Difficulty Level: 4/10
Knowledge needed: Basic wiring and electronic understanding, soldering and/or crimping wires, usage of a test light / voltage meter.
The Elinchrom Ranger RX (standard, and AS Speed) are great powerful, portable battery operated location lighting kits. It’s the first thing in my lighting kit I grab almost every time I go on location to shoot photos these days. Even though it is relatively lightweight for how powerful it is, in the end it is still heavy to carry around, especially if you are skiing with it or are trying to walk to location with two to four of these on your back! It just flat out sucks to hike or ski these into location all the time. So, a few years back myself and Tim Kemple began tinkering around with different battery combinations to try and reduce weight in these heavy ass lead battery strobe kits. We started with NiMH packs for Alien Bees before they made their lithium battery power pack, the Vagabond Mini, and brought it over to the Ranger kits before finally dropping in the lithium pack into the Rangers. When we started doing this, the battery packs were just battery cells shrink wrapped together, and looked pretty sketchy and required a lot more work to fit them properly and make things work right. Today it’s a whole different ballgame. The battery packs are housed in the same housing as their SLA battery packs they are replacing. Aside from the chargers, it’s a unplug old battery and plug in new battery move now. It’s awesome!
So I’ve been retrofitting the standard SLA (Sealed Lead-Acid) 12ah battery pack that comes from Elinchrom for the Ranger RX AS Speed with LiFePO4 lithium battery packs for four years now. It’s something that I can confidently say works well for me and that I’m really stoked on. By doing this I’ve cut the weight to 40% of the SLA, get more capacity, better performance in the cold, and longer cycle life (you can use and recharge the LiFePO4 battery packs three times more than an SLA). It’s allowed me to bring more flash power out when I otherwise may have only brought one kit, or a smaller kit and has given me more flash pops once I’m out there. You can’t go wrong, it’s better in every possible way!
Now this is just a guide based on my experience with these batteries. Any modifications you do to your Ranger kit and battery is at your own risk. There is always a potential for shorting out your power pack if you do things wrong, as well as burning your battery down if you don’t use the correct charger, and/or if you get the simple wiring wrong. You WILL void any warranty through Elinchrom with this modification as well. Please keep this in mind. All that said, all the info is below, your back will thank me for cutting the weight out of your flash kit!
- 6lbs: Factory 12ah 12.8v SLA (sealed lead acid battery)
- 3.2lbs: 12ah LiFePO4 battery
- 2.5lbs: 10ah LiFePO4 battery
The battery packs have come a long way since I started using these about four years ago, now they come in the same exact casing as the SLA battery so it’s as easy as it gets to replace them. There are also packs capable of higher power draw rates, so with these you can now run the Ranger RX AS Speed in fast recycle mode, where as before you were only able to run them in slow recycle mode. Also, in comparison to your standard lithium-ion batteries out there now, the LiFePO4 batteries are the most stable and safe of all the lithium batteries out there.
Let’s get down to it. First thing’s first, you’ll need to buy some gear, and have a few tools on hand. It’s all listed below with links to buy these. There are others besides what I list below, but I get kickbacks, so hook a brother up for giving you the lowdown?
CTC 10ah 12.8v LiFePO4 (Lithium iron phosphate) battery pack.
I’m suggesting this battery pack for more of a reason besides just getting a commision on the sale (Please support my site by clicking on the link if you do buy a battery though, I’ve put a lot of time into finding the right parts, and putting this tutorial together). The CTC 12.8v LiFePO4 battery packs have a higher power draw rate, so you can run the Ranger RX AS Speed pack in fast recycle mode. Almost all the other 10-12ah LiFePO4 12.8v battery packs out there can’t take as high of a draw, and in turn you have to run the pack in slow recycle mode. If you don’t run the Ranger in slow recharge mode with the lower draw batteries then your Ranger will shut down every time you try using it in fast recycle mode with the low draw battery. I’ve tried a lot of different brands and configurations throughout the years and the CTC 12ah 12.8v LiFePO4 battery pack is the best performing so far.
You may want to purchase another Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed battery pack housing for the lithium modification so in the case you do something wrong, you have the backup, old standard lead battery. Your new charger WILL work just fine for the standard lead battery.
