So this week has officially marked the demise of my love affair with Elinchrom. Okay, that is a bit harsh, it is not that I do not like the kit - although I was a little upset that the stand mount of one of the Action heads in my ELB400 kit got snapped off whilst mysteriously laying inside the case - it is because I am fed up of waiting for them to bring out a native trigger for my Fuji camera system that supports all the clever stuff. It seems to have been promised for over a year or so now but their last comment on the subject, which was recently when they released their new ELB500, said that they still had no time frame. So what have I been waiting for?
Well, firstly there is straight TTL (through the lens) flash, the ability for the flash and camera system to talk to each other to deliver the right level of flash to correctly expose the subject. In my studio life not having this is not really a big issue. I meter my subject and adjust the flash or aperture accordingly. However, there are times when it is just handy to have the whole process automated and to understand why you really need to understand the main problem with working in manual mode. The distance between you and your subject determines how much light hits the subject and consequently what exposure settings you need to set on the camera. As the subject moves further away you either have to increase flash power or open up your aperture to let more light in. In the studio this is not an issue as you will probably set up your lights and your subject will remain a reasonably fixed distance away from them. You take a meter reading and you are all set until you move the subject or your lights. At, for example, a party when people are moving around, dancing and so on it becomes much more difficult to gauge how far away they are and consequently what settings to use. This is especially true if you are bouncing flash off walls and ceilings which increases the distance. TTL flash will do all that hard work for you instantly so you do not have to worry. It is worth remembering that I keep referring to it exposing the subject correctly. Most systems calculate the flash requirements based on what your camera is focused on - the subject. This is why with TTL flash images the subject at night, for example, will be correctly illuminated but the background maybe dark. The flash is not trying to light the background as well. You can control that background light by setting the aperture and shutter speed to expose it while the flash exposes for the subject.
Controlling the ambient light brings me on to the second problem I have with my old Elinchrom kit, the inability to do high speed sync (HSS) flash photography. Due to the way the shutter system works on some cameras using two curtains that pass, in turn, over the sensor (or even the film), cameras usually have a maximum sync shutter speed that you can use with flash. Typically this is around 1/200th or 1/250th of a second. If you set the shutter speed higher when using flash you get a banding on the image where the second curtain starts to move across the sensor before the flash has illuminated it. By pulsing the flash head the length of the flash is extended without over-exposing the image but still ensuring the flash starts before the second curtain starts to cover the sensor. Why do you need HSS? When shooting outside with flash you may want to use large apertures (f1.2-f2.8) to produce a nice shallow depth of field and isolate your subject from the background. On a dull day, or at night, that may not be too much of an issue but when there is a lot of ambient light around, such as bright sunshine, you need to compensate the exposure by using high shutter speeds even up to 1/8000th of a second. If you cannot go above 1/200th or 1/250th of a second you image will be over-exposed. Sometimes a photographer may just want under-expose the background to add drama to a shot and again to do this they may be forced to use a high shutter speed to cut down the ambient light.
The former issue, TTL, was not really a deal breaker for me. I have become quite adept at judging the flash power required. Certainly with digital it is easy enough to take a quick peak at the image and adjust if necessary although you rarely have a chance to retake a shot where there is fast moving action.
HSS is more of an issue for me. I love shooting outside, images like Little Red Riding Hood, Alice in Wonderland etc. Not having HSS limits you creatively - turning day into night, adding drama to the background, and lovely out of focus backgrounds.
It is also important to highlight it is not entirely Elinchrom's fault either. Fujifilm had been slow to release specs for how things like HSS worked that would enable third parties to develop solutions. Even Fujifilm's own flash system capable of doing it has not been out anywhere near as long as their cameras! That said many other manufacturers have now got their solutions in place and Elinchrom are woefully lacking.
Anyway, after coming away from the Photography Show this year with substantially less cash than I went there with I have now jumped ship to a UK branded version of the Goddox flash and trigger system that does all the clever stuff even if my own technical abilities cannot. I am now armed with a 600w head, two 200w heads and a speed light, all battery powered and all controllable from a single trigger. I may have inadvertently bought a few modifiers to go with them! I just need this pesky Siberian spring to move on so I can get outside with a model and carry on with my Grimm Fairytale inspired collection.