Elinchrom Ranger Quadra First Thoughts

by Simon Keitch on January 8, 2010

A few weeks back I decided to bite the bullet and invested in a Ranger Quadra system from Elinchrom after a long period of personal dissatisfaction with my lighting equipment. The problem I’ve had with lighting gear is that I love small flash; I’m a big fan of Nikon speedlights for their compact size, light weight, and the fact that they run on AA batteries – all of which makes them perfect for traveling to and working on location – the downside being that they’re short on power and you’re somewhat limited on the choice of available light modifiers. Last year I decided to step up to big lights with some Bowens Gemini Pro 750 watt heads and packs; the Bowens lights work flawlessly and with power to spare, but the heads are the size and weight of a breeze block and the packs aren’t far behind… Plus never having used mono-light heads with battery packs previously I naively assumed that the modelling light would work with a pack which of course it doesn’t because it would drain too much power; this is a small but important point as one of my frustrations with speedlights was the lack of a modeling light – not because I need to see what the light is doing but because I often find myself working in very low light and can’t actually see the subject; I’ve used everything from a bike headlight to my iPhone on past shoots (just one of many reasons I use a Nikon D3; the auto-focus never lets me down). Elinchrom debuted the Ranger Quadra system last year which bridges the gap between small and big flash; significantly smaller and lighter than the standard Elinchrom Ranger system but still capable of using Elinchrom’s impressive range of light modifiers and with significantly more power and better raw light quality than a speedlight. Plus it features an LED modeling light which due to the low power requirements of LED bulbs allows it to be run from the pack; as far as I’m aware this is the first time this has been done and it’s a huge coup for Elinchrom.

I’ve had the chance to do a couple of shoots with the Ranger Quadra heads and packs now so here are my initial thoughts:

I went for the ‘kit’ option as it’s by far the best way to buy into the Ranger Quadra system; you get two heads, one pack, two batteries, Skyport trigger and all the neccessary cables (plus a carry strap for the pack) etc and it all comes in hard case. I chose the S heads as the flash duration on full power is still 1/1300 which puts it way ahead of the already very fast speedlights. Two heads will run off one pack but it’s an asymmetric power output and you cannot control each head independently; it’s split 66%/33% which gives a two to one ratio; this really limits the use of the second head and so I’ll be adding a second pack at some point.  The upside of the asymmetric power distribution however is that if you’re using one head then the ‘A’ socket provides maximum power while the ‘B’ socket gives lower power and a shorter flash duration.

The Ranger Quadra pack is compact and lightweight and features an integrated Skyport receiver as well as a sync socket (jack cable type) for using with Pocket Wizards or any other type of radio trigger (or even a sync cable if you want to go old school…) plus there’s a built in photocell for optical slave triggering. There are plenty of options and settings but I certainly wouldn’t want to try and navigate the menu system without the manual to hand; personally I don’t see this being a big issue as I have a pretty set way of working but if you need or like to chop and change then you may find this frustrating (even something as simple as turning the ready beep off requires going into the menu system).

The heads are very small, and very light; the LED modeling light is a huge plus and works well. On the downside the Quadra specific modifiers are limited and you’ll really want the RQ-EL adaptor which allows the use of use of the excellent range of Elinchrom modifiers. The adaptor replaces both the standard reflector and bracket and provides a heavier duty support for the head; this provides support for any Elinchrom softbox, beauty dish, or octabox up to 100cm. I’ve been using the 100cm Rotalux Softbox and the quality is superb. One problem with adding the adaptor is that the head then won’t fit in the hard case which is perfectly formed for the kit as it’s sold; it’s easy to take the adaptor on and off but add in an extra pack (as mentioned in a previous paragraph) and that lovely hard case becomes redundant and so I’m already considering transferring everything to a shoulder bag or wheely case. The heads do feel a little plastic-y and fragile as you might expect; time will tell if there’s actually any durability issue as a result, but the plastic umbrella mount is a bit of a worry and works on friction alone; not sure if I’d trust it outdoors; certainly not in a strong wind.

Elinchrom Ranger Quadra Umbrella Bracket

The Skyport trigger is very small compared to the Pocket Wizards that I normally use and the remote power control is a really nice feature to have; I’ve heard that they don’t have the range or are as reliable as Pocket Wizard however and this was born out when the Skyport inexplicably stopped working mid-way through a short photo-shoot and I had to switch to my Pocket Wizards. Upon investigation later the Skyport worked as normal so the cause of the failure is still a mystery.

