Hensel Expert Pro 500 Plus: Background
I had recently retired my aging Elinchrom Micro 750s monobloc heads because I was tired of lugging them to various jobs. They performed well enough but I was hoping to get something a lot more portable for the work that required me to take my own light source.
I had considered getting the Elinchrom RX units because the specs looked to be in the range I required and I found Elinchrom to be a trustworthy manufacturer.
I had looked at the Profoto compact heads and was trying to convince myself (unsuccessfully) that the expenditure would be justified.
During my internet research, I had stumbled upon a mention of the Hensel monoblocs. I found the Hensel distributor for the UK (The truly excellent Linhof & Studio ) and I had just missed out on buying some demo units for a very good price.
The units appeared to offer what I needed with regard to their specifications and there were not that many reviews of them to be found. I had only found a few reviews on the internet and I was pleased to note that they were all very positive.
Hensel Expert Pro 500 Plus: Introduction
I had made the decision to buy an ultra-portable two head kit comprising two 500 w/s heads, two light stands, two reflectors (one spillkill specifically for umbrella use), one silvered umbrella and one softbox.
The kit was supplied with all of the necessary leads and sync cords and an unexpected bonus was the free radio transmitter. Everything was packed into a single well designed and well made travelling case, that came complete with a shoulder strap, grab handles, and an included set of double rolling wheels and handle to pull the case along.
The kit cost was £845 + VAT at 17.5%, bringing the total cost to £992.88 ($1941.28) and I thought the price was very fair, considering the quality of the kit and the inclusion of the radio transmitter for free.
A similar Bowens 500/500 kit would have cost a minimum of £1049 plus a further £209 for the radio trigger kit and another £90 for two spillkill reflectors… total £1348 + VAT at 17.5%, making a total cost of £1583.90 ($3094.30)
The cheapest cost of a two head Elinchrom 300 RX kit would have been £1328 including the Skyport trigger/receiver set. Add VAT at 17.5% and the total cost would have been £1560.40 ($3048.39)
There were many other reasons to covet the Hensel kit apart from the keen price and these will be revealed further on in this review.
Hensel Expert Pro 500 Plus: Specifications
The Expert Pro 500 plus units are very well specified.
- Energy: 500 Joules (watt/seconds)
- Flash duration: t0.1 1/500th of a second t0.5 1/1600th of a second
- Recycling time: 100% power ~ 2.2 seconds 1/32nd power ~ 0.5 seconds
- Power adjustment: 1/10th of an f stop over a complete range of 6 adjustable stops - full power to 1/32nd power
- Fuse: 2AF
Hensel Expert Pro 500 Plus: Review
The unit is called the Expert Pro 500 Plus and the 'Plus' denoted that each unit included a radio receiver which was built into it. One advantage to radio operation of the light unit’s functions is that it's not like infrared; in that it doesn't require a clear line of sight to operate.
The body of the unit is a mixture of extruded aluminium (aluminum) and some sort of tough plastic for the handle area and the rear section which houses the function buttons and switches.
To one side of the case is a firmly sprung rubber-tipped lever near the front of the head, and when it is operated, it reduces the diameter described by three sprung claws that grip the accessories.
I was very impressed by this system of holding the complete range of Hensel light-shaping attachments onto the unit. It provided a very firm and sure grip and one could change reflectors rapidly.
I have used a variety of systems from Bowens and Elinchrom and the now ubiquitous ‘S’ system. None were as easily managed, nor as positive to lock, as the Hensel system. If only someone at Hensel would be kind enough to try and address the train wreck that is portable backdrop systems, I would be more than happy to buy into the Hensel design philosophy.
The business end of the unit is adorned by a glass dome which is held in place by three sprung clips which are easy to use and provide a secure mounting for the protective glass dome. Under the dome is a user replaceable flash tube and a 300 watt halogen modelling lamp. The replacement units cost a very reasonable £42.30 ($82.47) and £14.04 ($27.37) respectively, including VAT at 17.5%.
The rear of the unit contains an IEC, UK pattern 3 pin earthed connection, a rotary switch for adjusting the power output (by means of a digital display running from 5 ~ 10 in 1/10th of a stop increments) which is lightly detented and series of membrane buttons that click very positively when pressed. The membrane buttons legends are illuminated when the power is on so that adjustments can be carried out in the dark. The selected button is illuminated by an indicator light when it is active.
On top of the unit at the rear is a sync socket, slave cell and slave indicator. The sync lead ends in a standard 6.3mm (1/4in) jack plug. The handle has a space for an umbrella handle to pass through and it contains a moulded strain reduction area that will take the mains lead (cord) and prevent the IEC connection from being stressed unduly when the head is being positioned on the light stand.
The underside of the head is fitted with a tilting connection that can also be slid along the whole length of the body of the unit. The sliding action is provided so as to assist the photographer with finding the centre of gravity when the unit is to be fitted with any heavy light-shaping accessories.
An everyday scene was selected. The flash heads were fire remotely when the wireless transmitter was attached to the test camera (Canon EOS 1D Mk2). The radio transmission to fire the heads was tested over a distance of 20 metres (65.5 feet) and there was no failure to send the radio signal over this distance.
I believe that the wireless unit can transmit up to a distance of 30m and beyond but I didn't test it at that distance. As I stated previously, it isn't necessary to have a clear line of sight to the flash heads. This would normally be mandated by the use of an infra-red trigger.
The wireless transmission unit has several functions. It can fire the flash at the time the exposure is being made. It can test fire the flash by using a small button provided on the transmitter. It can adjust the modelling light mode by switching it on or off and changing the mode of operation from full to proportional lighting.
