Elinchrom seem to have hit the nail on the head when it comes to quality budget studio lighting. Peter Bargh checks out their latest offering - the D-lite 4
The D-Lite 4 is a studio flash head that joins Elinchrom's highly successful D-lite and D-lite 2. The 4 designates that this is a 400W/s head, making it more powerful than the earlier 100Ws and 200Ws versions. The advantage of this is that you have twice the power, so it's ideal for those working in a larger space and for those who prefer to shoot at the lowest ISO setting at maximum aperture which ensures greater depth-of-field.
Elinchrom D-Lite 4 specifications
- Power: 400Ws
- No of f/stops: 5
- Power range: 25 - 400Ws
- Power adjustment: 1/10stop steps
- f/stop at 1m: f/64.3
- Recycling time 1.3s -0.4s
- Flash duration @ 0.5: 1/800sec
- Power stabilisation 0.5%
- Power discharge: Auto
- Modelling lamp: 100W / E27
- Modelling lamp setting: Prop, half, on and off
- Flashtube: User replacement No 24009
- Umbrella fitting: 7mm diameter
- Sync voltage (VDC) 5V (okay with digital cameras)
- Sync socket: 3.5mm jack
- Temperature protection: Yes
- Over-voltage protection: Yes
- Dimension: 21cm length x 16cm diameter
- Weight: 1.3 kg
Modes and feature
Overall the D-Lite is a well specified flash unit with some useful features, controlled by pad style buttons, highlighted below.
1 LED showing power setting
This shows the flash output and can be adjusted from 2.0 (1/16th power ) to 6.0 (full power) in 1/10th stop increments using the control buttons (5&6)
2 Modelling lamp switch offering choice of modelling light on or off and proportional or full power.
3 Open flash button. This is used to test the flash or fire it for multiple flash exposures.
4 Modelling lamp fuse
5 - power adjustment offering 1/10th stop increments
6 + power adjustment offering 1/10th stop increments
7 Slave cell on/off button. When turned on this flash will be trigger in sync with the main flash that's connected by sync cable to the camera.
8 Button to turn on or off the recharged signal. It's a bit like the beep you get from a microwave oven and can become annoying but does indicate when the flash is fully charged to avoid taking a shot and the flash not firing.
9 Slave cell receptor. The 180deg dome cover ensures light from another flash is picked up from a wide angle.
10 Kettle plug power cable. Good to see a standard fitting which is not always the case on budget flash.
11 On off switch. Glows orange when on.
12 3.5mm jack plug sync cable. I prefer the chunky guitar style 6.3mm jack plug.
Round the front is a brolly hole which is only 7mm and not the standard 8mm which is a pain in the neck for those upgrading from a basic flash kit, because you'll either need to bodge or buy new brollies if you want to shoot using them. Also, it's great that the kit comes with two softboxes, but if you don't want softbox light you will need to invest in reflectors or brollies when shooting direct.
Unlike most budget flash the flash tube is user-replaceable which will save you money if it should wear out or get accidentally damaged. When not in use it's protected by a plastic hood that bayonets into the accessory connector. Any item from the Elinchrom range can be connected, so you have access to a range of reflectors, snoots, barn doors, grids, brollies and spots.
The D-Lite is sold in a kit for £605.13 with the following:
Two D-Lite 4 flash heads with protector caps, both fitted with 100w modelling lamps; two 3.5mm sync cables; one 65cm Softbox and one 53cm Softbox; two flash stands; a carrying case for the two D-Lite’s and a carry bag for the two stands; a user manual and a DVD Quick start guide to taking better pictures.
The two carry cases are small and light and when packed away this is a truly portable outfit that could be used by mobile portrait photographer doing home shoots. It's also ideal for those working from home in a room that cannot be left as a permanent studio. The two softboxes have their own pouches to store the rods, softbox and diffuser panel, and the flash stands have an internal pouch to keep them secure. Each case has a shoulder strap too.
