Elinchrom

Elinchrom BxRi Flash Review

Why the BxRi?


If you’ve been playing around with small flashes and are starting to find them limiting, or just want to blow some more money on photo lighting, then a studio flash might be the answer. I evaluated a lot of different studio flashes in my quest for a pair of larger lights, and eventually settled on the Elinchrom BxRi range when I decided to put together a photo studio in my apartment. The past 5 years have seen an explosion in flash consuming by non-pro hobby and semi-pro photographers. Fueled by the internet and gear lust, many have reasoned and re-reasoned the need for a pair of studio strobes in your heads. But why? Have your small flashes lost their luster? After all, light is light, the photos from small flashes are the same as those from studio strobes.


“Can I do this shoot with small flashes?”


Probably you could, but it would probably be cooler with larger ones. The fact is, when you’re shooting on location or in a studio space the large monolights are nice to have. If you have an AC power outlet you never have to worry about the batteries dying and can enjoy large light output the whole day long. I know what you’re thinking, “more brains, less light” or “enhance the natural ambient” lighting instead of blasting a scene with a lot of light from a studio strobe. This is the philosophy I started with during my Strobist-dominated lighting education. But the truth is, I got into studio strobes simply because I wanted more lighting power and more flexibility and control over the light. The small flashes had become limiting and I found myself lusting for something more. There are many options for proper studio strobes, but I settled on Elinchrom for the nice mix of expandability, dependability, and value. The Elinchrom BxRi series offers an attractive combination of features including, fast flash duration, integrated Skyport with control, mid-price range, good recycle time, and multi-voltage capabilities. More expensive than Alien Bees but cheaper than Profoto the Elinchrom line offers a good price/performance value.

BxRi Features


Basically, I bought a pair of BxRi strobes because they offer a nice range of lighting features and remote power control. An Elinchrom Skyport is integrated into the BxRi design, so you can adjust the power level of up to four different light groups from the controller on your camera. Since the devices are integrated into the flashes, you never have to worry about charging their batteries or even turning them on, they’re just there and ready to work when the lights are powered up. Having power control is very nice when you don’t have an assistant to run around and change your lights. Also, if a light is far away or placed high on a boom, it’s a hassle to bring it down just to change the power level on the light.


Since you can buy a universal Skyport to trigger a non-Elinchrom flash (like a Sunpak, Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc.) it’s very easy to create a setup with multiple lights and not be tied to the Elinchrom system. For example, I often use a three-light setup with my BxRi strobes in softboxes and a Sunpak 383 with my Kacey beauty dish. I have the two flashes programed to different channels so I can adjust their power individually, or chose to fire one or the other for different lighting effects. I should note here, if you’re mixing strobes from different companies, there’s the possibility of a color shift between the lights. How much this matters to you is hard to tell, but it’s important to mention. Naturally the BxRi also have modeling lights, which are fantastic for assisting the autofocus on you camera and showing where the light will fall.

BxRi in Studio


I love shooting with the BxRi strobes in the studio instead of or mixed with small flashes like the Sunpak 383 or Metz 40MZ. The BxRi flashes come in either 250ws or 500ws versions. I chose the 250ws lights because for my studio size (the ah, room in my apartment) it just didn’t make sense to get the 500ws version (although I might add a 500ws head in the future). I bought a set with two Portalite softboxes and stands. The Portalites are basic softboxes, very light and without an internal baffel. They setup up quickly and pack down to almost nothing. I often setup the BxRi strobes on the sides of the studio and then add fill in the front with reflectors and a Kacey Dish or an Orbis ringflash. With the built-in Skyports I’m able to setup the  BxRi lights and then fine-tune the lighting from the camera with the model/person in the shot. The stobe in the Kacey dish is then the only strobe I need to configure on its own. All the lights are triggered with Skyports, with one for the small flash. This process goes far faster than when shooting with all small flashes on munual which all need to be adjusted individually on the strobe body.


The BxRi design is multi-voltage , allowing one to shoot on 120V or 220V AC, basically giving a photographer the ability to shoot anywhere. This capability was actually a big reason why I bought into the BxRi lines as opposed to the Elinchrom RX lights. I travel to the United States about once a year, and it’s just sort of strange to buy an electronic device which can’t be used in other countries. I know, you can always buy a voltage converter, but I never know which one to buy, I would forget to pack it, and it just seems safer to go with a light which can run on either 120V or 220V. However, I’ll admit that this is like the Canon tilt-shift lens syndrome. You want to buy a Sony for the camera features but think, “but what if I get into architectural photography, they don’t have a tilt-shift lens like Canon or Nikon.” A lot of people get into the Nikon or Canon systems because of the large range of lenses and accessories, and then end up only using a few not-so-special zoom lenses. You could make the same argument for the multi-voltage or Skyport issue, but it’s nice to have when you need the functionality.

