Elinchrom ELB500 TTL - 12 month review


Over the years I’ve lit with many lights & flashes (strobes) including Metz hammerhead flashes triggered with Wein optical triggers, lugged mono bloc flash kits and AC mains power leads through buildings and in elevators. In 2010 I decided it was time to invest in studio quality portable battery flash.

As a profesional commercial photographer and long-time Elinchrom user I opted for the Ranger Quadra RX system with the small lightweight heads and separate battery packs. The compact heads and separate battery were key to my decision as it all breaks down into a kit which is very portable https://ianpack.blogspot.com/2014/05/think-tank-photo-urban-disguise-40-with.html 

After a dalliance with other portable battery flash I returned to Elinchrom with the ELB500 TTL which was launched in March 2018. I’ve been using the ELB500 TTL on location and in the studio since September 2018 and have yet to find fault. Alongside the ELB1200 the ELB500 TTL is quite possibly the best Elinchrom product to date!



First impressions always count and the 2 head kit came in a sturdy box. Inside the box is a well designed, durable kit bag containing everything needed to go, with the exception of light stands. You will need a Skyport Pro trigger suited to your camera system, in my case Canon. I also have a new Skyport receiver to trigger a hot shoe flash/speedlite.




THE HEADS
The ELB500 TTL head is a new design with the power cable permanently attached. This has two benefits, no chance of misaligning the plug in the socket and weather proofing.




The heads use the EL/Q bayonet mount and existing EL mount light modifiers & shapers can be used with the Elinchrom Q Mount to EL Adaptor MkII - this allows even large modifiers to be used with the ELB500 TTL heads because the integrated stand mount takes all strain from the head.



Each head is provided with a plastic protective cap. There are two reflectors included, the Q Mount 18cm reflector & 13.5 cm Q Mount which can be used as a umbrella spill kill and a wide angle reflector which covers 120º. I’ve purchased a frosted cap for the 120º reflector to protect the tube in transit and outdoors from the elements when using the ELB500 TTL as a very powerful Speedlite.



Surprisingly, the weight of the ELB500 TTL (less cable) is about 400g, 680g with cable, compared to a typical Speedlite (no modifier etc) with a Li-On battery at about 540g. The reason the head is so small is many of the control circuits & components are contained in the battery pack. With the ELB500 TTL head you can mount it directly to a standard ⅝” 16mm light stand without any additional grip gear. To fit a Speedlite to a light stand you’re going to need some sort of clamp adaptor if you intend using soft boxes which will add to both your carry weight and bulk up to 450g.



With care you can fit a ELB500 TTL head & coiled lead inside the 18cm reflector for transit.



In use the compact head & separate battery pack mean you can use less heavy light stands (such as Manfrotto Nano stands, Kupo Grip 055 Handy Stands or even the Phottix 600g Padat 198 with carbon fibre risers) than you would with battery mono bloc flash. It also means a lighter load if you work with a assistant or Voice Activated Light Stand (VAL). I attach the battery pack to the base of the light stand by means of a loop of paracord and a spring clip carabiner. This gives stability and is surprisingly easy to move around. Phottix do offer a clamp & strap arrangement which does the same job.

BATTERY PACK
The battery pack is provided with a carry case & shoulder strap with a protective cover for the top plate. The battery pack top plate has a clear OLED display with illuminated controls and a jog wheel for adjusting power in 1/10th stop increments.



There are two covered sockets A & B which allow symmetrical or asymmetrical distribution of the 500W/s output. This is a great improvement over the Quadra & ELB400 which were both fixed asymmetric. The head to battery pack leads are 2.5m which in most situations is sufficient. If you need a longer lead, an existing Quadra or ELB400 2.5m lead can be used as an extension. I’ve added a strip of grey gaffer tape to my leads with a clear mark to indicate where the aligning keyway is located. This helps prevent damaging the plug pins when in a hurry!

