What to need when ?

Maybe the most asked question I get is :
“Frank what should I buy ? a ranger, quadra or speedlights”.
Because we start the workshop small flash in February I think it’s maybe also wise to add a small blog post about this dilemma a lot of photographers struggle with.

Let’s start out with the least expensive option, or is it ?

Speedlights, system flashes
Often referred to as speedlights or system flashes, but I like to call it “small flash”.
These are the units you can buy to fit your camera, for example the SB series for Nikon or the EX series for Canon.
Myself I use the Canon 430EXII units, simply put in the workshops I want to show the results with the less expensive devices, I also love the 580EX of course but to be honest the bang you get from the 430’s is also impressive.

So what you can do with those small flashes ?
Well actually quite more than you would expect. A lot of people claim they are useless if you are used to the larger strobes like the quadra and Rangers, I think they are wrong, do remember however that as with everything you have to know how to operate them.

With small flash you can use the E-TTL from the camera and that makes a killer combination for photographers that want to work fast and don’t necessary want to measure. The E-TTL system works very well and you can balance the strobes with the Flash exposure compensation and of course the balance between groups (set in ratios with for example Canon in 3 groups)…. However add the Elinchrom skyport to the mix and you can also use manual settings and trigger the strobes from a distance, although I have to say that in this case I would very much prefer the quadras or rangers. With the HSS (High Speed Sync) option on the camera and strobes one can get some very interesting effects by using higher shutterspeeds than would be possible with normal strobes (this does not work via remote triggers, but only with the systems own trigger or by using a master unit).

So the small flash is quick, easy, small and relatively cheap.
I have to add that you have to realize that when you are using penlights they run down very quickly and the units become very slow after some use. A better option would be to use Quantum packs with them, but this also adds up to your budget because those are not cheap.

Canon 430EXII, Canon 5DMKII

2x Canon 430EXII, Canon 5DMKII

Elinchrom Quadra
Going up one step (but a big one) bring us to the Elinchrom Quadra.
A small package with a big bang so to say.
You can connect two heads which gives you a maximum of 400Ws with one head and a ratio of 66-33% with two heads. Main advantages of this system is the power and compact look. The Quadras are simply put awesome little strobes with for most photographers more than enough power. Some people will claim that 400Ws is not that much but they forget that when you use the strobes with the correct modifiers they can even start to fight the sun, just add a maxilight to the Quadra with the Elinchrom convertor and you have a lot of light from the Quadra.

Main advantage of the Quadras are flashduration, with two heads connected (A heads) you get a very fast flashduration which is enough to freeze jumps and most movement. Build in is the skyport speed system which makes it possible to sync on faster speeds for cameras that support this, for cameras with leaf shutter lenses like the Phase One DF body I use we can now sync up to 1/1600 (without light loss to app 1/1250). Meaning that because you are not limited to 1/125 you can indeed fight the sun with the Quadras, but remember your camera has to have a xsync higher than 1/125.

Elinchrom Quadra

Elinchrom Quadra, shot with Canon 5DMKII

Elinchrom Quadra shot with Canon 5DMKII

Elinchrom Quadra, shot with Canon 5DMKII

Going up another step brings us to :

Elinchrom Ranger
Now we have the bigger packs (although I have to add that the Rangers are still small compared to some of the competition), the Ranger RX speed is the pack I use and this pack gives you a whopping 1100Ws with one head connected. There are also AS packs that give you the same ratio as the Quadra but for me personally that makes no sense in what I do so I opted for a 50/50 output ratio in the Ranger RX speed.

With this much power it becomes much easier to work in more difficult situations, add the maxilight and you will have so much power that you can almost make any situation Day to Night combined with the speed triggers (again remember that your camera has to support the speed settings). But even when you are “stuck” at 1/125 like most cameras the Rangers are giving you a lot of power and are without a doubt my allround weapon of choice.
Also here add two A heads for maximum freezing power, and also the Rangers will freeze almost every action you want to capture.

Although the Rangers and heads are a lot bigger than the speedlights they are still for many photographers a dream to work with on location.

Ranger RX with Maxilight

Ranger RX with Beautydish

Elinchrom Ranger RX on female model, Ranger Quadra on male. VERY sunny day.

So which one should YOU buy ?
Well that is very hard to say.
We use them all in the mix.
The reason is very simple, they all perform in a totally different matter.

For maximum portability and ease without a doubt the speedlights. Still lots of power (especially when combined with HSS) to fight ambient light, options for modifiers are plenty and you don’t have to measure perse, in other words you can set up a shot very quickly and balance the outcome with the flash exposure compensation. I love the speedlights when I’m walking around and don’t want to miss a quick portrait.

For more power but also still being able to walk around with the Quadras are great.
The Quadras are fast, pack a lot of juice and you can use all the Elinchrom modifiers with the special convertor. They also have a lot of “freezing” power which the speedlights don’t have on higher outputs, you can drop them very easy in a larger camera bag and when you know how a light meter works you can setup more complex ratios with darker skies or lighter skies almost as fast as with speedlights, however the Quadra runs for a lot longer than a speedlight with penlights and again they give you loads of power.

If you need even more power the Rangers are the way to go, they can drop down to a low output if you don’t need that much power but need to run like forever… The heads are bigger than with the Quadra so you will need a separate bag to travel with them. The packs are a bit heavier than the Quadra so walking around is very much doable but a big hike can be a problem if you’re not that strong (good time for an assistant ?).
Remember that the Rangers are not HUGE, they actually are quiete small to be honest, but compared to the Quadras and speedlights they are big(ger).

I hope this small blog post will give you something to work with ?
but remember that as always the main focus should be on understanding what your gear can do and use it that way to get a successful shot, if you know how everything works and know the minus and plus points of the strobes there is little you can’t do with them.

Feel free to comment or ask questions…. or share this link.

Other options ?
Thanks to the question from Jeroen I decided to add one more option (well actually several).
In the blog post I mainly talk about location work and the strobes you can use there, Jeroen asked me “how about the D-lites” and that’s a good question. On location you can always use studio strobes, or in other words strobes that need a power outlet. On some locations you will have a poweroutlet so that’s no problem at all, so what to do when you don’t have power ?

You can still use the studiostrobes.
There are several options available to give you power where there is no power.
You could for example use a generator, however this has some risc. Most digital strobes don’t like powergenerators because the power they supply is not 100% “clean” there is often not a nice sinus curve and this can damage the internals of the strobes very quickly. There are some generators that generate a “clean” sinus like the Kippors but even than remember you are using it at your own risc, there is a chance you can blow your strobes or damage them over time.

A better solution are the mobile accupacks like the Tronix explorers. For me personally they are a bit to slow compared to the other options but it’s a very cheap way to bring your studio strobes outside and when you have a good healthy battery they last you a long time.