Archive for the 'The gear I use' Category

Put your Elinchrom Ranger RX AS Speed on a lithium battery crash diet and loose weight.

26Mar15

20150326_Elinchrom_Ranger_pack_battery_001b

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!

Battery comparisons:

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?

 

LiFePO4 Battery:

128-volt-12ah-lifepo4-lithium-iron-phosphate-battery-w-bms
CTC 12ah 12.8v LiFePO4 (Lithium iron phosphate) battery pack.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00H7I11P6/ref=ox_sc_act_title_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A2Y4NXB3ZFV3SB

CTC 10ah 12.8v LiFePO4 (Lithium iron phosphate) battery pack.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00H7I1098/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00H7I1098&linkCode=as2&tag=5150ou812-20&linkId=2TP3X6G3IHAFJNVV

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:

Elinchrom_ranger_RX_AS_Speed_battery_housing

Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS Battery with Case for Ranger RX Speed AS (EL 10267)
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/411699-REG/Elinchrom_EL_19280_Battery_with_Holder_for.html/BI/5360/KBID/6165

 

Battery Charger:

Tenergy_Ranger_LiFePO4 Charger

Tenergy 14.6V (4-Cell) 4A LiFePO4 Battery Pack Charger

http://www.amazon.com/Tenergy-4-Cell-LiFePO4-Battery-Charger/dp/B00CPT5T6O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420250703&sr=8-1&keywords=Tenergy+14.6V+%284-Cell%29+4A+LiFePO4+Battery+Pack+Charger

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.

  1. Remove fuse
  2. Remove the 6 screws holding the top panel of the battery pack to the housing
    20150314_Ranger_Lithium_battery_mod_001
  3. 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).
  4. Disconnect the 2 wires connected to the factory SLA battery.
    Ranger Lithium battery upgrade_009
  5. Remove foam from the factory SLA battery and set aside for later.
  6. 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.
    Ranger Lithium battery upgrade_012
  7. Tape wire connectors to the battery just to ensure the wires stay connected.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
    20150314_Ranger_Lithium_battery_mod_002
  10. Re-install battery into battery pack housing he opposite of removal, in the same orientation as removed.
  11. Re-install battery pack top panel with the 6 screws previously removed.

The battery is ready to go!

 

Charger instructions:

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!

  1. 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.
  2. Strip the insulation off the wires at the end of the connector.
  3. Make sure the wires coming off the factory charger’s connector socket are not touching, then plug connector into the battery pack.
  4. 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.
    Ranger Lithium battery upgrade_014
  5. Cut the connector off the new LiFePO4 battery charger if there is one and strip the insulation off the wires.
  6. 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.
  7. Cut two 2” length of shrink wrap to fit over each separate wire.
  8. Cut one 3” length of shrink wrap to fit over both wires once spliced.
  9. Splice the charger wires to the charger connector by either crimp connectors or soldering.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
    20150314_Ranger_Lithium_battery_mod_004
  13. Plug in charger to battery pack and charge the new battery.
  14. 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!

“Empowering Innovators”

07Apr14

The Adventure Photographer from Intel on Vimeo.

I recently was contacted by Efran Films in NY to be a part of their video series for Intel called “Empowering Innovators” which highlights creative professionals using the newest Intel tech. They followed me around in the morning shooting with professional freeskier John Ware at I Ride Park City ( Park City Mountain Resort) to peek into how I work, from up on the mountain to back in the pain cave editing away.  It also highlights the use of a Eye-Fi SD wifi card so I’m able to push photos to my phone or tablet (Dell Venue 8 32gb Android Tablet) while shooting to be able to show clients for instant review on the spot, on a large tablet screen, or to quickly send photos out to clients for review or of course, to push to my social media channels.

