Thanks to the growing number of serious photographers now using inexpensive, on-location lighting (which can be attributed to excellent resources such as Strobist) the competition for radio triggers is heating up. Today I am reviewing Elinchrom’s SkyPort Universal Set. First I would like to mention that I am not affiliated in any way with either Mamiya/PocketWizard or Bogen Imaging/Elinchrom. I am just a hobbyist and do this on my spare time, so please feel free to contact me if there are errors in this article.

I should also note that, for this review, I did borrow some pocketwizard Plus IIs from my good friend and photographer Fielding Cathcart as well as a PocketWizard Multimax from another friend, co-worker and photographer Gary Weinheimer. Please check out their websites and photography.

Triggered by radio triggers

PocketWizards – The Current Champion of the Radio Trigger Ring

Traditionally, PocketWizard transceivers have been the industry standard with a very positive reputation for their reliability, simplicity and range. Today, PocketWizards are available in two different flavors: The Plus II ($190 each street) and the uber-expensive MultiMax ($290 each street). With either setup, each individual unit is a transceiver, meaning it can be set to be a transmitter (trigger) or a receiver. This means that the photographer must purchase at least two units to get up and running. The price is one of the main downfalls of the system, especially considering the high cost of two MultiMax units. With a large percentage of photographers using the Plus II units, which are limited to only 4-channels, it is very common for channel conflicts to occur.

MultiMaxs have some major benefits over the Plus IIs, such as 32 built-in channels (vs 4 on the Plus II), an Intervalometer for time lapse photography, multiple flash groups for separating lights and customizable lag time adjustment which can be used for syncing multiple cameras to fire either in sequence or simultaneously. At just under $600 for a pair, however, the units are outside the budget for most.

Elinchrom SkyPort – Enter the Contender

Weighing in at a fraction of both the weight and price of the PocketWizards, Elinchrom’s SkyPort system promises to deliver similar performance and professional reliability with some unique features. As opposed to PocketWizard’s transceiver design, the Skyports are dedicated units: transmitters and receivers. Three receivers and a transmitter in the handy case Each unit is available separately or the system can be purchased as a set. The set includes a receiver and a transmitter, as well as a nice molded carrying case (which can accommodate up to four units + cables), a charger with worldwide AC adapters for the receiver, a battery for the transmitter and a slew of sync cables.

First Impressions

These things are small! Both units combined are about half the size of a PocketWizard. The transmitter doesn’t have a hotshoe lock, but seems to slide in very tightly. I’ve seen people use Velcro on top of their prism to reinforce the transmitter. Tiny transmitterThe transmitter has two small switches on its side: one selects the triggering mode, firing on all groups or a specific group, while the other switch selects one of the four groups/subchannels. The main channel selection switches are located in a recessed area on the face of the transmitter and unfortunately the tiny switches are very difficult to adjust with just an index finger. There is a test fire button in addition to the “+” and “-” buttons which are used to control Elinchrom RX style strobes.

The receiver is slightly larger than the transmitter and features the same channel and group selection switches. In the latest version of the receiver, Elinchrom replaced the on/off switch, previously located on the side of the receiver, with a single on/off button on the face of the unit. The button is one of my main complaints, as it can be accidentally pressed. Having to hold the button down for 2-3 seconds would have been a nice feature and would alleviate the worry of killing the battery. The receivers use a miniphone connector for sync and come with small straps for hanging.

Both units have the same aerials which seem like they are a light aluminum surrounded by a flexible plastic. The aerial is tougher than it looks. I have to admit that the aerials seem a bit flimsy, but they can withstand some pressure. It is not necessary to have the aerial flipped up at closer distances (normal studio use) and the molded case included with the units should protect them in transport.

Power

Unlike the AA batteries that PocketWizards use, the SkyPort receiver uses a lithium ion rechargeable battery. The unit plugs directly into the wall and charges in about an hour or less (I haven’t timed it because I’ve had to charge very few times). There is a charge indicator light which turns off after the units are fully charged. Elinchrom claims a battery life of up to 30 hours and the units will go to a power-saving stand-by mode after four hours. I see two problems with this system: 1) There is no battery life indicator which is quite important considering… 2) the battery is not user replaceable. My advise is to charge before an important shoot as the batteries will not develop aThe tiny channel switches memory. It should be mentioned that included AC adapter comes with a variety of international adapters and will work throughout most of the world.

The transmitter uses a replaceable CR-2430 battery which is advertised to last up to three months. Elinchrom includes a spare transmitter battery insert, just in case! The transmitter does not have a power on light and this doesn’t help forgetful people like myself who find it difficult to remember to turn things off.

