Disclaimer: I have been an ambassador for Elinchrom since 2007 and have worked with them very closely on several projects over the last fifteen years or more. Two Elinchrom FIVE strobes were given to me as part of the assignment for the launch. These are my opinions and I have not been paid to write this article. As usual, I will give my honest opinion here and compare this unit to existing previous options as well. This article was previously published in the Winter 2023 Newsletter.
Late last fall, I got a call from my good friends at MAC Group, who are the distributors here in the USA for Elinchrom. Elinchrom had a new strobe, that they alluded to in 2022, a 500 Watt-second monobloc “all-in-one” battery-powered strobe with TTL and HSS (High Speed Sync). As a long time Elinchrom brand Ambassador MAC Group wanted me to take the new FIVE out for a test drive and put them through the paces. I happily obliged and took two of these new strobes out to photograph rock climbing and motocross.
Elinchrom has had the ELB 500 TTL in the line up for quite a while now, which has most of the same features as the new FIVE but market forces brought about the FIVE, with the battery built into the flash head and no separate power pack. The new FIVE has some new features that the ELB500 TTL did not have like active charging via a USB-C port, faster flash durations, and an even better optimized HSS system.
Above: Amy Jordan on a route named Las Golondrinas (5.13-) at the El Camino Crag near Santa Fe, New Mexico. This image was created with two Elinchrom FIVE strobes in High Speed Sync (HSS) mode and two high performance reflectors focusing the light. FUJIFILM GFX100S, GF20-35mm lens, f/4 at 1/200th sec, ISO 1600.
When I first got the FIVE, I weighed it to see if it is lighter than the ELB 500 TTL that I have had for a few years. The FIVE comes in at 6.8 lbs (3.08 Kg) total with the battery attached and the standard reflector while the ELB 500 TTL comes in at 8.4 pounds (3.81 Kg) with the flash head, adapter and the power pack, making the new FIVE 1.6 pounds (0.73 Kg) lighter. The FIVE is perhaps a bit bulkier than the ELB 500 TTL was but they both fit into the same space in a camera bag—and you don’t need an adapter to fit larger soft boxes and light modifiers to the FIVE, which is very nice. For a photographer who has to carry strobes long distances (see the image above) that weight savings is very welcome.
Of course, with all of the weight in the flash head this makes the total weight of the strobe—with the light modifier attached—quite a bit heavier than with the smaller, lighter ELB 500 TTL flash heads. Hence, you will need a beefy light stand to hold all of this safely and you will need either sand bags or weights to hold the stand steady, especially if working with the strobes outdoors. All of my light stands are tough, heavier stands these days so that isn’t an issue but I just mention it here because this is certainly not a strobe to be used with wimpy, light weight stands. This is no different than with other 500 Ws monobloc strobes made by other manufacturers.
Above: This behind the scenes image shows the lighting setup for the rock climbing image shown above. To light the rock climber who was 100-feet (30 meters) away, I used two Elinchrom FIVE strobes in High Speed Sync (HSS) mode and two high performance reflectors to focus the light. Both strobes were placed right next to each other and were held steady by canvas bags filled with rocks. FUJIFILM GFX100S, GF20-35mm lens, f/5.6 at 1/400th sec, ISO 800.
In my testing, and while using the strobes on these two assignments, I found the High Speed Sync (HSS) to be incredibly efficient. Note that HSS is completely different in how it works compared to the HS (Hi-Sync) feature found in the older Elinchrom ELB 1200. Hi-Sync is technically more powerful and more efficient than High Speed Sync, but for many photographers HS (Hi-Sync) is also much harder to figure out and use. Elinchrom seems to have optimized the HSS feature in the FIVEs to a degree I have not seen on any other strobe. It is very close to the same efficiency as HS (Hi-Sync) and much easier to use.
My first assignment with the FIVEs was photographing rock climbing at a new crag here in New Mexico. The climber was about 100-feet away (30 meters) and 80-feet (25 m) off the ground. I set up both lights right next to each other because I knew that I would need both FIVEs to have enough power at that distance to overpower daylight. The cave was shaded but the background was in full sun. As can be seen above the two FIVEs easily overpowered daylight with both strobes in the HSS mode, which gave me a lot more confidence that we could pull off the image I wanted to create. Also, note both strobes were fitted with the High Performance reflectors as well to boost and focus the light.