It was a cool experience being on the other side of the camera, and am super psyched to have a video highlighting my work, outside of the snow sports world.

http://vimeo.com/originals/empoweringinnovators/84413398

Clik Elite ClikSit packable chair review

13Jul11

After the review of the Clik Elite Contrejour camera backpack, this review of the Clik Elite ClikSit is going to be a lot less in depth.  In fact it’s going to be real short.  This is one of those products though that when you pull it out everyone around seems to give you a WTF type of jealous look as you just pulled out some instant comfort in the middle of nowhere weighing in less than a pound and a half.  It’s small, it’s lightweight and still strong enough to support the tubbiest of people out there.  Lets face it, we stand around waiting for light, waiting for the action to happen again, waiting, waiting, waiting, why not do that sitting?  It’s not a new invention, it’s just like the As seen on TV Pocket Chair, however, it’s a LOT lighter.

Check it out here at Amazon.com

Lounging setup, waiting for things to go down.


Specs:

  • Folds up to 91/4” x 8” x 11/4” and weighs only 1lb 5oz.
  • Constructed of high quality aluminum, high-tenacity webbing and ballistic fabric with riveted reinforcements
  • Nylon storage bag
  • 300 lb. capacity

Detail of the connecting strap at the bottom of the stool.  Unfold and connect the two steel straps together and have a seat.


The ClikSit next to the Clik Elite Contrejour 40 for scale

Carry bag that comes with the ClikSit.  The package is small and light and fits easily in the front pocket of the Clik Elite Contrejour 40 camera backpack

Clik Elite Contrejour 35 / 40 Photo Backpack Review

12Jul11

If you’ve seen my reviews before you know that I don’t really review a product unless I really like it, or really hate it.  Before you go on you should know I’m partially biased since I’m sponsored by Clik Elite.  So that being said take it for what it’s worth but I’ve been using the production model of this pack for the last year, and a prototype the year before, I think it’s an honest review.

The Clik Elite Contrejour comes in two sizes, the 35L and the 40L pack.  Both of these packs are almost identical with the only difference being the 40L is two inches taller.  It doesn’t sound like much but in the terms of fit, two inches makes a huge difference if you are…..rather vertically challenged like myself.  Most men would probably like the fit of the 40L, I’d suggest people shorter than 5’5″ to go with the 35L for a better fit.

This pack has been a long time coming with Clik Elite and I’m glad to have been a part of the development.  There are a few key features to this camera pack that stick out as different from the pack.  The Contrejour has a curve to the pack to more closely follow the curvature of your back that is built into the aluminum frame as well as the rigid foam camera block that is built into the pack.  Having the camera block built into the pack makes for one less thing to move around while you are skiing, snowboarding, biking, hiking, etc to help keep the bag glued to your back while you are charging hard to get into location.

Continue reading ‘Clik Elite Contrejour 35 / 40 Photo Backpack Review’

What’s in the bag

05Jan11

inside the camera_pack

One of the things I do get requests for is a “what’s in the bag” post.  So, here it is.  This is a pretty full kit, it would be what I’d bring to an urban shoot where I’m driving to the location, or for a park shoot where it’s easy to get around and carrying 40+ lbs on my back isn’t that big of a deal.

The camera backpack is a Clik Elite Contrejour 35 L

Camera Compartment:

inside the camera_pack2

Accessories:

