Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL review & field test
Let me start off this Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL review by saying, I have not been compensated in any way shape or form to write any of this, nor was I allowed to keep the ELB 500 TTL. I have simply been a long time user of Elinchrom’s lighting “eco system” for the past 7 years and really love what they offer. Currently I have two Quadra AS packs (7 years old) and one Ranger Speed AS 1100ws pack that is about 5 years old. 90% of my online portfolio has been made using these tools.
Last year I made a video showing the new High Speed heads that I had purchased for my Quadra’s, and how amazing they are to help overpower the sun. You can see that video here. A few months later, I received an email from Elinchrom asking if I would like to test out a new prototype lighting system that they are going to be launching in early 2018. I of course said yes, and a week later I had the new Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL sitting at my door step (this was late 2017, months before it was going to be announced). Elinchrom told me to just simply use it, and let them know what I thought. Simple as that. I said okay, and of course wanted to take it a step further and make a nice video of my experience for all of my own subscribers and fans.
Here is that video:
The ELB 500 TTL is obviously targeted for photographers that are looking for a TTL off camera flash system with some power and flexibility.
This would be perfect for any type of adventure / fast action kind of shooting. I could also see this being a valuable tool for “run and gun” location work, when you need to move fast and may not want to manually set exposure / power levels. I do think many wedding photographers will also love that quick ability to use TTL and “get the shot” on the run. So, there is a real market for a TTL lighting system that has the power of this pack (500ws).
So what do I think of this new Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL? I think it’s great for the “right person”.
For me, here is what I loved about it.. and what I did not like so much (would worry about)..
#1 – Ready time from power changes is ZERO. So, lets say I am at 400ws on the Quadra.. and I need to go down to 50ws. I dial in the new power value, and then I have to wait for the pack to dump the power from the capacitor back to the battery. (or, I have to pop a flash off and release the power to allow it to recycle the new power setting.. trading battery life for time). When I was using the new Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL I did not have this wait time. Like.. ever. I was amazed! Now, the actual flash, to flash recycle time (while very fast) was about the same as the other Quadra / ELB 400 packs that I have owned and used.
#2 – The battery. I don’t know what kind of magic battery they have put in this pack.. but, in real world use.. I went a full day with a model in Miami heat, took about 700 shots of her, and still had lots of battery left over. (see my video). To compare, on the same shoot my “rim light” (my old Quadra pack) with a new Lithium battery, had to be replaced once.. and then almost exhausted a second one. So, there is a HUGE improvement to battery capacity from my testing.
#3 – The build quality of this pack is the best yet. When the ELB 400 came out, I did not upgrade from my Quadra (still have not), only because at the core of what it is, it is about the same. After all power is power, and light is light. Except… the build quality. The ELB 400 was a huge step up in that regard. Better weather sealing, better caps that are spring loaded for the head outlets (no more screw down ones, so it was much faster to access), a much better LCD read out, and better buttons. Now.. The new Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL is another whole story. This is in a class all in it’s own. It just “feels” more sturdy, VERY weather sealed, and has a level of refinement that builds more confidence. One specific area that was always a weak spot on the Quadra / ELB 400 was where the battery attaches to the pack. I see now, there is a new latch and it is perfect. It is solid, and feels very sturdy and I can tell from my own experience that this was a welcome design change.
#4 – Size & Weight. Having owned the Quadra for so many years, I have been accustomed to it’s small / lightweight nature. I was worried that a slightly more powerful pack, with more battery capacity would mean a larger, and heavier pack. Yes, the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL is slightly larger and weighs almost exactly one pound more (which is not very noticeable) then the ELB 400 / Quadra. However, to spite it’s modest increase in size and weight.. it still remains tiny, and extremely portable. (see my video for more details).
#5 – The menu system. It’s dead simple. My 5yr old son can fully operate it. The older Quadra packs, are a nightmare when it comes to the menu system. You need to have a cheat sheet, remember codes, and have a Vodka tonic on hand to get through it. The ELB 400 came out, and was a HUGE improvement in this regard (though not enough to justify my spending to upgrade). Now, using the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL, … within the first 10 seconds of turning on the pack I was at home with it. ANYONE could easily figure out how to set this up, and use it. The menu system is a breeze, the LCD is insanely nice and the master dial that turns through all of the menus feels like it came out of a Mercedes Benz. Yes, it is that nice.
