Elinchrom has built a strong reputation in studio and location flash systems, for robust build quality, top-drawer performance, reliability and ease of use. Mains-powered D-Lite monobloc heads and kits have long been a favorite of discerning photographers, thanks to their compact portability, simplicity and superb lighting quality, especially when combined with Elinchrom’s excellent range of softboxes and other light modifiers. However, based on conventional rather than IGBT (Insulated-Gate Bipolar Transistor) technology, D-Lite heads lack advanced modes like TTL flash metering and an ‘Action’ option, which fires a short-duration flash for freezing action. The new Elinchrom ELC 125 and ELC 500 heads add these as well as many other upgrades.
IGBT technology enables the versatility of advanced shooting modes, but it comes with a catch. There’s a real technical challenge in maintaining the consistency of colour temperature throughout the power range, especially at low-power settings. Consistent colour quality has always been a particularly strong point of Elinchrom flash heads and, thankfully, it’s been passed down to the new IGBT heads.
The 125 and 500 heads have power ratings of 131Ws and 522Ws respectively, the latter being somewhat larger and heavier at 2.5kg compared with the smaller unit’s 2kg. Unlike the older, more conventional D-Lite heads, there’s a much larger overall power range, both heads enabling a minimum output of just 7Ws. The lower end of the scale is particularly useful if you want to use wide apertures to enable a shallow depth of field, or you don’t want to overpower low-level ambient lighting. With D-Lite kits, you’d have to resort to using an RX One head for subtle output, coupled with RX 2 or RX 4 heads for when you need more power.
On their own, or with a basic trigger, both heads offer a wide range of features. The streamlined interface combines a full-color OLED screen with a simple rotary dial and pushbutton controls. For example, left and right arrow buttons enable you to alter the flash intensity in full f/stop increments, whereas the rotary dial allows for 1/10th or 1/3rd f/stop fine adjustments. There’s a menu button at the bottom left of the back panel which can be easily navigated by turning the rotary knob and pressing it to select and change settings. The menu itself includes many customization options, including the facility to optically slave the head from a flashgun, ignoring any pre-flash pulses. Opposite at the bottom right of the back panel is a modeling lamp button, above which there’s a ‘favourite’ button, which you can assign to your preferred function for quick and easy access.
The modeling lamp itself is a powerful 20W LED, equivalent to a 120W halogen bulb, and it has a high-quality CRI 92 (Color Rendering Index) rating. Options include on, off, proportional and variable free control. Output power is sufficient for constant lighting in video and stills, with a measured power in our tests of EV 9.1 at one metre, equating to 1/60th of a second at f/2.8 with a sensitivity of ISO 100.
The menu system also gives easy access to alternative standard and ‘Action’ flash modes, the latter delivering ultra-short flash durations of as little as 1/7750 and 1/9430 seconds with the 125 and 500 heads respectively. Action mode is available from the lowest power setting right through to the maximum, with no loss of output intensity. The only compromise is that the short flash duration comes slightly less colour accuracy. The menu also gives easy access to ‘fast’ or ‘eco’ recycle speeds, both of which are very quick.
Add an Elinchrom Skyport Pro trigger, which is available in no less than seven different options to cover a wide range of camera makes, and you can stretch the versatility even further. The wireless trigger works seamlessly with RF transceivers built into the flash head. For quick and easy flash exposures on the fly, many will find the TTL flash metering option a big bonus. For those who like to stay in control and adjust the individual strengths of multiple heads for best effect, auto TTL can provide a good starting point, as you can easily switch to manual and the auto settings are retained for reference.
The Skyport Pro trigger also adds the availability of high-speed sync, so you can use the flash up to and including the fastest shutter speed your camera has to offer, typically 1/4000th or 1/8000th of a second. You’ll need to use high-speed sync with the normal rather than Action flash mode, but it enables you to freeze motion even when combining flash with bright ambient lighting by selecting a fast shutter speed. You can also overcome bright ambient lighting and even direct sunlight, to darken the surroundings.
|ELC 125 TTL||ELC 500 TTL|
|Power range:||7-131Ws (5 f/stops)||7-522Ws (7 f/stops)|
|Best flash duration:||1/7750s||1/9430s|
|Recycling time (230V):||0.06-0.45s||0.06-1.1s|
|Recycling time (120V):||0.1-0.8s||0.09-1.9s|
|Modelling lamp:||20W 92 CRI LED||20W 92 CRI LED|
|Dimensions (L x W x H):||23 x 16.7 x 26.3cm||28 x 16.7 x 26.3cm|
Build and handling
The tough metal chassis, heavy-duty handle and all aspects of the mount and other components feel of fully pro-grade quality. The rotary dial and pushbutton switches have a pleasant, tactile feel and even the locking arm for the tilt adjustment operates with particularly smooth effectiveness.
When using a remote trigger, you can take advantage of the ‘auto-on’ feature which enables the flash to be activated from standby mode on demand. A clever design flourish is that the four different groups to which each head can be assigned are made easily recognisable. That’s thanks to an illuminated logo on the side of each head which changes colour from blue to orange to red to green, as you cycle through the four groups. Low and high intensities are available (or you can turn it off) and the colour coding is also replicated on the head’s rear OLED screen. Similarly, five different volume levels are available for the ready and error beeps, and you can also turn these off altogether.
Nobody likes noisy cooling fans but some forced air throughput can be necessary to ensure cool running, especially as the heads have a duty cycle of 3,000 or more portraits per day. Thankfully, not only are the fans fairly quiet, but they’re also driven by a ‘smart pro-active cooling’ system that can learn your typical shooting methods and adapt the cooling cycle for optimum efficiency and minimum fuss and bother. Suffice it to say that the fans are only switched on when necessary, and don’t spin any faster than needed.
Naturally, the new heads are designed to be fully compatible with Elinchrom’s legendary range of softboxes and other modifiers. An additional bonus is that, while most Elinchrom heads are limited to a proprietary 7mm brolly shaft, the ELC 125 and 500 can accept both this size and the more industry-standard 8mm shaft as well.
Performance is every bit as good as you could hope for. The intensity of flash output is entirely reliable and consistent on a shot-to-shot basis, and color temperature remains highly accurate throughout the entire power range. TTL metering works with similarly impressive reliability and consistency, and even the LED modeling lamps make for an excellent constant light source.
Recycle speeds are very quick, even in ‘eco’ mode, and the cooling system enables excellent stamina. Maximum power output is as expected from 125Ws and 500Ws heads, with absolutely no drop-off in Action mode. Maximum output power does take a bit of a hit in high-speed sync mode, but this is entirely normal.
The tables below show the progressive power output through the range, measured as a Gn (Guide number) in metres at ISO 100. Actual intensities will alter depending on the fitment of different reflectors and other light shapers.
The table below shows the recycling speeds at different power settings on the two heads, measured in seconds. Recycling speeds are virtually instantaneous through most of the power range. The figures for Eco and Fast modes were measured with a mains supply voltage of 230V. Speeds are nearly halved when using a 120V supply.
The ELC 125 and ELC 500 heads are available on their own, complete with a standard 16cm reflector and mains cable, or as twin head kits with the same power rating or one of each. Compared with D-Lite RX One and RX 4 heads and kits, the new models are about twice the price.
You’ll also need to buy a separate Elinchrom Skyport Pro trigger to make full use of the available features, via the built-in Skyport transceivers. However, once you factor in the enhanced build quality and performance of the new ELC heads, along with their extra versatility with Action, HSS and TTL modes, they’re still great value for money. Ultimately, this new system from Elinchrom is simply superb, and worth every penny.