  • (2) Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 Transceivers
  • (2) Pocket Wizard Plus II Transceivers
  • (1) Pocket Wizard Plus Receiver
  • (5) Pocket Wizard Multimax Transceivers
  • Nikon D40 (Extra small DSLR camera body with a CCD sensor and electronic shutter capable of full-frame flash sync up to 1/1250 second.
  • Canon Powershot S95
  • Filters
  • Cokin P ND Filter Holder
  • Adhesive Backed Body Warmer (To keep batteries warm and functional in extreme cold)
  • US Customs form 4457 (Proof of ownership forms.  I keep these in the pack since I’ll probably forget to pack them when I actually need them)
  • Pocket Wizard N90M3 Nikon Motor Drive Cable (Connects Nikon camera bodies to a Pocket Wizard for remote firing)
  • Nikon MC-12B cable release
  • Black Diamond Icon headlamp (Lots of range and great for skiing down in the dark after shooting night shots up on the mountain)
  • Sync Cables
  • Lip Balm
  • AA Batteries
  • Extra memory cards
  • Gels for speedlights
  • Electrical tape (Almost as good as duct tape, but doesn’t leave a residue behind)
  • Battery tester
  • Rocket Blaster (Keep your lenses and image sensors clean!)
  • Burton AK powerstretch glove liners (best gloves for shooting in the cold, comfortable with good feel from 5 degrees F on up)
  • Fruit Leather, Cliff Shots, any other snacks
  • Aleve (Always good to have a few over the counter pain killers for rough days, and for athletes with rough landings)
  • PS3 controller (Most times when I’m shooting with Tom Wallisch, he makes really tech tricks look too easy so I’ll plug him into Amped 3 get him started on the next impossible trick)
  • Balsa wood plane (Sometimes shooting urban can get really really really slow after I’ve gotten all my shots I can get)

Clik Elite Volt Camera Backpack Review

18Nov10

Clik Elite Volt front view

I’ve been working with Clik Elite for the past year and while most of my involvement in development has been with the Contrejour 35 & 40, the ClikStand series of packs is something I’ve been very interested in as it would be a single consolidated package of pack and stand for my strobes.

Continue reading ‘Clik Elite Volt Camera Backpack Review’

Pocket Wizard Multimax – new 7.5 firmware in long range mode

08Jun10

New Pocket Wizard Multimax with USB portA little while ago Pocket Wizard announced the new v7.5 firmware for their new Multimax units that have the USB port for firmware updates.  Included with the new firmware are a few useful features:

  • Long and short range mode
  • Noise sniffer
  • Signal strength meter
  • Radio relay (Repeater mode)

Since I just got the new Multimax’s at the tail end of my spring terrain park shoot season I was only able to test out a few of the new features.  The signal strength meter is a really good tool for sure to have going, especially in a long range situation which is usually the situations that I’m shooting on the mountain.  A lot of time’s I’m shooting with my 70-200mm lens and am pretty far away from my strobes so being able to see what the signal strength is from my Multimax is a good tool to try and pre-determine if I’m wandering out of the radio signal’s range.

The other upgrade I was able to test out was the long range mode.  I was shooting photos of freeskiers Simon Dumont, Matt Walker and LJ Strenio sliding an urban rail with Poor Boyz Productions a few weeks ago and started wandering out a bit further from the scene and my lights .  As I found my shot I realized I could have a few problems with radio interference with the shot I had setup.  My first problem was being surrounded by some steel chainlink fence, my second was not having line of sight to my strobes, the third was laying up against the steel chainlink fence.  Too add to this I was laying on the ground so I could get the grass in the foreground and to finish things off I was in an urban environment with power lines directly above me.

Simon Dumont sliding a loading dock rail in Bend, Oregon - PBP

I was about 300 feet away, a bit on the middle end of the range of the Multimax’s but with all these factors and radio interference I couldn’t get consistent signal and my strobes were firing a little erratically.  Since this was a perfect time to try out the new long distance mode I began sprinting back and fourth between my shooting location and making sure I had everything dialed with the Multimax’s on the three strobes I had setup on the scene.  The long range mode worked and in a situation I may not have been able to take the shot I wanted previously, I was able to get the shot I wanted with lighting.

I spoke with some of the people at Pocket Wizard and the reason long range mode works is they slowed down the data rates and increased the error correction.  This is supposed to have an impact on the maximum usable shutter speed, however I was able to sync this shot at 1/1000 of a second with my Nikon D40 body.  With that being said, I’ll have to do a bit more testing to see at what shutter speed the reliability begins to degrade in long range mode.

Check back later for a more complete review.

