws versions, the max sync speed was not the same. So, mixing up both could quickly become annoying if using Hi-Sync. Even just using two BRXs at the same power could become complicated quickly. This is not due to the Skyport HS, but rather to the flash duration of the BRX units. Like any other strobe, the flash duration changes with the power and the 250Ws version does not have the same flash duration as its 500Ws counterpart.

Using a BRX 250 again, I tried to push the sync to 1/640th of a second. Depending on the power settings, it sometimes works; other times, you get strong grading like here, but that is very easy to correct in post.

Let's forget about Hi-Sync for a minute and talk about the Skyport HS more generally. In studio, it lets you change the flash and modeling light power of each unit. With the previous Skyport, I had to place each unit in a different group to make that possible. But the problem was, once I had more than four units on set, my trick did not work anymore. With the Skyport HS, there's no need to walk around the studio anymore. Also, because the new Elinchrom trigger is bigger, I do not lose it in my camera bags or somewhere between two softboxes in my studio anymore. It might sound stupid, but I have had occasions where I looked stupid searching for my Skyport in every bag I had.

One issue I have with the Skyport HS, like most of my complaints, is something Elinchrom can and hopefully will fix in the future. They released the trigger along with a Quadra head to make the most out of it when using an ELB or Quadra pack. This is all great, but who shoots only with a battery pack in the studio? The ELC cannot freeze action fully because its flash duration is just not short enough. With Hi-Sync, we finally can freeze things like water drops:

When syncing at 1/8000th of a second, movement is frozen (yellow traces are due to the glass).

So, why not make an ELC HS or BRX HS — something with a long flash duration like the Quadra HS? Because, in all seriousness, I don't see professional photographers going to buy a D-Lite or Digital RX pack to be able to sync at 1/8000 s in studio. It is great to be able to sync up to 1/600 s in order to use larger apertures, but it won't freeze movement.

Outdoors

To me, this is where the Skyport HS really shines, or at least where it made the biggest difference. I used to hate using flash outdoors. I couldn't get something I liked with just one unit! Because of the limitation of the x-sync, I never had my background exposed the way I wanted. I felt like mixing natural and artificial light was more of a pain than anything else. With the Skyport HS, it is an entirely different story! I can finally set my camera however I want to expose for the background and then introduce artificial light where needed.

Shooting with the HS head, I had to sync at 1/2500th of a second to freeze the slight movement the dancer could have made. With the HS Quadra head, you cannot rely on the flash to freeze, but you have to set your camera shutter accordingly.

Being able to sync at up to 1/8000th of a second also means the 424Ws of an ELB400 pack are enough to overpower the sun in most conditions. You do not need to lug around that old and cumbersome Ranger RX anymore. As a portrait photographer, what is exciting is that I can replicate studio conditions almost anywhere and at any time of the day. I can create an almost black background by syncing at 1/8000th of a second and I can also use large apertures in the middle of the day, no matter how sunny it is. Moreover, unlike HSS, you do not encounter much power loss!

f/1.4, 1/8000 s, ISO 100. This was shot at mid-day on a sunny day.

Price

At $249.95, it might sound expensive. However, compare it to Profoto's Air TTL, which is priced at $403 or Canon's ST-E3-RT, priced at $263.20, and you see that it is not so expensive after all. I think it is well worth its price and I actually bought my unit the day it was announced. If you're like me and you thought about upgrading your BRX to ELC units, you should perhaps rethink it. The Skyport HS is a cheaper upgrade and might be what you were looking for more so than the ELC, unless Elinchrom decides to release an ELC HS.

What I Liked

  • It makes using flash outdoors almost too easy.
  • The LCD screen has all needed info at the glance of an eye.
  • Focusing in low-light situations is not a problem anymore.
  • It's compatible with most units Elinchrom released in the past decade (if not more).
  • It's not too expensive for what it offers (not much more expensive than a bunch of quality ND filters).

What Could Be Improved

  • There is currently a lack of studio units that can fully use the potential of the Hi-Sync mode.
  • It takes a bit of time to start up.
  • The main dial not being used to scroll through the menu options just feels weird.
  • There's no "ok" or "valid" button next to the "exit" button in the menu options, which can lead to changes not being saved.
  • You cannot change the flash mode for ELC and ELB units from the trigger.

