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BATTERIES, PACKS and TRAVEL


THE WORLD OF BATTERIES, WITH FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS and REAL ANSWERS


TSA and SLA CELLS: OUR BATTERIES

Granted most folks think TSA stands for "Tough Sh!T America" but rules are rules and enough laptops and other Lithium devices have blown up to make me side with them.  Sorry.

As one who has brought an aircraft billowing smoke safely back to earth, twice, fire on board is still my biggest fear.  On one occasion, I had a Marvel-Snauble carburetor drop a float and send gas all over the place, luckily an airfield less than three miles away.  I had the training, altitude and the best dead-stick landing I ever made. Stopped twelve feet from the foam truck and forty feet from the mens room. I will challenge anyone to a forty foot race.

As a pragmatic believer I know God is not always perfect and I think ten intelligent people means somewhere there are five morons running around, some who get on airplanes.

I don't have a problem with the TSA, just the occasional bungling idiot they hired.  Most of them are really nice people, I get along great with them, I just follow the rules and pay attention. They are just doing their job as instructed sometimes by a superior bungling idiot.

Todays best find at the TSA, other than the twelve guns they confiscated, are the blasting caps shown which were then removed from a passenger in Redmond, Oregon, (RDM).

That could be yours or my ass next to some moron with a possible Lithium meltdown. Just as dangerous as that blasting cap.  My SLA batteries may be carried in either the cabin or checked. No problem, we are not on the list.  


BATTERY PACK vs, AA BATTERY CLIP
A real battery pack is either one large compact cell like the battery in your car,  or  a group of identical batteries or individual battery cells that are linked by welding, to create a "parallel, or series" arrangement to meet a specific voltage need. 


Untold millions of combinations of numbers and positions are possible as long as they are the same type and chemistry.  
Never ever mix batteries either by type, size, age or brand.  It's dangerous.  This allows different configurations to attain a certain voltage, a certain load, or duration. 

They may be in series, or parallel or a combination of the two. Not a bunch of AA cells in a plastic box, that's like a toy. The whole purpose of the pack is to get rid of dealing with AA cells and these holders don't do that.  


GOOD PACKS
The better packs contain Sealed Lead Acid batteries which operate usually on six or twelve volts in the US and we see eight volts common in Europe and Medical use.  One of the main advantages of the SLA's in photography is that they do not require AA cells in the flash to operate which adds to corrosion and overheating.  They basically stay cool and can operate for long periods of time.

Rechargeable battery packs of Ni-MH, and older, now almost extinct Ni-Cad usually have a temperature sensor which indicates the end of charging. NiMH usually cut off at 130 degrees, hotter will melt the innards of your strobe. Hotter will burn your hands, the carpet they fall on and loose in your pocket with keys might put your pants on fire. Simple, charging, and discharging produce heat. Heat kills flashes.  

Our packs can be changed rapidly, charge rapidly, and no AA cells needed in your strobe. They can  cover the whole wedding or event, have extended capacity and duration. Our packs can last the day. And not get overheated.  Our packs have inexpensive accessories, many you can make yourself and may be worn on belt or shoulder or attached to lightstands.  

SAFETY
Packs should not be tampered with.  It is vitally important to understand there are potential chemical, electrical, and fire risks with the more powerful accelerated packs though occurrences are very, very rare mostly caused by individuals who would be dead, had breathing not been an automatic function of the right side of the brain. 
As with any product please call me first (just like the utility company) before you dig. If you only knew what I have seen in fifty years in this business, you would understand why my next book or blog I write will be  called "The Brain - Fart Explored".


BLINKING LIGHTS OR FUEL GAUGES 
No, two things make no sense to me. Man's fascination with blinking lights and LEDS. I don't use blinking lights to indicate when the unit is running low because they don't really work, that's why. They are comparators not gauges. You can't predict whats left because you can't predict usage quantity. It's a gimmick.

Claims have been made LEDS don't draw power, but if you look inside, whats all that other stuff for?  Added value, no, they require a lot of electronics that can fail, require tuning or updating, to make all that stuff work. Did you know that 99.9 percent of cars that ran out of gas had a working fuel gauge?  


GOOD STUFF INSIDE
We use state of the art Sealed lead Acid (SLA) fireproof batteries combined with a new digital state of the art, full one amp variable rate charger, with safety controls built in. It's true that SLA Batteries are bigger and slightly heavier than Ni-MH but pack more power and better features. 

The SLA's  last longer, with no maintenance, no calibration, and don't lose power from sitting. It's less expensive per amp hour, with bigger capacities. In a pack less chance of leaking.  Every day about 80 million cars start on SLA Batteries. It's a proven chemistry. There is no  heat transfers or buildup in our packs. They last longer, other packs on NiMH go bad after two three years requiring pretty expensive rebuilds.  

Our  charging circuit is not located in the battery. With no electronics in the battery compartment, there is nothing to harm. The biggest killer is heat so why put batteries and the circuits in the same package. Repairs, there is a lot of profit in repairs. Ours are cost based. Upgrades available almost anytime.  The one upgrade I refused was one that a car drove over. Nothing left to upgrade. 

BETTER CHARGERS
In fact it is a brand name regulated two stage charger and the "A-C" series chargers are "switching" type devices which operate without the use of transformers. I.C.'s control and regulate current and voltage and automatically switch from the higher fast charge voltage to the lower float voltage when batteries are very close to being fully charged.  At the float voltage it is safe to leave the battery connected to the charger indefinitely, making charging pretty much fool-proof. 