Channels and Groups (Sub-channels)

One of advantages of the system is its multiple channel and group support. Even though the system is advertised as having eight channels, it has the potential for 32 different channel combinations thanks to the four sub channels (groups). Skyport Universal Receiver There are numerous benefits to having four groups, one being the capability to separate lights. An example would be shooting a basketball game, each hoop could have a strobe in a different group, giving the photographer control to choose which strobes are firing.

As previously mentioned the 4 subchannels can be used in any combination with the 8 primary channels to create up to 32 unique channels which can be extremely helpful when shooting with lots of other photographers. I’ve been to a Strobist meet-up and I know that it can be extremely frustrating to share a channel with 5 other people!

Conversely, if you are the lone photographer, you can easily switch the transmitter to fire all groups at once. As you can see in the photo of the receiver I label my receiver with a group # so I can quickly see which unit is in what group.

In/Outdoor Range, Encryption and Reliability

Elinchrom says that the units will trigger reliably up to 164′ indoors and about 400′ outdoors. Not having the room to test distance inside, I will say that triggering next to other 2.4GHZ devices like my wireless router and phone do not hinder the performance. The units use 40-bit encryption and it seems to work. I also had no problem firing through walls in my small apartment.An SB-800 firing at 415' away!

Outdoors, the unit works as advertised. I set up an SB-800 at 1/8 power on the side of a long road and paced out 400′. The system worked flawlessly firing multiple shots without missing. I flipped the aerial down and the unit quit triggering. Overall with the aerial up, I got reliable results up to about 415 feet. I didn’t keep moving back because it is was busy street and I’m a little paranoid about my equipment being stolen/messed with.

Sync Speed and Frame Rate

Elinchrom does not advertise the max frame rate of the triggers, but below you can see the SkyPort system firing a Quantum Q-flash (1/64th power) at 8FPS which is as fast as I can shoot with my D300 + EN-EL4a combo, not one miss! The units are said to sync up to 1/1000 of a second, however I cannot test this because of the sync limitation on my D300. 1/320th looks fine and with anything faster my curtain starts getting in the way. These results show that the Skyports will be adequate for sports photography.
8 Fps sequence

User Modifications

Here are a few handy modifications that I found online. These fix most of my complaints on the Skyports:

AA field charger for the receiver Sb-800 with receiver
Receiver On/Off button protector
How to better reinforce the transmitter to your camera

Conclusion

While the system is not without its flaws (see cons below), Elinchrom has done very well in creating a reliable radio trigger as an alternative to the popular PocketWizards. Coming in at roughly half the price of the Plus IIs, firing as far away as 415′ and packing 32 possible channels, the Skyports seem like an excellent choice. The Skyports can definitely be improved if Elinchrom would add a transmitter power light, battery indicators for both units, beefier aerials and a hotshoe lock. Considering the ups and downs, I can easily say that I would recommend the Skyports to anyone who can’t afford PocketWizards, wants to save space, or needs more than 4 channels on a reliable trigger.

PROS

  • Super small and light weight
  • Inexpensive (half the price of the PocketWizards)
  • 32 possible channels
  • Reliability seems on par with PocketWizards
  • Good usable range
  • The battery life is excellent and the receivers have rechargeable batteries
  • Includes a number of sync cables, international power adapters as well as a nice case

CONS

  • Transmitter has no shoe-lock (see work around HERE)
  • Poor placement of ON/OFF button (see work around HERE)
  • The aerials seem flimsy
  • Neither unit has a battery life indicator
  • The Receiver does have a Lithium Ion rechargeable battery, it is not interchangeable to my knowledge
  • Although a variety of sync cables are included, neither the “set” nor the receiver comes with a miniphone to PC cable (common for small speedlights)
  • Hard to change channels with your finger

Wizards vs Ports (1)

Channels

Advertised Range

Speed

Intervalometer
for time-lapse photography

Groups

ability to separate lights

Connector type

PocketWizard Plus II

4

1600 ft

12 Fps

No

No

Miniphone

PocketWizard MultiMax

32

1600 ft

12 Fps

Yes

Yes

Miniphone

Elinchrom Skyport

32
using sub-channels

400+ ft

at least 8 Fps, probably faster

No

Yes

Miniphone

Wizards vs Ports (2)

Dimensions

Power Source

Lag time adjustment

used to trigger multiple cameras simultaneously

Advertised max sync speed

Price
Est. Street
(May ’08)

PocketWizard Plus II

size:
3.6 x 1.4 x2″
(antenna is 2.2″)

weight:
6oz w/ batteries

2x AAs each

No

1/3000th second

$190 each unit

PocketWizard MultiMax size:
4.0 x 1.4 x 2.1″
(antenna is 2.4″)

weight:
5.4oz w/ batteries

2x AAs each

Yes

1/3000th second

$290 each unit

Elinchrom SkyPort

Transmitter:
2 x 1.75 x 1″

Receiver:
2.5 x 2 x 0.5″

Transmitter: CR-2430
Receiver: Rechargeable Li-Ion

Yes

1/1000th second

$199 for complete set (transmitter + receiver)

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12 Comments

  1. Asa
    on June 5th, 2008
    1

    Dan-great review. One of the most thorough and well-written articles on camera equipment that I’ve seen in a long time. The SkyPorts sound awesome.

