Some months ago, I did a speed riding photoshoot with FriedeFly in the Swiss Alps. I was able to try out some new stuff in the snow and managed to capture some really nice shots. During the shoot, I also played around with my old Jinbei DC II 600 V flash since I was fascinated by shots of skiers made with flash that overpowers the sun.
While using the Jinbei in this harsh environment, I faced a lot of problems. I’ve never liked the user interface, but in mountain snow it was even harder to use. For some settings, you have to press two small buttons at once, which never worked out for me — it always changed the wrong setting. Furthermore, it was a pain to get the triggers to work — they did not work properly without moving them around on the camera connector and when you accidentally touched a button they switched channels so that you have to fiddle around another five minutes to get them working again.
But the main problem was that I just didn’t have as much power to light up the speed rider as I wanted. The 600 Ws where already a lot, but it was hardly noticeable during harsh daylight. This was when I began to search for a flash that fits my need.
My Requirements for the New Device
- At least 1200 Ws with Hi-Sync Mode
- As small and lightweight as possible for a 1200 Ws flash
- Built-In trigger (with Hi-Sync) since I did not want to fiddle around with third-party triggers
- The trigger should be able to change the flash power (and display it)
- Robust and weather resistant
- A usable modeling light
Alternatives and Why I Chose the ELB 1200
- The smaller Elinchrom ELB 400 is much more lightweight but 400 Ws was just not enough in the snow during bright sunlight.
- I considered a used Elinchrom Ranger RX but decided it is way too heavy to go skiing with it (8kg/17.6lb battery, 2.5kg/5.5lb head). And it has no modeling light and hi-sync may not be as good (you need an external trigger to use hi-sync).
- Another option would be to use two Godox AD600s (or Jinbei). It is about the same weight, but I had no idea how to fit two of these monoblock devices in my backpack. You also have to carry two tripods and two reflectors. Reflectors make a huge difference for the range, but they are quite bulky to carry.
- Broncolor Siros 800 L: I read a lot of good reviews about it but was not sure if 800Ws was enough. It’s also quite long and I had no idea how to fit it in my bag. And I did not like the monoblock design: the Jinbei HD II 600 V was already bad to handle on a small light stand and this was only 2.5kg/5.5lb instead of 4.3kg (9.48lbs).
- Broncolor Move 1200L is a little bit heavier than the ELB (6.2kg the PowerPack only) but it was just not in my price league.
- The Jinbei DC II 1200 is about the same weight (found inconsistent technical details, e.g. PowerPack: 8.2kg, PowerPack (without Battery): 3.4kg, Battery: 1.3kg). It has no weather sealing, a much darker modeling light and obviously the same bad user interface as my Jinbei DC II 600 V. Also you need an external trigger to use HS.
- The Profoto Pro-B4 is just way too heavy with its 9.8kg (21.6lbs)
For me, the ELB 1200 combines all my requirements the best. It’s relatively lightweight, has a lots power, and has one of the brightest modeling lights on the market, which you can also use for video (it has a fan that you can switch off). It also has a built-in trigger with a large display which allows to change a lot of settings and also has a key-locking feature so that you won’t accidentally change settings.
I’ll now compare the ELB 1200 to my Jinbei DC II 600 V.
Of course, the ELB 1200 has more power than the Jinbei, but I was also able to control the power much more precisely. The ELB has 1200 Ws which can be controlled in steps of 1/10 (from 1200 Ws to 7 Ws). The Jinbei has 600Ws and can change the power from 1/1 to 1/128 (from 600 Ws to 4.7 Ws) in steps of 1/3. But if you change the Jinbei to Hi-Sync Mode, it’s only possible to control the power from 1/1 to 1/16.
Below is a photo series of the two units firing to a white wall (Jinbei in super-sync mode). On both flashes, I removed the reflector to make the power output more comparable. The camera was set to f/22 and ISO 50.
There are maybe better ways to compare the flash output power, but I don’t have any measuring instruments and for me it was more important to test the brightness with the camera that I’ll use in the field.
It is great that both devices did not show a noticeable gradient when using Hi-Sync at 1/4000 (my D750 does not support 1/8000). Gradients can appear when using Hi-Sync when the flash brightness falls off too quickly.
Both devices seem to have roughly the same brightness at 600 Ws (Half Power of the ELB). But since the Jinbei has a slightly narrower beam (see Picture below), the ELB might be brighter but you won’t see that light on the wall in front. That is probably also the reason why the ELB at full power does not look much brighter than the Jinbei at full power.
Elinchrom High-Performance Reflector
Along with the ELB 1200, I also got an Elinchrom High-Performance Reflector. With the reflector, it’s possible to throw the light much farther, which would hopefully allow me to light up a speed rider. The reflector is very light but a little bit bulky. My first thought was: “how should I carry this thing while skiing?” I did not find a reflector for the Jinbei (Bowens bayonet) that is that small and has the same tight beam.
Below a short comparison between the flash with no reflector, the standard reflector (90° 16cm) and the high-performance reflector (48° 26cm). As you can see a good reflector will probably help you more than a flash with doubled power.
Power Measurement Retry
The first thing I noticed on my recent power output comparison was, that the ELB does not look much brighter than the Jinbei. Of course, that does not justify my expense so I had to redo the test.
As I already found out: the light beams are very different, so my test was not really comparable. Also, the color temperature is different, making it difficult for the eye to determine which one is brighter. So I repeated the test with both flashes and the High-Performance reflector attached to it. The bayonet on the Jinbei is different so I used some tape to attach it. With the reflector attached the flashes are way too bright to use the same settings as before. So this time I used ISO 200 f/4.5 and an ND1000. Here are the results:
The ELB 1200 is a small touch brighter at half power (600 Ws) that the Jinbei DC 600 at Full Power (also 600 Ws). I used the color pipette to get the center brightness.