Our chargers have circuitry that is set for the maximum allowable charge voltage, but has a current limit to control the initial absorption current and it produces a very nice charge.
 

FAST ENOUGH
Good shooters understand power and light and can set their cameras to do anything. They do not go into panic mode. Command and control.  
Speed is more important as a sales tool in selling expensive packs than common sense and planning. My packs are fast, I just don't push it because there is another side to things. I do not promote speed if it makes your flash go dead.  There are one or two makes and models faster but that takes a toll on the flash gear. 

It is not my main selling point, as it was with two companies who are no longer in business. They both claimed speed was the answer till a lot (and I mean triple digits) brand new Canon 580's blew sky high. The average repair on those puppies exceeded 150 dollars, today 179.00 and it was not warranty work.

The packs I build are very fast, low cost of operation, have a consistent output and easily serviceable and adaptable with a long shelf life. I build for longer shoots and longer life for your flash.  Speed comes from over-clocking, basically feeding higher voltage into a flash the manufacturer built certain safety limits into, to keep your flash, the part he is liable for, working as long as possible to make you a happy camper.  But when over-clocking and added batteries create heat, that sends the whole flash into another dimension. The charge card dimension.


WARP SPEED
My pack will keep up with the others based on partial power settings. Thats the tricks pros use, manual and partial power settings. The Oscars are done that way.  Full pops slow any strobe down and deplete or waste dump valuable energy. 

Because the capacitor has to recharge a full discharge. And if you are not overly qualified and you rely on the I-E-D-TTL for your world to work, or haven't gotten past the "P" mode in your career expect slower times as the flash and camera have to talk to each other and that sets up delays for the two to work together.  

An accelerated pack will recycle faster but will give you far less shots. Because they are keeping the energy going recycling the second flyback transformer or capacitor. They also require using internal NiMH batteries for the units controller so you are right back where you started except 450-600 dollars poorer. 

Accelerated packs will eventually shorten flash life.  A flash can only operate at max for a while before there is trade off. You trade off your money for a new one.  With the rash of burnt units out there from too frequent a shooting and finally the unit overheats, you pay for the speed twice. This drove Nikon to put heat sensors in the 900.

BURN BABY BURN
Are you pushing a prosumer strobe too much? Just look for a yellowing of the clear plastic.  Only older Vivitar's and Metz's had a warming color coating on the  plastic. If you see a newer model with yellow tinge and a sticky feel, it is from overheating.  That's a strobe with severe old age problems. Pass on it and buy a new one.  If it's a Canon, a toasted strobe, those nasty trace burns really become apparent to the repair guy and on Nikon's, the yellowing of the flashtube and in some cases melting the plastic. 

The small but powerful strobes such as the SB-800, SB-900 and the Canon 580EX and EXII are basically pushing the electronics to the hilt and the accelerated packs push them over the cliff.  Just shooting too quick can do the same, the Nikon 900 has a shutdown mode if overheated or accelerated and will cause the heat meter to prevent a shot. Our pack helps that situation by not using internal AA cells which can generate 130 degrees of heat.


NO AA CELLS NEEDED
Here is another "makes no sense" we see all the time. With accelerated packs you still need the strobe to be powered for the LCD screen or power to the camera for messaging.  These units still require the use of four AA cells to make the unit work, so now you have two battery sources to consider.  A pack and AA cells. Both creating heat (NiMH cap at 130 F) in that little space. One of those AA cells goes bad and you are dead in the water. Risk increased by a factor of five.

With accelerated packs you have by-passed some of the safety mechanisms. I truly believe based on size measurements and a little research both Nikon and Canon have pushed their best selling units to the end of the power curve.  "Sort of tweaked to the nines".  Making the strobes bigger means potential size and hotshoe problems and smaller is whats happening today.


THE MANUFACTURER GOT YOU COVERED
Warrantee wise the way Nikon and Canon look at it, anything else plugged into this external port voids their responsibility. If you make a volcano out of your strobe, it's your headache. After Warranty time runs out you are on your own.  

The use of anything other than their specific brand especially through the AC input on the Nikon SB-800, the SB-900,  the Canon 550-580 series and the METZ 54 series is easily detected on a repair bench. Just look for burn "traces" at the in port. You can't hide burn traces in a specific location.  As one person stated; "the fastest strobes can recycle in 0.9 and other promises 1.3 seconds". That's fast, very fast. BUT. If they blow, that speed is reduced to slow, very slow, like eternity...


RUNNING A CAMERA AND STROBE ON THE SAME PACK
This is my second favorite dumb idea.  Listen to the formuron (short for forum moron) who tells you it's Ok to run both your camera and your flash from the same battery pack.. after all you read it on a forum, it has to be true. Right.  Lets get sane here. The formuron who suggested it to you or doing it will not have to pay if you destroy your Nikon D3. You will, however find out Nikon will charge YOU for blowing it up.

You have a whopping 330 volts from a capacitor coming out of a wire less than 18-20 gauge going to a capacitor pulling or sucking it in right next to a line going with 12 volts to your $5000.00 camera.  And if you expect cheap third world electronics to protect that resource in the rain, you are frickin nuts. 


 © copyright aljacobs Stardate 10-18-2012