One other extra that's bundled with the kit is a DVD featuring lighting expert Chris Burfoot who's written articles for ePHOTOzine before. The DVD starts out as an instruction manual for the flash (it made me laugh where he skirts over the softbox assembly) and then takes you through a series of shots showing you how to use lights and reflectors and posing. All in all a good insight into using flash for the beginner. In true DVD film fashion there's even a few out-takes at the end
|Build and handling
Budget flash kit from most of the manufacturers has a budget feel, a budget look and a budget sense of safety. I've used some budget flash from China where I've been concerned that I'm going to blow myself up. The Elinchrom D-Lite does have a plasticky feel, especially on the very first impressions when you remove the lamp's protective cap. Also the clamp that locks the head to the stand and the tilt head clamp both feel very flimsy, compared with higher priced kit. But that's where the budget feel ends. The casing is solid and the control panel buttons on the back, sealed behind plastic panels, are easy to adjust and feel good to the finger.
The stands are lightweight and easy to extend. They offer a good range of height adjustment especially at the higher side where you can take the height to about eight foot. It's a shame the stands don't have a conventional tripod thread at the top so they could be used for other purposes. Above right is a the Elinchrom stand on the left and a budget one from Jessops Portaflash to its right. The Jessops one has a more versatile mounting post, but the Elinchrom is far better built and easier to extend.
|The softboxes are well made and very light, although the first attempt at assembling took some doing, but that's not unusual for softboxes. The second one was built with ease, taking them down is a touch harder though! As this kit is such a great portable system it would make things much better if the sofbox could be semi automatic, in a pop-up style.
The D-Lite head is so light it's very easy to manoeuvre, and could even be held in position. I worked with another photographer while trialling this kit and when taking over as lighting technician I tried a few experimental positions using the light at a low level. This meant taking it off the stand but it has flat section underneath which makes it really comfortable to hold. So comfortable, in fact, that I ended up holding the light for the rest of the shoot, which gave me total flexibility with light and position. I enjoyed the role so much I've decided I will be a lighting stand in my next life ;-) But on a serious note, even when the softbox is attached here is one powerful unit with a very light weight.
I was also expecting it to get hot, especially as there's no fan, but it was comfortable to hold for 15 or so minutes while the shots were taken. Even after the two hour test session the lights hadn't, to my surprise, over heated. This is partly down to the fact a 100w modelling lamp is used instead of a more useful 250w.
I trialled the lights in a number of ways and was very pleased with the performance. It's a really neutral tone with even coverage. A meter test confirmed the 1/10th stop steps are accurate although I have never needed 1/10stop accuracy it's nice to know it works.
Below are a few shots taken using the lights. First in typical standard style set-ups and then in more creative ways.
Rachael, taken with Single Elinchrom D-Lite 4 and 65cm softbox
The set up using two lights for the shots taken below.
Rachael, taken with Single Elinchrom D-Lite 4 and 65cm softbox.
Rachael, taken with Twin Elinchrom D-Lite 4 with 65cm softbox to right and 53cm softbox to left as fill.
Two lights used with softboxes attached - one placed at each side of Rachael.
One light positioned below Rachael with smaller softbox to give catchlight at the bottom of the eyes. Second light from left as fill in.
Of course it's not just portraiture where you'll find a use for studio flash. Here's a product shot I did to see how it performed in still-life set up. A single flash head with the larger soft box positioned directly in front and above the camera.
Once again the flash performance is clean, neutral, even and bright. A very pleasing result with minimal effort.
Having used Elinchrom in the past and always recommended them as high quality lighting I was a little disappointed on first impression at the plastic feel and budget looks. Here are units that look and feel lower in quality than Elinchrom's budget Prolinca range, so why have the Elinchrom badge? These feelings all changed when the kit was set up and I started to use it. The flash output, is a fabulous neutral light, it's even and it's consistent. The combined weight of a stand, head and softbox is light, so really manageable when maneuvering to take shots and the recycle time kept up with typical studio model shoots.
This is a perfect introduction to studio photography for those who have more space and demand the 400Ws power. Although for the photographer who's after something for use in the spare room you could save some cash buying the D-lite 200 kit which will deliver similar quality, at a lower price but also lower flash output.
Quality neutral light output
Confidence in safety aspects
Easy to use
Build quality flimsy in parts
Locking nut lacks space
Lightboxes only really suitable for portraiture
No fan cooling
Non-standard 7mm brolly hole