Build Quality


The BxRi series is robust, designed to wow the amateur and be used by the professional user. The body is made of plastic but seems pretty durable. Ah, here I should mention that I sort of broke mine, but it’s because I put a super heavy 150cm Walimex Octabox on my BxRi, and had to tie a piece of rope to the handle to make it support the weight of the octa. I think I sort of bent or damaged the inner support ring, as the locking mechanism doesn’t release correctly anymore, but if you stick with the normal Elinchrom modifiers and don’t overload the design, you shouldn’t have any problems.

The Gist?


If you’re into getting some studio lights for all the right (or wrong) reasons the BxRi line won’t disappoint. The lights are awesome, the integrated Skyports work great and the overall design gives you a lot of lighting funtionality. There are other options than Elinchrom, I had been lusting after a set of Alien Bees Einstein strobes, but even if I still lived in the US I would probably tend towards Elinchrom instead of, Alien Bees (for example). It’s only recently that Alien Bees released the Einstein units, which now allow remote power control and an attractive set of power setting features and short flash durations. Although you can get them in Europe, Alien Bees ship from the UK (an earlier distribution deal with Gotham Audio in Switzerland had fallen through),  at a price significantly highter than the US offering, and after shipping and import duties,  the final price is on the same level as Elinchrom. Then there’s Hensel and Profot lights, but they’re just too expensive for me at this time. If the BxRi are still too much you can also check out the cheaper range, the D-Lite strobes, which has been steadily adding features like a cooling fan and now integrated Skyports as well. The primary difference most users will care about between the BxRi units and the D-Lites is the flash duration, which is faster on the BxRi units (but this might not matter to you).


If you’re looking to buy some Elinchrom lights in Switzerland you have to go through Profot AG. For some reason they’re the one and only distributer in the country, but they offer a range of packages to choose from. To check out more on specs and stuff, go to the main Elinchrom website.

Lazy Swiss Sunday – Urban Poet Portraits

Urban_Poet.jpgThere are many boring things to do on a lazy Sunday in Switzerland. You can climb up a klettersteig, go paragliding, chill in a coffee shop, enjoy a movie, brunch in die Giesserei in Oerlikon, tour over a glacier, vegetate in front of the TV, but if you did all of that last weekend, then the obvious option is to go shoot urban portraits in Winterthur. As a Strobist-educated photographer, it’s nice to go out and shoot with someone who actually makes money taking photographs, and has an Elinchrom Ranger RX system. So, on a Lazy Swiss Sunday Matt and I headed to the old industrial area of Winterthur, just outside of Zurich to shoot some pictures that we called, the Urban Poet series.


I’m a bit of strange guy, and when I shoot images I naturally try to infuse a bit a strangeness into the process. Dry Tooling in a parking garage, vintage glacier goggles, and hiding my beautiful eyes behind sunglasses are my thing at the moment. This contrasts wonderfully with Matt’s take on portraiture, which is influenced by his background in photo journalism and wedding photography. He captures the beauty of reality, while I try to do anything but.  Fortunately, I was able to add my hint of strangeness during the post-processing.


Our location was at the back of the Lagerplatz near the train tracks in Winterthur. Winterthur is a historic industrial manufacturing base of Zurich, Switzerland. Since the Swiss economy has transitioned away from large-scale industrial manufacturing and become focused on biotech, medical, and technology companies, the hard industrial areas of Winterthur have gone through a large transformation in the past 50 years. Lagerplatz translates from German as something like loading or inventory place, basically it’s where you have warehouses for loading trains, and is right next to the old Sulzer manufacturing area. Since it’s industrial heyday, the whole area has since been transformed into a hip business location for designers, swanky apartments, a climbing gym, and is the go-to place for wedding photographers who want to make urban portraits for high-paying clients.


The Concept


We had two ideas in mind, one as an experimental action image, and would then go do some reality based shots. For the action shot, I had picked up a toy gun at the store the day before. In addition I took along my Pelican hard case and a simple wardrobe, consisting of Levi’s jeans, a form fitted T-shirt, and olive jacket with nice clean lines. As per Matt’s direction, I kept my vintage motorcycle goggles in my pocket and wore instead a pair of traditional black sport glasses.


