Strobists eat your heart out

Discussion in 'Photography Equipment & Products' started by Big Mike, Jun 17, 2009.

  1. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Shooting with off camera flash is great right? Of course it is.

    And while hotshoe flash units are OK, wouldn't it be great to shoot with the power of a studio light? Of course it would.

    They do make portable batteries to run studio lights while 'out in the field'...but one problem is that they are heavy. The Vagabond II from Paul C. Buff, for example, is 18 lbs....portable but not something you would want to carry around too long.

    So a photographer I know built this little kit. It can give you a couple hundred flash pops with an average studio strobe and weighs only 6 or 7 lbs. Attached to the bottom of a light stand it makes a great 'sand bag' and you can move it around just by grabbing the stand.

    I borrowed this for a shoot this week and it worked great. The strobe recycled almost immediately, just as if it were plugged into a wall socket.

    I have bought the parts and the charger to make one myself...more details to follow when I put it together.

    [​IMG]
     
  2. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Very interesting! I have the Vagabond II and honestly, thing does makes a great sandbag (6 pounds on a studio head 13 feet in the air won't do much... lol), but the reason the V II is so heavy is the battery, not the inverter.

    You may get a couple hundred pops at 1/4 power on a 400 W/s studio head, but the V II will do more under the same conditions becuase it is a little bit bigger of a battery. I also have the cables set up so that I can pop off the internal battery in 2 seconds and plug them into a full sized new car battery that I had sitting my my garage that will give me 3000 pops of my 1000 W/s studio head set to 1/2 power or 1500 pops at full power... and yeah, its heavy, but at least it has an integrated handle and makes an even better "sand bag"... lol

    What I was going to do is just purchase a 2nd inverter from PCB and install it directly on the battery (don't skimp on the inverter, the best you will save is 20-30 bucks and a bad one can blow your studio heads!)... I could also make it detachable so that I could velcro a small SLA (sealed lead acid) battery to it and do just what you did for the times I want fewer pops or to use with my smaller studio heads. One could make the entire unit part of the lightstand for true outdoor portability, since it is so small and that is something that you cannot do with the V II, as it does need to be carried off the stand.

    All that said... I love this idea, it looks fantastic! What makes the difference, though, is the inverter, it has to be a very specific kind, if not, it can damage your studio heads, so it is not a Canadian Tire inverter... lol Also an important thing to consider is that there is an integrated charger unit in the V II, this is something that I do not see you discussing. ;)

    (oh, Canadian Tire = AutoZone for our friends south of the border... lol)

    Just for the heck of it, I may try to do an entire portable studio head setup, that would be so cool! One 1,000 W/s head unit as the main and a couple 250 W/s units for side/rear fill... whoa... wait a sec, I'd better slow down with the ideas... lol OK, I'm blaming Mike for fanning my creative side now!!

    Bottom line... very cool and thanks for sharing, Mike... very creative!
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2009
  3. Sherman Banks

    Sherman Banks TPF Noob!

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    Very cool! Good luck getting it through airport security though if you travel! :lol:
     
  4. adamwilliamking

    adamwilliamking TPF Noob!

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    Thats awesome, I've been looking for something like this for my D-Lite 4 kit.
    Im a newb to power supply so, Mike, would this be a much better solution than spending some money on a couple motormaster power supplies? Like I said, I have no clue and I assume it would be better... ?

    Anything is better than spending 3 grand on a Eli power pack... :|
     
  5. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    lol @ Motomaster power supplies (Motomaster is a Canadian Tire brand!)

    The right inverter is the key here. A cheap one can damage/destroy your studio heads, so be careful. There is a discussion on this at the strobist group.
     
  6. gsgary

    gsgary Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Last edited: Jun 17, 2009
  7. adamwilliamking

    adamwilliamking TPF Noob!

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    I'm not sure if you're making fun of my question or not but yeah.. they are Canadian Tire brand. Like I said I know nothing about power supplies.
    All I DO know is that the thought of a 3000 dollar power pack makes me cringe.
     