I was intrigued as to just how much power the 400 Ws pack would give me in practical terms and fortunately I got to find out pretty quickly; this band portrait was shot at F14 ISO 200 with a single head and softbox at full power and backed up enough to provide an even light across all five subjects. Power can be adjusted by 1/10th of a stop up to one full stop per push via the settings menu, and if you like shooting at large apertures the pack dials down very low via the ‘B’ power output. I haven’t tested it thoroughly at the low end yet but I have taken photos at F2.8 ISO 200 which is much lower than I can dial my Bowens 750W heads down to without backing them up and losing the softness.

So is the Ranger Quadra system any good? Well, yes but that’s not really the point. Lights – like camera bodies and lenses – are just tools and whether they work well can be largely irrelevant; they need to be the correct tool for the job; that’s to say that they need to be best tool for the kind of work you do and the images you want to produce. I have to travel a lot with my equipment; often on planes and trains and usually without an assistant, as well as hiking around on outdoor location shoots so my gear needs to be light and portable, plus I need to be able to set it up anywhere so it can’t be reliant on AC power. Typically I don’t need huge amounts of power. So while the Ranger Quadra isn’t perfect (what is?), it’s a great system that strikes the right balance between small and big flash; and before Elinchrom stepped in with the Quadra that gap used to be pretty huge.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl Wicker February 1, 2010 at 20:31

Thanks for the info, I’m thinking of getting the same kit… How are they holding up after a month?

skeitch February 2, 2010 at 03:29

Very well; they’ve performed flawlessly and I’m still amazed at how light the whole system is.

Jupu February 8, 2010 at 05:02

The Quadra is an intriguing set, even if the durability of the of plastic heads at -20C and how easy the adaptors are to work with worry me a little… The Ranger Speex RX I have is a 13 kg set with two heads+cables (a bit too heavy but strong performance), the Hensel Lithium would be 10 kg and Ranger Quadra 5-6 kgs with the adaptors, heads and cables… quite a unique portability factor.

Deno February 15, 2010 at 20:14

I am doubting wether to get this or 2x600RX Digital strobes at the moment (/w Tronix Explorer for location shooting ofc).

Would you recommend the Quadra for mixed studio and location work (portraits, 3/4 and full body single/dual person shooting with Deep Octa as main) over the RX Digitals?

Have you been able to overpower the sun with the Quadra set?

Thanks for the elaborate evaluation you did, very informative overall!

Regards,
Deno

skeitch February 16, 2010 at 04:07

Hi Deno,
The Quadra heads with the RQ-EL adaptors fitted with take any of the Elinchrom softboxes/octas etc up to 100cm EXCEPT the deep octa, so if you’re set on using a deep octa (or already have one) that rules out the Quadra. The Quadra heads are fully compatible with the big octa lightbanks however. As mentioned in the article I shot this outdoor band portrait with one Quadra head at full power in a 100cm Rotalux softbox straight into direct sunlight at f14/ISO 200; for lighting a single subject overpowering the sun even further would be no problem at all even at full length. The deep octa compatibility aside I personally don’t think that 600 Ws heads offer enough extra power over the Quadras to warrant the extra size and weight on location; I would want at least 1200 Ws per head to justify the added bulk etc.

Deno February 16, 2010 at 05:19

Simon, thanks for your detailed reply.
The Dutch importer assures me the Deep Octa is compatible.
Also Ron Scheffler did a review using the Deep Octa, but remarked that the locking system needs adjusted washers to prevent creeping due to the weight. Easy fix luckily.

I was mainly concerned that the fixed ratio of the A en B head of the Quadras (as opposed to the relative freedom of the RX Digital series) would be really limiting the setups, as using distance to vary ratios would influence the quality of light (harsh vs soft). Have you had any issues with this or is it trivial?

I’d much prefer the lighter Quadra set in order to be able to take it out whenever I want (without breaking my back on the weight), but since it will be my first lighting setup and I am on a budget (either Quadra set or 2x600RX Digital is the limit for now) I’m trying to get the most versatile option.

skeitch February 16, 2010 at 06:25

That’s good to know that the deep octa will work with an easy modification. I referred to the asymmetrical power output in my original post and it is limiting if using both heads although the RX Digital pack that you mentioned has a symmetrical dual output only which I would personally find to be far more limiting for various reasons. Running two heads from one pack isn’t ideal anyway as it splits the power and prevents moving the second head too far due to the fact that it’s anchored to the same point (and the cables aren’t that long, plus I don’t like having cables trailing around for obvious reasons). Most of the time I use a combination of one ranger pack/head, Nikon speedlights and occasionally a fill card but I’ll probably pick up a second Quadra pack at some point (the kit comes with two batteries so it’s just the upper control panel part that needs to be added for a dual pack and head system).

