Elinchrom BX 500Ri Review

by on October 7, 2010

in Lighting

The Elinchrom BX 500Ri is a powerful AC monolight geared for studio use.  I think I first heard about the BXRi series from Scott Kelby at Photoshop World, and I’ve heard him rave about these lights from time to time on his blog and elsewhere.  So if the big guy likes’em, they’ve got to be good, right?  Well, after spending some time with a pair of these big dogs, I have to agree wholeheartedly with Scott – they are pretty darn slick.

So, what do you get for circa $1300?

While you can get a single strobe with nothing else for around $570, Elinchrom’s $1300 500/500 To Go Set gives you the following:

Between the strobes and softboxes, you are already over the current going price for the kit.  Throw in a transmitter (probably a $100 or so street value), light stands ($130 for the pair), cables, stand bag and monolight bag and you probably end up saving about $300 by going for the kit.

So, is it worth it?

Heck yeah.  If you need it, of course.  And that’s the thing . . . these lights can be the perfect fit for the right photographer, while being way overkill for other photographers.

For me, they are probably a bit overkill, but the BX 500Ri lights offer a couple of key features: power and creature comforts.

500ws is a lot more power than I have been accustomed to.  Shooting at ISO 100 and f/whatever is a go with these lights.  You get 5 stops of variable power adjustment with these lights down to 31ws.  Recycle time is rather snappy too, at just 1.45 seconds from max power or 0.34 seconds at minimum power.

The flash duration is touted as very short by Elinchrom; however, I have only been able to pin down the t.5 time of 1/1558s at full power based on Elinchrom’s specifications.  Of course, this sounds wicked fast, but doesn’t tell the whole story.  (If you don’t know why this matters, you can read up on David Hobby’s little lesson on what these numbers mean.)  I’m going to spitball the t.1 time at around 1/500s (give or take 1/100s) based on what I’ve seen in some of my studio action shots.  I’ve been able to freeze some fast action; however, if it gets too fast, I’ve encountered some motion blur.  I’ll try getting in touch with someone at Elinchrom to give me a definitive answer on the t.1 time, but if anyone out there knows for sure, please drop a line in the comments.

And now to the creature comforts . . . (aka, Skyport made me lazy)

One of the easiest features to love is the built-in Skyport receiver on each BXRi monolight.  The kit throws in a Skyport transmitter that affixes to the top of your hotshoe.  This is nice so far, right? No wires, no optical slaves, just push a button and lights fire.

Well, Elinchrom goes a step or ten further.  The transmitter lets you adjust the lights’ power without having to lay a finger on the lights.  Not only can you adjust strobe power of both lights, but you can put them in different groups and control them individually.

Need a little more fill? Just dial up the group number assigned to that strobe and punch up the fill right from the top of the camera.  You can have up to 4 groups that can be individually controlled by the Skyport transmitter.  The only minor complaint I have about the transmitter is that there is no way to lock it onto the hotshoe and, as a result, it can sometimes be pushed back off of the contact point.

Other than a couple of hiccups with the transmitter coming off the hotshoe a bit, I don’t recall any failures to fire.  While I only tested this out to about 40 feet indoors, Elinchrom’s specs put the outdoor range at 396 feet.

Additional features of the BX 500Ri lights include the Eye-Cell photocell sensor, which can operate in a number of ways.  Of course, you get your standard photocell mode; however, there is also a pre-flash mode that allows the optical slave to work with speedlight and other pre-flash systems.

The BX 500Ri also offers a free or proportional modeling lamp setup.  You can also turn the ready-beep on or off, which is a great feature for those who sometimes need a light to be quiet.  Often times, I will do shooting late at night in my home office, which can make for some unhappy campers if I don’t have the ability to turn off a beeping flash.  Otherwise, I’m a big fan of a ready-beep in ordinary use.

The one thing that I didn’t care much about was the umbrella holder on the BX 500Ri. [Updated. I was doing it wrong. Thanks Hans.]

One final quibble and I’m done – no reflectors.  For such a big kit it seems a bit odd not to include reflectors.  And the downside of that is the $60+ price for the standard reflectors.  Granted, it’s a solid deal as it stands, but not quite as sweet as it would be if Elinchrom threw in a couple of standard reflectors to boot.

Only you know whether you can seriously justify spending $1300 on a pair of monolights; however, if that is within your budget, you could do a lot worse than the Elinchrom 500/500 To Go Set.  And, really, I don’t know that you could find the same quality, features and price in another 2-light kit out there right now.  Admittedly, these lights are a bit overkill for my limited studio use and general single subject and close quarters shooting, but man are they nice.  Highly recommended.

The Elinchrom 500/500 To Go Set is available from Photography Bay’s trusted retail partner, B&H Photo, at the following link:

Elinchrom 500/500 To Go Set at B&H Photo

By making your photography purchases at B&H Photo through these links, you are helping Photography Bay to continue bring quality camera tests, news and reviews. Thanks for your continued support.

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{ 7 comments }

1 Hans October 7, 2010 at 4:21 am

There is a hole in the reflector right below the flash tube. This is to put in the shaft of the umbrella.
What you used for the umbrella is intended to be used as a clamp for the AC-power cable.

2 Eric Reagan October 7, 2010 at 5:14 am

@Han – Doh! I knew I must have been doing it wrong. Thanks for pointing out my big flub.

3 forkboy1965 October 7, 2010 at 1:44 pm

We’ll let it go this time Eric.

This time.

;-)

4 William Beem October 7, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Excellent review. I have this kit and am very happy. I could’ve bought Alien Bees for less, but there are other aspects that made me want to spend a bit more on the Elinchroms.

The first was the concern I’ve heard about color-shift with ABs when you change the power. I’ve used AB lights at some workshops and noted the difference in my own photos, but I don’t see that shift with the BX 500RI lights.

The other reason is because of Elinchrom’s light modifiers. The two softboxes that come with the kit aren’t very impressive, but the Deep Octa that I bought is outstanding and very versatile. These lights are also strong enough to power the really big Elinchrom Octa.

Elinchrom doesn’t offer a battery pack, but I bought the Innovatronix SE (special version works with these lights) and now I can use them anywhere.

5 Jimmy October 8, 2010 at 1:07 am

Great review,
This kit is indeed a bit overkill for me, I have the cheaper 400ws D-lite (1st generation) and am happy with it as well.
One thing that you did not mention is how portable and compact Elinchrom pack their kits, just 2 small tube bags.

6 Eric Reagan October 8, 2010 at 4:49 am

@Jimmy – You’re right about the portability. The bag for the lights is solid, yet very compact. I was surprised by how much Elinchrom manages to fit in such a compact case.

7 Tim Hornung October 8, 2010 at 7:47 am

Nice review. Thanks.

I just dropped by kit in my cart at B&H. There is a $100 rebate until the end of October, 2010.
Brings the price down to $1,199.
The price shows as $1,450 until you drop it in the cart. Then the price goes to $1,299.

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