A few weeks ago the idea popped into my head to buy a battery powered strobe. This wasn’t the first time I thought about buying one. I’d looked into portable strobes on several previous occasions but could never justify the expense. I’d rented some Profoto 600Rs for a couple shoots that left me cursing mid-way through a shoot when I ran out of power. In this case I knew I had a job coming up that would require a battery powered set-up. I’d need enough power to at least keep up with bright sunlight. I could spend $400 renting a package for the one shoot or I could invest in my own. I opted for the 1100 watt/second Elinchrom Ranger RX with the S head and the PocketWizard ST4 transceiver to pair with my TT5s.
With the PocketWizard ST4 I’d be able to sych my camera faster than 1/250th of a second which would help in bright sun. I spent a couple days making sure I was buying the right Ranger and flash head. I came across a lot of articles that referenced this set-up using Nikon bodies and I also came across a couple mentions that photographers hadn’t been able to match the fast synch speeds with Canon bodies. I figured that with a couple stops plus 1100W/s I’d be fine.
As soon as I got the system I fired it up and tested it out. I was looking for synch speeds over 1/1000 sec. I was a bit disappointed when it was clipping at 1/640. Instead of messing with the TT5s settings I upgraded the firmware on my TT5s and the new ST4. Immediately after my upgrade I was synching at 1/8000. This past monday I finally had a chance to test the system during a real shoot. I am pleased to report that it was everything I had expected and more.
When I get new equipment I go out and test. I need to use it, learn about it and know what it’s capable of. When I show up on set for a job I better damn well know how to use my gear and learning on someone else’s dime is a recipe for disaster.
A few years ago during a swimsuit shoot with Kelley we started talking about her dance skills and I mentioned not being able to capture a graceful jump shot with a dancer up to that point. After a few warmups she was pulling this type of jump off with little effort. I managed to capture this shot at 9 in the morning with the help of a big reflector and a couple small Canon speedlights. After the shoot we vowed to shoot again. When I got the Elinchrom she was my first call.
Unlike our fist shoot, this wasn’t about great morning light and beautiful swimsuit shots. This was about her dance ability and grace. We scheduled the shoot for 3:30 PM. I figured it would be bright but the sun would be over her shoulder and bearable. My goal with the Elinchrom was to fill in the light from the front while maintaining the blue sky.
I opted to use the lower powered flash socket which only puts out 366 watts/second. I was able to shoot as much as she could jump without having to worry about recycle times. Since this was my first test with the pack I didn’t know how much I could push it. I didn’t want to be caught holding the bag after running out of power half way through the shoot. The following shot is unedited and shown as-shot in camera.
We ran though a couple outfit changes and once we got to the last set I figured I could up the power and not worry about running out of steam. The Ranger has a power indicator, but out in the bright sun it was hard to read and I didn’t know if I could trust it. I switched to the full-powered socket and upped the power. I knew I wanted to try to overpower the sun but wasn’t sure how successful it would be. The image speaks for itself.
Turns out I had power to spare.
I had a second shoot scheduled the following day with Ryan Marks. We would be trying to capture the same type of image; although his shoot was scheduled for 11AM. I wanted to see how much power was left in the pack so I didn’t charge the battery before Ryan’s shoot. I figured I could swap out the battery if I needed, but once again I wanted to see what the pack would do.
Since the sun was mostly overhead for Ryan’s shoot it was a different look. I needed the light mostly for fill. Once we had some great shots I pushed the pack and overpowered the sun. I made it through the shoot and still had some power left.
I’ve come home from both shoots overjoyed at the results of the photos and the Ranger. More test shoots are scheduled.
A couple footnotes. I ordered an Elinchrom EL 19374 Ranger Adapter to connect the ST4 and Ranger. Turns out one is included in the package. I couldn’t get my Sekonic Light Meter to trigger the ST4. In fact I couldn’t trigger the St4 with my Plus IIs either. I was able to trigger it with another TT5. I would have LOVED to use my new 5D, but the TT5s would not synch higher than 1/200 with my 5D Mark III. Pocket Wizard hasn’t updated the firmware yet since the Mark III is so new and in high demand.
** David from PocketWizard cleared something up for me. The ST4s default is to receive info via their “Control TL” signal and not the standard pocket wizard channel. This can be changed using the utility which would enable triggering the ST4 via my Sekonic and/or the Plus II. They also expect to have their hands on a 5D Mark III this week and start working on a firmware upgrade.