Deno February 16, 2010 at 07:05

Was thinking along the same lines regarding the control panel part Simon, unfortunately the price is a bit too steep for my wallet at the moment to consider a second pack.
Since I’m just getting started I have a lot of experience to gain with just a single light anyway.
The Quadra with a second head seems teh way to go so I can use the 2nd head indoors as a background light, and just use the single head for outdoor purposes.
Thanks for your insights!

Andy Smith February 16, 2010 at 11:41

Great review, thank you Simon. I’m currently looking at a similar set up but. Forgive me if I may have skipped over this in your extensive review but I have a question regarding extension cables. You can buy 2.5m length cables to extend the distance between the head and the pack, which I’m thinking about getting but I was told that the output is reduced, or rather the power reaching the head is reduced, because of the extended cable length [presumably, although I'm not sure about that]. I can’t see any extension cables in the photographs but wondered wether you had gone for this option or not but if so, what is your experience of using the extension cables with regard to loss of power/output from the heads.

Thanks again,
Andy Smith.

skeitch February 20, 2010 at 06:08

Hi Andy,
I don’t use any extension cables; just the standard 2.5m cables; when working outdoors I hang the pack off the light stand which adds a lot of stability and helps to prevent it being blown over in strong winds so even the 2.5m cable is generally longer than I need. You can buy 3.5m cables which don’t suck any extra power but if you’re plugging in an extension cable there certainly would be some power loss.

Luke June 29, 2010 at 07:52

Nice review, Simon, and very interesting. I also use the Ranger Quadra – mainly for outdoor sports photography (review on my blog). As you say, nothing’s perfect, but the Quadra is a great tool. Cheers, Luke

Timothy Lima August 8, 2010 at 18:52

Hello Simon!Great review!Just ordered an Quadra!I am using also PWs which cables should i use to connect them to the quadra and where can i get them?

Thanks!

Timothy

skeitch August 9, 2010 at 02:43

Hi Timothy,
You’ll need a cable that has a 3.5mm jack on both ends; you can buy an audio cable with this configuration from any electronics store but make sure you get a mono cable as a stereo cable will not work.

Timothy Lima August 9, 2010 at 14:09

Hey Simon!Thanks for the reply!!Best wishes for your work!

Timothy

Jenika's Lens December 18, 2010 at 20:22

Thank you for this review, I’m looking to purchase my first lighting kit and was interested in something with a little more oomph than Canon 580s.

I’m wondering how they’re holding up durability-wise, now nearly a year after you wrote the review?

skeitch December 19, 2010 at 09:27

They’ve been absolutely fine durability-wise; I haven’t had issues at all although I do use the RQ-EL adaptors which takes all of the stress off of the heads themselves.

Runar January 3, 2011 at 01:23

Hey!

Whats the biggest modifier you can use when you want to owerpower the sun with the Quadra?

And is it possible to get the output low enough on the Quadra to use apertures of f/2-f/2.8?

And does 53″ Octa / 39″ deep octa fit on the Quadra heads?

Thanks!

Alexis Borel January 31, 2011 at 13:42

Thanks for the review.
I’m going to buy one for my weddings and was looking for extra infos and feedbacks

skeitch February 1, 2011 at 05:00

Hi Runar,
Yes, you can use the Quadra heads at large apertures although of course it depends on modifiers and distance to subject etc. As long as you’re using the RQ-EL adaptors then any of the Elinchrom modifiers will fit although Elinchrom only recommends using softboxes/octas up to 100cm.

Pedro Moreno February 5, 2011 at 09:54

I have the quadra system and I love it… is great, portable and reliable… I shoot between Spain, Venezuela and USA… this is a great tool to have.

Jan Malmstrom February 9, 2011 at 16:22

A question to Pedro (and the rest of you guys)… what does the airlines have to say about carrying or checking in big battery things like this? Has anyone had any problem with this?

skeitch February 10, 2011 at 05:26

I fly with these all the time; there’s no problem other than the usual baggage restrictions/allowances, and depending on the airline and how many cases you’re traveling with you may have to pay excess baggage fees. I generally fly with three cases, and the Ranger Quadras get checked in; I always have to pay for the excess although the amount varies greatly, but the smaller size and weight of the Quadras means they’re cheaper to fly with than larger heads and packs.

Nick Kilford May 9, 2011 at 16:54

Hey Simon,
Great post on the Quadras. I, like yourself bought Bowens 500 pro monolights (3) with travelpaks but after a few location shoots I have found them to be a pain to carry and for this reason I’m eyeballing the Quadras. In the event I don´t sell my Bowens kit and switch to Elinchrom, and since you have both brands, I was wondering if it would be OK to mix the Quadras with the Gemini monolights? Have you tried this? Would flash duration, syncing and temperature be a problem?
Cheers

skeitch May 10, 2011 at 06:04

Hi Nick,
I sold all of my Bowens equipment shortly after getting the Ranger Quadras but I can tell you that you’ll have no problem syncing the two either with Pocket Wizards or by optical slave depending on position etc. There is a shift in colour between the two though so I would avoid mixing them in scenarios where this would cause a problem; if I remember correctly the Bowens heads had a strong magenta shift which can lead to a green cast in the shadows if (for example) using a Quadra for fill.

