Monday, 30 January 2012

Elinchrom Ranger Quadra v Speedlite Cost Comparison

What follows is a spreadsheet comparing a list of essential kit for use with Speedlites or hot shoe flash as part of some workshop notes and Elinchrom Ranger Quadra portable battery flash. I'll let you draw your own conclusions and it would good to get some comment and feedback.

Camera Manufacturers Speedlite/light/hot shoe flash Costs in GBP based on UK available stock! Elinchrom Ranger Quadra – single head
Output 100j 3 x 400 400j*
Cost per unit
400 1085
Lastolite Triflash
65 Not required
Industry standard 16mm 5/8th inch / Brolly Adaptor Extra 29 Inc
Use with softbox etc Extra 50 – 200 + Built in
Radio and/or Optical Trigger Extra 30 – 300 + Inc
Rechargable Longlife battery Extra 200 Inc
Battery Charger Extra 30 Inc
Exposure TTL etc
Shutter Sync High speed
Depends on camera manufacturer
and 3rd party trigger
Modelling Light Multi-strobe flashes
Low energy consumption LED 5900K equal to 100w and suitable for DSLR video work
System product Sort of. Relies on 3rd party accessories
Yes, retro compatible
Accessories Limited by 3rd party providers
Part of a truly pro system, compatible with existing studio flash
Single Speedlit/light and gear ready use
£1,059.00 £1,085.00
40 x 40 Softbox Lastolite Ezybox £95.00 £94.00

Lastolite Quadra adaptor £18.00
Speedlites have a place in every photographers tool kit, as do portable battery flash units. If you buy Elinchrom Skyport receivers your hot shoe flash can be used in conjunction with Quadras! Fill flash or where eTTL or iTTL are needed.
Extra umph! Just when you need it in a portable self-contained package.

In summary:

Elinchrom Ranger Quadra A head with Lastolite adaptor in Ezybox.
an efficient setup as no light leaks from the back of the unit as it would with a hot shoe flash and the tube spreads light inside rather than projecting as the enclosed flash tube of a hot flash does.
  • Speedlite/lights or hot shoe flash are seen as a cheap option by many “photographers” as they have one or more in their existing inventory. In reality they can be an expensive option once all the necessary accessories have been purchased to enable them to be used in a similar way to battery powered portable flash!
  • If you are going to take Strobist style lighting seriously invest in good grip gear, i.e. the stuff that you use to fix your flash to lighting stands or whatever. I strongly recommend the Frio cold shoe adaptor and Manfrotto Umbrella Adaptor 026 for starters. My brolly adaptors have been in use since I can't remember when, and are much better built than the majority of those from other providers.
  • The Speedlite in-built zoom head can be used as a control for the light beam, but the flash tube is not in the optimum position for most efficient working with most, if not all light modifiers as the tube is within the Speedlite head assembly and is designed to project, rather than spread light.
  • To equal the power of battery portable flash 3 or more Speedlites need to be used in combination with a specially designed bracket, especially where shorter recycling times or short flash durations are required. 
  • Hot shoe flash can be done “on the cheap” by using inferior quality products, but to me kit is an investment, not a cost; I'd rather have kit that's going to last rather than having to spend money twice-over. 
  • Hotshoe flash will not stand the pace of day-long shoots, it's designed for intermittent, not persistent use.
  • TTL flash is metered by the light reflected from the subject and will be subject to changes in tonality or lighting and consequently can give inconsistent results. Manual flash is not affected by external influences and provides consistent results.
Hot shoe flash in radio remote rig compared to Elinchrom Ranger Quadra head.
The Quadra head is connected to the battery and controller via a cable making a more stable unit in use as the weight is away from the flash head.
  1. Canon 580 EX II Speedlite
  2. Radio Trigger
  3. Frio Cold Shoe
  4. Manfrotto 026 Umbrella adaptor
  5. Manfrotto 5001 Nano stand (foreign copy, but just as good)
  6. Elinchrom Ranger Quadra head with reflector
  7. Elinchrom Ranger Quadra head without reflector - note size of head and not top-heavy like the hot shoe flash set up
  8. In-built umbrella attachment. OK, it will only fit Elinchrom brollies with a 7 mm shaft, but that's not the end of the world!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Fotothon SmugMug Monthly Photography Competition

The first Fotothon Brighton event only seems like yesterday and now we're working our way to the next event on Saturday 5th May 2012, again in Brighton.