Conclusion

All in all, is the Skyport HS worth it? For me, it is. Is it for you? Ask yourself if the x-sync limitation is a problem for you, if you'd like to be able to overpower the sun with your Quadra or ELB400, if you'd like to shoot with wide apertures no matter the lighting conditions, and if you'd like to be able to freeze things at 1/8000th of a second. If you say "yes" to any of those, I think you have your answer. The things that I think could be improved are minor to me, and they surely don't outweigh the advantages. Most of the cons I see are things that can either be changed through firmware updates. To tell you how much of a difference it makes compared to the previous Skyport, I forgot to take my Skyport HS on a recent shoot; all I did during that session was swear at my old Skyport. If you try the new one, you surely won't go back.

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59 Comments

Love the fact that they're working on a Sony version.

waiting for this as well

Quentin Decaillet's picture

No release date was given to me yet. Elinchrom only told me they were working on it and will release it sometimes in 2016. But it's great to see that flash manufacturers start to care about other brands than just Canon and Nikon! It might actually help the camera market to be more competitive :)

Kurnia Lim's picture

same here, they can create it fast if the demand is high, because elinchrom join forces with phottix..

I second the comment on them working on a Sony version. I'm surprised Profoto or Broncolor hasn't jumped the gun on a Sony comparable unit as of yet but if Elincrhom can beat them to the punch, it will position them ahead of the pack IMO. This could be great news for those joining the Sony camp.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

Most of the triggers/transceivers that don't require TTL communication with the camera body will work with Sony cameras. At least the first generation of Skyport, the Profoto Air (not the TTL one) and the Broncolor RFS should all work with Sony cameras.

Speaking of Broncolor I'm wondering if they actually have any plans for a new trigger. The RFS 2.1 looks a bit dated when compared to either the Profoto Air TTL or the Skyport HS.

Andy May's picture

Nice review, thank you.

Thanks for the review, I've ordered one myself mostly because it's a god send for using Quadra's outdoors where it could be a pain running backwards and forwards figuring out what power each pack was on. Another interesting bit of information is that the Eco Ring flash is fully compatible with the Skyport HS.

One negative for me, despite the Skyport USB supporting this the Skyport HS doesn't show the power for the older Style RX units. This is one of the more frustrating aspects of this new trigger.

This aside it's a good attempt and hopefully Elinchrom will keep on top of updating the trigger especially for when they get feedback. They've pretty much addressed much of the bugbears I had with the old triggers.

Quentin - Nice review. I share your thoughts on the new Skyport. The controls were at first quite daunting as the Skyport HS resembles a Speedlite transmitter more than the typical strobe transceiver. Once I got used to it though, working with it is super easy.

What camera do you shoot with? I ask because as with HyperSync, Hi-Sync works better with some cameras than it does others. With my Nikon D4 and D810 I have tested out the ODS settings and at 0 the Hi-Sync is perfect with very little gradation at any shutter speed. For Canon users, tweaking the ODS settings seems to make a big difference. Also, with my Nikons I am seeing a lot less gradation (almost none at all) than shown in your post here. Nikons always seemed to do better with HyperSync than Canons did - it has to do with how the shutter mechanisms work.

Just thought I'd ask about the camera as that is a factor when using Hi-Sync. That said, the Hi-Sync capabilities here are much better for Canon users than the HyperSync capabilities of the older PocketWizard system. That is to say with the Skyport HS there is a lot less gradation than with the PocketWizards - especially for Canon users.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

The pictures in the article were all shot with a Canon 1Dx. I tried to use it on my 5DIII and the results were quite similar.
I didn't think the results would be very different between Canon and Nikon. Interesting thing to know!

I'll write a second article comparing the results of using HSS with a B1 vs. Hi-Sync with an ELB400 as soon as I can. I might throw in the test either a Nikon camera or an APS-C sensor camera to see how much of a difference it can also make.

ODS makes a real difference with flashes that have a short flash duration. For example, with the Action head. When using the HS head it didn't change much. It was actually useless with the HS heads unless I had my shutter set at 1/8000th and I could gain about 1/3 or 1/2 of a stop. It also helped me push my BRX to a slightly higher shutter speed than what Elinchrom announce on its website.

Awesome to hear that you are going to do a head to head comparison with the Profoto B1 HSS and Hi-Sync. I wrote a blog post a while back doing that but at that point there was no Hi-Sync capability on the ELB400. Form the testing I have done, HSS does't work if you are trying to overpower the sun from more than 6 to 8 feet as the power output is just too low. You can check out my blog post here: http://blog.michaelclarkphoto.com/?p=3886

Viktor Andersson's picture

Hi, one question. What heads are you talking about here? Do you meen that Hi-sync works with Action head and Nikon?

Sean Molin's picture

Man, that trigger is big. Why could they not have gone with AAA like the Profoto to keep size down?