There is a 50W equivalent 5500K LED modelling light in each head with a CRI of 90+



ADVERSE CONDITIONS
Working outside can be an issue especially in England. This is not a set-up, it’s reality. I recently needed to shoot outside in torrential rain and the ELB500 TTL never skipped a flash. I did use gaffers tape as a precaution to seal the head! The frosted cap provided protection for exposed flash tube from the rain. Normally I’d use a clear plastic bag.



Please note that water damage is NOT covered by the Elinchrom warranty.


SKYPORT PRO TRIGGER
When setting up my ELB500 TTL kit I always switch on the flashes before the Skyport Pro camera trigger as the unit scans for active compatible Skyport protocol flash - in other words you can integrate older ELB400 & even original Quadras. it is possible to trigger manual Speedlites with the aid of the Skyport Receiver, but these do not show on the camera trigger display. It is also possible to use Phottix speedlights using Odin II protocol.




The TTL metering is surprisingly accurate which means quick set-up on location. Once you’ve established the desired exposure, press Manual to lock the flash output. Both A & B sockets are controlled independently from the Skyport Pro trigger attached to your camera hot shoe. In practice this means 500W/s through one head, 250W/s through two heads or variations to taste in-between.


It’s possible to use your camera in Manual or Aperture Priority modes with the ELB500 TTL, remembering that Manual will give you constant exposures, whereas Aperture Priority exposure will vary according to the light reflected back to the camera sensor. With Canon cameras the trigger moves into HSS mode automatically, but not with other camera makes. The same applies with the ELB500 TTL - Manual will give a fixed & constant output, TTL could vary depending on the tones in the frame. Remember that TTL metering is dependent upon light reflected from tones in the frame which will influence exposure. As a general rule with TTL darker tones can be easily overexposed whilst lighter tones can be easily under exposed. This is because the metering systems are designed to calculate exposure to a mid-grey. You can read more about this in my eBook on exposure, available from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Introduction-Exposure-Ian-Pack-ebook/dp/B01N4KBC49

PHOTOGRAPHY OUTDOORS
When working outside there is ample power to compete with bright sunny conditions, allowing you to shoot with wide apertures and fast shutter speeds. Until now High Speed Sync (HSS), whilst offering perfectly even exposures, has suffered from a more significant loss in power than the Hi-Sync (HS) method.



Shooting up to 1/8000s in HSS Mode? With the ELB 500 TTL the power difference between the methods is now a thing of the past, thanks to Elinchrom's enhancements in maximising efficiency in HSS technology.

The specification says that you should get at least 400 full power flashes from one battery. So far just one battery has lasted me with capacity to spare. In the studio it’s possible to use the ELB500 TTL connected to mains power using what Elinchrom call Active Charging. The lithium ion battery takes just 100 minutes for a full charge.

With short flash durations to 1/20,000th second it’s possible to freeze action including pouring liquids.




Conclusion
If you’re looking for portability, reliability, and light consistency in a portable battery studio flash with about 10 times the power of small Speedlite hot shoe flash, backed by over 50 years of developing flash for professional photographers, the Elinchrom ELB500 TTL could be the kit for you! Whether you’re a wedding photographer, shoot portraits, headshots, events, newborn, pets, equine, products or fashion, this is a top performer.

The ELB500 TTL is quick to work with, has no trailing mains power cables so no hunting for suitable power outlets. In the UK a Portable Appliance Test (PAT certificate) is not required when working in third party premises as the flashes are self-contained battery powered. The heads are incredibly light and compact leaving all lighting options open.

I’ve used Elinchrom flash for about 30 years, and on the rare occasion there’s a problem, I know there’s someone there for backup with loan kit etc.

If you’re in the UK contact The Flash Centre for further information and a demonstration https://www.theflashcentre.com/our_stores.html Outside of the UK there’s a complete list of distributors on the Elinchrom website https://www.elinchrom.com/distrib.php?tab=0

That's is for now, questions and feedback are always welcome.
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