14
May
10

Ranger Quadra AS “A” System Review

Intro

Ranger Quadra AS  

I’m consider myself a hardened strobist-er. I have a bunch of 580s, Pocketwizards, speedrings, grids and softboxes and take everything on location frequently. When Elinchrom announced the Quadra system,  my interest was piqued. The forum response was not the best. Most complained about the price tag. After some time, I did my own thought process and found that depending on your strobist investment, the Quadra is priced almost exactly the same as a comprehensive strobist kit:  

  1. 2 x 580exII ran me about $1000
  2. 2 x Pocketwizard FlexTT5 and 1 x Pocketwizard MiniTT ran me about $600
  3. 2 x CP-E4 battery packs ran me about $400
  4. 24 AA batteries and Chargers ran me about $100
  5. 1 x Pocketwizard ZoneController (which is not quite available yet) another $80. I had another 580, so I used that as a transmitter for remote power control.

But what made me finally switch over was the jaded experience I had with the Pocketwizards. I realize that my experiences might have been different had I gone with a radiopopper system, but I was already entrenched in the Pocketwizard world, so I initially lived through hit and miss power control and unreliable triggering. When I used all the tricks in the book including Rob G’s use of veilshield material and OC-E3 cords, most of my problems disappeared, but I started to ask myself if the extra 20 mins of set-up and testing was worth the effort every single time I went on location.  

More after the jump..

So with that in mind, I acquired an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra AS “A” head system. This includes 2 “A” heads, 2 batteries, shoulder strap, skyport transmitter (w/ cr 2430 battery and extra battery holder), 2 8ft cables, pc cable, charger (with international adapters) and a plastic carrying case.  This is an on-location dc battery pack that has its outlets distributed asymmetrically in a 2:1 ratio. Based on full power, this is the output you would get depending on what you have plugged into the pack.  

  1. A Channel (connected) B Channel (disconnected) = 400w/s – n/a
  2. A Channel (connected) B Channel (connected) = 266w/s – 133 w/s
  3. A Channel (disconnected) B Channel (connected) =  n/a – 133 w/s

At minimum power, you can dial down to about 5 w/s on the B channel. This is great for darker areas where you commonly have too much power even at the lowest settings on other competitive systems.  If you are small strobe shooter like myself, a regular 580exII has about 100w/s of power. The Quadra AS pack is about 2 stops brighter, but in real world scenarios is commonly much brighter because you have alot of flexibility with bare-bulb. Most light modifiers are designed for bare bulb strobes, and you will find that your modifiers take upon a different quality of light altogether.  

At full power and especially inside a modifer, this isn’t quite enough to underexpose an f/16 sky, but has more than enough power for overcast or even days where there is a bit of cloud cover. Since you cannot independently control power to each light, you may have to move the lights closer or farther back to achieve certain lighting ratios. Obviously moving certain modifiers closer or farther away changes its size relation to your subject and will dramatically affect the appearance of the shot as well!  

The Heads

 

Ranger Quadra AS  

Ranger Quadra AS  

As you can see, the flash heads are very small. Elinchrom designed these heads to be ultra-portable, and I believe certain compromises had to made. The most obvious one is the reflector attachment is specific to the Quadra system. Any existing Elinchrom modifers and reflectors will not fit on a Quadra head. The second is the mounting system on the Quadra head is a bit finnicky. You have to press in a tab and turn the reflector. The tab itself is not spring loaded and is simply a piece of plastic that is depressed by pressure. Over time, I can see this tab breaking off due to wear and tear.  

  

Ranger Quadra AS  

The included reflectors only fit one way since it has a notch that accomodates a 7mm umbrella shaft. This is easy to overlook if you are not careful. The Quadra mount, unlike some of the other Elinchrom mounts do not have a pressure clamp to accept 8mm umbrellas. You will need to acquire a few new umbrellas if you are like me and have a closet full of 8mm brollies, umbrellas, etc.  which pretty much the rest of the industry uses.  