TTL – I can’t comment on this too much, other then I will say it works as you would expect. Yes, it is a little ironic that one of the main selling points of this pack (TTL) is the one feature I will likely never use. This is just me. It’s a personal choice. I have always used manual settings for flash, and I talk about my reasons this in the video. Now, I know many photographers use this, and in some cases is required.. so to all of you, you can rest assure that it works very well. BUT.. It uses one head (unlike the different heads used on the Quadra / ELB 400) and it comes down to HSS vs Hi-Sync. In my own testing, I much prefer the HS heads (Hi-Sync) with the ELB 400 over having a TTL / HSS setup. Again, if TTL (shooting automatic) is required for you.. then, yes the ELB 500 will be a great choice, and I do think the HSS that they have is more efficient then the competitors.
DID NOT LOVE:
#1 – Cords. If you take a look at the market, you will see more and more heads are now cordless. The fuss of dealing with cords can be (and is) really annoying, and this is just the starting point. For the past 7 years, I have had to replace a cord for one of my Quadra packs about 6 times. I know how to carefully coil a cord (you can YouTube the best methods on doing this) but, to spite the best precaution, they seem to fail. No idea. It’s just annoying, and costly at $98.00/each. I was hoping that the new Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL would be cordless. It is not.
#2 – Cords are permanently attached to the heads. So, you should be able to see where I am going with this from reading the above. If the cord fails, now the head will be useless. With the Quadra / ELB 400 I could take the cord off the back of the head. That’s no longer the case. Time will tell if this will be an issue or not. Now, it’s worth noting that the cords on my Ranger Speed AS 1100ws pack (also permanently attached to the heads) have never failed. BUT, this is a MUCH stronger cord. At a glance the ELB 400 / Quadra cords, and the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL cords are the same, and this worries me.
#3 – Remote. It’s way, way too slow to “boot up”. In fact, that’s the problem. I don’t want a remote that has to “boot up” I want one that is ON or OFF. Now, this has nothing to do with the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL at all. This is the same remote that is used for all of the packs. Regardless, it’s a talking point and something I can’t stand. In my video I show what I am talking about, and compare this to another remote (Cannon) and the difference is night and day.
#4 – LED battery indicators. They have always been on the outside (side) of the battery’s so that you can press one button and quickly see the real charge status of the battery itself. That is no longer the case with the new battery. There is no side LED indicator, instead it’s now located on TOP of the battery, meaning you can only see it when the battery is off the pack. Which, is annoying in many situations.
#5 – Total power. 500ws is great, and I have used 400ws for years and years for most all of my production shoots. It’s rare when I truly –actually– need my bigger Ranger Speed AS pack (1100ws). But… But… I think there was an opportunity here with the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL to get a little more power into the pack. First of all, the real world difference between 400ws, and 500ws is about 1/3 – 2/3 of a stop depending. It’s really nothing much. I would have loved to have seen 800ws, or at the very least 600ws at the min. This would have brought the pack more in line with other competitors, and REALLY given someone like me a reason to switch. The fact that I got a crazy amount of flashes from one battery charge (while impressive) is also an indicator that they could have upped the power output and still maintained a great battery life. I think anyone would agree, to take away some capacity in exchange for more power. But, I know it’s more complicated then that LOL, it’s just how I see it as a photographer looking at the situation in practical terms. After all, I’m kinda the person who buys this stuff 😉
So, that about wraps up my honest thoughts on the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL. It’s a beautiful, sturdy, elegant and reliable piece of hardware. I would trust it with the most high profile of assignments, and if TTL is your thing, then this is a great option. Even if TTL is not your thing (like me) it’s still an amazing pack, and a likely upgrade for me in the near future 😉
Here in this image (above) my assistant was holding the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL camera right, with a tiny softbox. I also was using my old Quadra pack camera left way in the distance, with a HP reflector mounted to it. This gave a really nice rim / separation light to the model. This was shot with a Canon 1DX @ 200mm f/2.8.
Thanks so much, and if any of you have any questions or want me to elaborate more on any aspects of the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL let me know in the comments below.