Elinchrom BXRi 500 lighting kit review

Wed 27 April

Digital SLR Photography test: December 2009

Twin-500W studioflash lighting kit

Guide price: £1,000/Street Price: £950
Contact: www.theflashcentre.com

Elinchrom has a good name amongst professional and amateur photographers alike. For beginners and enthusiasts there is the company’s D-Lite kits, which are full of features, have a reasonable amount of power and are great value for money. They are built to a budget, however, and are not really designed to withstand the rigours of every day professional use.  At the other end of the scale you have Elinchrom’s BX and RX lights, which are very much designed to withstand the everyday use in a professional studio. These are packed with enough power to light up Wembley Stadium, have features galore and are built to exacting standards. They can be relied on by pro photographers shooting under intense pressure to tight deadlines, but they do command a steep price tag.

In the middle of these two products is Elinchrom’s BXRi range. These monobloc flash heads come in two flavours, having a maximum output of either 250Ws or 500Ws, and are available separately and as kits. They have many of the features of their more expensive siblings, and are designed to keep flashing all day, however a 500W two-head kit, including stands and a pair of softboxes, will only set you back around £1,006. That’s a bargain in the world of studio photography.
A two-head BXRi kit comes split across two very well-made carry cases. One holds the stands, the other one houses everything else. Unpacking the main case reveals two flash heads, mains leads, a pair of 66cm square Portalite softboxes and a Skyport radio trigger. Setting all this up is quick and easy, apart from the softboxes, which are difficult to put together. This isn’t specific to Elinchrom, though, and is the price for such portability. The only thing we’d like to have seen included is a ‘spill-kill’ type reflector for each light so they could be used more effectively without the softboxes.

Each flash head is very well built and designed. The rear of the unit is dominated by an LED display showing power output and buttons to set power in 1/10th stop increments. Other controls independently change the intensity of the modelling lamp.
Although housed in a plastic body, the BXRi heads feel solid. You wouldn’t want to drop one, but in a few months of general use, both in the studio and on location, we experienced absolutely no reliability issues. A rubberised handle (that also houses spare fuses) is a nice touch and helps when setting up and packing away. The supplied stands aren’t bad either – just the right balance between portability and sturdiness when in use.

One of the big features of the BXRi is the built-in Skyport radio trigger. This means that you can do away with long sync cables trailing over the floor and, if you are using more than one head, you don’t have to rely on light-sensitive slave triggers. Skyport is a much more elegant solution: a hotshoe-mounted radio transmitter tells each flash to fire when the shutter is tripped, and Elinchrom tell us the technology works over a 50m range indoors and 120m range outside. Controls on the camera-mounted trigger also let the photographer adjust power up and down and switch the modelling light on and off – all without moving away from your shooting position.
In use, the BXRi heads performed perfectly. Be it portrait or product photography, indoors or outside, we were really impressed with the reliability. Measuring their flash output with our trusty Sekonic meter revealed less than a tenth of a stop variation between flashes. When the power is turned down the head dumps any excess charge without firing a flash and beeps to let you know when this is done.
We’ve already talked about the included Portalite softboxes, but what these lack in ease of use they make up for in the quality of the light they put out. When fitted to the front of a BXRi head, the flash output is soft, yet directional. Great for headshots, half-length portraits and still-lifes.

As power goes, 500Ws isn’t a huge amount, but it isn’t puny either. We found that using one softbox-equipped BXRi 500 for a head-and-shoulders portrait meant a working aperture of about f/16, and the heads recycle quickly, even from a full discharge. We very rarely wanted more power than the units could offer.

Verdict: If you are looking to trade-up from an entry-level studioflash kit, or even take the first steps into studio photography, then Elinchrom’s BXRi heads are strongly recommended. With many features and very good build quality, this outfit can be trusted to deliver years of reliable service.
Rating: 5/5

Specifications: Power: 500Ws with variable power range 
of five stops (1/16 to 1/1 power)
Flash recycle time: 0.29 - 0.73sec
Flash duration: 1/1558sec
Colour temperature: 5500ºK
Wireless flash trigger: Built in Skyport receiver and supplied hotshoe mounted transmitter
Modelling lamp : Yes 
Auto power dumping: Yes
Temperature protection: Yes, 
plus microprocessor controlled fan
Over voltage protection: Yes
Trigger voltage: Five volts
Dimensions: 26x19x14cm
Weight: 1.85kg