Image by Heather Buckley, Overall Winner, Fotothon 2011 Brighton

Smugmug were kind enough to support the 2011 event and now will support the new monthly competition which will run monthly until further notice. The Fotothon Smugmug Monthly Competition will include a main prize of a Smugmug Pro photo & video hosting and sharing account.

Chris, Ben and I would like to extend our thanks to Smugmug for their continued support of Fotothon and also to those companies who supported the event in 2011 and those who will work with us in 2012.

More information can be found about the event on either or Facebook.

Richie the Fire Performer in action

To tie in with the January clue, we are hosting an Open Shutter event as part of the Brighton & Sussex Photography User Group on Monday 6th February; all are welcome but booking is essential as we have booked a fire performer who will work with us to give some stunning opportunities to hone your slow shutter speed skills and create some stunning images in the process.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Off Camera Flash, An Introductory Workshop

On the 9th December 2012 I Ied a very successful one day introduction to using hot shoe flash and Speedlites (Speedlights for Nikon shooters) off camera. Before me I had one of the most interested groups I have worked with for a long time. I was supported by Chloe our wonderful model, who I have to say understood my well developed and sometimes warped sense of humour!

With a one day workshop I can only cover the basics and give a taste of what can be done with these small and versatile flash units. In the morning we worked through use of simple and inexpensive light modifiers and basic manual flash studio style set-ups.

In the afternoon we moved outside to work with eTTL off camera flash - the same principles apply whether you're a Canon, Nikon or other brand camera user, it's just the controls may be different.

What follows is a step-by-step breakdown of one shot in particular:

As you can see, the unlit, straight out of the camera frame is pretty grim! The background is messy and the camera in Av mode has metered for the sky leaving no foreground detail.

Add a TTL flash to liven it up and create a focal point - no exposure correction either on the camera or flash. 

I prefer to connect the flash via a dedicated cable rather than the Canon STE-2 remote trigger or other TTL trigger - the advantage of a cable is it does not need setting up; is not reliant on batteries; is not subject to local RF interference - the leading brands of TTL radio triggers have been allocated a frequency range in the UK which is highly over populated and includes security alarms, medical & radio telemetry and garage doors; if you're working with an assistant you know they'll be at the end of the cable and not wandering off! 

The Canon STE-2 remote trigger is about as much use a chocolate teapot outside, especially in high ambient light. Here, the range was too much and we couldn't get a direct line of sight as a result of using a Lastolite Ezybox to modify the flash.

On the flash is my (not so) secret weapon, a Rosco Cinegel #02 Bastard Amber gel to warm the flash lit part of the shot without affecting the background - a camera lens filter would color the whole frame - do it in post-production and you'll need to create a mask for a local correction.

In this frame the flash has been over exposed to give more detail, probably by 2/3 or 1 stop.

This frame shows why I chose to use the Rosco Cinegel #02 Bastard Amber gel to warm the flash lit part of the shot! Unmodified, the light from most Speedlites is a little cool for my taste. If Rosco Cinegel #02 Pale Bastard Amber is too warm for your liking there is always Rosco Cinegel #302 Pale Bastard Amber for a less pronounced effect.

So, here we go. The shot is now looking more how I previsualised it - the background has been made darker by under exposing by a stop or so in camera. Remember that the aperture controls the flash exposure, the shutter the ambient or available light exposure. Use the Exposure Compensation function of your camera to make this adjustment when shooting in Aperture Value mode (Av or A).

