I have been meaning to write a post about this piece of kit for a while now. I think I have finally found a suitably cheap and rugged solution to shooting in cold, dark places. It is a pretty complete system that I have been using for a couple months now and has performed pretty well.
Above, you can see the whole package, flash, battery, cord, and hotshoe mount. The complete set costs around $100 for everything, not including the charger ($40) because you can use one charger for multiple batteries. Obviously, if you decide to build something similar, your cost may vary depending on what tools and components you already have, and if you can find the rest of the parts locally or have to order them online. I chose to go with a little beefier construction, because I plan on abusing this a little bit.
Basically, it is a 6v system using a deep cycle SLA to power a Vivitar 285HV. I won't go into great detail about how I put it all together, because I don't want to lose sleep worrying about you wrecking your flash or hurting yourself if you make a mistake constructing your own version.
Here is a shot of the guts of the battery unit, it's a little bit dirty inside because I have been using this one all winter. The case that I used is made of plastic, but you could get an aluminum one if you wanted to for a few dollars more. Inside sits a 5.5 Ah SLA that is designed for deep cycle work. This is important because you will likely be running the unit through full discharge cycles during use. A deep cycle battery is designed to be discharged and recharged frequently, and will last a lot longer in this application than a standard battery will.
The battery is wired through a rocker switch and fuse holder and into a pair of 2 pin CB radio jacks. I like these jacks because they are all metal, have screw down locking collars and the jacks have plenty of contact area with the plugs when they are inserted. They are also a comparatively uncommon type of jack, so there is minimal chance of somebody plugging something other than a flash into them accidentally.
I originally wired everything up with 12 gauge stranded wire, but it ended up being a little thick to bend around and get in the right place, so I used 14 gauge instead. The thick wire is necessary due to the high current draw at the beginning of the charge cycle. I used crimp type connectors, but I actually soldered them in place instead of crimping them on, then covered the joints with shrink wrap. This was done to ease the difficulty of the final assembly, it would have been hard to get a 60w soldering iron in the tight spaces to connect up the heavy gauge wires.
The key to the whole construction of the battery packs are these cool, press-fit wire connectors pictured above. I happened across them by accident one day will working on another project, and they are extremely useful for connection groups of large gauge wire in a very clean way. They are similar in function to standard wire nuts, but they are more secure and reliable than the twist fit kind. Basically, I soldered short leads to all of the components and then pinned everything together with these slick little connectors.
Here is a closeup of the top of the battery unit. You can see the rocker switch to turn the unit on and off, a fuse holder to protect it from a dead short, and two flash outputs. The battery can also be charged through either of the flash outputs.
Here is what the fuse holder looks like. This is just an easy way of protecting the unit from a dead short.
Here is the battery end of the flash power cord, I ended up using a few different cords, including some that I built from scratch, but this one was just a modded Quantum 1 cable.
I am pretty happy with how this setup works, especially how durable it is compared to the 283s that I was using earlier this year.
You will also notice the hot shoe sync cord, that I mentioned earlier and is visible is the top picture. It is also something that I have been working on for a while. I will be giving it a dedicated post shortly, so I leave the details about it off of this post. Hey, I have to leave something to look forward to.
Much more to come, check back soon. -J.H.