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Hensel views and thoughts on a new system

If you’ve been following my social media stream and youtube channel you probably already know that after many years being active as an ambassador for Elinchrom I’ve made the switch to Hensel. Let me first explain why this is.

In short, not a bad word about Elinchrom, they’ve been amazing and helped my career without any doubt and I still consider all of the dealers and head-office as close personal friends, and this will not change. Over the past year I’ve been in talks with Hensel USA and I feel that at the moment they are more in sync with what I want and need for both giving you guys a platform to learn and also the gear I use to create my work. But as you guys know I’m incredibly brand loyal and leaving a brand I’ve been in so close contact with from the start is very hard so it took us over a year to make the final decision but both Annewiek and I decided that Hensel is the company that first and foremost has the gear that I strongly believe will open up loads of creativity for photographers in almost every genre of photography, plus I’ve seen what’s coming and that made the switch A LOT easier to say it gently. Add to this the drive at Hensel to push education, help out with events and you immediately see why I’m so enthusiastic.

Photography is creating art, but also inspiration and education.
Hensel is a company that is willing to help me reach more people to help out with their photography, inspire and work with, in the end that’s the most important part for me as an educator, and I also believe it’s one of the most key elements in a brand, education and inspiration is key.

But that’s from my standpoint as an educator…. now why should YOU buy/switch or even look at Hensel. That’s of course the million dollar question. So I decided to make this blog post as a start in series of articles/reviews in both print and video. And don’t worry… it’s not an advertisement thingy, you guys know I never talk about gear that way because in essence there’s only one thing that counts…. how does the gear makes it easier for you to create your art and push new boundaries.

So here we go.
In this blog post I will give you some pointers on the system.
Do remember I’ve been shooting with Hensel for quite some time, one of my friends owns a studio that is 100% Hensel and I’ve taught some workshops there also the weeks before the switch I’ve worked with their gear, so it’s not something I write down after 2 workshops (heck I wouldn’t switch if I didn’t know the system well enough).

First off the mount
The mount is the best ever.
How often do you struggle with getting your heavy softbox on your strobe, or how often do you find out that it was not securely fastened with all the dangers connected (or not connected, pun intended). In the past I’ve worked a lot with Profoto gear and always loved the simplicity of their mount, but the Hensel mount ranks right up there. It’s a very simple and fast mount, you just pull a lever, put the modifier in and release the lever and well that’s it. And added VERY big advantage is that you can rotate every single modifier with ease. Especially great with striplights.

Here you can see the mount on an Integra, you can see the clamps and the lever on top, it’s really an incredibly easy and fast system. Especially when you change modifiers a lot (like me) this is a major strong point.

The reflectors
Reflectors are often regarded as the most basic modifiers but in essence they are very sophisticated. Did you know for example that choosing the right reflector outside can literally mean that you can twice as long on a battery pack?

Reflectors bundle the light and throw it on your subject.
If you look at my work you already know I love the high contrast look. You can achieve this with for example Fresnels, small softboxes with grids, but the best modifier for this look is for me personally the reflector (with or without grid). The cool thing about Hensel is that their reflectors are very prone to focussing the light right on the subject and are rather deep, meaning you get an amazing quality of light from them. Add to this the 14″ reflector which will give you a very focused beam of light outside plus a lot of extra power from your strobe and you see the reason why I actually ordered a selection of reflectors to play with.

The disadvantage of reflectors is that they are often, as people expect, a bit too harsh, too wide etc. The ones I got are actually the opposite and I think I’ll be using more reflectors than in the past for the simple reason they have an amazing focus and throw. It really fits my style perfectly. Add to this a nice selection of grids that is available for all of them and you can do whatever you want. (added bonus…. reflectors are actually often the cheapest modifiers, and therefore often overlooked by both the user and the manufacturer).

 

Grids
I love to have total light control and of the key elements for this is being able to steer the light. The best aid for this is called a grid or as some people like to call it a Honey Comb grid. Now in all honesty for most softboxes and reflectors you can get grids, but in a lot of cases these grids are not made for these modifiers and can cost you an arm and a leg plus extra work. For all the modifiers that I use Hensel actually already had grids so I could order them all from one location and they all fit the modifiers like a glove. Especially for softboxes and striplights this is a huge deal, but also for the 14″ reflector this was a delight.