Ranger Quadra AS  

Each head comes with a 2.5m/8ft cable. This is very short and if you like placing your key on a boom 6/7ft above your subject, you will be very limited in where you can place your fill light without having unsightly cables in the corners of your shot. To alleviate this problem, Elinchrom sells an 11.5ft cable available here http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/632760-REG/Elinchrom_EL_11002_EL_11002_11_5_Head.html and will give you an extra 3.5ft of working space for your fill (or key). One cool thing that you can also do once you acquire another cable is to daisy chain the existing 8ft cables into 1 long 16ft cable:  

Ranger Quadra AS  

You will lose 1 stop of light when you do this, so you have to decide if the trade-off is acceptable based on what you are shooting.  

The other consideration is the non-standard mount for Elinchrom modifiers, so Elinchrom also offers a solution http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/632667-REG/Elinchrom_EL_26339_Ranger_Quadra_Reflector_Adaptor.html. The Quadra reflector adapter mounts onto the quadra head and has its own mounting to a lightstand.  

Ranger Quadra AS  

You need to loosen the angle adjustment on the Quadra head’s mount and move it out of the way before placing it into the Quadra Reflector adapter because it does get in the way and you will end up having to fiddle with it once everything is mounted on a lightstand.  

Kacey Beauty Dish w/ Elinchrom Mount: Ranger Quadra AS 

Quadra Reflector Adapter mounted: Ranger Quadra AS

 Quadra Reflector Adapter mounted w/ Quadra Head: Ranger Quadra AS  

This mounting system allows the entire weight of the modifier to be carried by the adapter. The adapter is constructed of metal components which is designed for full size light modifiers. Elinchrom also makes a smaller 40cm x 40cm softbox that can mount directly to the Quadra head without the adapter, but my recommedation is to stick with the adapter approach. This way, all of your light modifiers are cross-system compatible and only need a speedring to mate to your other lights whether they are D-lites or 580s.

The final thing about Quadra heads is the modelling lamp. Most studio strobes use halogen bulbs. These bulbs chew up battery life very quickly. Most bulbs consist of a tungsten filament which is effectively a short circuit between positive and negative terminals of which the byproduct is the light and heat it gives off. To workaround this issue, most portable dc packs have a timer that toggles the modelling lamp on for 15 seconds or so and then turn off. Modelling lights are worth its weight in gold for on location shooters like myself. With 580s, I’ve used iphone screens, flashlights and lighters to acquire focus in difficult situations.  

With such a small system, Elinchrom decided to put LEDs in the Quadra heads. These are super efficient, don’t heat up and can run substantially longer than a equivalent halogen bulb. They are daylight balanced at 5900K which is a bonus since they can also be used for video shooting. They also last forever and will probably outlast the life of the system.  

Ranger Quadra AS  

There was a problem with one of my power cables where when plugged into the pack and head, would sometimes not turn on the modelling light. It would fire without a hitch, but would not turn on the modelling light when activated. I noticed that twisting the actual plug that goes into the head will alleviate the problem, so it may be a problem with one of the pins in the cable itself that specifically involves the modelling light. This happened once with the second cable in my kit as well, so I’m not sure if this problem is limited to my kit or a bit more widespread. In any case, Elinchrom has a 2 year warranty on their systems,  so a warranty repair may be in order in the near future.

The Pack

 

The Ranger Quadra AS can be purchased in 2 options, an “A” system and a “S” system. The “A” heads that come with the “A” system are designated for Action and has the shortest flash duration.  Short flash duration means the flash needs less time to achieve the power requested.  The longer the flash duration, the longer the time required to reach the dialed in power and obviously introduces the possibility of motion blur.  

If you are in a very dark room and there is no ambient light, your flash exposure will solely decide on the flash duration regardless of your actual shutter speed.  

With one “A” head at 400w/s in the A channel, the light has a realistic shutter speed of 1/800s.  

With one “A” head at 133w/s in the B channel, the light has a realistic shutter speed of 1/1700s.  

