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Choosing Big Lights: Elinchrom

UPDATE: As I suspected would happen, there is some really good info already developing in the comments from Elinchrom owners. If you are reading email or RSS versions, be sure to check it out. And FWIW, I expect this ongoing comment discussion will be the best part of the post.

One of my main considerations when shopping for more watt-seconds was to be able to work independent of AC power.

In this respect, Elinchrom gets strong consideration in the form of their two battery powered platforms, the Ranger RX and the new Ranger Quadra. A look at a very powerful battery flash, and it's baby brother, inside.

The Ranger RX

The Elinchrom Ranger RX is one of two very popular battery "big flashes" among pros, the other being the Profoto 7B. At 1100 watt-seconds, a Ranger can deliver sunlight-blasting power from its very rugged, splash-resistant battery unit.

I know I ruled out the idea of choosing a flash based just on what other photogs had chosen, but two friends for whom I have a great deal of respect use the Ranger as their primary location big gun.

Joe McNally frequently uses them in conjunction with his SB-900's, with the Ranger as the lead light and the speedlights in supporting roles. He will often place the Ranger outside of a room or building to get that strong ray of (CTO'd) late-afternoon light in a pinch.

And Drew Gardner lights entire woodland scenes with them in broad daylight to transform the areas into magical little glens bathed in impossibly beautiful light.

They have power to burn, and are supported by a wide range of Elinchrom light modifiers. Both the flashes and the light mods have a very good reliability record among the people I know who use them.

They go head-to-head against the Profoto 7B, and the Ranger comes up the winner in one very important category: Watt-seconds per dollar. Which is, of course, a very big draw. Especially for those who plan to use multiple lights and thus will be purchasing multiple units.

You can plug two heads into one pack, with the power distributed either symmetrically or asymmetrically based on the pack model you choose.

One area in which they (formerly) came up short against the Profoto 7B was recycle time. I was speaking with Sports Illustrated photographer Peter Read Miller over dinner one night, and he gave me what I considered to be an excellent reason why he switched from Elinchrom Rangers to Profoto 7B's:

"I just didn't have six seconds of bullshit in me between shots," he said.

Fortunately, as long-time readers of this site well know, I am not bound by such limitations. I have a vitally unlimited supply of bullshit at the ready at any waking moment.

But to Elinchrom's credit, they have since introduced the Ranger RX Speed variant, which gets the recycle down to 3 seconds. That's pretty much a wash vs. the 7B's 2.8 second mark. So make sure you differentiate between the two models if recycle time is important.

In short, the Ranger RX is a big gun with an excellent reputation. In fact, one of its strongest competitors is its new baby brother.

The Ranger Quadra

One of the most interesting battery flash new entries to come along in years is the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra. It is small, cranks out 400 watt-seconds, has built-in Skyport remote power level control, has a daylight balanced 100-watt equivalent, LED modeling light -- and most important -- is incredibly portable.

Even with it's diminutive size, the pack can push two heads. Which means if you are not going with light-sucking softeners (soft boxes, etc.) you can drive two hard, straight heads with a single, small pack in a full-sun environment.

This is perfect for those hard light "key-and-fill against sunlight" portraits that I have been gravitating toward lately.

And the heads themselves are positively tiny -- actually smaller and lighter than an SB-800 -- so they have their own accessory standard. Fortunately, Elinchrom offers an adapter to get you to the (big) Ranger head standard. If you use both, this is obviously a required purchase.

In addition to the size, maybe the best other feature about the units is the LED daylight modeling lights. They are battery-friendly, which is sweet. Generally, batteries and modeling lights do not get a long very well. With traditional bulbs, they have to make them too dim to be very useful, and they still suck juice like crazy.

But the Quadra LEDs are easy on the batts, and have the bonus of being daylight balanced. This is a great feature for using them as continuous lights for video switch-hitters, albeit in low-light situations.

If you want to see more, you can check out Scott Kelby and Mark Astmann in full-blown Ron Popiel Mode in this video walkthru.

Check, Please…

So, what is it gonna set me back to go Elinchrom?

I figure I will need three light sources. If I am overpowering sun, I want to do so with key, fill and some kind of separation light.

And even though both the Ranger RX and the Quadra both have two-head packs, my preference is not to split all that power up. I would probably end up buying three heads and three packs. This would also serve as insurance should a pack go down. Also, all things being equal I would have extended shooting time vs. running three heads off of two packs.

So before modifiers (no small consideration, that) I would be looking at about $5,400.00 for three standard Ranger RX kits or a little more for the fast recycle models. Going with Quadras, the damage would be about $4,500.00.

I was actually a little surprised at how small the difference is. Dollars-for-wattseconds, you would think the big Rangers are the obvious buy. But it also comes down to workflow and how many pounds of gear you want to schlep.

With that thought, I would probably go all Quadras if going Elinchrom. Or maybe one Ranger RX and two Quadras.

Elinchrom offers a huge array of modifiers, so there still would be quite a bit of variability left in the full tab. But I would probably start fairly small and add modifiers as I need them.

So that's the first of three contenders. And not to ignore the built-in brain trust we have around here, if you use Ranger RX's and/or Quadras, please hit us with your thoughts (likes and dislikes) in the comments.

Next up: Profoto


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