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Tips from theLoop: Fast Recycle Flash/ Strobes for Portable Use - PPA Today

Tips from theLoop: Fast Recycle Flash/ Strobes for Portable Use

By Sarah Ackerman

As you expand your photography business, you don't know what you don't know. Asking questions on theLoop to expand your knowledge is a great place to start to learn about any area of photography! With 29,000+ PPA members behind you, there's bound to be someone who has been in your shoes and can offer a word of support or advice.

This month, we're highlighting the thread concerning fast recycle flash or strobes for portable use. Check out what your fellow Loopers had to say:

James Corbett: I shoot mountain biking events and use my Canon Speedlite 580EX II off camera in high speed sync mode with an external battery pack. Perhaps because of the overly dreary day this past Saturday and my position in a stream valley, the typically speedy flash cycle time was impaired. I think because of the need for maximum output every shot. This caused me to miss more than the typical trailing racers.  Any thoughts on options for something small and quick enough to pack into the woods?

John Lee, CPP: What's your budget?  If you want to use multiple speed lights, then you can bring each one to a lower power that'll increase your flash duration.  You can also use the HSS that'll kill the power output and battery life, but you're freezing with your shutter instead of the flash duration.  You're not freezing with your flash duration if there's too much ambient light, by the way.

To eliminate all of this,, I would suggest the elinchrom ELB 400 unit with the Hi-sync flash heads (you'll have to buy a remote for this that'll enable you to use Hi-sync technology though).

You can also use the profoto b2 for its HSS tech (also need a remote).  By spec, it's less power than the Elinchrom though.

The profoto B1 also has the HSS feature and it's 500 w/s.  With the right modifier (profoto magnum) you generally will not have a problem with the ambient light.  Or you can just use the HSS feature along with its remote.  Only drawback with the B1 iss you'll need a "beefy". nightstand for it, especially if you're placing it high and outside.  Definitely need sandbags also. The other 2 options, although a "beefy" nightstand is great, but the flash heads weigh nothing so it's not absolutely required, just sandbags.

Alison Cali: I use Cheetah Lights. Their recycle time is unbelievable and they are almost as easy to set up and use as a speedlight. I use the cheetah light 360.

Anthony Reitz: When we do our biking and running events, I use an SB800 with a Flashpoint external battery pack (these can be found on ebay as Godix and Neewer).  I also picked up the Y-adapter that puts both ports to one cable and picks up the recycle time even more.  I use this for road bike races, marathons, and just Sunday I was in the woods at the XTerra triathlon event (see attached photo).   Using the Speedlite lets me get the shots but keeps the weight down.  I have used this battery to shoot a full day of road bike finish line shots in full sun (I use my variable ND to keep shutter speed around 1/500).  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Richard Howe: Are you using relatively new NiMH rechargeable batteries in your flash and your external battery pack?  That can help your recycle time.  I had some knock-off brand batteries that were about 2 years old and lost power quickly.  I got some Imedion 2400 mAh rechargeables in December that are working well for me in my 580EX-IIs.  

David Alliey, CPP: Quantum makes several battery packs that I have used. They do help but you would need a dedicated connector. I assume there must be a way to remote them although I've not done that. 

I agree with the other comment. The ProPhoto B1 and B2 look great. I have used their more robust unit in the field and it was awesome. Don't remember the model number.

James Corbett: Thanks for the thorough and amazing responses.  I've got to do some research on all the suggestions.

Quick point - I am pleased with my speedlite's output.  It is the recycle time that I'd like to speed up. 

Anthony, I'm not sure how to access the photo you attached.  If I understand you, you add the Flashpoint external and get much faster recycle with the Y-adapter.  This seems the most promising for what I need.

John Lee, CPP: If you're happy with the output of your speed lights but unhappy with the recycle time only, just about any of the external battery packs will help push out a faster recycle time.  I use a Nikon SD9 (I believe that's the model number) but it's an external battery pack for Nikon speed lights.  They work well and does what it's supposed to, but is somewhat expensive.  There are other options though.  Now, my original suggestion will also work, which is doubling, tripling up with speed lights, because the lower the power on each speed light, it's obvious that the recycle time is faster.

With strobes, under the same output strength between the speed lights (which you said you're happy with) and strobes, yes, the strobes will give you a significant advantage on recycle time.  I just want you to remember when shopping for strobes, under the same brand and model, if you purchase a higher wattage strobe, it doesn't mean that the recycle time will be better at the same output strength.  Meaning, let's say you're using an elinchrom pack that gives you the option of 500 w/s and a 1000 w/s.  The dials (output) is 2.0 - 8.0 or 2.0 - 9.0 on a 1000 w/s pack.  If you're at 5.0 on the 500 w/s pack, and 5.0 on the 1000 w/s pack, the output and recycle time is the same.  The 1000 w/s pack is only give you the option of 9, instead of 8.  Hope this makes sense.  I'm just saying, you don't have to invest in a 1000 w/s pack if you don't need it, it's the same thing throughout all the settings except for the previously mentioned option of going 1 stop higher.