The Gear

Nikon D300
Nikon 80-200 f/2.8
Nikon 12-24 f/4.0
Elinchrom Ranger RX strobes
Skyport RX radio triggers
Shoot-through and silver umbrellas
Medium Elinchrom octabox

Urban_Poet-2.jpgBullets Are My Prose


The night before I had been watching Casino Royale, getting ready for the release of Quantum of Solace, so I was pretty geeked to pick up a toy version of the P99 and pretend to be an extra from James Bond, Spy Game or a Jason Bourne movie for 1/100th of a second. The occasional kid would stop to look on his way to the indoor skate park at Block, asking what we were doing, and, “is that a real gun?” For the lighting Matt alternated between hard lighting and flatter diffused looks using the umbrellas. I went with this wardrobe because I like modeling with my olive We sport coat and relaxed Levi’s, the light blue and white of the jeans contrasts well against the green of the coat. Overall it has a sort of hip urban feeling mixed with funtionality of something I actually like to wear. Additionally, both types of clothing give great definition with harder or flatter lighting schemes. The shadows from the creases along the arms give a subtle dramatic texture to the overall image with the right light. I went with my Doc Marten wing tips (model 3989) because their large soles have a very defined edge, forming a nice separation visually between the subject and the ground. Again, the whiteness of the Docs juxtaposes nicely against the coat and sunglasses. It might have been better to have gone with a lighter T-shirt, as the dark grey shirt needs more direct lighting to bring out features of the subject’s torso area. Here it acts more like a visual void in the image, or maybe this is just my science mind making too much of nothing. The gun and Pelican case were added to give some story elements, and because Matt and I wanted to experiment with different visual elements in this series.


Urban_Poet-3.jpgThe Urban Poet


For the main Urban Poet portraits, Matt positioned me well in front of one of the buildings with one of those large garage doors in the background. This renders a nice geometry to the background, without over-powering the colors of the subject. For this shot Matt used the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 lens, which gives a nice compressed image and control over depth of field to isolate the subject from the background elements of the shooting environment. And, the Nikon 80-200 is of course, very sharp. The lighting was done with one medium Octabox with an Elinchrom head. You can see in the portrait how the light is basically hitting about 1 meter in front of the subject, and then lighting the whole person. For this image, Matt designed a very cool portrait by separating the subject from the background using his choice of lens, and by keeping a shadow on the foreground, he minimizes the tendency of the viewer’s eye to be drawn away from the subject. So, basically it means your eye is drawn directly to the subject and not distracted by either the foreground or background elements. At the same time, having this foreground an background elements in place is what defines the urban environment, and makes the image look cooler and much more interesting than a simple studio shot.


Urban_Poet-4.jpgCould this shot have been done with small flash gear, yes, to a certain extent I’m sure it would have been possible, but if you happen to have an Elinchrom Ranger RX system with a medium-sized octabox, dealing with a small flash Strobist setup is just crazy. The Elinchrom octabox combined with the Ranger strobe heads gives you beautiful diffused light, and using the Skyport RX system meant that Matt was able to control the strobes without moving from his shooting position. If you have an assistant running around changing your lighting settings, then it’s fine to use a Pocket Wizard to trigger your lights, but when working alone the Skyport RX system makes the whole process painless. The use of the octabox is what made this image possible, otherwise it would be more difficult to create this dark shadow seen in the foreground, and hence, the image would have a different character.


Shooting with Matt was a great experience from multiple perspectives.  First, being directed by a photographer and doing what models do gives one valuable experience on how best to ineract with people which I shoot in separate projects. If you’re a photographer who has never gotten in front of the lens, I highly recommend it.  When you act out the part of a model, you become more aware of you body movements, and more aware of the difficulties of taking direction.  So, when you shoot your own projects, you now have a base for better connecting with your models.  You understand what it’s like to be on stage, their insecurities, and it will make you a better photographer.  It’s also important to work with photographers who have a vision and style which differs from your own.  You understand the value of different working methods, different lighting schemes, different portrait techniques, and in the end you are then challenged to reassess your own style  and become a stronger photographer because of it.


More of Matt’s work can be found at his website:


http://www.matthewandersonphoto.com/

Panasonic LX3 and Elinchrom Coffee Madness

For the first two years of it’s genre, the Ricoh GRD, GX100, and Canon G7 were the top compact cameras in the marketplace. This has changed as camera companies have realized that yes, photographers do want high quality image making ability in the palms of their hands. Currently, the high quality compact camera field includes the Ricoh GX200, Ricoh GRD (II), the Canon G10, the Nikon P6000, and the Panasonic LX3 (we’ll ignore the Leica clone model). Ah, and the Sigma DP1. Many reviews are out on these tools, but I have a will to be weird, so when Matt emails me and says we should test out his new LX3 in my new home studio, I says “Hell Yes” in my heads.


Matt picked up the Panasonic LX3 for an upcoming bike tour in Asia, I just got a studio background system, Matt has a set of Elinchrom Ranger Rx flashes, and I have a new coffee pot and set of vintage coffee cups. The keen reader might be able to guess what’s coming next, but I’m about to tell you so it’s irrelevant. There’s a shot I’ve been replaying in my head for a while, a person trying to sip a bit of coffee as it flies through the air, just out of reach of their lips. This is easy to imagine, but slightly more complicated to realize. You need good lighting, a fast shutter speed to capture the coffee in the air (with tack sharpness) and you need a place to do it. With Matt’s email, I knew all the elements were now in place.


