I've been wanting a portable strobe solution for a while now. I finally pulled the trigger a couple of months ago on one of the nine solutions I was vacillating over. I've mentioned that was the Elinchrom ELB400 but most of that post was focused on why that vs speedlights. I didn't mention why that particular set of stuff vs a bunch of other solutions that were on the table.
Of course that prompted exactly two email questions of why Elinchrom vs Profoto specifically since they are pretty much marketing the living crap out of their recent mobile strobe setups. I'll go thru that specifically but also throw in a few other setups I considered as well.
My Own Preferences & Desires
Just to level set this it's probably good to know my own biases based on need, want, and experience.
- I absolutely wanted something light overall but also absolutely positively wanted the extremely light flash heads, the part that goes on the end of the pole along with whatever modifiers your using. That makes monoblock configs an absolute no-go. That takes the Profoto B1 and Alien Bee Einsteins with their Vagabond mini off the table immediately. Monoblocks have their ups and downs. The big downer is how much they weigh on top of a stand. Add a modifier and it becomes ridiculous. Even in the studio with mogo sturdy stuff a big monolight with a big modifier is horrible. You think I want to save weight and size on lights and carry around steel C-stands or worse. Nope. Forget sticking them on a pole and having the random person there holding them, or doing it yourself shooting one-handed.
- Color consistency across the power range. One of my big gripes when shooting color and speedlights is color that's all over the map based on power. All of the solutions I was looking at allegedly had that (Profoto B1's, B2's, Broncolor MobiLED, Einsteins). Turns out that's not quite the case but more detail in a moment.
- Power. Had to have sufficient power, not crazy but I despise those multi-speedlight rigs as you may have guessed from my previous post. All of the systems I looked at were fine, some more powerful than others.
- Cycle times had to be good. Check all the systems I mentioned were pretty decent.
- Capacity, I really didn't want to have to carry or buy a bunch of extra batteries. I wanted to be able to shoot all day and not even think about it.
- Shoot while charging. A big one for my use pattern of varying availability to a convenient outlet. I am in and out and all over the place. I would say 50/50 in terms of power within any given shooting day. I'll have it for an hour or two, then won't have it for another. Even within the same indoor location, extension cords blow but the ability to charge when you can while shooting is awesome vs the expense and more weight of extra batteries.
- Value. Who doesn't want the most for their money. That being said I'm not too too price sensitive. If I think something will add value I'll spend the money.
- TTL. For me it's something I will just never, ever use even when I could. There's lots of reasons but even with the lock and hold feature of the Profo B1 and B2 systems it's just not a feature for me. Within a few times of using a light with whatever modifiers I'm going to be using I'll be just as fast guessing from first try as the TTL will be, maybe more so. It's not rocket science. In fact it's not science. This light at this level at this distance with this modifier = this exposure. Never changes. People that use TTL never seem to actually figure this out. People that shoot manual flash know this just by pure route after using the same lighting gear a few times.
Elinchrom ELB400 Vs. Profoto B2
I'm listing this first because you already know why the B1 was out for me, especially two B1's. In all honestly I could probably have went with the B2 kit and been perfectly happy. In fact it was almost a toss-up. Actually my preference and bias was skewed toward the Profoto B2's since I have had and still have a bunch of Profoto pack/heads gear that's not battery powered or really that portable. I would have went with them just by default even though the ELB400 is a hair less expensive.
So, why the ELB400 instead if it was a toss-up?
- Significantly more power. Similar power to the B1. I could have lived with the 250 W/s for sure but if I can have another stop I'll take it for the same price and similar weight.
- The Quadra heads are lighter than the B2 heads. I mean by a lot, how about less than half the weight.
- Better recycle time. Ah, I know what you are thinking. That's not what the specs say. Yes they do, the 1.3s for the Profoto is at 250 W/s. The 1.6s for the ELB400 is at almost twice that power. At 250-ish W/s the ELB400 smokes the B2's that goes along with way more flashes per charge as well. Not by a little but by a huge margin.
- The Elinchrom generator, head, adaptor, battery combo is actually lighter than the Profoto B2 if you take the components and add them together vs just taking the weight of the "kit" which includes the giant very sturdy Eli bag. If you want a small bag or none which I will in some cases I'll take the lighter stuff.
- The Elinchrom from what I can gather not only on the internet but ferreting out one-on-one info from people that actually have and use the gear can definitely stand a bit of weather/moisture far more than the Profoto B2 can. Not a deal breaker but I will be using it outside.
Those are the big things. There are some other things if you sort the wheat from the chaff and get down to brass tacks (how's that for thoroughly pureed metaphors), in other words for get the marketing numbers that might be important.
- Speed. Speed as in flash duration or lack-there-of. The B2 has a longer flash duration at half the power than the Elinchrom ELB400 does. In reality the ELB400 with the standard slow "Pro-head" has a much shorter duration at equal power levels. Go for the "Action head" and it's no contest. Forget the bogus speed-modes of the B2 (and the B1 for that matter) the color is all over the place and all that is is moronically low power levels that are virtually useless. Your speedlight can do that even better and way faster. A special case for me anyway.
- If and when I ever have to use it I like the Hi-Sync feature and how it works more than I do HSS which the B1/B2 has. There's a special head (but it will work with the standard head to) and you get far more effective power when trying to use it to overpower daylight etc.
- The ELB400 comes with a reasonably good trigger in the price that's less money. You've got to add another four-hundred bucks for the TTL capable trigger just to get going.