Ned Levi: Which batteries are you using?

James Corbett: Good question...  I was using a mix of Amazon NiMH 1.2V 2000 mAh and Watson NiMH 1.2V 2500 mAh (didn't realize the mAh was different)  in my Canon external battery pack.  After reading some reviews I bought 24 of the Panasonic eneloop pro 1.2V 2550 mAh.  I have not had time to give the eneloop a test round.

Peter Antanaitis: As far as I can tell you have the best SB800 setup with the RB960 (Godox/FP/etc) battery.  You've doubled the cord too.  My only "additional" thoughts would be to use the double cord on two SB800s and this may give you slightly faster recycle as they only fire at half the power each.  Or, if you are further away from the bikes, trying to not get run over, you might try to see how much additional zoom you can use.  Each zoom step adds significant light on the subject.   :-)

But for almost the same weight if you can switch the SB800(s) for the Godox/FP/Molight/etc AD360II (with TTL/HHS) speedlight, for just a small bit more weight you'll get about 6-8 times the power output.  Thus shooting at 1/4-1/8 power the AD360II recycle is almost instant.  

Good Luck!  Keep shooting!  :-)

James Corbett: All again thanks for educating me and giving so much information on factors to consider.  My 580EXII performed extremely well for my purposes, other than the less than optimal recycle time.  With the singular goal of quickening recycle time, I decided to keep my investment to a modest amount and try a few focused steps.  I have purchased a Flashpoint BP-960 4500mAh Li-Polymer Blast Power Pack.  I found a demo unit for a great price and will give it a try.  As I mentioned, I had already invested in Panasonic eneloop pro 2550 mAh batteries for my Canon CP-E4 external battery pack.  I will test whether these higher mAh batteries will boost the recycle time.  Also, I found a barely used 580EXII with a CP-E4 external pack on eBay.  Having 2 580EXIIs with external packs will allow me to experiment with dropping the output on each and gaining quicker recycle time.  I also gain some redundancy that I didn't have with these purchases.

Ned Levi: I use the enloop style battery, specifically the Maha Imedion AA 2400mAh Rechargeable Low Discharge Batteries.

The one thing many find when using a powerpack with their flash is that while recycle time is minimized, and kept minimal for longer than without it, recycling more quickly can also cause the flash to overheat more quickly. I bring that up, only as something to keep in the back of your mind.

John Lee, CPP: I concur...I love the eneloops

Peter Antanaitis: That type of battery comparison was the best we had -- 6+ years ago.  The original Eneloops were good even then, although they are three+ generations improved now.

The interesting spec for "basic" Eneloops is that they lowered the mAh by about ten percent (to 1900 mAh) so that they could double the number of recycles per battery up to 2100 times now.

The spec for photogs that is the most important is the internal resistance --> flash recycle speed.  Eneloops and Eneloop Pro are tops (lowest resistance) by design as far as I've read.   But the Eneloop Pro with ~25% more mAh (Panasonic Pro now 2550 mAh) lowered self-discharge with design changes, but did not sacrifice power for more recycles (still at ONLY 500).  500 recycles is the same or more than other brands!  :-)

One other point to keep in mind is that the PowerEX (2700 mAh) hasn't changed (or at least announced any) in over ten years and they remain pretty much the best non-LSD battery on the market on any tests I've seen.   Only down side is needing to recharge them before each use (if longer than a couple of weeks) to get all the mAh.

Another thought is that way back then (2009 & earlier) people would keep batteries in groups (four per flash) to keep aging batteries at same power (base on purchase time) together.   Nowadays we can get chargers (Ambient Weather BC-2000 on Amazon) that measure "internal resistance" to evaluate the major battery age factor.    Much less work, and more accurate also!  :-)

What would you add to this conversation? Chime in on theLoop or ask your own question! If you're thinking it, chances are so are your peers! Not a PPA member, join today at and access the thriving community of theLoop.

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Sarah Ackerman manages all things social media for PPA and Imaging USA. When she's not living on the internet, she loves improv comedy, going on wilderness adventures, gallivanting around the globe, knitting, wood working and yoga. 

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This page contains a single entry by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) published on May 19, 2016 2:49 PM.

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