Friday, December 16, 2011

REVIEW: Elinchrom Ranger Quadra Ringflash ECO

Ranger Quadra Ringflash ECO Review
Ranger Quadra Ringflash ECO

A couple years back I reviewed the RayFlash as an alternative to expensive ring flashes (which cost $1000 – $3000 back then). I was pleased with the results, but it took a lot of battery juice and forced me to shoot at ISO 800. In short, it worked but it wasn’t ideal.

Now fast-forward to Photo Plus Expo NYC 2011 where I discussed the latest and greatest gear from the top photography related companies in the world. One of those companies showing off their new gear was Elinchrom and they were quite proud of their new affordable ring flash. Now, this ring flash still cost over $500, but that’s less than half the cost of their Elinchrom Ranger RX 1500 Watt/Second Ringflash. That makes it much closer in price to the $200 RayFlash than it does its big brother, so I’d say that qualifies as affordable!

Using the RingFlash

Mouse over to see the cover removed, mouse out to see it back in place
A Diffusion Cover is offered (mouse out),
but I preferred it off (mouse in)

This gadget must be easy to use because it comes with directions that are less detailed than what you’d get from your average one-page instructions from Ikea. That said, I figured out how it worked without too much trouble and used it on both short and long lenses. In the end I preferred using it with my 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM the most. Here’s what the ringflash looked like installed on that lens :

 

Getting it perfect straight is a bit of a choir, but the reality is that it worked fine both crooked and straight. I couldn’t tell the difference. The arms adjust so it works for both short and long lenses, but this was as long as I could extend it, so  you couldn’t use it with a beast like the 200mm f/2L IS USM.

While I show it on a tripod here, the reality is that I like to shoot handheld so I just carried it in my hands and shot. You definitely get tired when you do this, but it is doable. You have to be mindful of the Quadra cord and you need to strategize on how to set the camera down, but beyond that it works fine attached.

Shooting Lessons Learned


I loved the light and the rim shadows you get with the ring flash

I’m not a ring flash shooter and I honestly don’t know much about them. As a result I think I had a pretty good experience that many of my readers will relate with.

At first when you use the ring flash it takes a little getting used to dialing in the right settings. It can be like using a sensitive shower where it’s super easy to go too far in one direction (i.e., too bright or dark). While I don’t use a light meter in my studio, I’d suspect this thing would give it fits – but who knows. Here’s one of my test shots that shows exactly what the image looked like straight out of the camera (only a dust spot removed, a simple crop and sharpening added – zero other edits):

What I liked about my starting point is that the models skin looked really nice and curves of the bone structure had nice highlights. Sometimes the shots would be a bit too bright as shown above, but it was easy to correct in RAW.

It took me about 3 shots before I had my desired brightness dialed in and then I was cranking out shots like the one at the top of this section where I enjoyed the ringflash look. The breasts especially (and those are natural ones) seemed to take on a more curvy look, chins, cheekbones and lips also seem to really benefit from the extra punch of light.

What About Catch Light Rings In The Eyes?


With short lenses, ring catch lights are common

When using a 70-200mm I didn’t have a single shot with the signature ring catch lights in the models eyes. However, to get them it took a little more work than I expected so I volunteered my big eyed daughter Sierra to show the effect above.

With that said, at normal viewing distances you aren’t going to notice them as shown below:

What you will notice though is that with short lenses its easy to overpower your background lights (which I had cranked to the max in the shot above). Perhaps this is why you usually see models on dark wall-like backgrounds when ring flashes are used, but I found that if you get farther back with a long lens then its much easier to get your white seamless to look more white than gray.

Give your model a break!

One thing my models pointed out really quickly was that the ringflash is blinding to them since the light goes directly into their eyes. After several blasts in a row they were seeing circles and their pupils got tiny. Keep this in mind when you are shooting with shy models who might not speak up. Working at longer distances helps too, so consider going a bit farther back if you can –this gun have a enough light to get to your subject without blinding them in the process!

Great for a serious, sexy or edgy look

While the shots of my daughter Sierra above show that these ringflash shots don’t need to be super hard edged when processed, I just gravitate that way for fun when I do them. To me this device just creates images which are perfect for serious, sexy and/or edgy looks like this:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
I love edgy processing with ring flash shots! (hover to see before editing)

RingFlash versus RayFlash


RayFlash Sample Shot

I enjoyed my RayFlash and it created a nice similar look, but the added power of the portable Quadra pack helps a ton. Even if having a cord is a bit annoying, its worth it. It’s also worth noticing that the adjustable bars on the ringflash give you a lot more options than the fixed size of the RayFlash, so those finding the need for multiple RayFlashes to fit their gear may be able to get along with only one ringflash.

After this experience, I’ve decided that it’s probably time to sell my RayFlash. I want this ringflash as great results are much better easier to obtain. As a result I ended up buying my test unit and plan to use it more often in my studio.

Conclusion

I’m not a ringflash shooter so I expected it to be much like the RayFlash where I thought it was fun to review, but I’d probably never use it much. However, I found myself very surprised at how much I loved the look from this gizmo. It was especially nice when shooting people like myself and my daughter who have inset eyes as it really brightened the eyes. I also loved what it did the to skin on models (like the chest shot of Erica at the beginning of “Shooting Lessons Learned”.

Ringflashes are super hot in fashion photography, and with a good one you quickly understand why. I’m hooked, and recommend this one for Quadra users! If you are looking for something different to spice up your shots, this is a nice toy to enjoy!

Where To Buy & What You’ll Need

You can click on the following items below to order everything needed to make your ring flash work:

For more info about what I use, see my lighting setup page.

Disclosure

I was provided a loaner unit to review which I purchased using my personal funds at a used price rate. I may make a commission if you purchase using the links found in this article, so if you enjoy the article please use my links to support this blog.

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3 comments:

fotografia ślubna said...

wow, i like those :))

Olivier said...

Thank you very much for your well written review. I myself am currently very tempted by this ringflash.

Would you mind answering a question for me?

1. How long does it take for the battery to charge fully.
2. How many photos does a full charge generally last for at whichever power setting you have most experience at?

Thanks and regards,
Olivier

Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Oliver,

I don't have those metrics, but what I can tell you is that this is just an attachment for the Quadra flash system by Elinchrom. The version I have (linked in the article) has a fast recycle time of roughly one or two seconds (guess - never actually timed it). You can't use burst mode, but in normal shooting I've rarely had a situation when the flash wasn't ready when I was ready to take my next shot.

Naturally antyhing with a battery will have variable performance depending on the age and charge of the battery. The kit I bought came with two so I usually have both charged for a shoot, but I've never depleted a battery and had to use the second one.

It's a great product that works well, so one thing you can do is buy from a trusted vendor like Adorama or B&H and give it a try. If you don't like it, they are good about taking returns back. What's more, you can use the Bill Me Later service so you don't have to pay a penny out of your pocket during your evaluation period.

If the cost is too much, then consider the Ray Flash (see the right side of my blog for Gear Reviews). It works okay, but it attaches to your speedlite. The only downside is that it drains batteries and you have to use higher ISO's unless there's a lot of ambient light. You definitely must have a battery pack for your flash with the RayFlash.

I'm selling my RayFlash now that I have this though as I can't go back - it's very good.

Ron