Now for the other dirty little secret. The Profoto B2 (the B1 doesn't) suffers from a bug, or it did, maybe it's cured now. I have no idea. Can't seem to find any info on solved or not. While it's supposed to have reasonable color across the entire power range, in reality it's all over the map. As in worse than a speedlight. We're talking thousands of K difference even in normal working mode not crazy low power speed mode. I was not going to gamble that this really was a firmware fix and it would get fixed in the short term. If it didn't I would be so pissed off I wouldn't use them. I might even have destroyed them ;-)
Reality check. Assuming this bug actually is or gets fixed It's still a toss-up and I would probably be happy with the Profoto B2's. Both have the ability to shoot while charging which is a huge plus for me since 80% of my use will be varying locations the same day/session with and without convenient power. The better-ness I just mentioned was just too hard to pass-up, especially when it's a few hundred bucks less. Both of these systems provide solutions I was looking for.
Well of course there are a few downsides vs the Profoto B2 solution. Downsides I actually care about.
- I already have a few Profoto modifiers I wouldn't have to re-buy. Not a crap ton and certainly not thousands of dollars worth that I would actually consider dragging with me.
- They both have dedicated portable beauty dish like modifiers that I would need to buy anyway. The Elinchrom I like better in someways like the interchangeable deflectors that can give me typical beauty dish look or the translucent that can give me a mola look. On the downside in a strange reversal of fortune the awesome Elincrhom speedring quick/easy setup for the rods is not there in the Quadra modifier but now the Profoto looks like their portable has a similar setup as the Elinchrom Rotolux, go figure.
- The goofy 7mm umbrella rod Elinchrom thing is a real downer. I use a seperate big, honkin' umbrella adapter for umbrellas like my 6 foot silver fake para-FB thing. The standard umbrella adapter that is on the Elinchrom "big modifier" Quadra adaptor that I also have is complete shite. Plastic, I broke it first day out of the box. The good news is that Elinchrom service overnighted me a big bag of replacements no questions asked. Bottom line is that the plastic parts on the adaptor are for little umbrellas, why bother.
- The power split on the two ports is fixed at 2:1 (IE. 2/3rds 1/3rd) between A and B port where the Profoto is fully asymmetric -- any power on any port.
That's pretty much the downsides but here's why they didn't matter a whole lot in the actual purchase decision. First up is the modifiers. Most of my expensive modifers are not going anywhere with me in portable mode. To heavy and too big, like traditional hard beauty dishes and grids. Not happening. Even my boxes are heavy. If I were to get a big modifier it would most likely be an Elinchrom anyway as they seem to be lighter than the other stuff I have already. Also the couple of things I really want no matter if I am shooting Profoto or Elinchrom happen to be either Rotolux or believe it or not I have been itching to get one of those lite-motive parabolic things. Not the indirect, the direct. It will replace my really shitty 6-foot Para-FB-wana-be and honestly serve me better than either. I love how it goes up/down and I love the mount.
Next up is the A/B port power ratios. One of the secondary reasons I wanted a pack/head was the occasional use of a second light when I am on the go. Comes in really handy and I didn't want to carry two B1's. Honestly that's secondary compared to weight at the top of the stand but definitely a motivator if I can grab another head and have a whole other world open up in various locations. They asymetrical power distribution of the Profoto is absolutely a big convenience but it's not exactly what most people think. Ultimately it makes things a little quicker but there's really not a whole lot I can't do by juggling ports and light modifiers around a little along with feathering and moving a bit here there. Way back in the day most packs where not asymmetrical and I got along just fine juggling things creatively.
In reality there's no way I'm doing anything crazy complicated on a single pack with wires heads married to generally the same location. I would have to move the lights farther apart which means another generator any way you slice it, meaning as soon as you want the lights in different areas it's a wash.
Downsides Of the Profoto B2's
Well, in addition to the why's listed way above as well as the hopefully temporary color temp thing here's a couple of others that may or may not have crossed your mind if making the same decision.
- Absolutely cannot accept the dome thing on the B2 head. Not important for everything for sure but there are definitely modifiers where this matters and since I'm already on the low end of the power spectrum within consideration this could be an issue. I know for a fact that my bigger lights that have a dome-like configuration are more efficient that a similar light in certain modifiers that don't have a flat diffusion surface like the B2's do. It's a guess but would seem to predict the B2's might not be so efficient in say ummm a beauty dish like thing? Who knows. I assume Profoto makes those on all their other lights for a reason.
- Not crazy about how small the head is if using any of the larger Profoto boxes, etc. The Elinchrom at least has an adaptor that takes all the strain off the little head.
- B2 need's to be sent in for service to replace the flash tube. Call me paranoid but I have always had a replacement tube on hand. They break, they stop working, etc. Not a huge deal but just something to consider. An extra flash tube is a whole lot less money than a head.
Not actually in the list but it certainly is cool if you are a handheld meter person that Sekonic now has a model with an Elinchrom trigger built in ;-) Although at five hundred bucks, I'll stick with my non-trigger meter.
Images SOOC using Provia standard from the Fuji XT-1 and 18-55mm XF. Resized in Lightroom CC. Lighting Top image of X-Pro2: one Elinchrom S head blasted thru a cheap 60" Photodiox foldable round 5-in-one reflector with the cover off. The rest are the Elinchrom Portalite octa with silver deflector.