Easy battery replacements
This might sound like a “Yeah… well what do you mean” kind of thing.
But try to replace a battery in the freezing cold or blistering heat, some battery systems are far from perfect. Now I won’t say that something is perfect but the Hensel comes pretty darn close. Take a look at the picture of the Porty for example. You just click and pull and it’s out and you can charge it in little over 2 hours. That sounds not that impressive but…. this a 1200W strobe which actually packs 300-350 pops on full power.

 

 

Remote
The remote is simple but works.
You can select 3 groups and with a small but easy to use switch you can select 1-2-3 or all.
Via the remote you can change the output of each strobe and turn the modelling light on or off plus trigger the strobe for a test. As far as I can see now the performance is very good but let’s be honest now a days a remote should indeed just work, the time of line of sight or shoot 10 and miss 2 should be way behind us.

This is probably the only thing I’m really gonna miss from the Elinchrom system, the new Skyport system is incredibly handy in the way that you can see all the strobes (if compatible) and you can easily change outputs. But changes are coming I’ve heard.

The thing that I do really like is the alternative remote control called the “wifi remote”.
This is very cool and would be great for people that do a lot of fixed setups where they have multiple strobes and want to be able to just switch between sets, let’s say only the back, only the front, a mix with sides etc. etc. you can store presets and call them back incredibly easily.

We actually mounted a small android tablet on a Tethertools holder and have the software running you can see all the strobes and changing settings is fast and easy. The cool thing is that due to two way communication if you change something on the remote you can see it also on the wifi remote. For my kind of work it’s cool but it’s not a necessity, I’ll have to see if I still use it after a few months, but again for other setups that use more fixed setups this is absolutely awesome.

Speed, speed, and did I already say speed…..
At the moment we have 3 expert 500D strobes in the studio and those are crazy fast, and I mean crazy fast. Yesterday we shot with some cameras that handle 14 frames per second and they didn’t even blink or missed shots and trust me that was not on a lower power setting. I’ve done similar tests on other systems and although for example the ELCs are real speed demons too they don’t have the short flash duration of the expert 500D.

Now of course you have the flash duration that the manufacturer tells you, but in all honesty you can just forget about those. The faster the flash duration the more stopping/freezing power and the crispier your shot so it’s important to really “hype” that speed.

In all honesty if your strobes are above 1/2500 of a second you’re fine. You can use it for freezing motion with hairs and jumps, but just don’t expect to have perfect frozen “everything” but you’re fine. I always held 1/2500 as the bare minimum for what I wanted. It gets really interesting when you break that 1/5000 barrier. Images get a certain crisp or micro contrast whatever you want to call it but it just looks different. And when you let a model move the motion is frozen perfectly.

Now comes the “not so fun” part.
Often manufacturers will claim insanely high flash durations but they don’t tell you that it only works at the lowest power setting… which well is absolutely useless because you can’t make a model jump and shoot her on f2.8 ISO400 there simply isn’t enough depth of field to have focus correctly. For a portrait it will work but a jump or movement will never be spot on when you don’t have some field of focus where the model can move in. So you need that stopping power on at least half and preferably even on full power. The last two workshops I’ve used my Sekonic 858 in the “metering speed mode” and I’ve actually never seen the Experts drop below 1/4000 of a second, but I’ve metered a top speed on 1/12000 (that’s insane) and that was not on the lowest setting but I believe somewhere at slightly above midpoint. Next week I’ll do a small test with the Sekonic and make a video on this.

Now you might say that this is only important when you freeze motion, but please read the first part again. It’s very hard to explain but you really see a difference between a really fast strobe and a slower one. The images just come out a bit more crisp. For me this is perhaps one of the points where I’m most enthusiastic about.

Build quality
For most people not that important, for some very important so I’m just gonna say it.
They’re build like fricking tanks. Same goes for the Porty and it’s heads, you just know it will be with you for years and if you drop it…. well don’t but if it happens… you can probably just continue shooting like nothing happens (no I’m not gonna try it). And to be fair in all these years I only dropped an Elinchrom a few times and they always continued working I only broke off a handle once. But I’ve seen some other brands that literally scattered in a million pieces after a very low drop.

But it’s not only the strobes. The softboxes, reflectors, grids etc. they all look like they will last years and years.
Giving the pricepoint of the modifiers I think this is a great selling point. It’s not cheap, but compared to the build quality of only slightly lowered priced alternatives there is a huge difference that would be well worth the investment.