If my flash duration is 1/800s and my camera shutter is at 1/10s and there is no ambient light in the exposure, your subject will be stopped at your flash duration speed of 1/800s. Regular duration heads are around the 1/160s  to 1/300s range which will register motion blur in your frame if you are trying to capture fast movement. In fact, the camera shutter speed is irrelevant whether I use 1/10s, 1/100s, 1 second, etc. as long as there is no ambient mix in your flash exposure. Your maximum sync speed will depend on your camera, but most professional focal plane shutters top out at around 1/250s.  

One very important consideration when deciding if you actually need the short flash duration system is the replacement cost of the flash tubes. The shorter flash duration tubes are usually more expensive and with any on-location system, the potential for damage is going to be higher than in the studio!  

Ranger Quadra AS  

The pack itself requires a thorough reading of the manual if you expect to be able to utilize all of the included features. In all honesty, I find some of the features a bit gimmicky like the pre-flash optical slave that can remember how many pre-flashes your camera outputs and only firing on the actual exposure flash. With that in mind, the indicators on the pack are relatively simple. From a glance, you can identify:  

  • Optical save on/off
  • Skyport on/off
  • Beep on/off
  • Fast or Slow mode
  • Auto-off on/off
  • 2 Segment battery meter
  • Power level (can be displayed in w/s or f-stops)

To toggle these features, however is another story. The 3 digit seven segment  will throw cryptic messages at you like CP 1, or Ao 1, and the manual should stay in your kit the first few times you head out to use the pack.  I have to admit that reading manuals on location is a bit less than professional, so I nonchalantly referenced it inside the case without anyone being the wiser.  

The battery indicator only has 2 segments, 100% and 50%. In use, I find that after a few shots, I’ll be at the 50% mark. It really isn’t entirely accurate and honestly, if you’ve put in a ton of shots, it will stay at 50% until the near end and then will suddenly shut off and beep signalling a battery swap.  I haven’t had a chance to gauge how many full power pops I get on a full charge, so I’ll update this review once I get a chance to do that.  

The fast mode recycles full power in about ~2 seconds and doubles to 4 seconds in slow mode. Again, since I haven’t measured how many full power pops I can get on a full charge, it is safe to say most slow recycle modes will yield an extra 40% of power.  

The pack has an auto-dump function. If you lower the power, the pack will dissipate the power to bring it to the required power level you have requested. You can accelerate this process by pressing the test flash button and dumping the excess energy. When you adjust power, the pack will flash while in adjustment mode. It will only commit to start charging or dissipating the capacitors only a moment after stopping at the power you’ve requested.  The pack will beep when it is ready to be fired if beep is on. Since the pack beeps whenever it is ready to be fired, after you change power up or down, and the pack adjusts the power, it will beep once it reaches the new power setting you’ve requested.  This is great confirmation if you’re adjusting the power remotely and trying to determining if the request was received by the pack.  

The pack also accepts a 3.5mm sync cable, so it will work with many ebay triggers or Pocketwizards, but the real gem in the kit is the Skyport system.  

Remote Triggering

 

Ranger Quadra AS  

The skyport trigger can remotely adjust the power level, toggle the modelling lights and selectively fire groups of different lights from the camera. The best part is that this trigger will work with any of Elinchrom’s RX receivers giving the same type of control to those lights. The only issue I find with this, coming from Pocketwizards is the channel selection process. I’m not a big fan of dip-switches myself and from the Quadra pack itself , there is no mention as to how each channel is reflected when you change channels on the pack. There is a page in the skyport manual that references exactly what each channel selection refers to in dip switch settings, but I can’t understand why Elinchrom didn’t utilize the LED segments to display that information.  

Instead of:  

  • C1
  • C2
  • C3
  • etc.

and show:  

  • _-_
  • _–
  • –_
  • etc.

I plan on photocopying and throwing a reference card in my wallet until I commit the entire channel guide to memory!  

Holding the “power level up” button will turn on the modelling lights for the timer duration configured on the pack.  If you have multiple quadra packs set to different groups, you can fire each group independently and adjust power for each group independently. I also have a ranger RX pack with an RX receiver, so I have my Quadra pack set to group 1 and my RX pack set to group 2. For strobist-ers that are mixing 480/580s with Universal skyports, you would configure your small strobes to a different group to be able to achieve the same purpose (without the power control/modelling light respectively). The battery uses a CR2430, which I could not find at just any local drug store or Canadian Tire in my neighborhood, so plan on stocking a few of these in your kit for those moments you are not near a specialty camera store.  

