The Elinchrom BXRi 500 To Go Kit: Monolights With A European Accent

Jill Rahn's picture
“Lighting is really common sense and personal observation. This is applied to a few rules of photography which cannot be broken and to others which I tend to bend a little.”—Paul Beeson

A monolight or monobloc to our European friends is a self-contained studio flash that is typically, but not always, powered by an AC power source and allows for different light modification devices, including reflectors, light banks, or umbrellas. The key phrase in that last sentence is self-contained. To my way of thinking the biggest advantage monolights possess is just that—if you’re shooting on location or for that matter anywhere and the power pack in a pack and head system stops working, so do you. If you have a couple of monolights and one of them fails, you can still shoot.

Courtesy of Manfrotto Distribution

What’s In The Kit
The main draw of Elinchrom’s (www.elinchrom.com) Swiss-built monolights was always their compact size, and the lights found in the BXRi 500 To Go kit I tested did not disappoint in that department. The kit consists of two 500 watt second (ws) monolights, a Skyport Universal Radio Transmitter, two 25.5” square Portalite light banks, two Manfrotto (367B ECO) 9-foot light stands, two 16-foot sync cords, plus a pair of nicely made cases for the light stands and monolights that far exceed the standards for cases normally included in kits. The monolight carrying case is extremely well made and should work well for heading to the job in your car, but if you need something rugged and shippable you’ll want to spring for one of Lightware’s (www.lightwareinc.com) or similar strobe head cases.

Left: The first lighting setup for my shoot with Noelle used one of the Elinchrom monolights with a Portalite light bank attached and placed at camera right and close to the subject. The second monolight, also with a Portalite, was at camera left and at the very back of my (not all that long) camera room. Shot with a Canon EOS 5D and an EF 135mm f/2.8 SF lens with an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/14 and ISO 125. Right: Kimber is a delightful model who wanted a specific kind of image to enter a contest (the tattoos are fake) and styled this one and even came up with the pose for the doorway that’s an entry into my in-home studio. A single Elinchrom BXRi 500 monolight is at camera left with a Portalite light bank attached. A second BXRi 500 was placed at camera left and aimed at the ceiling, although I’m not sure how much good it did. Exposure with a Canon EOS 50D and an EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens was 1/100 sec at f/11 and ISO 125. To produce the kind of funky image she wanted, I applied the Glow & Muted Color filter found in onOne Software’s (www.ononesoftware.com) PhotoTools.
Photos © Joe Farace

Working with two Portalite light banks I placed one at camera left and behind me while the other one was placed at camera right and close behind Noelle, who reminds me of Fringe’s Anna Torv. Shot with a Canon EOS 5D and an EF 135mm f/2.8 SF lens with an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/16 and ISO 125.
© Joe Farace

The Ri model designation means remote operation capability, making it possible to trip the main light using the built-in EL Skyport receiver and its tiny shoe-mount transmitter at non-line-of-sight distances up to 394 feet. The system includes the ability to increase or decrease output, turn the monolight on and off, and even control the modeling light. The “i” stands for Eye-cell that comes in handy when trying to sync the BXRi with cameras that have pre-flash or redeye functions. Just program the number of pre-flashes specific to your camera or let the BXRi monolights do all the work.

Elinchrom considers the BXRi series to be part of their entry-level professional series (a 250 ws version is also available) but there’s no skimping on features. Using the Chiclet-style up and down buttons on the monolight’s back, you can reduce or increase output power and modeling lamp levels in 1/10 stop increments and a large LED display shows power settings. Flash duration is 1/1558 sec that’s easily capable of freezing action without blur and the unit has a fast recycling time of 1.45 seconds at maximum power. Modeling lights dim and turn off when triggered and turn on again when recycled and there’s a recycle/ready beep that can be changed to suit how you prefer to work. You can use the kit anywhere because the monolights have auto-detection circuitry, accommodating power requirements from 90 to 260 volts.

Left: Here two Portalites were placed at 45˚ from one another and set at the identical power output, yet I was able to get a modest degree of modeling merely from the subject’s pose, head turn, and placement in front of the background. Shot with a Canon EOS 5D and an EF 135mm f/2.8 SF lens with Soft Focus setting at one and an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/9 and ISO 100. Right: In another configuration with the two Portalites, one was placed on either side of the subject just out of camera range, with the lighting accentuating her blonde hair. Shot with a Canon EOS 5D and an EF 135mm f/2.8 SF lens with an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/16 and ISO 125. A bit of dodging to Noelle’s face was done in Photoshop before applying the Glamour Glow filter in Nik Software’s (www.niksoftware.com) Color Efex Pro to the finished image.
Photos © Joe Farace

Elinchrom says the BXRi-seriesmonolights are “robotically manufactured, making possible extreme precision, light weight” but their construction uses lots of hard plastics, especially in the mounting ring on front of the lights, so that might be a concern for shooters who don’t treat their equipment carefully. On the upside, the BXRi monolights open the door to an extensive array of reflectors and light-shaping tools available from Elinchrom, including the legendary Octa light bank, and virtually every independent manufacturer of light modifiers makes Elinchrom-compatible products.