Soft-boxes
I’ve mostly ordered the soft-boxes in the grand series because I just LOVE deep octas. And I think that with the 85 for location, 90 and 120 you can do almost anything when you combine them with grids. If you need bigger there’s also a 190 Grande, but I think I would hardly use that one myself, but if you’re into more softer and broad light that one would be absolutely awesome. Oh and there is one thing I do have to add concerning the soft-boxes. You probably know that most deep octas have a diffusion panel on the inside and outside right? Well these also have that of course but the inner diffusion panel is actually a translucent reflector which can actually help you out on location when you want to shoot with ambient light… just take out the diffuser and use it like you would normally use a reflector…. awesome idea.

I also ordered two 30-120 strips with grids by the way, just in case you wanted to know.

Beauty dish
One of the modifiers I use most is the beauty dish, it’s a sort of “it will always work” modifier.
I’ve always used the Elinchrom beautydish for a lot of my work and really liked it, but it was not one of the most “refined” modifiers. In essence it’s just a dish with a deflector and a one sized grid. I tried the larger beautydish a few times but never liked it and always returned to the smaller silver one.

The beauty dish from Hensel is something you really should check out. I was deeply impressed the first time I saw it.
It’s not just a dish with a deflector but it actually has some really well thought out light modifiers inside and the deflector part also has a holder for a gel which will come in incredibly handy because I love to use gels. Where some modifiers don’t differ that much the Beauty dish really is a HUGE step up for me.

I love modifiers that are versatile and this is a really well though out modifier.
But I can talk about it… let’s just see some images.
I actually ordered the silver one. There is also a grid that covers the complete dish by the way.
Want a lot of looks from one modifier?
Well here you go.

 

Compositing
Not really my thing “yet” for the simple reason I simply don’t take the time to spend hours extracting hairs. But if that would be easier…. well I would really like to play with it some times like for example with our cos-players, or what if you’re shooting children or working as a school or event photographer. Wouldn’t it be cool to just take a shot and not think about it and get a “perfect” cut out in Photoshop ready to placed on a backdrop (or even better, in the case of events, just do it automatically)?

Well enter… freemask
You do need strobes that are compatible, and you do need a special remote (and optional software, although you can also do it in Photoshop yourself). But when you invest in the remote and you already have compatible strobes (most Hensel gear is freemask compatible) it’s incredibly simple.

In short you use two groups.
One you just light your subject the way that you want.
The second one lights the backdrop.
Now when you shoot you shoot 2 frames (set camera on continues)
First the front will fire, and secondly the backdrop.
Now you have your model and a silhouette.
Do some magic and voila you have a perfect cut out.
Yep it’s that easy.

Again this is not a selling point for me, but I can imagine that if you’re indeed into shooting events, cos-players, schools, families etc. this is a HUGE money maker, but also for commercial photographers of course, no more money spend on extraction just shoot it and you’re done, well ok that sounds too easy of course, you still have to make sure the backdrop and subject fit together like shadows, lighting, composition, angle etc. but the extraction part went from “complicated and timely” to literally one shot.

Final thoughts
pffffff, I was planning on writing down just some thoughts and I ended up with a huge story, so sorry for this guys but I just wanted to be complete and while writing more and more ideas popped up, and I think that’s the incredibly cool thing about this, a brand that moves you, that literally pushes your buttons and gives you more ideas to get more creative that’s what in the end we all want. Take for example that freemask option, I started writing that it was not really for me, but while writing all these ideas popped up and now I also ordered a freemask remote… so let’s see what happens with that.

Now if this was the first time you heard about Hensel…. ok well…. I forgive you.
It’s a brand that has been on the market since 1963 and was the choice for many professional photographers for decades and watch my words you’ll hear a lot about them in the coming months, they have a very exciting strobe that is about to be released in the form of the Foris 400/800 which would be the perfect strobe for shooters that work both on location and in the studio and want to make absolutely no compromise on quality and easy of use or speed or…. well just check out the Foris here and that’s just the start, so keep your eyes out for updates.

Want to know more?
Of course you want.

I started a facebook group on https://www.facebook.com/groups/273169130099901/ for English
Or a Dutch page that is actually run by the Dutch distributor https://www.facebook.com/groups/442891952854692/

Find Hensel at : https://hensel.eu/en/
And the official Dutch distributor at : https://www.hensel-studiotechniek.nl/

If you have any questions… feel free to ask.
If you want me to test certain things just let me know.

