Battery powered flash units have become more and more popular over the last several years, thanks in large part to the capability and power that Profoto proved was possible with their B1 units back in 2013. Since then many companies have come to market with their takes on the ‘cordless’ flash head concept, Elinchrom’s ELB 400 having been one such product.
However, one of the issues that many portable battery-powered units run into is their relatively low (by studio lighting standards) output power in that has usually topped out in that 500-600Ws range. These are good for many uses, and in many cases are more than enough power. That said, there are photographers out there that could benefit tremendously from increased output. To fill this gap, while entering a space of the market that most other companies have avoided, Elinchrom has launched their ELB 1200 series of battery powered flash heads.
As you may have guessed from the number in that name, the Elinchrom ELB 1200 features an impressive output of 1200Ws, making it an ideal tool for capturing action, sports, and virtually anything else where a photographer may be looking to stop action. Using the same ‘three head’ strategy that they used with the ELB 400, the Elinchrom ELB 1200 features three flash head options; Pro, Action, and HS. The ‘Pro’ head is the most versatile and offers a ‘middle of the road’ flash duration, the Action head offers the fastest flash duration, and the Hi-Sync (HS) model features the longest flash duration (to give it the most effect with Elinchrom’s Hi-Sync technology).
We have had our hands on the ELB 1200 paired with the HS head, a kit that also comes with Elinchrom’s Skyport HS. This technology is exciting, even if it’s not the first of its kind because it will allow you to sync your flash output with your camera’s shutter at up to 1/8000th of a second. This speed makes it an exhilarating piece of equipment for anyone shooting in a place where they need to overpower another light source or capture some action or movement in the photo. It will also be completely compatible with your Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Panasonic/Olympus TTL systems. (As of this printing, there is no Fujifilm version, though one is expected at some point.)
Regarding build quality, the ELB 1200 is designed to be used by professionals in somewhat rugged conditions: the control unit and the head are all weather sealed, so you can use this system out in the real world without having to scramble when you feel rain sprinkles on a shoot.
On top of the weather sealing, the flash heads feature an aluminum casing, which will help them to withstand the abuse that can so often be a part of a light’s life in the service of a professional outdoor, adventure, or sports photographer. The head comes with a built-in tilting head, which also does have an Umbrella mounting hole, which is nice for those who are merely looking to make use of simple lighting accessories over ones that can often require a more tedious setup process, like Softboxes.
The ELB 1200 also features a USB port for firmware updates, although we haven’t had to utilize it, a nice perk which could lead to expanded capabilities and compatibility with newer products in the future. When you are investing this much on a lighting kit like this, it’s nice to know that there is the potential in the future to have its features updated, or its compatibility with newer cameras (or TTL technology) and lights added or improved.
One of the concerns for those accustomed to wall-powered studio flash head units is how long that battery will last in a battery powered flash head. It is a valid concern, especially when we are talking about a very high-powered strobe unit such as this one. Elinchrom rates the ELB 1200 at 215 flashes for the ‘Air’ battery which is what comes with the kit. That 215 full power flash rating also works out to about 80 minutes of continuous light via the ELB 1200’s built-in LED light – which most would consider merely a modeling light, but, it is powerful enough to utilize as a video light in some situations. A nice benefit for those photographers who are getting into that hybrid lifestyle and are shooting videos along with stills. The LED light is also dimmable, allowing you to dial in the amount of light you need out of any situation.
In our experience, that rating of up to 215 full power flashes seems to be about right. We were testing the light mostly in standard portrait lighting scenarios, so we were not even using the full power most of the time. While we have not run the video/LED light for a full 80 minutes, we have let it run for approximately 25 to 30 minutes, and we had no problems firing off shots and capturing images while that was occurring.
In some ways, the Elinchrom ELB 1200 is incredibly easy to use. The unit has a single screen and a knob/dial for interacting with the menu. If you are not familiar with the ELB 400, which utilizes a somewhat similar menu layout, then the ELB 1200 will take a little while to get used to during the setup process. However, as just noted, the process of interacting with the menu is easy enough. Once you have the unit set up and are familiar with the menu, it should be quick to navigate the menu and set up the ELB 1200 as you need for any given situation.
Controlling the ELB 1200 with the Skyport HS, as is intended when utilizing the Hi-Sync flash head, is also a breeze – if the two recognize each other right away. Sometimes you will turn on both units, and the two find each other, and you can control the ELB 1200 right away. Other times you will run into the issue of having to go to the ELB and do a power cycle (turn it off then back on) for the Skyport HS to find it, an annoying issue that happened more often than we would have liked. Once the connection was established, we didn’t have any problems with the two units losing their connection.
Similarly to the ELB unit itself, there will be some learning curve to figuring out how to setup the ELB via the Skyport HS. However, once you have had enough time with the unit and could play with it in person, you shouldn’t have trouble setting it up without issue. Additionally, since the Skyport HS is Hi-Sync and TTL compatible, you will be able to use this setup without having to constantly manually change the power settings – unless you prefer dialing in the flash exposure manually. That is a simple process as well.
Out in the field, the ELB 1200 has a nice carrying case/shoulder strap setup that is convenient for hanging on a light stand or around a lighting assistant’s shoulder/neck making the ELB 1200 a fun accessory for anyone doing a somewhat run and gun gorilla-style photoshoot.
The Elinchrom ELB 1200 is honestly a compelling light, that almost entirely melds the idea of a powerful moonlight strobe and the concept of a lightweight (relatively) and easily portable lighting unit that can be packed up and taken anywhere without needing to worry about power cords (or power at all really). You could take this portable unit out into the mountains, deep in a forest, out of the beach, or under a highway overpass. One battery can do you well if you are not overshooting, and if you know yourself well, you could even buy one of the add-on batteries to extend your shoot length capabilities.
The Hi-Sync (HS) head that we had our hands on would be an excellent tool for someone looking to overpower the sun for mid-day portraits in direct sunlight. That ability to shoot (with compatible camera systems) at up to 1/8000th of a second is impressive, combined with the TTL, you have a powerful lighting kit that you can trust to help you capture the images that you visualize in your mind.
Unless you know for sure that you need that 1200Ws output though, you are more than likely going to get everything you need out of the ELB 400 without overpaying for unneeded flash output. So really think about what you need before deciding between the two units, however, if you decide that the output or features of the ELB 1200 fit your needs, we can’t recommend this unit enough.