In The Studio
Setting up the components on the Elinchrom BXRi 500 To Go kit took slightly longer than normal for Mary and I, mainly because the instructions for the monolights say to “remove the protective cover” but don’t tell you how to take it off. As I discovered, merely unlocking using that hard plastic rotating collar on the front of the BXRi 500 won’t do it, you also need to push the protective cover in—hard—then rotate counterclockwise to remove it. (This is the only place you will find this tip: ladies, be careful, Mary broke a nail trying unsuccessfully to remove the cover.) What you will find in the User’s Guide is an instruction to assemble the Portalite light bank before attaching it to the monolight. That’s good advice, so be sure to take it. Disassembling the light banks also took more time than I would have thought, but a shooter or their assistant should get faster with the process over time.

Elinchrom recommends that you assemble the Portalite light bank before attaching it. Here Mary puts one of the light banks together on the floor of my in-home studio. Note the User’s Guide to her left.
© Joe Farace

Once a Portalite has been assembled it can be attached to the Elinchrom BXRi 500 monolight; you can slip on the outside diffuser that simply slides on the front of the light bank and it’s surprisingly secure. Tip: Don’t forget to lock it onto the monolight using the rotating collar.
© Mary Farace

One light? Why not? This image was made using only a Booth Photographic 60” parabolic umbrella that was placed behind me and at camera left. This stereopticon sits in my workroom where I produce large format prints and during a session with Noelle I asked her to hold it. Shot with a Canon EOS 5D and an EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens with an exposure of 1/80 sec at f/7.1 and ISO 100.
© Joe Farace

The Portalite is useful for many lighting applications and most of the illustrations you see were made with one or the two light banks, but sometimes some photographers might prefer a broader source as fill. Occasionally I used one of Booth Photographic’s (www.boothphoto.com) 60” parabolic umbrellas as fill, but kept the Elinchrom light bank as the key light.

Attaching an umbrella to the monolight can be tricky because the same lever that adjusts the BXRi 500’s tilt is used to tighten the built-in umbrella holder, a system that seemed more fiddly than other monolights or heads I’ve used. It wasn’t difficult but took more time than it should have. No reflectors are included in the Elinchrom BXRi 500 To Go kit but you will find speed rings to mount the Portalite light banks. An Elinchrom reflector costs about $25 or you can wing it like I did and shoot using an umbrella without a reflector, which will admittedly scatter light more than you might like. For maximum lighting flexibility, consider ordering a pair of reflectors at the same time as you purchase a To Go kit.

Inspiration for poses comes from many places and in this case it’s the dance scene in Pulp Fiction. Here I used one of Booth Photographic’s (www.boothphoto.com) 60” parabolic umbrellas for fill and placed it behind me and at camera left. The key light used a Portalite that was placed closer to the subject and also at camera left. Shot with a Canon EOS 5D and an EF 85mm f/1.8 lens with an exposure of 1/80 sec at f/7.1 and ISO 100. With the light at similar power settings as previous light bank-only shots, using the bounce light in the umbrella—without a reflector—caused me to open the aperture from f/16 to f/7.1. A black Scrim Jim (www.fjwestcott.com) was used as a background.
© Joe Farace

All of the BXRi 500’s controls are simple and intuitive to use and worked perfectly when changing lighting setups and adjusting power settings, as I did for six completely different setups during one shoot. When working with a fast-moving model I found it was impossible to outshoot the recycle time of Elinchrom’s BXRi 500 monolights. While the rated recycle time is 1.45 seconds (full power) and 0.34 seconds (at minimum power), I got perfectly exposed shots as fast as I could click the shutter when working with lights at settings ranging from medium to full power. Pose, click, fire. When the lights are ready they are really ready, making them a perfect choice for event and wedding photographers who often have to move fast because posing for pictures is just part of that day’s planned activities. The Elinchroms won’t let you down. That versatility and solid European design makes the Elinchrom BXRi 500 To Go kit the perfect choice for the photographer on the go.

Occasionally people ask why I use my wife so much as a model and one photographer even criticized me for doing it, but recently a lighting equipment manufacturer specifically asked me to use Mary when reviewing their gear. He said, “It’s better to have a real person than a model who might distract from the point. And it’s real people the readers are usually shooting.” I often use Mary for test shots before a model arrives to make sure my exposure (1/100 sec at f/16 and ISO 100) is correct. Sometimes I like the test shots so much they are submitted with the review, as is the case here. Lighting is from the two Elinchrom BXRi 500 monolights with 25.5” square Portalite light banks mounted. The main light is close and at camera right; the other is in the furthest camera left position that I could get and set at minimum power.
© Joe Farace

Technical Specifications
Elinchrom BXRi 500 Monolight
Maximum Watt Seconds: 500
Guide Number: f/90 at 1 meter at ISO 100, 1/250 sec, with 48˚ reflector
Voltage Stabilization: Yes, +/- 0.5 percent
Built-In Slave Cell: Yes
Fan Cooled: Yes
Auto Dump: Yes
Dimensions: 10.24x7.5x5.5”
Weight: 4.5 lbs
Kit Price: $1352

For more information, contact Manfrotto Distribution at: www.manfrottodistribution.us.

Share | |