Here are two BTS videos we shot from the first two workshops with Hensel
https://youtu.be/hgKUeWc4klM
https://youtu.be/R9nfyNBoKU4

And a small selection of the first series of photos shot with Hensel.

Video Freerunners with the Elinchrom HS system

Today the video we shot during the shoot with the Freerunners in Emmeloord testing out the new Elinchrom HS head.
As explained yesterday I was not going for the “standard” day to night look, I mainly wanted to see how far I could push the system to get a nice strobed look without those annoying black trails behind the jumpers which you would normally get when shooting ambient with strobes.

Tip: Directional lighting or character lighting

One of the first things people ask me when they visit our studio is why I use so many soft boxes with grids.
And I understand, in a lot of studios you will find plenty soft boxes but often without grids. Of course it depends greatly on what you do with your light and what your personal style is, that goes without saying.

 

I always explain it as follows
“Light is the paint you tell your story with, but it also dictates the character of your model/subject”

 

Now what do I mean with this.
I strongly believe that if you shoot a model in jeans and tanktop you have to be lighting wizard and have a great model to make something that’s really WOW because well… there’s not much going on. Now as soon as you throw in styling and a great location things get interesting and even with a huge softbox images can already look awesome, but you actually look at the styling and background “Only”.

 

Light can be manipulated and what photographers often don’t realize is that light can actually enhance a character of the model/subject. Think about Peter and the Wolf (Sergei Prokofiev) which in essence is a learning tool for children to learn the different instruments in an orchestra, but it’s so much more. Every instrument has it’s own “voice/character” you immediately hear if something is BAD, big, small, happy, old etc. it’s actually a stunning piece of work when you think about it. Now how do we translate this to lighting?

 

Very simple.
If you want something to be bright and friendly use large soft light sources.
If you want something eerie, aggressive or full of character use harder light sources.
Now you don’t hear me say you can’t shoot an elf with harsh light… but it doesn’t really make sense if you want something to be nice and free.

 

Hollywood uses this technique for… well for ever. They even add a lot of toning to this. Think about the Matrix with it’s distinct green and blue tones, or Titanic with it’s beautiful reds, but also Saving Private Ryan with the high shutter speed material and damaged almost BW material… the list goes on an on and on, and still for a lot of photographers light is …. well just light.

 

Try to image a story with every single shot and adjust your lighting to this.
This is one of the reasons I love to be able to really steer my light (hence the grids), it opens up a lot of possibilities. But there are of course a lot more different sources you can use, for example the Westcott Ice Light (but make sure you use the barn doors), or what about led panels (we use LedGo), the possibilities are endless as soon as you start to see light as character.

 

For example here two images from Nadine shot with VERY directional and aimed light.

 

 

Nadine Digital classroom September 23 2015 0347 BW

Nadine Digital classroom September 23 2015 0347

So the next time you shop for lighting make sure you are able to add grids later on, we love to work with a company called Honeycombgrids who makes grids for almost any modifier you will probably use, and they are pretty inexpensive (highly recommend them)
But most of all realize that light actually creates character, and shadows are the soul of a shot.
Good luck.

 

Want to learn more on model photography check out my book Mastering the model shoot and our instructional videos (via this site), or of course check out kelbyone.

Elinchrom HS system first tests

You probably already read some things about it, but Elinchrom recently released their new Skyport and that introduces a whole new way of shooting images outside (and inside). In case you didn’t let’s quickly tell you “all about it”

 

Skyport
The skyport is the system for triggering Elinchrom strobes (and they also have an universal version of course), main advantage of the system is that you can also change the output of your strobes and turn on/off the modeling lights, use groups and channels etc. A pretty cool system in a remarkable small package. Well you can skip the small in the new incarnation of the skyport, you could say it’s matured now.
ELI19366

But as you can see it’s a good thing, because one of the first things you notice is the big LCD display, and that is awesome. You can now see which strobes are active, you can select the strobes and change settings, and of course you can still change the output of the strobes, switch between groups and much more.

 

In short the new system has the following new features.
1. Much stronger, so longer distances (something that was needed in my opinion)
2. ODS control, later more but very important for HS use
3. Focus assist beam (very handy in darker studios)
4. HS
5. USB for updates
6. Uses normal AA batteries (yeah)

 

But the biggest thing is of course: HS

 

What is this HS?
Well it’s actually quite easy to explain… it makes it possible to sync at higher shutter speeds.
Normally studio and location strobes (except small flash and some other brands) are limited to the so called X-sync which often means that you can shoot up to 1/125 or 1/160 without any problem but above that it’s hit and miss to let say 1/200 and after that you will start to see black bars (second shutter curtain).