Lowel 0133 Omni Light Stand – 9′ tall, compact + Lowell KPH Half Pole 3′ Extension

26Dec09

It’s again that time of year for me, the season is ramping up and time to replace old broken and lost gear.  In an effort to pack lighter for trips on the unfriendly skies I recently looked at my pile of light stands looking for a way to cut some weight and to get things in smaller bags.  In the past I’ve been packing my rolling ski bag in order to get my older 9 foot Bogen light stand in the mix.  The nine foot basic stand sits at 36″ long folded up and weighs in at three pounds.  While it’s a pretty good sturdy stand, packing my rolling ski bag around the airport and small rental cars really sucks.

Lowell 0133 Omni Light Stand

Continue reading ‘Lowel 0133 Omni Light Stand – 9′ tall, compact + Lowell KPH Half Pole 3′ Extension’

You need this iphone dock if you are a photographer – Griffin Simplifi iPhone/iPod Dock + CF/SD memory card reader + USB 2.0 Hub

22Oct09

iphone_dock

I ran across this iPhone/iPod charge/sync dock / CF/SD card reader when I was at the Apple store yesterday getting my stupid iPhone fixed for the 5th time.  The Griffin Simplifi is 3 important computer accessories in one for photographers.  This thing is pretty epic and if you are anything like me, you probably have too many cords and accessories plugged into your computer as is.  Why not put two of the most often used ones accessories you have one place?  Anyways, I just ordered one and am pretty stoked to get it.  The one thing that sucks is it runs on USB 2.0 instead of Firewire 800 but for the convenience it’s not that big of a deal.

Here’s what you get:

  • iPhone/iPod charge/sync dock
  • CF / SD memory card reader
  • 2-port powered USB 2.0 hub

Here’s a link to it at bhphoto.com

More info/specs at Griffin’s product page here


Alien Bees strobes – a 3-year review

09Jan08

The Alien Bee 1600’s - offered in many choice colors.So there’s been a lot of questions about Alien Bees on wheelsandwax.com – a forum I post on a bit so I thought after using them successfully for 3 years I’d post a review on them.

Keep in mind this review is targeted specifically towards action sports photographers. In my case, primarily ski and snowboard photography.

So here’s my take on these things, I’ve had quite the learning experience with them as they were my first big strobe.

I found out the hard way that the durations get longer as you power them down, contrary to speedlights and a lot of the strobe systems out on the market. I have the 1600’s and they are usable depending on the situation for action.

Keep in mind all this, the effectiveness of your strobe’s duration to stop the action is based on a lot of things, how close you are to your subject (wider the lens and closer you are, typically the object is moving across the frame, very very fast compared to a longer shot.  So depending on that you might need a faster duration in order to stop the action.

Anyways, here we go.

Build Quality:
Built fairly inexpensively and are not designed to be out in the elements, especially in a snow environment.   Of course I’ve found that can be remedied by a clear plastic bag to keep the elements out.   The body of the strobe unit is very durable plastic and after some pretty heavy use has always held up.  The back panel is where I’ve had a durability issue though.  The plugs have broken after being tugged on a bit in some extreme cold conditions after they became brittle.  As far as the internals, I have had to send mine in for repair 5 times in the 3 years I’ve owned these units.  Weather or not they were caused by moisture, or exposure to the elements I’m not sure.  That being said, their repair people are first class and are willing to work with you and help you out if things are urgent.  The repairs have always done very quickly and delivered exactly when promised.

Cables/Accessories:
The cables are targeted to be easily replaceable and cheap. Power cable are a standard computer power supply cable. If you need to replace it, chances are you can find one in any town you are in. Same goes with the sync cable, it’s a standard 1/4″ miniphone (headphone) mono cable. Can find it at any Radio Shack or electronics store. I think even at Wal Mart. Reflectors are cheap, period. They do their job and are cheap to get.   Definitely get the sports reflector. It basically doubles the power in the effective area the light is sent to. Using a soft box is easy, just use the Alien Bee speed rings on any soft box, I’ve used a Chimera, Photoflex and something else (can’t remember the brand) on it with no problems. The attachment system for the reflectors, soft boxes are simple and easy to use.

