Finding a portable monolight that works as well as AC-powered studio strobes is tough. Power and battery durability aside, there is also consistency to consider; plus, color temperature and power output can’t vary when every frame matters.
The Elinchrom Five is a well-thought-out workhorse that’s intended to work alongside the company’s other monolights. With multiple options for charging the batteries, individual battery power indicators, easy-to-use buttons, a large display, and a well-designed light modifier mount, the Five holds its own.
Whether I used the Five on location or at my studio, the monolights performed wonderfully. After they were initially charged, I was able to use the units for multiple sessions before a recharge was needed. When used in my studio with a soft box and multiple modifiers, the units produced a lovely quality of light that provided consistent color temperature and flash output from frame to frame. When working outdoors at midday, I had no trouble creating senior portraits with the sun as a rim light for a natural look. For a tennis photo shoot, I wanted a feeling of movement, so I didn’t use the HSS mode to entirely freeze the subject, although this is well within the Five’s capability. The monolights did a great job of capturing the moment. You can even see the puff of debris where the tennis ball had been. Since there was a high wind warning, we opted for bare bulb strobes, and this melded nicely with the sunlight to provide a harsh direct sun look for the middle of the day.
The Five has a seven f/stop range (7 to 522 watt-seconds) with power increments of one-tenth stop in Standard mode and three-tenths in Action mode; it can be adjusted -3.0 to +3.0. The power range display is 1/1 to 1/64. At minimum power for Action mode, the shortest flash duration is 1/8,080 second; at full power, the flash duration is 1/250 second. The modeling lamp is a continuous running 26W LED (2,700-6,500K) with an output of 4,000 Lumens with a CRI 91-94. At full power, the light’s recycling time is just 1.6 seconds. The Five has three modes: Standard, Action, and HSS. The color temperature is optimized over the entire range in Standard mode (5,600K). In Action mode priority is given to speed: 5,900K (Action) and 5,500K (HSS).
The Five is compatible with other monolights, though it’s designed to be a sibling to the AC-powered Elinchrom ELC 500. It has built-in Bluetooth, so you can control the Five and other Elinchrom monolights from your camera (with a required Elinchrom Transmitter Pro). The big question current Elinchrom users may have is how the Five compares to Elinchrom’s other portable monolight, the One. The main differences are power, weather resistance, and size. The Five has 522Ws; the One (a smaller, more compact battery-powered unit), has 131Ws. The One delivers more flashes at less power and recycles faster, but the Five is more powerful. However, if you compare the One and the Five at 131Ws, the One recycles at 0.9 seconds and the Five recycles at 0.4 seconds. The Five’s design is less weather resistant than the One, which is a sealed unit.
That brings me to the main feature of the Five—portable power with swappable batteries. The Five battery takes about 90 minutes to charge when plugged into the unit via USB-C; you can also charge the battery directly (via USB-C), although this takes an hour longer due to the proprietary speed charging nature of the head. Since both charging options use USB-C, you’ll never be without a proprietary charging cord again. You can simultaneously charge the battery and use the unit while the Five is plugged in. Each battery lasts for 450 full-powered shots, which is more than sufficient for a family portrait session. For full-day jobs, I can see this being a lifesaver.
There are some minor downsides. The Five isn’t the lightest monolight out there at 6.6 pounds. Although it boasts Smart Pro Active cooling, the fan noise may be an issue if you’re capturing video. If you need a light that’s sealed against the elements, you’ll want to consider the smaller One instead. And finally, the price tag. The Five isn’t an entry-line monolight. If you’re in the market for Elinchrom lights, you’re making a long-term investment. You get what you pay for, and Elinchrom is definitely dedicated to quality and consistency. If you’re already an Elinchrom user, this is a no-brainer. You’ll be able to use your existing lights and modifiers in conjunction with the Five. As an owner of non-Elinchrom studio strobes, I would consider switching systems down the road. I loved the adaptability of the Five and will think about the Elinchrom when the time comes to update my studio lighting gear.
The Elinchrom Five comes as a single- ($1,849.99) or dual-head kit ($3,649.99). Additional batteries are $389.99 each.
Betsy Finn is a portrait artist in Michigan.