Even though the Jinbei has a modeling light, it was never usable since it has only 5W and is not dimmable. Even indoors it was hardly usable when the light was on. In contrast, the Elinchrom has a very bright 50W LED Daylight CRI 92, which is dimmable. The light output is Equivalent to 250 W halogen (4000 Lumens), which was even a lot brighter than my normal ceiling lights.
With the high-performance reflector, it is even possible to use the light outdoor in the harsh sun as a fill light for video.
During a test in fast mode (faster recycle time) and at full power, I got 223 flashes out of the ELB battery pack — seven flashes more than Elinchrom promises with the standard battery. The standard/air battery is specified for 215 flashes (or 80 min of continuous light) and the larger battery for 400 flashes (or 120 min of continuous light).
I did not test the battery life of the Jinbei, but from my experience, it matches the manufacturer’s specification: it is impressive that the battery is so much smaller (half of the ELBs) but you can get 500 flashes out of it.
The Elinchrom can recycle a lot faster than the Jinbei. In the default speed mode, the Jinbei recycles in 4.5s and the ELB in 3.0s. In fast mode, the Jinbei recycles in 3.5s and the ELB in only 1.7s. Considering that the ELB has 1200 Ws, this is really impressive.
With the Jinbei it was possible to flash continuously at 1/16 (37.5 Ws) of the power at the maximum continuous rate of my D750 (6.5 photos per second). However, with the super-sync mode on, continuous shooting was not possible anymore, not even at 1 picture per second!
With the ELB it was possible to shoot at 3.5 (75Ws) at 6.5 pictures per second and at 4.7 (180Ws) at 3 pictures per second.
One thing I always hated with the Jinbei is that if you turn down the power, it does not discharge its capacitors — instead, it flashes! This is sometimes quite painful when after power on it is still at full power, you want to turn it down and it flashes directly into your eyes with full power.
I really like the backlight of the buttons and the display of the Skyport. Unfortunately, the buttons on the ELB are not backlit, but they glow when you light them up earlier (fluorescence).
One disadvantage for the Jinbei is that you have to carry an external trigger: one more device that you have to connect with a cable and care about its battery. Furthermore, it was not possible to control the power with the third-party trigger, so if you also want to control the power you also have to carry the original non-Hi-Sync trigger.
Because of the Jinbei’s mono-block design and a display-less trigger, if you want to change some settings or would like to know the power setting, you have to bring the light stand down to look at the display.
The user interface of the Jinbei can be a pain. If you want to enable super-sync mode you have to press two buttons at once. It never worked for me because I probably did not hit them exactly at the same time, so I always changed different settings.
The Jinbei has one cool feature: It has a dedicated super sync mode! Normally the flash duration is very fast, but with the change of a setting, you can switch it to a slow flash duration for Hi-Sync. However, in the super-sync mode, you can control the power only from 1/1 – 1/16 and continuous shooting is not possible anymore.
Elinchrom has a different approach to Hi-Sync. You can buy different flash heads that suit your needs. The Hi-Sync head with a slow flash duration, the Action Head with the shortest flash duration and a Pro Head which offers a balance between Action and Hi-Sync. If you want a different flash duration, you have to pay another head.
The build quality of the Jinbei is quite good, it is great if you consider its price. Though I never really liked the small buttons. Also, it is of course not weather-resistant.
The build quality of the ELB is in another league. It is weather-resistant and the battery is double secured. Also, I liked the bag that is included with the ELB. It is made robust but also very heavy for a bag. A lot of spacers and straps are included to carry the bag. Further Elinchrom includes a case to fasten the power pack to a light stand.
Size and Weight
Compared to the Jinbei (27x13x20cm at 2.5kg with battery) the Elinchrom unit is pretty heavy (4.3kg PowerPack plus 2.2kg Head). With the larger battery, the PowerPack is 4.7kg. However for a 1200 Ws device, the Elinchrom is really small (PowerPack: 18 x 13 x 28 cm, Head: 22.5x14x23cm), it is the smallest unit I found on the market.
One of the things I really like is the fact how small the battery pack of ELB 1200 really is (for a 1200Ws flash). It was even possible to fit it in my backpack together with my Nikon D750, a 14-24mm and a 24-120mm. Solely the High-Performance reflector was a bit bulky, which I had to strap to the back. It is very light so it does not matter while driving, but you have to be careful when entering a chairlift or gondola.
Of course, the Jinbei was even smaller and easier to pack, e.g. it was also possible to carry my DJI Mavic inside the backpack… but if you want 1200Ws you can’t have it all.
What I Did Not Like
The buttons under the handle bar are not placed very user-friendly. Also after powering on, the unit can automatically use the A-Port, meaning you don’t have to press one of the buttons on every power-on.
The AF light of the Skyport is really dark, compared to the triggers of the Yognou triggers that I used with the Jinbei.
One suggestion for improvement: It would be nice if the handle of the battery pack and the head would be removable, it would save a lot of space. A smaller or removable light stand mount would also be nice.
If you don’t need 1200W I would consider switching to Godox which also have nice triggers now, on which can change the power setting on a display – one thing I missed on the Jinbei the most. I used the small 200W Godox flashes during a shoot and also liked their user interface.
However, in my opinion, the ELB 1200 is the best and most versatile device for action photography in very bright sunlight. After half a year of using it during various shoots, I am still satisfied with my decision. The flash distance with the high-performance reflector is awesome and the flash is a joy to use. Every time I used it I had no struggles to set it up and I can count on its reliability for the next years.
About the author: Carsten E. Nagel is a photographer based in Germany. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, and 500px. This article was also published here.