Elinchrom's new RF flash trigger performs flawlessly in tests
By Stan Sholik
Devices for the remote triggering of flash units fall into two categories, infrared (IR) and radio frequency (RF). Of the two, RF devices are the more versatile. With RF systems, the transmitter and receiver don’t need to be in line of sight of one other, they perform equally well in bright sunlight and a darkened studio, the distance over which they operate reliably is greater than IR systems, and RF systems offer more available channels.
The lack of competition in the marketplace has resulted in two downsides to the use of radio slaves: your strobes can be triggered by other photographers if they are using the same channel on identical transmitters, and the RF system that will fire the widest range of power packs is relatively expensive. Elinchrom, Swiss manufacturer of electronic flash equipment and accessories whose products are distributed in the U.S. by Bogen Imaging, has addressed these issues with the introduction of the EL-Skyport Wireless System.
The Skyport system is available as individual modules or in a variety of sets. If you are fortunate enough to own Elinchrom RX monoblocs or power packs, there are Skyport units and sets designed specifically for them, including a Transceiver RX USB that plugs into a Windows or Mac computer. This unit allows the complete control of the flash unit from the computer, including the ability to store studio lighting diagrams and setups.
I’m not an Elinchrom owner, so I received an EL-Skyport Universal Set plus an additional Universal Receiver to test. The Universal Set consists of one hot-shoe mounted and triggered 2.4 GHz Transmitter with replaceable lithium battery and spare battery drawer; one Receiver with a wall charger (and worldwide wall outlet adapters) for its rechargeable internal Li-Ion battery; an 8-inch cable to connect the transmitter to the camera’s PC socket if it doesn’t have a hot shoe (for use with a large-format camera for example); a 16-inch cable with a 3.5mm male plug to connect the receiver to the flash; and a connector to adapt the 3.5mm plug to a phone plug.
The Skyport system stood up to the test on location. I wired the receiver to a Nikon SB-800 flash and Velcroed both to the dash of my Toyota FJ with my assistant behind the wheel. This image was made at a distance of about 150 feet with a 1.4 Tele-extender on a Nikon 70-200mm VR lens. We tested the system in the sun and here in shade out to 300+ feet. The only missed flashes occurred when I shot faster than the flash could recycle. Image ©Stan Sholik
The Skyports are some of the smallest, lightest units on the market. The transmitter and receiver are roughly the same size, about 2.5 x 1.75 x 0.5 inches. The transmitter weighs less that one ounce and the receiver less than two ounces, including the rechargeable battery. Each has a 1.75-inch flexible antenna that swivels 360 degrees, though I never needed to move the antennas from their stored position alongside their respective units and out of harm’s way. It even worked in this position when I walked outside and tried unsuccessfully to get a misfire from over 100 feet away through the metal rollup door of my studio. Elinchrom quotes a range of 165 feet in the studio and almost 400 feet outdoors. The receiver guards against triggering by extraneous RF sources with 40-bit security, and ultra-fast processing allows syncing up to 1/1,000 second for cameras with that capability.
The Skyport soared in studio testing, too. With all the people involved in even a simple studio food shoot, one less wire on the floor to trip over is always welcome. The Skyport never missed a beat all day on the Nikon D2X. The next day I connected the transmitter to my 4x5 Sinar and shot with it all day without having to recharge the receiver battery. Image ©Stan Sholik
Both the transmitter and the receiver have frequency channel selectors. The three slide buttons allow for eight different configurations of transmitter/receiver frequencies. Of course, the transmitter and receiver frequency settings must match. The buttons themselves are tiny and recessed in the bodies of the units. This prevents accidental changes, but makes it tougher to actually change the channel.
There is also an easily accessible Group switch on both the transmitter and receiver. With the Mode switch in the Group position, this switch allows either one or multiple strobes to be arranged into four different triggering groups. Elinchrom RX owners will find this useful as it gives them the ability to control power and modeling light settings for each group. But I found it useful to individually measure my background and foreground exposures with my Sinar/Gossen through-the-lens metering system. Sliding the Mode switch to All allows you to trigger all groups at once. The transmitter has a Test button also.
The Skyport Transmitter mounted on the hotshoe of a Nikon D2X. Image ©Stan Sholik
My older Balcar power packs with their pre-digital high sync voltage have been a problem for other RF systems to fire reliably, and for one to fire at all. Sure enough, the Skyport wouldn’t fire them either, though the Skyport would trigger other packs and monoblocs that I own. After receiving assurance from Elinchrom tech support that the Skyport receiver can handle a trigger voltage up to 400 volts and a peak current of 1 amp, I traced the problem to a faulty connector that adapts the 3.5mm plug on the receiver to the phono plug of the Balcar. Once I replaced the connector, I never had a misfire. I would like to see Elinchrom include a cable to connect the receiver directly to the phono plug without the need for an adapter.
EL-Skyports have just now arrived in the U.S. Skyport Universal Wireless Sets will sell for about $185. Additional receivers should sell for about $100. Promised for late fall is a module that will remotely fire Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon and other cameras with remote terminals. Additional information is available online at www.bogenimaging.us.