Sweet Light from Switzerland

As new cameras become ever more adept at capturing at high ISOs without noise or limited dynamic range, lighting manufacturers are introducing lower-powered, more mobile monolights. These mini-monos are sort of like super speedlights with either a built-in or removable battery, are TTL and HSS capable, and have roughly double the power of a full-size speedlight. Case in point: the Elinchrom One.

Working photographers from the film era remember when multi-thousand watt-second pack-and-head systems were par for the course in commercial photography studios. Even for those of us who did most of our work on location, they were a standard part of the lighting kit. Those large systems still have their place today for some photographers. Conversely, if you started working as a photographer during the past decade, you probably began as a “strobist” and learned to work with multiple hot shoe mount flashes as your go-to lighting. As off-camera lights, speedlights also still have their place.

Mini-monolights, by which I mean small monolights in the 100 to 250 watt-second range, have become increasingly popular. These fill the niche when a speedlight isn’t powerful enough, and the hassles that go along with more powerful lights (weight, bulk, larger stands, etc.) make them impracticable. Part of what makes the speedlight and mini-mono approach more viable are the advances in camera sensor technology. For most modern full-frame mirrorless cameras, the new sensors deliver image quality at ISO 400 and, in some cases, ISO 1600, nearly matching base ISO quality. What if you need greater depth of field, and the mini-mono class lights are not quite powerful enough? With high-resolution workhorse full-frame cameras—like the Canon EOS R5, Nikon Z 7II and Z 9, and Sony Alpha 1 and A7RIV—you can choose to use a wider focal length. Those cameras’ APS-C format option delivers a high-quality 20-megapixel image.

A person, not fully in frame, holds their small dog in harness and leash for a portrait taken from a bridge that prominently features the Atlanta downtown skyline in the background. The (possibly) Cairn Terrier has a very dignified expression.
©Ellis Vener
For this portrait I used two Elinchrom One lights, each about 6 to 7 feet from the subject. I fitted the light on the left with an Elinchrom seven-inch Grid reflector and the other with a 39-inch Rotalux Octa Softbox.

The Elincrom One has capacitors capable of letting loose a 131 watt-second electrical charge through its large-bore, nearly circular exposed flash tube and is designed primarily for working on location. An exposed flash tube means it does a better job of spreading light evenly into an umbrella, soft box, or reflector.

The Elinchrom One is built for TTL control through the Elinchrom Transmitter Pro or Transmitter Plus. In manual mode, you can set power in 1/10- or 1/3-stop increments from full (131 watt-seconds) down to minimum (7 watt-seconds). In standard mode using the t0.1 standard, flash durations range from 1/155 second at full power down to 1/1,530 second. In action mode, the flash duration range is considerably shorter: 1/650 to 1/7,000 second. In the control menu, you can choose three ways of describing output: the proprietary Elinchrom scale (which for this light runs from 0.1 to 4.3), the 1-10 scale (5.8 to 10), or watt-seconds.

©Ellis Vener
I lit this family portrait with a single Elinchrom One in a Plume Wafer 75 soft box. The distance to the subject was approximately 6 feet. I used a Matthews Studio Hollywood Combo stand with a 40-inch C-Stand arm to place the light over the camera.

Understanding Flash Duration

The International Organization of Standards has established two methods for stating flash duration. The one generally used in marketing is the t0.5 method, which measures the length of time the flash emits 50% or more of the peak amount of light produced at a given power setting. The t0.1 method measures only the period when the light emits 10% of a given power setting’s peak. Although a t0.1 time is typically three times longer than the t0.5 period, t0.1 is more important because it measures the entire time the flash is emitting a photographically significant amount of light. For general photography, these measurements don’t matter. But when gauging a flash’s ability to freeze motion, pay attention to the t0.1 value.

©Ellis Vener
Once the sun had gone down, I captured these bikers with the same lighting setup as described in the previous family portrait.

It isn’t the power, the user interface, or the internal rechargeable battery that sets the Elinchrom One apart from the competition. Instead, it is the flash’s front end. Unlike similarly powered mini-monolights that bury the flash tube and reflector inside the body of the light, the Elinchrom One uses a flash tube and glass cover that extend out from the flash. Behind the flash tube is a wrinkle-finish silver reflector with vents and a centrally placed 20-watt daylight-balanced LED modeling light.

A flash tube that extends from the body, even slightly, that’s covered with a protective glass dome is a welcome design for people who use soft boxes and beauty dish reflectors. But what I find fascinating is that to make the One small enough to be easily portable, Elinchrom did away with its large-diameter standard reflector/modifier attachment. Currently, Elinchrom makes four OCF Series modifiers: a polycarbonate diffusion dome/flash tube protector (included), and a wide-angle reflector (16cm) suitable for use with umbrellas, a colored gel dome kit, and barn doors. The One is the first Elinchrom light I’ve worked with that’s designed to take umbrellas with industry-standard 8mm-diameter shafts and a four-bladed barn door set.

But the big news is that the One is compatible with the best light modifier mount in the photography industry: Profoto’s ratchet-locking 1.5-inch-wide rubber collar. Using standard Elinchrom light modifiers on the One requires either the included rubber collar that slides on the front of the light or Elinchrom’s $179.95 EL-Profoto adapter, which has a locking Elinchrom collar on the front and a Profoto collar on the rear. The included collar has two lugs that fit the Elinchrom bayonet and works with smaller Elinchrom metal reflectors. Bigger Elinchrom mount modifiers require the EL-Profoto adapter. Or you can use Profoto mount reflectors or third-party speed rings for Profoto lights.

©Ellis Vener
Exposure: 1/200 second at f/9, ISO 200

Like the similarly sized Godox AD 100 Pro and AD300 Pro and Profoto’s B10X and forthcoming A2 mini-monos, the Elinchrom One has a removable combination stand and umbrella mount. This mount screws into a 1/4"-20 thread receiver. The removable stand mount opens up other mounting options, including using it on a heavy-duty flash bracket as a potent near-camera light.

Other features include built-in Bluetooth for controlling your lights through Elinchrom’s iOS app; 20 frequency channels for each of the four groups that are color-coded for easy identification; dimmable modeling light with a color temperature range from 2,700 to 6,500K; and active charging through the USB-C port so it can be used while it’s connected to a power bank or an AC-to-USB-C adapter.

The Elinchrom One retails for $999.99. A two-light kit sells for $1,999. Each comes with a well-made protective case, and the two-light kit includes a well-made and stylish backpack. While there are both less and more expensive mini-monolights, the combination of Elinchrom reliability, power, mounting versatility, and additional practical features place the Elinchrom One in a sweet spot for working photographers.

Ellis Vener is a contributing editor. 

Tags: gear  lighting