James Pardon's picture

Thanks for the review, I've been waiting for someone to post results of the Pro and Action head with the new trigger.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

Pro heads work perfectly with Hi-Sync, Action ones work alright as you can see :) The HS is still the best choice, but if you already own a couple of Pro heads, I don't think the "upgrade" to HS heads is really worth it. If you own Action heads and want to use sync speed of 1/640s or more then it's a different story :)

Joakim Drake's picture

Question: How exactly were you able to shoot wide open with ODS (Hi-Sync) with your BRX-unit in the studio? Aren't you limited to shooting at or near full power on the strobe with this technology?

Quentin Decaillet's picture

That was the case with the PocketWizard system, not with the one Elinchrom developed. It works much better :)

ben mark's picture

Quentin, first off, that was a great review..

I have one question, if you are using another flash system other than Elinchrom, are you still able to achieve similar results using the HS trigger and connecting standard receivers plugged into the flash head's ?

Quentin Decaillet's picture

According to Elinchrom's website (http://elinchrom.com/support/ELSP-HS.html) the Universal receiver should be able to let you sync up to 1/600s. However, I do not own a Universal receiver and couldn't tell you if it really is the case or not :/

Lars Daniel Terkelsen's picture

Wow, that is one big unit. :-) Good that Elinchrom have seen the potential of higher shutter speeds. But man, I do long for the day we just have global electronic shutters.

Mark Webb's picture

Max HS with my Ranger RX Speed AS with the Action head is about 1/500 for me so I've ordered the "S" head to get me beyond 1/1000. As far as the screen goes, I can see most of my units except for my ELC Pro HD 1000 units. Weird because the older BRX 500's show up just fine.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

I asked Elinchrom about this issue after your comment and it seems like an update is needed for the ELC to fully work with the Skyport HS. From what I was told, the update should be available on their website.

Mark Webb's picture

Firmware updates fixed the ELC Pro HD 1000 problems! Thanks!

Viktor Andersson's picture

Thanks for a great review. Just one question, Do I understand you correctly, you find minimal to no difference in using the High-Sync function with Pro and HS Heads?

Quentin Decaillet's picture

From my tests yes. I'd say this:
- The HS head is great for people that shoot in Hi-Sync all the time, otherwise the flash duration is quite long
- The Action head is great for people that want to freeze movement without using Hi-Sync
- The Pro head is the best compromise

Felipe Buccianti's picture

When you say that the HS head flash duration is quite long, what type of subject would it have a hard time freezing? My understanding is that the HS head can be used at up to 1/8,000s. What's the max sync speed of the Pro head?

Quentin Decaillet's picture

I say the HS head has a long flash duration because its flash duration is 1/600s. But yes, it can be synced at up to 1/8000s using Hi-Sync. Sync speed and flash duration are two things.
When using Hi-Sync, you're freezing your subject movement with the shutter speed of your camera. HS heads were designed with a long flash duration to optimize Hi-Sync results, meaning it is the best head on the market now to use Hi-Sync and freeze movement with your shutter speed.
However, if you only have a HS head in your bag and find a situation where you need to slow down your shutter speed to say 1/250s then you're screwed to freeze movement. Because 1/250s of your camera won't freeze movement well, neither will the 1/600s flash duration of the HS head.

The Pro head can be used in Hi-Sync mode. It can sync up to 1/8000s as well, but you will see a slight gradation across the image. There is a slight loss of power compared to the HS head at 1/8000s, but it remains very usable. The Pro head can, however, be used in "normal" sync. Meaning, if you set your shutter at 1/250s you can get flash duration of up to 1/3000s which would freeze most subjects.

Felipe Buccianti's picture

I think I'm starting to get it now. If I were shooting at say 1/320 with the HS Head and the flash duration of that head is 1/600s, does that mean that I wouldn't get the full output of the Head?

I've only used small flashes in the past and am looking for something to balance out day time sunlight. I see myself using it for lifestyle, portrait, editorial and some sports like a runner or cyclist.

Thanks so much, I really appreciate it!

Quentin Decaillet's picture

You still could get full power out of the pack. But neither the 1/320s of your camera or the 1/600s flash duration would freeze a fast moving subject :)
With your use, which is very close to mine, I'd say the Pro heads are definitely the best choice. HS heads to me are really interesting if you shoot in Hi-Sync mode all the time.

Felipe Buccianti's picture

Well, I'm really glad that I read your post and asked you the questions (thanks for your patience)! Just out of curiosity, what kind of photographer or type of photos would the the Hi-Sync of HS be ideal for? BTW, I checked out your site and love your work :)