Battery pack housing:
You can use the factory Elinchrom charger that comes with your Ranger kit but I would highly recommend that you get this Tenergy smart charger for a few reasons. The Elinchrom charger is designed for a lead-acid battery and is NOT a smart charger. This matters as the smart charger listed above is designed to stop charging once an optimal charge voltage is achieved. Overcharging of lithium batteries is one of the main causes of the batteries getting a bad rap for bursting into flames and exploding. Now, the battery pack above has a PCB control module to help save the battery from over charge, but depending on if you buy another, it may not have one and could wear out your battery much quicker, or worse. The other big reason to get this charger above is that it’s twice as fast. You’ll have a full charge from a completely dead battery in three hours.
Here’s the gear tools you will need for the charger:
- #1 phillips screwdriver (your standard #2 phillips head will not get these screws out.
- Duct tape
- Voltage tester, although a simple test light circuit tester will work.
- Shrink wrap (electrical tape will work, but will wear out)
- Wire crimp connectors (wire nuts will work, but not really recommended) or soldering iron if you can solder.
Now that you have all the gear, it’s finally time to put this together.
- Remove fuse
- Remove the 6 screws holding the top panel of the battery pack to the housing
- Remove the top panel of the battery pack by pulling at the top panel, or by holding the battery pack upside down by the battery pack housing and gently shaking (very close to the table so it doesn’t drop far when it comes out of the battery pack housing).
- Disconnect the 2 wires connected to the factory SLA battery.
- Remove foam from the factory SLA battery and set aside for later.
- Plug in wires to the new LiFePO4 battery pack, reverse of the disconnect. Make sure the new battery is in the same orientation as the factory SLA battery was. Look at the photos for reference.
- Tape wire connectors to the battery just to ensure the wires stay connected.
- Re-install the foam blocks that were connected to the factory SLA batery. Foam just needs to be on the same side as originally installed. The exact same location isn’t necessary.
- Cut foam (or about 20 sheets of paper stacked and taped together) to fit between the battery and the battery pack housing to shim and keep he battery in place. The foam is cut around the metal clips that hold the battery pack in place when installed to the Ranger RX. This isn’t 100% necessary, however if you do not, removing the battery can be a bit difficult at times as the battery pack will slide around and get in the way of pushing the clips out when removing the battery pack from the Ranger. You could use stacked paper taped together, some closed cell foam would be the best way to go if you have any. Some of the newer factory SLA battery packs from Elinchrom come with all of the foam necessary already installed.
- Re-install battery into battery pack housing he opposite of removal, in the same orientation as removed.
- Re-install battery pack top panel with the 6 screws previously removed.
The battery is ready to go!
There are two ways you can go about this. You can either purchase a new connector and leave your factory Elinchrom Ranger RX charger alone, or you could cut the connector off the factory charger and splice the wires together. If you are not good at soldering, I’d suggest you go with cutting the factory connector and splicing to the new charger, or just having a friend that’s good with soldering do it for you!
- Cut the connector off of the factory battery charger. Make sure you leave at least 4” of wire attached to the connector so you have some wire to work with. I’d suggest you leave 8” so it’s easier to work with, and you have some extra wire in case you mess up the splice or solder.
- Strip the insulation off the wires at the end of the connector.
- Make sure the wires coming off the factory charger’s connector socket are not touching, then plug connector into the battery pack.
- Touch the voltage tester (or circuit tester / test light) to the wires. Make sure you mark the wire leads so you know which is positive and which is negative.
- Cut the connector off the new LiFePO4 battery charger if there is one and strip the insulation off the wires.
- Touch the voltage tester (or circuit tester / test light) to the battery charger wires. Make sure you mark the wire leads so you know which is positive and which is negative.
- Cut two 2” length of shrink wrap to fit over each separate wire.
- Cut one 3” length of shrink wrap to fit over both wires once spliced.
- Splice the charger wires to the charger connector by either crimp connectors or soldering.
- Pull shrink wrap of each individual wire and heat with a heat gun or hair dryer until the wrap has shrunk enough for a tight seal.
- Pull larger shrink wrap piece over both spliced wires and apply heat with heat gun or hair dryer until the wrap has shrunk enough for a tight seal.
- Plug in the charger to the wall outlet. Touch the far right and far left connector pins of the charger connector to test for polarity to ensure you spliced the correct wires. Looking directly at the end of the connector, the bottom left pin should be negative, and the bottom right pin should be the positive lead.
- Plug in charger to battery pack and charge the new battery.
- Watch over the charger for 30 minutes to see if the battery or charger is overheating in case you spliced the wires wrong (opposite polarity). If everything was done correctly both battery and charger should not be hot to the touch.
Volia, you are finished and have a light, powerful battery and charger!