Pedro Moreno August 26, 2011 at 09:34

I have been going back and forth to Venezuela, Spain and USA… not a problem at all… the only thing I do is that I do take off the fuse and I do separate the battery from the head… I usually used Stretchtite to cover the pieces and I put them into a bag. Just to make sure no liquid will accidentally be spilled on my ranger. And that’s it… Also I forgot to mention that I used with my speedlite 580 II all together and it works great… there is little setup you will have to do first but is worth it.

Brian Heiland September 18, 2011 at 14:22

I have had the Quadra for about 6 months. At about 5 months one of my A-Heads started to intermittantly fail. When triggered the unit attempt to fire but would not fire. (Audible click can be heard in the head) Sometimes the head would fire properly though. I just sent the problem head head back for evaluation and service. I expect that it should be covered under warranty, but will have to wait to see what tech support has to say.
Here is a link to a video demonstrating how the intermittent operation appears during use.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pvy3HaT9hhE&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Joe Plimmer October 6, 2011 at 16:23

I have owned the a quadra pack with 2 heads for about 6 months, used regularly with my older elinchrom softboxes. It’s always been ultra reliable….. The main problem I have is the lack of light modifying tools. I really wish Elinchrom would provide a beauty dish or softbox with grids and eggcrates, so that light doesn’t spill everywhere. if I am doing a real serious shoot I will always hire profoto equipment because Elinchrom just doesn’t have the right tools for the job.

Great Blog by the way

James Cheadle November 11, 2011 at 11:32

Hi, I’ve been using this kit since it’s release in 2009. I own three A heads and two packs and when it’s all working it really is a great system. However, I do feel that the build quality is poor and if you intend to use them outdoors then I would advise against purchasing this system. In total my kit has been returned to The Flash Centre, in London, five times to be repaired. Both packs have died on me, all three heads have blown, all my cables have arced and the airport transmitter has basically just fallen to pieces over time. It’s good to hear some positive stories from over posters but unfortunately my experience has been mostly negative and I seriously regret purchasing them. I’ll also add that if you do buy this kit you’ll need to buy a strong travel case for them, the Stock Elinchrom case is very flimsy and definitely not tough enough to be put in the hold a plane. Good Luck.

Brian Farrell December 4, 2011 at 08:12

I have been using this equipment for portraiture and weddings also since 2009 and personally I think they are amazing. My Bowens gear has literally not left it’s case since I got the Quadras. I used to cart around the Bowens battery packs with 750 Pros for outdoor work but now with modern cameras and higher ISO’s I can do the same work with these much lighter units. For weddings I usually use them for the group shots as fill and for the couple shots where I have my assistant hold one on an extendable 3m boom (this is the boom for the california sun bounce sun swatter). I use the 1m octa for this as the combined head and soft box weight is manageable. The only negative I have is having to use that ridiculous adapter in order to use the soft box. I do recommend getting the 18cm reflector and a grid. The LED modelling lamps are fine for positioning your lights etc but if you plan on using them to light your scene you can’t really shoot with them unless you plan on long exposures or bump the ISO. Personally they come into their own for me when clearing up after an outdoor shoot in the evenings. I put the heads on 3m light stands pointing down so I can light the shoot area to assist clearing up. Like other commentators here I recommend getting a peli case or such for transporting them safely as the system case is not strong enough. I haven’t found the heads weak but they do look like they will break admittedly. I recommend you get the clip on diffuser covers if you are worried about damaging the tubes. My Skyport has also fallen to bits and has to be re-gaffered for each shoot :) Overall – very lightweight, the quality of light is outstanding. A no brainer purchase.

davhughes@gmail.com Hughes March 12, 2012 at 09:40

Thanks for taking the time and effort to review the Ranger system.

It’s something I am thinking about buying, although I am also tempted by the Lencarta Safari kit.

Cheers.

Dav

Manvin July 4, 2013 at 05:46

Great review by the way, I’m in the market to buy Elinchrom Ranger Quadra with A head. However i’d like to know more about LED modelling lamp:

Can we control the power for the LED modelling lamp anywhere between 1w to 20w?
Can we use the flash lamp as a continues light?
Can we over power the sunlight using 1x or 2x of 400w flash ? i know RX 1200 is way too heavy!

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