I try to do almost all my outdoor shooting with Nikon Speedlites. This should be quite obvious to anyone who reads this blog. However, strobes can not always provide all the light you need. (Unless you can stack a gazillion of them together). Some cases where a strobe will not cut it are shooting against a harsh sun, lighting huge deserted interiors, having to use large diffusers outdoors, and more.
Those are just the types of scenes where I use a studio flash… Hey there! waitaminute!! You said shooting outdoors. Are you pulling my leg with the studio flash thing?
Well no, this weekend I got to try Innovatronix’s Explorer XT – an External Battery pack for Studio Flashes. Ron Uriel and I tried to squeeze this baby out. Read on for the full review.
The Look and Feel
Having served in the army for three years, I can tell you: This box will make a tank shrink in fear. With boxy outfit and all black exterior, this baby says bullet proof all over it. For me this is good – when dealing with high power that travels, I want to know that the box is sturdy, built well and can sustain some hits. Size is 37cm x 14cm x 18cm, which is not small, but it is also not very big, kinda like a car battery. (I know what you are thinking now – using your car battery is possible, though not trivial and I would not call removing your car battery portable).
The Explorer XT weights about 8 kilos, this is heavy enough to think before you go on a day trip with it, but not as heavy to make you think each time you want to switch locations. In the shoot I did I moved the XT about a dozen times. No problem, the carrying handle served me well, and for longer walks I used the bag and strap that came with the unit.
During our shooting session we hooked up a 400 Watts/Seconds flash and a 600 Watts/Seconds strobes mostly shot on either 3/4 power or full power. We took over 400 images on this session, and the unit didn’t even blink. By the end of the session the LEDs indicated high. Now that makes you wonder, what will it take to actually move the LEDs to MED?
Recycling time for the smaller strobe was like the recycling time from a “real” power outlet. The 600 W/S flash took a bit more time to cycle- I’d say about 20% more. I did not measure it though, and it is a small price to pay for outdoor studio strobes.
For charging, I plugged the unit overnight. Innovatronix recommends to keep it under constant charging at all time which is both good and bad more about this in the next chapter.
One of the nice features of the Explorer XT is auxiliary battery support. See the little blue plughole on the back of the unit? It is a plug for an additional battery. So you don’t have to rewire your setup to add more power and you can add more power in less money, since the auxiliary battery costs less.
Storage and Charging
As with all sealed lead acid batteries, the Explorer XT need to constantly be fully charged. That means that while the unit is in storage it should be plugged to the wall. This is great if you have a location in your studio with a spear socket – you don’t have to worry about overcharge. And you don’t have to remember to charge it before the next session – you just keep it charged.
But, if you are like me, fighting for storage, this can be a bit of a nuisance – Ask my wife.
Another Great feature is that the Explorer XT can be charged on the go, it supports a standard 14 Volts car cigarette jack, however you can not light a cigarette while you are charging the XT- Yep the XT even makes you smoke less.
Last cool thing is the carry bag. It has a fairly comfortable carry strap (if you call hauling an 8 kilo box comfortable), which was good when I moved the unit from one close location to another.
The bag also has Velcro side flaps, that expose the sockets while the XT is in the bag, so you don’t have to remove the bag for charging/using the unit.
Some safety things that came to my mind as I was trying the unit.
One great feature is a thermal protection. If the unit is heating up due to excessive use (which did not happen to me after more then 400 frames on a 32 centigrade day at noon) the unit will stop the power flow, protecting it from over heating.
The sockets on the unit are multi-national, which means you do not need any convectors or adapters which can get lost, and usually comes with no ground wiring. Two thumbs up from your customers over seas.
The last safety is the ability to charge the unit with multiple voltage inputs. Again, no need for power converters if you are using this pack on travel.
I already said a tank like casing, right?
It was a fun session all and all. Only after the session was over I realized that the Explorer XT can be used to power a real Marshall amplifier to go along with the Ibanez, so the model guitar Rock guy can actually play the guitar. I am sure that it would have brought some cool poses.
Idan Power Cording in The Middle of Nowhere
Size Reference – Actually Lit with Explorer XT on 400W/S Softboxed Strobe
- Great power for significantly less $$$ then competitors (about 1000$ from similar products from Broncolor or Bowens)
- Great safety features: sturdy, great for all nations voltage and jacks, thermal protection
- Just enough kilos to make it an effective light stand weight
- Can power anything, not only a strobe: Laptop, music, …
- Carry case that enables using the unit while in the case
- Can be extended with auxiliary battery
- Have to be charged at all times for best performance
- Carry case partially hides big sockets.
- LEDs are hard to read in bright day light.
- Is compatible with most (but not all) digital flash heads.
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