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Ian Farrell tests the Ranger Quadra from Elinchrom, a portable flash system for when a flashgun simply won't do.
Elinchrom Ranger Quadra portable flash: Features
Battery powered studio flash is nothing new, but many established products, like Elinchrom’s Ranger RX or Bowens’ Travel Pak, are hefty pieces of kit that can sometimes stretch the definition of ‘portable’ to breaking point. The Ranger Quadra, on the other hand, is so small you can transport a control box, two flash heads, two batteries, a charger, a remote and a pair of reflectors in a bag the size of a briefcase.
The main problem with using TTL flash guns off camera is that they lack power – the most powerful of guns only kick out 50-90J of energy in a single flash – but here Ranger Quadra scores by upping this figure to 400J. That’s three stops more. Raw flash power is important if you are trying to shoot at small apertures, or if you are using light modifiers, like softboxes or diffusers, which soak up some of the light you are trying to throw onto your subject.
The Ranger Quadra comes as a two-head kit, with both flash heads plugging into a small control box, which in turn sits atop a lead-gel battery. A spare battery is also supplied and this can be charged individually while a photographer is working with the main unit. The camera triggers the flashes via the supplied Skyport radio trigger which slips into the hotshoe (the receiver is built in to the control box), or via a conventional sync lead. The device can also fire by watching for other flashes with it’s slave sensor, meaning you can incorporate the Ranger Quadra in existing studio or TTL flash lighting set ups – great for getting light into those hard-to-reach places.
Elinchrom Ranger Quadra portable flash: Handling
Each flash head is about the size of a coffee cup and at first it seems impossible that they will perform in the way that Elinchrom claim they will. A significant space saving has been made by doing away with the traditional modeling light bulb and replacing this with a chip-like LED unit. This is much brighter than you might think at first (about the equivalent of a 40W halogen bulb), and the daylight adjusted output is perfect for those Canon EOS 5D MkII owners needing a continuous light source for video.
Ranger Quadra Heads are available in two flavours: S or A type, with A type offering shorted flash durations for freezing motion. They mount on normal studio stands (not included in the set) and can be equipped with a brolly or a custom designed Portalite softbox, as well as any of the light modifiers made for full-size Elinchrom lights via an adapter. We tried this with a huge meter-wide octagonal softbox and, while it’s slight fiddly to fit, the lights worked brilliantly in use.
The control box is at the heart for the system, where flash power and all manner of other options are set. When fitted to a battery, the ensemble weighs just 3kg and is roughly 21x15x6cm in size. The top of the unit is dominated by two sockets where the flash heads are plugged in to the unit. Also present is a basic LED display that shows flash power (in stops or Elinchrom’s more cryptic 2.0 to 6.0 scale) as well as custom function menu options. These settings govern factors like how much inactivity should elapse before auto power off, how the radio trigger operates, and how precisely power is varied (1/10, 1/5 or 1/2 stops). It’s worth having the manual on hand when using this menu system as it’s not the most intuitive in the world, but setting up the unit properly can also pay dividends when you are under pressure on a shoot.
Power is distributed asymmetrically between the two output sockets in a 2:1 split. To get the maximum 400 J in one flash, a single flash needs to be connected to socket A, which then delivers 25J at the pack’s minimum power setting. In contrast, socket B has a power range of 8.2 – 133J. This variation in power, of 8.2 to 400J, corresponds to over six stops and is part of what makes the Ranger Quadra so versatile.
Elinchrom Ranger Quadra portable flash: Performance
In operation it’s quite hard to fault the Ranger Quadra. I’ve used it extensively for six months on everything from studio still life to architecture to location fashion-type photography, and I’ve never found it lacking. The units deliver consistent output time after time, and I’ve reason to doubt the manufacturers claims that the Skyport remote control works over a range of 50m indoors, and 120m outdoors. Using just the included spill-kill type reflectors, the flash heads illuminate large objects evenly, and positioning them above and to the side of a subject while shooting portraiture produces attractive shadows across the face, which add depth and help define shape. I also find a shoot-through brolly useful as a diffuser when the lights are used close to a female face, where a softer treatment is often required.
Above: This wide image is well lit displaying a good light coverage from the Elinchrom.
Right: Portraits are easy for the Ranger Quadra.
Recycle times are good too. With a fully charged battery, the Ranger Quadra is ready to fire after a full power discharge in just two seconds. This figure lengthens to five seconds when the battery is on it’s last 20 or so flashes, though I actually find this a useful advance warning that I’ll need to swap batteries, and get the spare ready. Each battery normally provides between 150 and 180 flashes on a single 2.5 hour charge, depending on operating temperature.
Elinchrom Ranger Quadra portable flash: Verdict
The Elinchrom Ranger Quadra seems to be the best of both worlds, incorporating the portability of TTL flashes with the power of a small studio system. However it should be pointed out that if you are used to the TTL way of working, then you will have to learn how to use a flash meter, or read exposures using your camera’s histogram, when using the Ranger Quadra. This is manual flash and the degree of automation found in, say, a Nikon Speedlight SB900 just isn’t there. These aren’t hard skills to learn (in fact it can be argued that metering for flash means you are paying more attention to lighting, which is a good thing for your photography), but it is worth considering that this is a different way of working if you’ve never used studio flash before.
The kit is also very good value. Two heads, two batteries, a controller unit, radio trigger, battery charger, shoulder strap and carry case cost just £1493. There are some niggly points, such as the LED screen being hard to read in bright sunlight, and the Skyport battery giving no advanced warning before it stops working, but as far as downsides go, that’s really it.
Elinchrom have cleverly filled a gap in the market with this product. Over the last half year I’ve grown to rely on the Quadra Ranger for most of my lighting needs, in and out of the studio, and in return it has never let me down.
Elinchrom’s Ranger Quadra portable flash: Pros
Versatile triggering - radio, slave or cable
Elinchrom’s Ranger Quadra portable flash: Cons
Menu system fiddly to operate
Adapter for full-size Elinchrom accessories somewhat fiddly
Manual only - no TTL
Elinchrom’s Ranger Quadra portable flash: Specification
|Power output||8.2 – 400J|
|Modelling lamp||Yes, LED chip|
|Flash duration (S-head)
Flash duration (A-head)
|Slave cell||Yes, optical & IR, plus radio|
|Accessory fitting||Elinchrom Ranger Quadra, plus normal Elinchrom via adapter|
|Weight||Control box & battery: 3kg
Flash head: 0.25kg
|Size||Control box & battery: 21x15x6cm
Flash head: 9x8x11cm
The Elinchrom Ranger Quadra set costs around £1493 from Warehouse Express here:
Elinchrom Ranger Quadra portable flash