 

Now when you’re used to this it’s not a real problem, but it does limit your creativity, you can’t fight the sun and shoot wide open, simply because the shutter speed would be way too high, you can of course use ND filters but then the camera has problems with focussing so perfect…. well far from.

 

The HS system from Elinchrom breaks this barrier and makes it possible (in certain configurations) to shoot all the way up to 1/8000 of a second. Which is pretty cool and something that was not possible yet on the Elinchrom system. They achieve this by very clever timing with the TL pre-flash and making sure everything is syncing as good as possible, and this way it “seems” like you have strobe power over the total range of shutter speed, and this is true but… there are some things you have to realize and that you probably don’t read in other reviews, so that’s why I wanted to give some attention to it.

 

What you need to know
In theory (and real life) the system works awesome, it doesn’t eat your battery (which a strobed system would do where the flash is repeated constantly, like speed lights) and the Quadra for example recycles very fast, just like you’re using it normally.

 

What happens is that the timing is so accurate that it seems the whole sensor is lit even with 1/8000 of second as shutter speed, but… this works only with SLOW strobes, for example the D-lite series (believe it or not) are perfect for this, but an ELC on the middle setting (clocking in at 1/5600 of a second) is not very good for this system (it actually cuts off at app 1/500 on a Canon 5Ds without fine tuning I have to add), but the BrX, D-Lite etc. all work surprisingly well, and this is very cool because this means you don’t need to buy new strobes. Then why did Elinchrom release new heads (the Quadra HS head for example), well that’s easy to explain, the HS head is a VERY slow head and this means it’s perfect to reach that 1/8000 of a second shutter speed without any problem. So in short, shorter duration strobe heads will not work that well, long duration heads will work perfectly.
The other thing you have to realize that (and it hurts to say this) you can forget about the light meter.
The reason for this is simple to explain but sometimes hard to understand (yeah it sounds funky I know).
To achieve the higher shutter speeds the camera cuts the strobe off earlier, with ODS you can tune this but, the effect is that the higher the shutter speed the LESS of the strobe duration is used.

 

If for example a strobe has F16 on 1/125 it’s not also F16 on 1/4000. In fact it could very well be F2.8 by that time. And no that’s not a bad thing, it’s simply how these systems work, and the same happens with speed lights, you loose light output the higher you set the shutter speed, ANY system on the market has this “problem”, but thanks to the digital polaroid on the back of the camera we can check.

 

We did some tests very quickly with the Elinchrom Quadra and the HS head in combination with a Canon 5Ds and it was easy to reach shutter speeds of 1/8000 f2.8 and get some stunning results that were not possible before during day time. It’s a bit getting used to for me to constantly check my digital polaroid, but within a few minutes it becomes second nature, and because the skyport is very easy to operate and give more and less light to the strobe it’s actually something you get used to very fast… and if you never  used a meter before… you will probably don’t even notice this.

 

In practice
It’s incredibly handy to be able to control your DOF on location, but most of all to control the ambient with the shutter speed over a MUCH greater range than from 1/125 to the minimum you can hand held. You do (again) have to take notice that if you change the shutter speed to let in more ambient light you have to adjust the strobe, but already after one hour of use I found myself doing it almost automatically and nailing the exposure almost spot on every shot I took. And let’s be honest I rather be able to break the barrier of 1/125 and not being able to meter than to meter and be stuck on 1/125. For your creativity this is a HUGE step forward. Plus you can now do almost everything with just the Quadra, add a maxi light and you’re in lighting heaven so the say 😀

 

Canon and Nikon
At the moment the system only works on Canon and Nikon, Sony will follow soon (I hope very soon), you can of course use the new skyport already on Sony, Fuji, MF etc. but it will do actually everything EXCEPT the HS option.

One could say that Elinchrom is late in the game with their HS system, but I have to be honest the product I see now (and worked with) is superieur to what I’ve used before (note : I don’t really care for ETTL on these systems) and I rather wait a bit longer and have something that works like this than cut corners.

 

I’m very excited about the system and can’t wait for the Sony version.

We filmed two small videos for the HS system, and today I share some images from the video with Nadine, videos will follow later.

 

Let’s start with just natural light, everything else is strobed.

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