  8. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Yes, Jerry is correct that the important part here is the Inverter. For sensitive electronics like this, it has to be (should be) a Pure Sine Wave inverter. These are significantly more expensive than plain power inverters.

    So to Adam, No...you probably can't just use Motomaster power unit because I doubt it's a Pure Sine wave so the 'dirty power' would likely damage your lights (probably significantly reduce the life of the bulbs, from what I've read).

    The inverter in the photo probably cost $250 or thereabouts. So this really isn't a money saving idea when compared to the Vagabond which is $300. The issue here is weight savings. He wanted something that could be attached to a light stand and be easily carried around.

    Yes, the trade off for using a smaller battery is that you don't have as much power, but this unit will still give you over 100 pops at full power with a 400 Ws light....probably a lot more but it's so far untested.

    Also, there is an issue of voltage drops. A smaller battery will drop it's voltage more when there is a sudden power draw...and if the power drops too low, the inverter will shut down. I don't claim to know all about it, but this is what he tells me...and he's a smart dude. He tested this set up and it was right on the margin...it works but it's close. A mass marketed unit like the Vagabond probably has a lot more leeway.

    As Jerry mentioned, this could easily be adapted for different uses by changing to a different sized battery. I'm sure it would work on a car battery or even a bigger SLA (sealed Lead Acid) battery...pretty much making it very similar to a Vagabond.

    And yes, Jerry also caught that I didn't mention the charger. A nice thing about something like the Vagabond is that it has a built in charger. And you don't want to use just any charger with these types of batteries. The charger that my friend uses (and I just bought one too) is the Battery Tender Jr - 12v 750 mh. It's a low amp charger which is better for the battery and it's completely automatic when it switches from full charge to lower charge (at 80% capacity) to a maintenance charge (less than a trickle charger) at 100%. I've read that a typical 'trickle' charger can damage these batteries.

    I ordered my Pure Sine Wave Inverter, it's similar to this one but one step down (and a fair bit cheaper). I bought a similar battery and the charger so I'll be all set to go.

    I'm thinking I might like to build a better housing for it. The aluminum bracket and handle on this one are nice but I'd like something more solid...or maybe a bag sort of like the Vagabond uses. A key point will be protecting it from knocks & bumps and also from rain...but I don't want to fully enclose it because it would build up heat.

    I'll know more when mine is built...but so far, I'd say that the Vagabond is certainly a good option. It includes everything you need in a nice package and it's got plenty of power....the only option being weight. This ghetto set up comes in a half the weight and is easily expandable if needed.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2009
  9. adamwilliamking

    adamwilliamking TPF Noob!

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    Hmm, okay well.. I like saving money so once you're done if you set up a detailed description on your blog or anything, definitely let me know.

    Thanks

    Adam
     
  10. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I hear you, it would make any sane man cringe... lol

    Let me see if I can find that link over on the strobist group again. If I find it, I will post it here. I do recall the bottom line being that in the end you save on the cost of the battery, but not the inverter, and that you need a specific kind of inverter for it to not damage your equipment.

    More later. :)

    EDIT #1: ACK! Mike beat me to the info. Thanks Mike. :)
    EDIT #2: HERE is a link to what looks to be the same kind of inverter that Mike's friend has... it goes for around $239Cdn no taxes or shipping.
    [​IMG]

    Add the cost of a small SLA battery ($30-$45) plus a charger (a small Battery Tender goes for $45) for a total that is no less than a Vagabond II by the time it comes to your door. Of course there is always the pleasure and fun of doing things DIY and it is smaller and lighter. No matter what, though, its no $3,000US. ;)
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2009
  11. adamwilliamking

    adamwilliamking TPF Noob!

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    Thats some great information, thanks Jerry.
    I do like saving money but time is also money.
    Could you possibly link me to this Vagabond you speak of?
     
  12. JerryPH

    JerryPH No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    With pleasure. I don't like their lights (known WB issues), but the Vagabond battery pack is pretty darn good.

    AlienBees: Vagabond II Portable Power System

    I picked up the 12 volt charger for it too... for charging while going in between locations or shoots. I doubt I will use it much, I plan my charging for the day before all the time anyways, but one never knows. :)
     

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