In the field

 

The case that comes with the Ranger Quadra is not well suited for the way I shoot because it is a bit flimsy and the latches always seem like the case wants to open by itself. My solution was a Pelican 1510 case w/ dividers. The entire kit fits comfortably inside along with my Skyport system, both batteries, heads and an extra 11.5ft Quadra cable and a Quadra reflector adapter. I also managed to put in 2 Pocketwizard Multimaxes and a Sekonic Lightmeter as well. The case has wheels and is a bit more robust for my more bushwhacking shoots.  

Ranger Quadra AS  

The heads do not have protective covers which surprised me a bit as most studio lights always come with some form of plastic cover or shield. I’ve put the heads facing towards the back of the case for safety. Since I’ve bought my kit, there are protective caps available to be purchased http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/688102-REG/Elinchrom_EL_25100_Multifunction_Cap_for_Ranger.html for these heads. Many people will want to throw this system into a small camera bag or backpack, so these caps will be valuable instead of having to find a way to pack them without having the flash tube crushed/damaged.  

Sample Shots

 

_AYP9991

The short cables forced me to use another system in the set-up shot above, but I could easily use a 580ex in its place if I’m trying to maximize portability. I’m usually carrying lightstands and other equipment, so durability for me takes precendence over portability. One thing I should mention is that mixing lights will always introduce some variability to the color temperature. The Ranger Quadra system measures about 5400K-5600K from min to max power using a Minolta Colormeter III. My 580s measure much cooler at 5900K-6200K.  I’ll be adding to this review shortly with a shot that includes light from 3 different strobes and the difference in color temperature between all three.  If different lights are falling on the same subject, you might have a photoshop nightmare on your hands!  

flickr[]_AYP0108-Editflickr[]_AYP0131-Editflickr[]_AYP0139-Edit  

I hope this review helps you out in your strobist adventures, if there is something you want me to try out or have questions, please drop me a line!

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7 Responses to “Ranger Quadra AS “A” System Review”


  1. 1 Matt
    May 16, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Nice review! Thanks.

  2. 2 joe
    August 8, 2010 at 10:48 am

    omg god nice cam

  3. September 9, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Great review. I’m thinking about buying one today, but after reading a few reports, I still can’t honestly decide between this and a larger Ranger RX.

    I like the portability of this system, and the fact that I get two heads, a case, and a skyport for the same price as a single light RX unit, but I’m worried the Quadra doesn’t have enough power to stop daylight.

    I doubt I’ll ever have to shoot outdoors at midday, but I’m worried that they won’t be powerful enough to shoot in late afternoon.

    Also, I understand the Quadras need an adaptor, I have all Bowens accessories, so I assume I would need an adaptor to fit on the adaptor. Sounds like it could be a nightmare for me.

  4. 4 ruel
    December 15, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Just got the quadra myself. On the skyport, when I change the setting to speed mode, I no longer can control.the battery pack.

    How can you change settings on the battery pack to handle sync speeds of 250s.

    Thanks
    Ruel

  5. January 31, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Thanks for the review.
    I’m going to soon buy one to cover my weddings in French riviera because I need a very portative solution and the 400w would be enough. The only thing I dislike is the overpriced adaptator for softbox.

    Alexis Borel

  6. March 14, 2011 at 12:39 am

    Great Review!

    Quick question: you mentioned that the Quadra typically showed a color temperature of 5400-5600 from your experience, how does the Ranger RX compare? Are the RX and the Ranger able to mix easily on location in regards to color temp? (I’m thinking, RX as key, Quadra as fill).

    Cheers,
    Simon

  7. August 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I have a burning question – can you mix the Quadra Ranger system to fire with 580 ex (Canon) flash units? How is this done? How do you mix the Skyport trigger on the camera with Pocket Wizards (flex ettL) on the Canon flash units?
    many thanks. This is plaguing me


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