I decided to add some interest to the final frame by adding a couple of the workshop participants, making like paparazzi. The lights they are holding are not flash, but LEDs. One was a Rosco Litepad 3 inch disc, the other a TK Max cheapy.

BTS from Nick Lightbody, looking very much as the scene would to the naked eye.
Thanks for the shot, Nick.

Camera & Flash Settings:

Camera - Canon EOS 5D MkII
Lens - Sigma 70 - 200 mm f2.8 Apo EX DG OS - what a great lens.
ISO 320
White Balance Daylight
Av - Aperture Value auto
Exposure Compensation -1.33
Auto focus, centre spot only

Flash - Canon 580 EX II
Exposure Compensation +0.66, maybe 1 stop
Rosco Cinegel #02 Bastard Amber - soon to be available with Gel Clip PLUS
Paint Pole with VAL Spigot
Voice Activated Light Stand (VAL)

What this space for news of a new series of lighting workshops for 2012 - not just flash, but lighting for photographers; we intend to show you how to light in all circumstances and give you the knowledge and confidence with daylight, flash and continuous lights. These workshops will start with the basics (including some theory) and build your experience, understanding and confidence in a wide variety of lighting challenges and scenarios.

Foot Note: This was the first time I had used the Sigma 70 - 200 mm f2.8 Apo EX DG OS lens. Not as heavy as I thought and with easy handling compared to my favourite Canon 100 - 400 mm F4.5/5.6 L IS glass. This lens will see a lot more use over the coming months.

London Photo Walk

Ben and I will be leading a London Photo Walk this Sunday, 15th January 2012. We'll meet outside the National Theatre ready for the off at 12:30 PM.

First of all we'll visit the Landscape Photographer of the Year 2011 exhibition and then take a late afternoon stroll along South Bank toward the Palace of Westminster aka Houses of Parliament where we'll conduct a mini low-light workshop with the opportunity to photograph Parliament as the sun goes down and flood lights come on.

More information may be found here:

There are still a few places available, so if you're at a loose end on Sunday, come and join us for an organised and led photo walk. At the end of the walk there will be a brief Chimping Competition for what we consider the best image of the day - the winner will receive a mystery prize!

A couple of things to remember for this London Photo Walk a tripod and some sort of remote release; and make sure you check you images magnified on your LCD screen, what looks good full frame can really let you down when magnified, especially as I'll have my Hoodman Hoodloupe 3 with me!

We look forward to saying you on Sunday. If you're travelling from Brighton by train, let us know and maybe we can hook-up on the way into town.

And for those of you who wan to improve your low-light and open shutter photography skills, the next NPS Photo User Group (PUG) meeting on Monday 6th February 2012 will be dedicated to open shutter i.e. long exposure techniques at the Woolpack in Burgess Hill.



Wednesday, 4 January 2012

NPS Photo User Group December 2011 Meeting

On 1st December 2011 we held our second NPS Photo User Group meeting, affectionately known as the PUG! Our first meeting in November was a great success with Jim Marks keeping the audience enthralled for well over two hours talking about his work, experiences and where he sees the future of photography.

The second meeting presented those who attended with a photography challenge, to reinterpret an image of Al Murray, aka The Pub Landlord.

Myself, Ben Potter and Chris Cook were on hand to explain the brief, offer guidance, ideas and assistance through the evening. The Flash Centre kindly provided Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX portable battery flash and Rosco Labs lighting correction and modification materials.

Once the group had warmed-up and began interacting and most important, asking questions and for help the yeas really started to flow.

We did help the group by showing them the extent of the retouching done to create the final image, by pointing out telltale signs, which I have highlighted in the overlay below.

The retouching has been highlighted in yellow. Even as a small image on screen the signs are there; look at the top of Al's head for the pale area between him and the background - more obvious signs and the fake catchlights in the jewelry and tie pin. Even the bar on which he appears to be leaning has been dropped in during post-production.

