I have always wondered what it would be like to use studio flash outdoors, but never felt either comfortable using a power generator with my existing lighting kit or the need to investing in a battery powered flash system. So the easiest way to find out is to hire one. TFC (The Flash Centre) have a two head Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed kit with power pack available for £40 per day (full price list here).
So I took the plunge and tried one on a model shoot. The location was a beach between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness in Suffolk, which has an interesting shell sculpture to use as a backdrop.Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed Specifications
Output: 1100-17Ws gives f/64 at 2m (ISO 100, 1/250s sync speed and standard 48 degree reflector)
Recycling time to full power: 3s
Flash duration: (t0.5) 1/2300s (1 A Head) 1/4310s (2 A Heads)
No. of full power flashes per charge: 250 (slow) 195 (fast)
Charge time: 3 – 5 Hours
Trigger voltage: 5v
Weight: 8Kg. inc battery (flash head is an extra 2.4Kg)
Price £1,556.88 Inc Vat
The idea of having a portable studio flash kit is quite extravagant, but does have advantages over conventional flash. The main thing is the power, but also the recycling time is far faster than a portable flash, especially when you're shooting through brollies/softboxes. I was using my Elinchrom D-Lite softbox (the Ranger head is compatible with all other bayonet/breech lock Elinchrom flash accessories), plus a silver brolly.
Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed Handling
Unlike conventional monobloc flash the power controls are on the Ranger RX pack, which makes the head less bulky and much lighter. The total weight of a head is 2.4Kg and that includes a heavy duty (and it is very heavy duty) 5m cable. This means the head can be attached to lightweight stands/boom arm making it very versatile. The downside for my shoot was it was so light that the wind caught hold of the softbox so I needed someone to hold the stand while shooting to prevent it blowing over.
The pack has a strap attached to make it easier to carry. Ideally you need to park near to the shoot because an 8kg pack, two 2.5Kg heads, plus a tripod, camera kit, brollies, lighting stands will demand you either have access to a local Sherpa or you're other hobby will need to be weightlifting
Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed Features
As the controls are on the pack you can have this positioned in between the two heads and access the power from shooting position. The controls are touch pad style and all waterproofed for safe outdoor use. The pack is also sealed around the edges and all sockets have screw in covers to plug the holes. I felt comfortable using the pack in damp conditions and also had to endure a quick shower without any worries.
The two heads connect to the pack with plug and bayonet tighteners. These can be fiddly to align correctly, but once in place won't come unplugged. You can use a sync cord to trigger the flash from the camera, but I went the whole hog and used an Elinchrom EL Skyport wireless trigger. This connects to the pack and to the camera to allow wireless operation.
To conserve battery power the modeling light only activates for up to 30secs but that's enough to get a feel for the lighting. Adjusting the output of the flash is done on the pack or via the Skyport. There's a seven stop exposure range from full power which allows an aperture of f/64 at 2m (these figures are halved when using two flash heads. Exposure can be adjusted in 1/10stop steps.
Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed Performance
For the example photo, I was shooting at f/5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/200sec using a soft box on one head and a sliver brolly on the other. The ambient exposure was about 1/60sec, so the background is deliberately underexposed to give a dark moody feel.
I took photographs using a Canon EOS 1D in RAW mode. When processing I set white balance to flash which resulted in a slight warm hue, similar to when an 81 series filter has been used. I could have neutralised this, but I'm really pleased with the output.
There's a battery indicator on the pack and a mains charger is provided to recharge the pack in about 3 hours. You can buy a spare battery and a specially car charger.
Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed Verdict
Having spent a few hours with the Ranger RX speed I felt comfortable using it and am now seriously considering buying one to do more daylight flash.
Working in a studio does have its limitations, but we have a world of natural props and backdrops to access and the Ranger provides the light to illuminate these scenes and balance with the daylight.
For most of us the cost will be it's limiting factor, especially when compared with a couple of portable Speedlite flashguns fittted with Lastolite Ezybox hotshoes, but if you can get a few commisions to pay for this I'd highly recommend it.
At the time of this review TFC have a deal on a basic RX pack (slightly slower 5.5s recycle time on full power) with a free head making it a much more attractive proposition.
Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed Plus points
Studio flash on location
Versatile power steps
Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed Minus points
Fiddly head connections
Expensive compared with portable flash
Heavy battery pack
The Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed pack costs around £1557 and a Ranger S head is £388. There's also a kit version for £1733 which includes, the head and pack along with a second battery, case and umbrella. It's available from the ePHOTOzine shop here