Elinchrom FIVE Review: Powerful and Portable Battery Lighting
While there are a multitude of lightweight portable strobes, few are powerful enough to compete with the sun or have enough juice to double as a studio strobe. Those are exactly the problems Elinchrom looked to address with its FIVE system.
On the heels of the Elinchrom ONE, the Elinchrom FIVE ramps things up by jumping from 131 Ws of portable power to an impressive 522 Ws, giving users much more control and versatility in their off-camera lighting solutions. Naturally, the trade-off with this increase in power comes a significant increase in size and weight, but trust me when I say that it’s more than worth it.
The Elinchrom FIVE is a portable battery-powered light that is bright enough to shoot against mid-day sun that also brings high-speed sync (HSS) and an incredibly consistent white balance regardless of shooting modes. While most will love this strobe, but despite its high power output and ability to be charged while in operation, others may be pyt off by its slightly off-balance design and significant weight increase.
Design and Build Quality
The first thing you might notice about this light is its sheer size and weight. While it is incredibly similar to the three kilograms Profoto B1X in heft, the shape and design couldn’t be more different.
The FIVE feels incredibly solid and is made of a mix of rigid plastic casing and metal components. Each light comes with a padded carry case that can fit the umbrella reflector, a spare battery, remote trigger, and charger as well as a few other odds and ends.
The mount for the light is closer to the front of the unit to make room for the battery that is mounted on the bottom near the back of the device. While this sort of makes sense from a design perspective, it does throw the balance off when mounting the light to a stand. This isn’t a massive issue by any means, but it can be a bit of a headache when trying to shoot with larger modifiers, especially when outdoors. Given the FIVE is quite bulky, I have to recommend that no matter what scenario the light is used in, you should bring some sandbags to ensure the light is stable and secure.
Something that did bother me about the light was the size and position of the umbrella hole. As you can see from the photo below, the umbrella mount is positioned just above the light tube, and inside of the reflector ring (should you use it) instead of the more traditional positioning found near the light stand mounts or directly above the light as a whole.
This placement and the smaller-than-normal size made finding and positioning an umbrella properly a bit of a challenge as most larger modifiers have a thicker center column, which couldn’t fit all the way into the FIVE. Obviously, the ideal solution is to use softboxes as opposed to an umbrella or softlighter, but for those who use those sorts of mods, be sure to check if they will fit before you decide to purchase the FIVE. In my testing I was able to make a 66-inch parabolic and some larger Photek softlighters work, but they were not positioned “properly” as the mount on the light just wouldn’t let me get the umbrellas all the way in.
On the back of the light, you’ll find a large LED display — which should look very familiar to Profoto B series users — with a very simple-to-navigate system of buttons and a jog dial below it for menu navigation. Above the screen, you’ll see a rather large handle (much akin to a car’s spoiler) that may look bulky, but trust me, given the light’s weight and mounting position, you’ll want to hold it tightly as you position the light and any modifiers.
The batteries for the light charge via a USB-C connection which can be connected directly to the battery or, thanks to the Elinchrom FIVE’s active-charging system, you can plug the lights into an AC power source while in the studio or even a portable battery pack or generator while on location using the USB-C slot next to the 3.5mm cable sync.
Plugging in the FIVE in will allow it to exceed 450-plus flashes that the battery charge is rated for and will even re-charge the battery without damaging it while you’re using it, unlike many other existing battery-powered lights on the market. This feature alone makes the FIVE a very attractive system to me even though I’ve already invested heavily in the Profoto system.
The FIVE has an impressively bright modeling lamp which at face value is nice but, at least during my testing, they would also trigger the cooling fans into high gear pretty much immediately instead of waiting until the temperature of the unit rose to high level. That said, the fans are actually pretty quiet and they kept the lights heat levels pretty low even after a few hours of constant use. That means I didn’t have to wait for the lights to cool down before putting the cover on and placing them back in their respective cases. That said, they probably are too loud for use in video production.