Flash Durations:
Always look for flash durations using the t.1 method. The t.5 method which only measures the duration at ONLY 50% discharge. What does this mean? It means that there is still 50% of the light to still come out of your strobe head. This also means that you need to basically multiply the duration times 1.8x in order to see what the usable duration is beceause, the head is still putting another 50% of it’s light. The method that is useful to us action photographers and that matters is the t.1, that measures 90% of the output.

Taken from the Alien Bees website:
http://www.alienbees.com/flash.html

Model     Full Power   1/32 power (minimum)
B1600:     1/600          1/300
B800:       1/1100        1/550
B400:       1/2000        1/1000

I Wish that information was available to me when I first got my 1600’s as all they had was the t.5 method on their site and I did not know the difference between that and the t.1 method.

Also: Contrary to any other strobe on the market (aside from the White Lightning’s) the flash durations GO UP when powered down.

I have successfully used the 1600’s at full power in many situations, of course before I knew what the actual durations were. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t but until I found out that the durations went up when I powered down, i blew a lot of shots getting motion blur.

Portable Power Pack:
This is an interesting thing, as it’s one of the only systems where you could actually build your own power pack. You can with any monolight that plugs into a regular wall outlet however these are the only ones on the market that are small enough to even consider putting in a backpack and using them at the locations we tend to go to.

The Vagabond and Vagabond II systems are simply put a sealed lead-acid 12v battery and an true sine wave inverter in a modified beer cooler. The difference between the 2 models is the Vagabond II provides a faster recycle time and more pops of the strobe. They are simple and they work and another nice thing about them, is it’s a portable power system for anything you own that plugs into a wall outlet when your power goes out!

The Vagabond weighs approxamately 20lbs. The Vagabond II is a bit lighter at 18.6 lbs.

One nice thing about the simple power pack is you can save a few bucks and build your own. The important thing for someone building this type of system is that a true sine wave inverter is used. A typical inverter you can buy at most electronics stores and superstores like Wal-Mart are a modified sine wave. These types of inverters will flat out not work for powering the Alien Bees and could possibly damage them. DON’T USE A CHEAP INVERTER!

I personally have one Vagabond and also one that I put together myself so i don’t have to run extension cords (did that for a year and a half) and so I have only one head per battery. I’ll have more about making your own power pack for these later.

Usability in the outdoors:
There is an internal fan in the Alien Bee strobe units. Because of this there are vents on the housing of the Alien Bee heads. Water, snow, etc can get into these. If you shoot in bad weather, this could be an issue. I’m not sure if it’s contributed to my problems with them breaking or not. I haven’t had a specific situation where the head was getting wet and they stopped working. I have tried to keep them somewhat sheltered from the elements by covering them with plastic, leaving the bottom open to allow for ventilation. If you shoot in dry conditions all the time, this should not be an issue.

Light Quality:
The light quality of these are good but not great. It’s not a Profoto or an Elinchrom, the light isn’t as great as those systems, but it’s still good and I continue to use them as a major portion of my lighting kit. The major concern is that the color temperature varies depending on the power settings. It’s not a huge variance, but it’s still a concern and noticeable.

Bottom Line:
They are the best bang for your buck, especially for those working on location where a battery powered system is important. The flash durations in the Alien Bees 1600’s can make it a bit more difficult to work with for action but for most situations, are still usable. They are a good, cheap way to get more usable power as your first big strobe system moving from speedlites. If you are shooting action, I would get a 400 and an 800 and build your own power packs for each so you don’t have to run extension cords for power.  Of course if money isn’t as huge of a deal then a Vagabond unit for each head is of course an option.  If not, one Vagabond unit and a really long standard extension cord works just fine and is what I worked with for my first 3 years working with the Alien Bees system.  I am finally upgrading to an Elincrhom Ranger system, but am keeping my AB’s as a 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th head.




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