Shooting in-studio offers the luxury of available power, but how do you power your AC strobes when on location? Use a pure-sine wave AC inverter/battery system:

The image below was lit using a Speedotron 1,000 Watt-second, AC-powered studio strobe, with a large, Photoflex 54″ x 72″ softbox attached. Obviously, there was no 120VAC house-power available at this location, so we lugged a 26 lb. pure-sine wave AC inverter, a Dynalite XP-1100 (plus, two spare batteries) to power the strobe. To make things easier, we used a special beach cart from a company called Wheeleez. Thanks to our large-capacity, 17-amp hour inverter batteries, we managed several hundred full-power pops per battery.

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Nikon D800E + Sigma 150mm f/2.8 OS macro lens; ISO: 100; f/5.6 @ 1/1,250th.

portable AC inverter/battery systems:

Note that only pure-sine wave inverters are safe to use with photographic strobes–ordinary automotive or other non-sine wave inverters will damage your strobe.

If you want to use your AC-powered strobes on location, you’re going to need an AC inverter. Newer, Lithium-based systems are lighter than older sealed-lead-acid (SLA) battery systems, but tend to be more expensive. Older, SLA-based Dynalite and Innovatronix inverters can still be found used at a good price ($400-$600), but Dynalite’s XP-1100 has been discontinued in favor of their new Li-ion based model, the XP-800. I own two of the older, Dynalite XP-1100 inverters mainly because their SLA batteries are so easy to care for. Here’s a list of popular AC inverters designed specifically for use with photographic strobes.

popular AC inverter/batteries:

• Vagabond Mini-Lithium: $239.95.
• Vagabond Lithium Extreme: $399.95
• Photogenic ION*: $382.98.
• Dynalite XP-800 Li-ion: $999.99.
• Dynalite XP-1100 SLA (discontinued): $400-$600 (estimated, used).
• Godox LP-800x: $799 (sold through eBay importers only).
• Innovatronix [various models].

*[Note that the design of the Photogenic ION appears identical to that of the less expensive Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini-Lithium inverter.]

Since the total cost of the system also includes the cost of either spare or replacement batteries, I think knowing these costs is helpful in deciding which inverter is right for you. Since all batteries are subject to less than ideal performance under various conditions (e.g., cold weather), it’s always a good idea to bring a spare battery or two.

spare/replacement batteries:

• Vagabond Mini-Lithium VMB8.8A: Li-ion; 14.8V; 8.8 Ah; 130 Watt-hours $89.
• Vagabond Lithium Extreme VLX: Li-ion; 25.6V; 6.2 Ah; 158.7 Watt-hours: $159.
• Photogenic part no. 956059 for ION: 14.8V; 8.8Ah; 130 Watt-hours; $145.
• Dynalite XP-8LI for XP-800: Li-ion; 12 Ah: $359.
• Dynalite XP-11B for XP-1100: SLA; Genesis; 12V, 16 Ah: $169.95.
• Dynalite OEM replacement for XP-1100: SLA; Enersys PC-680; 12V; 17 Ah: $120.
• Godox GX-SBT0006 for LP-800x: Li-ion; 12 Ah: $320.
• Innovatronix [varies by model].

While the Dynalite XP-800 inverters appear to simply be re-branded Godox units, note that the Godox units are only sold through eBay importers, so after-sales support may not be as reliable as the Dynalite-branded version of the inverter. If choosing the Dynalite version, know that Dynalite is a US-based company and offers excellent customer support.

battery maintenance:

One of the most authoritative sources on battery maintenance, Anton/Bauer, is a leading manufacturer of camera batteries for the broadcast television industry, and has published one of the most complete guides to proper battery maintenance of all types of battery chemistries:

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Even though it’s titled, “The Video Battery Handbook,” much of the information is applicable to batteries designed for photographic equipment as well. You can also request a free hard-copy version to be mailed to you by calling Anton/Bauer at 800.422.3473 or 203.929.1100 (or simply download the .PDF linked above). While the handbook offers detailed maintenance guidelines for all modern battery chemistries, some general guidelines are summarized below:

general guidelines:

sealed-lead acid [SLA]:
• always maintain batteries at or near full charge.
• charge immediately after use, even if only partially discharged.
• okay to maintain continuously on a trickle-charger for long-term storage.
• do not store for long periods in a discharged state.

lithium-ion [Li-ion]:
• do not store fully charged.
• do not over-charge.
• battery should be stored at about half-capacity, never fully charged.
• do not charge when hot–this will cause permanent damage and shorten battery life.

nickle-metal hydride [NiMH]:
• do not over-discharge.
• do not charge when hot.
• do not perform “conditioning” charging cycles.

nickel-cadmium [NiCd]:
• do not over-discharge.
• do not charge when hot.
• only perform “conditioning” charging cycles once every 6-8 weeks.
• NiCds are the only battery chemistry which suffers from “memory effect,” requiring periodic discharge/charging cycles.

why sealed-lead acid batteries may be your best value:

All batteries have a finite life. Sealed-lead acid (SLAs) batteries are the most tolerant, Ni-MH, second-most, Ni-Cads third (due to charge-cycle “memory”), and lastly, Li-ions are not only the most expensive battery chemistry available, they’re also the most difficult type of battery to maintain properly.The main benefit of Li-ion batteries is their high power-to-weight ratio–they’re the lightest of all.

Personally, I have four Quantum Turbos, and each receives a brand new battery every few years, which only cost about $20 each. All of my Turbos are perhaps 20 years old, and still perform like new, recycling just as if I’d just bought them. Newer, Li-ion Quantum high-voltage battery packs are far more expensive to replace, and is the primary reason I stick with SLA-based Quantum Turbos. Same with the Dynalite XP-1100: Since it uses widely-available SLAs, I prefer this system to the newer Li-ion based AC inverters (e.g., Dynalite, Godox, Photogenic, etc.).

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