Something I did find a bit odd about the design was the lack of a clear or frosted dome over the flash tubes. Most lights I’ve used in my career have had something there to add a little extra layer of protection, so shooting on location with a system that has an exposed bulb made me a little nervous. Even when setting the lights up and tearing them down, I couldn’t help but worry I might bump and break the bulbs.
My assumption here is the dome was eliminated to help with heat dissipation and reduce the already bulky weight of the lights. Either way, just be careful when moving these lights around and ensure you’ve mounted them with stable heavy-duty light stands.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that unlike the Elinchrom ONE, the screen on the back of the FIVE is not a touch screen. Again, this is by no means a deal breaker, but just some useful information for people familiar with the ONE and hoping for a similar interface when moving to the bigger FIVE lights.
Features and Settings
As I mentioned above, the Elinchrom FIVE has a pretty big and easy-to-navigate menu system on the back of the light itself for making changes. However when you have the light in an awkward or difficult-to-reach position, the on-light menu is not where you want to be going in order to make changes to the power, modeling light, or sync settings. Thankfully the FIVE lights can have most of the settings adjusted using the Elinchrom Skyport transmitters.
Setting the light up and connecting them to the transmitters are very straightforward and easy, and there are multiple guides available for those unfamiliar and can get you up and running within a minute or two. Once connected, most of the light’s major functions can be controlled and adjusted from this trigger.
In addition to the triggers, the lights can also be controlled with Bluetooth through the Elinchrom Studio App which is available for both mobile devices and desktop and gives users the ability to control up to 20 lights in multiple groups, all from their mobile device or computer.
Through both the triggers and apps, you can adjust the flash power in 0.1 increments (with seven stops of available power adjustment), turn the modeling lamp on and off, adjust the audio signals, put the light into standby mode, adjust the power of the modeling lamp, and even save “setups” for power and settings of lights for you to quickly reuse for similar shoots.
The lights offer high-speed sync (HSS) at 1/8000 second to freeze motion and can deliver a fast 1.6-second recycle time even at full power in “normal” modes, making it very impressive and useful for both fashion, portraits, and even action shots. The battery, when fully charged, can provide about 450 full power flashes per charge, and can fire non-stop when connected to a power source.
As for brightness and color accuracy, the light offers a very accurate +/- 200K variance of light consistency and in my testing, unless you are shooting in a mixed lighting environment at low power, there was basically no visible fluctuations in the color temperature.
In addition to these settings, the Elinchrom FIVE offers full TTL support allowing both new and seasoned shooters to get up and running out of the box in just minutes. Lastly, the modeling lamp is “bi-color” with temperature adjustments from 2700k to 6500k for additional creative control.
Light Quality and Performance
During my testing, I used the Elinchrom FIVE on a full commercial athleticwear campaign as well as a variety of studio-based headshots and portraits. Overall, I found the lights to be incredibly impressive and just one head was powerful enough to produce more light than two of my Profoto B2 heads together.
As mentioned above, the color temperature was incredibly consistent even in low-power mixed light settings making it an incredibly impressive performer with my Nikon Mirrorless system shooting in both TTL and Manual modes.
Below are a variety of image samples captured with the Elinchrom FIVE lights in a one or two-light setup including umbrellas and bare bulb shots.
Tons of Power for the Studio or On Location
The fact is, while they aren’t cheap, the Elinchrom FIVE is very powerful and impressively versatile light that you can confidently use both in studio and on location for practically all of your photography needs.
The system feels incredibly durable and is quite powerful. During my usage, even when shooting at f/8 or more, I never even got close to needing to use the lights at full power.
The Elinchrom FIVE is available in a single light kit for $1,849, or as a two light kit for $3,649
Are There Alternatives?
Given the relatively late entry of the Elinchrom FIVE to the market, there are a few portable brands of lighting that offer a similar power output. These include the more expensive $2,739 Profoto B1X, the $2,395 Profoto B10X, or the more affordable $899 Godox/Flashpoint XPLOR 600 Pro.
Should You Buy It?
Yes, especially if you already have a system built around Elinchrom lighting already.