So, I've been playing around and getting to grips with my new lighting kit, the Elinchrom D-Lite RX 4/4 Soft-box Kit. Inside the box there are two 400W/s flash heads, two tripods for positioning your lights, two Portalite Square 66cm soft-boxes, and a 16cm Umbrella Wide Reflector for throwing light out into the scene over a 90° angle. In addition, you get a 3.5m Sync Cable for directly connecting a flash head to your camera or flash meter, and a final nifty bit of kit: the EL-Skyport Transmitter. This little device slips into the hotshoe of your camera and communicates wirelessly with the flash heads to synchronise the flash perfectly, foregoing the Eyecell receptor on the back of the heads, which would normally look for a flash to trigger other lights. Everything comes in two nice and sturdy cases, keeping the heads well protected and minimising wasted space. The whole kit is very portable and not particularly heavy (although I wouldn't wan't to be lugging it across the city on my back on a regular basis!)
First impressions were good. The build-quality of the lights is pretty high. Plastic shell looks and feels nice and durable, the handle is tough and secure, and the buttons and display on the back are high-quality. The heads lock tightly into the tops of the tripods, and a lever allows the position of the lights to be adjusted handily. The tripods are pretty standard, but don't feel cheap. I would avoid knocking into them accidentally though; I'm not sure it would take too much force to tip the whole thing over. The locking mechanism on the front of the heads keeps the attached accessory tight and steady. If you've never assembled a soft-box before, be prepared. It's notoriously fiddly, and in my trepidation in applying too much force to anything, it took a few frustrated attempts. After getting a bit braver, I eventually got the hang of it, and these soft-boxes seem like they can take a bit of punishment.
Finally, all set up, my gracious model Jenny agreed to step in for a quick test shoot. Being in quite a confined space, and without any backdrop, I decided to just play around with the lights and get my bearings, instead of diving straight into the established lighting set-ups. I just moved them about, using the modelling lamp to give myself an idea of how the light and shadows would fall on her face. The modelling lamps can be cycled between lowest power, proportional to the flash power, full power, and OFF. I used a 50mm f1.4 lens, and manually set the shutter speed to around 1/125 sec. and the aperture to f5.6. Not having a light meter, I had to go by eye and histogram to find the right exposure. The flash heads allow you to adjust the power of the flash in 1/10 stop increments over a range of 4 full stops. It's worth noting that in a small space, these powerful lights are often too bright even at their lowest power setting, so adjustment of your aperture or even use of an ND filter may be necessary. The EL-Skyport transmitter worked very well, triggering both of the flashes 95% of the time (a missed trigger is usually down accidentally obstructing the little antenna on the transmitter). I found my camera's sync speed to max out at around 1/200 sec., at which point the images begin to exhibit the black bar at the bottom as it catches the shutter sliding closed. I thought it might be a bit higher, with the transmitter offering a faster SPEED mode, but alas 1/200 seems to be the cut off for my Canon 5D Mk II. As the in-photo ambient lighting levels are normally controlled by adjusting the shutter speed, again it may be necessary to enlist the help of an ND filter in small, bright environments.
I was pretty happy with the shots I got in this first trial run, especially after giving them a bit of a boost in post-processing, but I'll let you be the judge. It's early days but I'm looking forward to more experimentation with these new lights!
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