location photography gear: portable strobe case

Another week, another installment of the location photography gear saga. This week we’ll look inside our kit of portable strobe units. This kit of 2 strobes and accessories doesn’t get used a ton but it’s invaluable when we need it. It’s rare that we use these as main lights since we rely more on studio strobes (primarily the Travelite 125 Travel-Pak Kit if we have no AC power). We generally use smaller strobes more as “out of the way” lights, tucked inside machines or inside an area where a studio strobe simply won’t go.

click image to enlarge

That said, I envy photographers who can operate a business with a handful of small speedlights (SB-800, etc.). That’s a whole ‘nother approach and the world has gotten quite sophisticated in the past few years with portable Strobist-type flash setups. I’m sure many of you have more advanced small strobe setups than this. While this setup is a bit dated (no stack of SB-800s and Pocket Wizards) it’s more than adequate for our infrequent use and it’s pretty darn “budget” while providing power and flexibility. I like it.

The heart of the matter is the Sunpak 120J TTL flash unit. It’s a shoe-mount strobe that is no longer manufactured but has wonderful features. The shoe is interchangeable for various camera models but we use a plain ol’ single contact no-frills hot shoe and strictly manual power settings. It has a replaceable, exposed flash tube (just like a studio unit) that can be used as a bare bulb head or with the included adjustable dish reflector or softbox adapter. You’ll note we also have a spare flash tube on hand (always carry a backup). A Quantum Battery 1+ provides power to the unit.

Umbrella Adapter with Hot Shoe

Spotted for just $16.99 at Calumet
Umbrella Adapter with Hot Shoe

Next up is the Sunpak auto 555 Thyristor “potato masher” flash. This wasn’t a particularly spectacular flash even in it’s day, outshadowed by the more expensive, better built Metz handle-mount flash units. It gets the job done, though, and we carry a diffuser, light stand mount and battery cluster backup for it. The main juice for the strobe is provided by a Quantum Battery 2 unit.

Our main concerns with any flash unit are repeatable power settings that are easy to use, fast recycling and long battery life. At the risk of showing my age, I’m perfectly content with having one simple mechanical slider to set power output in lieu of multiple choices via LCD. It really is whatever you’re most comfortable with (and can afford).

Toss in a handful of sync cords for each unit (they have different connectors – more backup) and a bunch of optical slaves (4 peanut, 2 standard and one shoe mount with a pc connection) and that rounds it out.

Ooops, I forgot to include an Umbrella Adapter with Hot Shoe for adapting the 120J to a lightstand. A couple are always floating around here but I left them out of the group pic (photo added at left)!

One other thing you may be expecting to see are wireless remote triggers (we use the Quantum Radio Slave 4i system). Observant readers will  remember seeing them listed in last week’s installment on the camera bag, since that’s where they get carried.

Next week: we’ll pull the contents out of another bag and take a look.