Now, we had other tools to do this shot, I have a Minolta 7D, Matt shoots his professional jobs with a Nikon D300, and we both have access to excellent rental shops in Zurich, where you can get whatever you need from Canon to Mamiya, from Leaf to Phase One. But we wanted to explore the LX3 and see how it works in the studio. Does it make sense to use a $2000 lighting kit with a pocket camera? Hell Yes I says in my heads.



Technical Details


The Elinchrom Ranger system was fired using the Skyport radio trigger system, as the LX3 has a hot shoe, this worked flawlessly. The Ranger RX system has a flash duration around 1/2250 sec. depending on the power setting (according to the Elinchrom specs). This is one reason to use a top-of-the-line lighting kit like the Ranger system over my Strobist-inspired Contax and Metz flashes for capturing coffee in the air. With such a short flash duration, you can freeze moving liquids with super precision. Additionally, we used Matt’s Elinchrom Octa box, which provided beautiful wrap-around lighting – and makes my small Alzo softboxes look like, well, small, inadequate light modifiers (for this application).


The full setup included an Apple Green background, and me kneeling on the floor with a few towels laid down to protect the paper from the incoming coffee splatter (only partially effective). We had a system, Matt counted one….two….three, and at each number I moved….left…..right…..left, and at the same time propelled the coffee cup in the air and tried to catch the flying liquid with my lips. Then I would wipe up all the coffee splatter that missed the towels and had landed instead on my new wood floor. This took a few shots to get the timing down, but after a few tries and two beers we were getting acceptable results. One main difference between DSLRs and compacts is shutter lag and focusing time. To get around these limitations Matt pre-focused and locked the focus on his LX3. This essentially eliminated the shutter lag problem. He shot with a shutter speed of 1/1000 and an f-stop of f/8. There were no problems syncing the flashes at this speed, the Skyport system worked much better than my Chinese radio triggers in this regard (high speed syncing). This of course highlights one reason to use the LX3 instead of a DSLR or a digital back system, theoretical high-speed syncing on the order of 1/2000. Chase Jarvis did something similar in his Kung Fu water droplet tutorial. But you really don’t need a $40,000 camera system to capture liquid in the air. In fact, you’re a tad limited if you do pick the Hasselblad because if you use a $40,000 Hassy system you’re limited by the sync speed of the camera. To work around the shutter sync limitation one would generally decrease the ambient lighting in the studio, open up the shutter of the camera, and then fire the strobes separately to capture the action, and close the shutter. The exposure is then determined by the flash exposure and aperture setting of the lens. This technique requires a bit of preparation for each shot. With the LX3 and it’s high-speed sync abilities combined with short duration Elinchrom strobes, you just point and shoot, which is the whole point in using a point-and-shoot camera. ?You’ll need to fiddle a bit with the strobe power setting and aperture setting on the camera, but it only takes a few seconds. ?In this setting the shutter speed was around 1/600, but a lower speed could have been used as well, the exposure of the scene being dominated by the strobes.



The Results


The combination of studio lighting and the LX3 really surpassed what I was expecting. The light quality produced with the Octabox combined with the short flash duration of the Rangers made it possible to freeze the flying coffee with a texture and definition I was not expecting. When combined with the resolution of the LX3, and it’s superb Leica lens, you get a tack-sharp image with excellent color and dimension. The combination of a small sensor camera with a small aperture also meant sharpness across the image. As the LX3 RAW format is not widely supported, Matt shot in JPEG, which was fine for this application. We’re not planning on blowing these images up to large sizes and the exposure was perfect, so the difference between a RAW and JPEG image in this shoot was fairly minimal.



There’s one thing I’ve learned since I started shooting with a Ricoh GRD a year ago, and is reinforced here: pocket cameras, like all tools have limitations, but when the right light is used, the resulting images can be as jaw dropping as those taken with DSLRs. Lighting and composition are generally more important than megapixels, and it’s one reason why I’ve added more flashes and modifiers to my toolbox instead of a new DSLR (but the Sony A900 is oh, so, so tempting). Still, if you’re getting a pocket camera, it’s good to know it can be used in a variety of situations. Like the Ricoh GRD, the Panasonic LX3 works great in the studio environment. When Matt emailed me about shooting with the LX3 in the studio I was afraid I would be motivated to pick up an LX3, but the experience was worse, because now my eyes are set on the new BXri 250/500 Elinchrom flashes announced at Photokina.


About the photographers:


Matthew Anderson recently moved to Switzerland and is currently engaged in the art of producing beautiful wedding photography and the precision of imagery for commercial clients.


I technically didn’t do much photography here, and was more of an art director, have little of a life and fill the void with photo gear.