Choosing the Right Gear: How to Select the Correct ELB Head for Your Photography Style
The Best Heads For Your ELB 400
If you want to go with the ELB 400 portable battery flash, you’ll have to choose between 3 flash heads: the Pro, the Action and the HS head. In this blog post, we’ll explain the differences between the various flash heads offered for the ELB400.
3 Flash Heads
The Action, Pro and HS flash heads look nearly identical. The main difference is the flash tube and the flash duration these heads offer.
The goal is to understand which practical use would be best for each flash head and why you would want one over the other. The HS head (left) is the best fit for Hi-Sync. The Action head (middle) offers very fast flash duration and the Pro head (right) is for universal use. All of these flash heads will work with the Elinchrom Quadra and ELB 400 battery-powered strobe pack.
The Action head offers the fastest flash duration of the three heads.
The Action head offers the fastest flash duration of the three flash heads. At full power on an ELB 400, these heads offers a t0.5 flash duration of 1/2800th second. That fast flash duration can stop motion quite effectively when shooting at the standard flash sync of 1/200th second.
If you are shooting in low light and want to drag the shutter, i.e. use a slow shutter speed like 1/15th second, but also want to stop the motion of a moving subject, then the Action flash head is the one you want. Keep in mind that this head is not recommended for use with Hi-Sync
Below, you can see an example of this type of image, where the shutter speed was set to 1/20th second and the aperture was set to f/5.6. The fast flash duration froze the mountain biker at the top of his jump. But, as you can see, there is some ambient light bleeding through as well - this is the motion blur of the subject represented by the dark shading in front of him.
The subject is sharp, stopped by the fast flash duration, but the subject's shadow was tracked by the longer 1/20th second shutter speed. When shooting this type of image the motion blur is always going to be there no matter how fast your flash duration is. Whether or not the motion blur is in front or behind the subject is a matter of how the flash was synced, either using front curtain sync (standard sync) or rear curtain sync (a.k.a. 2nd Curtain Sync for Canon shooters).
Note that if you used a flash head with a slow flash duration, like the Pro head, which has a flash duration of 1/1200th second at full power, then the cyclist would not be sharp because the flash duration was not fast enough to stop his motion.
Another situation where the Action head shines is when shooting with medium-format cameras, which can sync with flash at up to 1/1.600th second with no games. For this to work well, a fast flash duration is required. In fact, a flash duration that is shorter than the shutter speed being used is required. So this means that you need a flash duration faster than 1/1600th sec., and this is where the Action head comes in handy.
When shooting with a Hasselblad H5D, which can sync up to 1/800th second, the Action head is very useful.
The Pro head offers a slower flash duration for universal use.
The Pro flash head offers a slower flash duration compared to the Action head but it is faster compared to the HS head. At full power on an ELB 400, the Pro head offers at t0.5 a flash duration of 1/1200th second. For Still-Life and portraits or where the subject is not moving, this is a fast enough flash duration for sharp images. But if the subject is moving then this flash duration will not be fast enough to stop the motion of the subject at normal flash sync shutter speeds, i.e. at 1/250th second or below.
The Pro head can be used in Hi-Sync mode with the latest EL-Skyport Plus HS transmitter, but there will be quite a bit more gradation in the image compared to the HS head, discussed below.
The maximum shutter speeds and the gradation will depend on the camera used.
Large sensors, with mechanical parts for the shutter and the mirror, as well as the camera firmware and the chosen shutter speed will affect the results. Mirrorless cameras can handle Hi-Sync very well.
If you don't shoot action and only want to buy one flash head that can work with Hi-Sync to some degree and also create nice sharp portraits, then the Pro head is a good option.
If you want to shoot mainly at higher shutter speeds, up to1/8000s, then you will want to get the EL-Skyport Plus HS transmitter along with the ELB 400 and the HS flash head.
But, if you are investing in this system, we would suggest getting the Quadra HS, excellent for Hi-Sync and the Action head for fast flash duration. This will offer the best of both worlds, depending on the the situation.
The HS head is specifically dedicated to Hi-Sync.
The HS head is specifically dedicated to Hi-Sync photography. The long flash duration allows for the best possible Hi-Sync lighting options, along with the use of the EL-Skyport Plus HS transmitter to sync at high shutter speeds, which are normally limited to 1/200th second.
At full power on an ELB 400, the HS head offers at t0.5 a flash duration of 1/550th second, which is optimized for the least amount of gradation when shooting in Hi-Sync mode. This flash head is also designed to work at virtually any power setting and still provide very evenly lit Hi-Sync exposures. If you are looking to shoot at high shutter speeds using the Hi-Sync technique, this is the flash head you want.
The image below was captured using the Hi-Sync mode with a shutter speed of 1/1250th second. Using such a high shutter speed completely freeze the subject, with no motion blur at all. The BMX rider is tack sharp. Contrast this with the mountain biking image above to see how the Hi-Sync (HS) flash head can stop motion fully compared to the Action head.
In addition to shooting action, if you want to create portraits with a very shallow depth of field, the HS flash head opens up a whole new world. You can basically choose any aperture and any shutter speed and dial the ELB 400 power pack up or down to control the exposure. Because of this, it is possible to shoot portraits at small apertures like f/1.4, f/2 or f/2.8 without the need for diffusion or neutral density filters. The image below is a good example of this option. The aperture used for this image was f/2.2 with a shutter speed of 1/8000th second.
Each of the flash heads provide different options.
The Action head offers the fastest flash duration to freeze moving subjects with the normal flash sync shutter speed of your camera (1/200th a second) without the use of Hi-Sync technology. When shooting with a Hasselblad or shooting with a DSLR at the standard sync speed or below, you should use the Action heads.
Action heads are not compatible with Hi-Sync photography.
The Pro head is the standard head for universal uses. It’s the perfect flash for portraits and still subjects. It offers a great balance between performance and price.
The Hi-Sync usage is limited and depends on the camera, larger Sensors and mirror mechanics may limit the max sync shutter speeds.
When you want to shoot and overpower the sun for a portrait or to stop the motion completely, you should opt for the HS heads in combination with the EL-Skyport Plus HS transmitter. So, if you have an exclusive usage of Hi-Sync (using shutter speed faster than 1/200th), you’ll have to go for the HS head along with the EL-Skyport Plus HS transmitter.
The Hi-Sync feature can only be enabled with the EL-Skyport Plus HS transmitter.
What should I opt for?
The Action and the HS are the flash heads you would use on a regular basis. This will offer the best of both worlds, depending on the situation you’re about to shoot.