Powerful, Portable Battery Pack with TTL Flash Control
Review by Michael Corsentino
Elinchrom, manufacturer of high-quality strobes and lighting modifiers, has stepped up their game with the introduction of their first-ever TTL-enabled, battery-operated, portable pack and head strobe system, the ELB 500 TTL. With a maximum output of 500 W/s, this little beast delivers the goods with ease of use and the ability to overpower the sun.
The ELB 500 TTL continues Elinchrom’s tradition of bringing products to market with outstanding build quality, intuitive interface design, and quick out-of-the-box operation. The ELB 500 TTL’s swappable lithium-ion battery provides an impressive 400 full power flashes on a single charge and recycles to full power in only two seconds. An Active Charging feature allows the pack to be used while plugged into the wall during charging—perfect for both location and studio work—and obviating the need for separate mains and DC packs. With built-in wireless Skyport communication, the ELB 500 TTL can be controlled using either the TTL-compatible Skyport Pro (formerly Skyport HS), a manual Skyport trigger, or via a partnership with Phottix (their Odin II Transmitter). Thus the ELB 500 TTL is easy to combine with Phottix Indra small flash units.
The really big news here is the addition of TTL flash control. This allows your camera to communicate exposure information with the ELB 500 TTL so the correct power for the flash can be determined automatically. With TTL, you basically point and shoot. You’re able to immediately start shooting with zero fuss or muss, without missing any shots. TTL does the “heavy lifting” for you by determining the correct exposure on the fly. You’ve probably experienced TTL with a small handheld flash. With the ELB 500 TTL you get the same ease of use and correct exposures, but now you have 500 W/s flash power to play with, and the full line of Elinchrom light modifiers from which to choose. A Q-mount compatible with Elinchrom’s portable line of light modifiers is included with an optional adapter available for their larger range of modifiers. My go-to for location work is Elinchrom’s 27.5″ Deep Octa, a great modifier!
With TTL, you’re in control. If you’re like me, you’ll use TTL exposures as a starting point. From there it’s easy to season your exposures to taste by adjusting the shutter speed and aperture settings to achieve the desired results. The ELB makes it a snap to obtain the correct exposure automatically, lock it in, and then switch over to manual to dial in exactly what you want. Looking to shoot portraits with dramatic moody skies? No problem. With the ELB 500 TTL’s HSS (high-speed sync) feature, you can easily shoot wide apertures and shutter speeds all the way up to 1/8000; that’ll get you those skies. In fact, when you use shutter speeds faster than your camera’s native x-sync speed, the Skyport Pro automatically switches the ELB 500 TTL to HSS mode—very cool!
The two strobe ports on the ELB 500 TTL allow power control either symmetrically or asymmetrically. With symmetrical power distribution, the power for both strobes is dialed up or down in unison; while asymmetrical power control allows the power for each strobe to be set individually. (Think full power for the key light and quarter power for the fill.) Both ports have a full 7 f-stop power range. Now that’s flexibility.
As a long-time Quadra user, one of the things I love about Elinchrom’s portable strobes is their lightweight heads. (My assistants love them too!) The ELB 500 TTL heads (sold separately at $499.95 each) continue the same lightweight yet robust design. Try asking someone to boom a mono strobe head on a paint pole for an hour at time. Trust me, you’ll very quickly have a mutiny on your hands.
Elinchrom has also put together two kits: The ELB 500 TTL To Go Kit (1,899.95) and the ELB 500 Dual To Go Kit ($2,124.95). Both kits have a 500 W/s TTL pack with lithium-ion battery, charger, sync cord, ELB 500 flash head with 8′ cable, 7″ Q-Grid Reflector, Snappy carrying bag, and a ProTec Location Bag with rain cover. The ELB Dual To Go Kit also includes a second flash head and cable, plus a 5″ Q-Reflector Grid. ■
I have had the ELB 500 for a few months now and love the unit. It works flawlessly with the Skyport trigger. However, the Phottix Odin II trigger has failed me on three shoots now. Where the Skyport triggers and adjusts the ELB 500’s power levels without flaw, every now and then the Odin II will not change the power levels (when adjusted on the Odin II) but will still trigger the ELB 500. So the ELB500 may get stuck on a setting. Rebooting either the Odin II or ELB500 may solve the problem but then the problem will recur. I thought I had figured out the problem by changing channels; however, this failed two days ago in Paris smack in the middle of a major shoot. I changed channels twice with no fix.
The Odin II triggers the Phottix Mitros Plus units without fail and adjusts their power with no problem. What I was trying to do with this solution was to be able to mix the ELB500 which I use as a main light, particularly when trying to kill sunlight, with the Mitros Plus units for accent or rim lights. Sometimes the Odin II works well in this configuration while other times is just lays down and cannot be fixed during a shoot.
I ordered a new Odin II and the problem remained. Since the Skyport works we know it is not the ELB500. I surmise it may be a firmware or software glitch. I tried on numerous occasions to communicate with Phottix only to get really bad replies due to the support people not understanding English (and therefore not the problem). Their final reply was for me to get a new unit (which I had already explained that I did!). Elinchrom is about as bad. Even its US distributor support had no answer because it appears they do not know a whole lot about the use and application of the Odin II and a mixed system like the ELB500 and Phottix speedlites.
The bottom line is I need a mixed system. In the past I combined the Elinchrom with my Canon 600 ex-rt speedlites but had to carry two transmitters (the skyport to adjust the Elinchrom power settings and the Canon to adjust the speedlites. I then had to trigger the Canon’s via the Canon transmitter on camera. The Elinchrom would then be optically triggered by the Canon. Not elegant but it worked most of the time unless the Canons were firing at lower power, had grids, or the Einchrom optical trigger could not see the flash. In that way I could do something similar with the Phottix (use the Skyport transmitter and Odin II).
At this point I’m about to ditch Elinchrom and Phottix and go to something like Profoto where I can get a high power portable strobe and lower power, smaller units for accent/rim lighting. At least the one transmitter would work for all and Profoto would support their product. My only regret would be that the heads of the Elinchrom system are nice, small and light so when someone has to hold it on a boom or pole they can do it with ease.
I know I’m rambling but thought you may be interested in this.