The supplied halogen 300 watt modelling light is bright enough to indicate where the flash lighting will fall. You can choose to have the modelling light remain lit during the firing of the flash and also whether the modelling light goes out momentarily (as a flash fired check) at the time of firing the flash. This additional option is set from the rear panel of the lighting unit.
An audible beep, to indicate when the flash head is ready to fire again, can be set from the control panel at the rear of the unit. The radio transmitter permits the user to set 3 different channels or to select all channels at once, by means of an easily accessible DIP switch, so that the light units can be accessed separately from each other or have their power output values altered simultaneously.
The transmitter also permits the light output to be set and altered in increments or decrements 1/10th of an f stop across the full 6 stop adjustment range from full to 1/32nd power.
It's a useful facility to be able to set the power output of the lights without leaving the camera position and, in my opinion, it helps to foster a comfortable working environment. The transmitter has both an up and a down arrow button on its top surface and it's very easy to use.
It's also supplied with a PC cord to connect directly to the camera’s pc socket, in addition to the using the transmitter solely with its provided hot shoe connection.
There's a rotary control on the rear panel of the light that can be used to set the desired power output manually. The digital power output is shown by two red digits which are located just above the control knob. The range extends from 5 ~ 10 and each change in output will increase or decrease the displayed number by .1 so it is clear to the photographer that an adjustment has actually been made.
The control knob can be pressed inwards against a light compression spring and it is pushed once to set the channel for the chosen light unit. The digital display shows C1, C2 or C3, depending on which of the channels is selected.
The rotary control knob has very light detents to assist with stopping the turning action when the desired output is reached. The control knob also turns through 360 degrees so it is not possible to reach the end of its travel.
I was previously accustomed to the Elinchrom system where an up or down arrow has to be pushed repeatedly to alter the power output on their Micro 750s heads. I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the Hensel method of adjusting power output is much easier to use and it provides the photographer with a far more positive feedback mechanism and it is an efficient way to work.
Other rear panel controls are the on/off switch, which initiates the movement of a quiet fan when first activated. There are two buttons that are separated from the main group and they sit between the rotary power output control and the IEC power lead connection and they're used to adjust the modelling light behaviour.
One button is labelled ‘FULL’ and the other other is labelled ‘PROP’ and either one may be pushed to switch the modelling light on or off in the chosen mode. When a button is pressed there are indicator lights that are integral with the membrane buttons, that are illuminated to show which button is the actively selected one.
The illuminated legend beneath the button is icing on the cake and another thoughtful touch by the Hensel engineers who had designed the unit. Speaking of thoughtful design, the modelling lamp is set to a default value that permits it to be used at full power for 35 minutes, before it is automatically switched to a brightness value that is one stop below the chosen output. A press on any button on the rear control panel of the unit will return the modelling light to full power.
The default value can be changed to any value within the range 5 ~ 95 minutes. The adjustment of the default value is made by pressing the rotary control knob twice and then adjusting the value that is displayed on the digital display panel above the rotary control knob.
After 3 seconds the display will revert to showing the selected power output for the unit. The depth of good design is echoed by this feature and the ability to automatically reduce the power to the modelling lamp underlines the manner with which Hensel engineers expect their product will be used.
The other control buttons are grouped together across the top centre of the rear control panel. They are labelled (left to right) ‘RC’, ‘AUDIO’, ‘FC’, ‘SLAVE’ and ‘TEST’. Each of the buttons is accompanied by an indictor light that will show when the button is actively pressed.
Illuminated legends are found on all buttons when the unit is powered up. The RC button is selected to prepare the unit to receive commands from the radio transmitter and its presence informs the user that the unit has a radio receiver built-in to the body.
The AUDIO button will cause the unit to emit a beep when it has recharged and is ready to fire again. It was a nice surprise to hear a beep that sounds like a beep, rather than the strangled, rather irritating squeaking noise that I was used to hearing with the Elinchrom units.
An FC button selects the flash check option and this option will turn the modelling light off when the flash unit has fired. It then turns the modelling light on to indicate that flash unit has re-charged to its preset value.
Selecting the slave option will light the indicator light and permit the unit to be fired by the triggering flash from another unit which is fired. It's likely that the use of the radio trigger may reduce the need for this option, where only a few lights are in use.
The TEST button permits the flash to be fired from the position of the unit. The accuracy and the consistent light output of these units was very reassuring. Adjustments of 1/10th of an f stop in the light output were reflected in the meter readings I made with a Sekonic L508 exposure meter. I had made all of my test readings both with and without a sync cord.
Hensel also offer a battery pack (the Visit) that will run these two lights and provide a reasonable number of full power flashes, while adding true portability to these light units. The inclusion of the radio trigger with the kit and the radio receivers being a part of the unit construction, makes these monobloc flash heads a viable choice for any photographer who wants to use radio signals to fire flash units.
Hensel Expert Pro 500 Plus: Verdict
The quality of construction, the fit and the finish of the flash heads and the coherent design, when taken together with the inclusion of several labour and time saving facilities and some innovative design, indicate that these units are designed for a long and hard working life.
They offer the photographer, who wants an easily portable two head flash unit set-up with a reasonable power output, the opportunity to take the light units to any work opportunity that must be done outside the confines of a studio. Of course, these units will be easy to use in any studio setting as well.
These monobloc flash units will appeal to photographers who value high quality construction allied to a coherent sense of industrial design combined with excellent value for money. In my opinion, these Hensel units represent much better value than the nearest competition from Bowens and Elinchrom.
Hensel can provide the user with an extensive range of high quality light-shaping tools and the addition of the Visit battery pack will guarantee that these light units have a long and useful working life. You can view the units and the Hensel system at the following URL’s.