It’s been years in the making, but Elinchrom has finally refreshed the high-end of its compact studio flash lineup with the new ELC Pro HD 500 and 1000. The ELC serves as a replacement to the company’s RX series of flashes and, as the new flagship, brings a number of significant improvements over its aging predecessors. We gave the 500-Watt ELC Pro HD 500 a spin in tandem with Northern New Jersey-based professional photographer, director, artist and self-professed gear head David Patiño to find out if it was worth the wait.
SHINING A LIGHT
Elinchrom has substantially reworked the guts of its flagship strobe with a new charge circuit and capacitors that endow the unit with short flash durations of both high and low power settings. You’ll enjoy minimum power flash durations of 1/2940 second and maximum power durations at 1/2330 second. The fastest duration you’ll achieve is around the middle power range when the flash duration hits 1/5000 sec. Recycle times are as low as 0.6 seconds.
The Pro HD 500 also brings three creative capabilities to the table. First, the speed has been ramped up so that the flash can fire at 20 frames per second at the minimum power setting for a stroboscopic effect. We found it easy to set up in the menu, and you’ll have the ability to choose a frame rate between 1 and 20 in single-frame increments, as well as a duration window between 0.5 and 5 seconds. There’s also a sequence mode that works in tandem with up to 20 ELC units to fire off flashes sequentially—an effect, we should add, that would cost you about $25,000 in ELC flashes to actually pull off. Finally, there’s a delayed mode, which provides the option for first or second curtain sync for streaking light effects.
Beyond the new modes, the ELC Pro HD 500 features a photocell for syncing with speedlights and a built-in, 8-channel Skyport wireless receiver. There’s a 3.5mm sync socket for attaching third-party triggers, but you’ll need to use Elinchrom’s Skyport transmitter (sold separately) if you want to update the unit’s firmware, which is unfortunate. It’s natural for companies to try and shoehorn you into their accessories but we don’t believe a device’s firmware should be held hostage to additional purchases.
For this test, we stuck with Patiño’s PocketWizard, taking a series of shots with the flash set to full power and a fast recycle. Output was measured with a light meter from 6 feet away. The results were consistent, flash-to-flash, as recorded by the meter. When we took a series of test portraits with a human model and a color test chart with the flash at 50 percent, we again found consistent color reproduction and skin tones across all of our images. Patiño was definitely impressed, particularly with how quickly the flash recycled.
Beyond its nearly “always-on” performance, the other thing that was immediately apparent during our time with the ELC Pro HD 500 was that Elinchrom has definitely nailed the menu system. It didn’t take Patiño long at all before he was up-and-shooting (sans manual), noting approvingly that the menu system proved exceedingly simple to master.
The flash is operated via six buttons plus a dial in the center that doubles as a test switch to trigger the flash. The wheel also incorporates a status LED so you can tell when the unit is ready to fire or to alert you to trouble. It’s the first Elinchrom flash to incorporate an OLED display for navigating menu functions and while the display itself isn’t large— roughly 1.5 inches—the text is bright, crisp and easy to read. Indeed, all the light’s settings are visible at once in the menu and Patiño particularly liked that the flash duration setting was displayed at all times.
The flash can save up to four user-programmable modes, which are easily accessible through a dedicated button on the back of the flash. You can customize everything: flash power settings, the audible beeps for flash recycling (including how loud they are in a choice of 10 tones) and even how loud the menu clicks are. We found saving those to be simple as well.
BUILT TO LAST
The Pro HD 500 is clad in a fire-retardant housing that’s forged from a very sturdy polymer. It has a rubberized grip at the top and weighs roughly five pounds. The housing is reassuringly tough, and feels like it can take more than the occasional bump and bruise without cracking.
There are two umbrella fittings, one that sits near the base of the unit and a 7mm tube that runs through the flash itself so the umbrella opens as close to the center of the light as possible. The interior, an Elinchrom rep assured us, was fully protected to prevent any damage from the prodding of umbrella poles. The flash tube is housed in a protective shell, which we found easy to remove to access the flash bulbs and modeling light. The light’s cooling fan is also very quiet, but will get progressively noisier as the unit’s temperature rises. Even after prolonged use, the noise was inaudible in Patiño’s studio until you were right on top of the flash.
The unit fits securely on various light stands with the standard 5/8 inch stud with a 1/4-20 threaded tip on top, as well as snugly on a standard grip arm. When Patiño placed it atop a c-stand with a 5/8 male stud, however, the unit didn’t rest nearly as squarely and we had to really tighten the screw to make sure it didn’t topple off.
The Elinchrom ELC Pro HD 500 packs a powerful punch. Photographers will appreciate the unit’s excellent motion-freezing abilities and, given the rugged durability of the construction, we’re confident that these flashes will hold up to the rigors of regular use in and out of the studio. Set- up was pleasantly simple, and the menu system is well-conceived and easy to navigate quickly. Our biggest gripe is that the unit’s firmware will be inaccessible to those who don’t also buy into Elinchrom’s wireless triggering system.
PROS: Lightning-quick recycle time and flash durations, simple menu and operation, cool creative modes, durable construction.
CONS: Firmware updates will require additional purchases.