The idea with the rock climbing shot was to wait until sunset to get some decent light in the sky behind the climber. Sadly, there were no clouds to reflect the last light so we had to make do with the clear purple-blue sky, which did make for a clean background. We also got lucky with the rising half-moon just behind the climber as well.
For the second assignment with the FIVEs we worked with a motocross rider and created a mixture of portrait and action sequences to put the FIVE through the paces. We started off with a portrait as shown below. For this portrait, the strobe was fairly far away from the rider due to the giant mound he was standing on with his bike. One FIVE with a high performance reflector was enough to overpower the strong afternoon light.
Above: The images above show how this portrait of Daniel standing atop a large jump was created. I used one Elinchrom FIVE with a high performance reflector on a tall lightstand. Since the light was fairly far away, the long throw reflector helped to concentrate the light on him and not light up the foreground.
For the image below, we photographed Daniel Coriz (the rider) launching off a big jump. For this setup I had the two flash heads side by side to get as much light as possible on the rider. I was able to darken the background and the sky considerably to get a more dramatic image. In HSS mode, I used a fast shutter speed (in this case 1/1,600th sec.) to freeze the motion of the motocross rider at the top of his jump.
Above: To capture this image of the motocross rider mid-air on a huge jump I used both Elinchrom FIVE strobes, placed right next to each other (as shown on the following page). Both strobes were in HSS (High Speed Sync) mode, which allowed me to darken the background. Nikon Z9, Nikkor Z 14-30mm lens, f/4 at 1/1,600th sec, ISO 800.
Above: The above image shows how I had the lights set up for the image shown just above this one. They were placed side by side. Note that I also had clear 4mm thick plastic taped to the front of the reflectors (using gaffer’s tape) to protect the flash tubes from any rocks that might be thrown at the strobes.
At the very end of the photo shoot, with the last light of the day starting to fade, I also created some motion blur images on the big jump to test out the fast flash duration. At the lowest setting the flash duration is a wicked fast 1/8,080s at t0.1, which is comparable to 1/20,000th sec at t0.5. [Note that the t0.1 flash duration nomenclature is a much better and more accurate reflection of how fast the flash duration actually is when compared to the older t0.5 standard. It is great to see Elinchrom using the t0.1 measurement as it shows just how confident they are with this specification.]
Of course, there are quite a few things that make the Elinchrom FIVE somewhat unique. First, as I said at the outset, Elinchrom has optimized the HSS mode to be incredibly efficient—more so than any other strobe I have tried. Second, the battery lasts for an amazing 450 shots at full power and you can plug in any external battery pack with a USB-C cable and power the strobe while using it, which makes this a very versatile strobe both outdoors and in the studio. Third, it has an incredibly simple, yet powerful interface on the back of the unit and you can also use the Elinchrom Studio App to control the strobe from your phone, which comes in handy if you have the strobe mounted up high above your subject. Of course, you can also control most strobe functions using the Elinchrom Transmitter Pro on your camera. Lastly, it has an adjustable LED modeling lamp with color temperatures from 2700K to 6500K and an output of 4000 Lumens. All in all, I would say Elinchrom packed a lot of solid features into the FIVE.
Now, I know Profoto, Godox and other brands have had a very similar style of monobloc strobe design for quite some time. Many would say Elinchrom is late to the party and the FIVE isn’t that much different to these other options. And honestly, they may be right. But, I would counter with the fact that Elinchrom has done it better than any of the other brands. The FIVE has an old school circular flash tube that fills up light modifiers as they are designed to work—unlike some other brands that have a flat front port. The HSS is also optimized to a level none of other competitor’s strobes can match. Toss in the fact that Elinchrom makes some of the best softboxes and light modifiers in the game and it is a kick ass system. Some of us might need more light output (i.e. Power as in Watt/seconds) and that is why I still have my ELB 1200s and use them often. For most folks, 500 Ws is going to be plenty of power and the FIVE might just be the best battery-powered 500 Ws strobe on the market. My thanks to MAC Group and Elinchrom for letting me test out these new strobes. Go to Elinchrom.com for more info.