  2. Mark Astmann
    on February 13th, 2009
    2

    Great job reporting the good/bad and ugly of the systems.
    Another option for charging your Skyport Universal in the field are one of the many emergency cell phone chargers you can purchase at BestBuy or Radio Shack. The charging input is a Nokia cell phone plug. Bring the Universal module with you as their are several Nokia tips. These devices cost $20 and run on two AA batteries.
    Skyport’s range can be increased with the purchase of another Skyport Trigger and Universal Receiver wired together and place mid-way between camera and light. There is a total of 4ms delay for each bridged relay.
    Lastly, I know it’s a specialty item, but Skyports can be used on a Mac or PC for under $130 with the Skyport USB Computer Transceiver and the free software. How cool is it to be able to control your lights from your laptop. Of course, if they are Elinchrom RX lights, you’ll also be able to completely control the lights and see each of their control panels on your laptop screen. Through software control Elinchrom will begin to introduce MultiMax on steroids type features.
    Mark Astmann
    Lighting Product Sales Manager
    Bogen Imaging, Inc.

  3. Andrew
    on February 22nd, 2009
    3

    Hi there, thanks for that review, excellent write up.

    Could I use the Skyport universal set on my Nikon D300 + SB800 in hi speed sync mode?

    What do you think?

    Regards,
    Andrew

  4. Dan Newton
    on February 22nd, 2009
    4

    Andrew,

    Unfortunantly you cannot. As I understand it, for FP sync to work the flash and camera need to communicate (TTL) to get the sync to work. It IS possible to do it wirelessly with Nikon CLS, but you are limited to line of site.

    Although I am not positive, the just released TTL pocketwizards will give you this functionality.

    -Dan

  5. poncho
    on February 27th, 2009
    5

    hello,everyone found the elingcrom skyport to be very useful in my studio. Note, when using reciever with genesis lighting equipment, cord must be at least three feet. No shorter, to prevent magnetic field coming off of strobe. Preventing reciever signal.

    Thank you, I just wanted to share this information with you all.

    Poncho1x

  6. AMA 2009 Arenacross Photography - Reno : Liquid in Plastic - Photography and Words by Dan Newton
    on March 9th, 2009
    6

    […] 1/50 sec @ f/4.5, ISO 640. Illuminated by Quantum Q-flash at 1/4 power, rear-sync, triggered by Elinchrom Skyports Once I switched to the on-camera flash, I focused on using rear sync panning, a technique that […]

  7. rick
    on October 20th, 2009
    7

    hey, great review! i have a set of these and just borrow an quantum t4d from a friend. what kind of wire do you use to connect the skyport receiver to the quantum?

    thanks again!

  8. Amanda
    on March 31st, 2010
    8

    Great write up! I just bought the elinchrom skyport system last week- what a price difference from the pocketwizards ! I’m happy to report within 5 minutes of getting the system out of the packaging I was flashing away. I have an older canon 430 ez flash and was happy to learn that regardless of how old it was, it still worked fine. Of course, not without some limiations such as high speed sync ( boo )but that is of course the flashes fault. haha
    good luck to all those who are on their way to joing the off-camera movement. best of luck.

  9. Kit
    on April 16th, 2010
    9

    Where did you buy the set? I’ve been trying to find this set with the case with no luck. The case is a biggie for me. I will lose them without it.

    Thanks.

  10. The Two Sides of Michael Sweeney : Liquid in Plastic – Photography and Words by Dan Newton
    on May 21st, 2010
    10

    […] were trigger by Elinchrom skyports. Both photos are 99% processed in Lightroom with minimal Photoshop. See setup shots for more […]

  11. Skuffende performance fra nye Pocket Wizards - bagkameraet.dk – Tanker og idéer bag kameraet og så noget om grej
    on June 19th, 2012
    11

    […] holder dog stædigt fast i mit valg af Skyports – de blev afsendt fra USA i nat, så må vi se hvornår USPS og Lost Danmark mener de skal […]

  12. Nada
    on September 14th, 2012
    12

    Hello, I have “skyport universal speed” , and when I make speed sequential shots some pictures become light and another pictures become dark !
    how to avoid that ?
    (I use D-lite 4 it flashes)
    Thank you .

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