I'm pleased to say that a couple of the participants have submitted their reinterpreted images for a all to see.

Thanks to Nick & Bogusia Lightbody for this image. They lit the shot from camera left with one Elinchrom Ranger Quadra, modified with a Rotalux 70 cm Deep Octa soft box and balanced the shutter speed to give the shot background atmosphere from the ambient light. The glass in John's hand has been shot separately and dropped in during post-production. A good effort from what at first seemed a simple brief. Well done both.

The next image is from Nick Maddox, a regular visitor to both the PUG and other events and workshops we run. This is a straight shot, lit very much the same as Nick & Bogusia, but with John's head turned more to camera right. It looks as if Nick M has used a higher shutter speed as the ambient balance is not as bright.

Here Nick has dropped in both a glass and background in line with the reinterpretation brief. This is a cracking effort with excellent Photoshop skills - I suspect CS5 may have been used to extract John from the background! Nick has also replaced the glass and added some sparkle of his own. Again, another fine effort. Well done, Nick.

To end the evening, Ben & I did a quick and unscheduled lighting demo with the aid of 2 heads plugged into the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX pack. We wanted a more considered image of John to highlight his luxuriant beard and wonderful features. If some of you are wondering where you have seen John before, he's the guy that the Coca Cola Company use as a model to guide the artists for all the CGI images they use of Santa.

Santa wondering what those pesky elves are doing now?

We decided that we didn't want any local ambient light in the shot so I dialed my shutter up to 1/160 th second on a Canon 5D MkII. The lighting is pretty simple - one Quadra head to camera left with the Rotalux 70 cm Deep Octa soft box and to camera right a standard Quadra head and 21 cm /8 inch reflector with a couple of layers of Rosco Cinegel #3006 Tough Spun to take the edge off the bare 21 cm /8 inch reflector.

Rough sketch of our lighting for the shot of John after the event.
  1. John at the bar.
  2. Wall behind, roughly 4 or 5 feet away.
  3. Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX A head with 8 inch reflector and Rosco Spun.
  4. Ben with light on adapted paint roller pole.
  5. Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX A head with Rotalux 70 cm Deep Octa soft box
  6. Me with Canon 5D Mk II, 24 - 105 mm f4 IS L Series glass

Our thanks to Nick Lightbody for this "still life" of Ben & I at work!

Ben came in useful as a VAL - Voice Activated Light Stand to position the second light behind John to bring detail to his hair and separation from the background. I must point out that we were working in an open pub, where it would have been impractical to place a tripod lighting stand behind he busy bar on Health & Safety grounds.

Our thanks go to Lance and his staff at The Woolpack in Burgess Hill for a warm welcome every time. The Woolpack has now been adopted as our home base for the National Photographic Society PUG (Photo User Group) in West Sussex.

Another advantage of working with Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX flash is that they are battery powered and totally portable; so have the advantage of not trailing mains leads, or having to find a power outlet when you're in a hurry. And if you're in the UK, as they are not mains powered, you will not (as far as I know) need a PAT (Portable Appliance Test) Certificate for them.

This is our favorite frame from our quick 5 minute portrait of John. There is little post-production here, just the usual tweaks in ACR to process the RAW files.

What this space for news of a new series of lighting workshops for 2012 - not just flash, but lighting for photographers; we intend to show you how to light in all circumstances and give you the knowledge and confidence with daylight, flash and continuous lights. These workshops will start with the basics (including some theory) and build your experience, understanding and confidence in a wide variety of lighting challenges and scenarios.

Our thanks to The Flash Centre and Rosco Labs for their support.

If you wish to hire or buy any of the products mentioned here, contact Simon Burfoot at The Flash Centre and don't forget to mention the NPS PUG in Burgess Hill.

We all hope that you all had an enjoyable Christmas and wish you well and a successful 2012.