Electronic Flash Maintenance for all Photographers.
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Old 05-24-2013   #1
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Default Electronic Flash Maintenance for all Photographers.

Electronic Flash Equipment Maintenance for all Photographers.

Even with the great popularity of existing or available light photography, faster lenses, improved digital sensors and cameras that can produce almost noiseless images at outrageously high ISO setting you will find many advanced and professional photographers are still using electronic flash equipment on location and in the studio. Many photographers are very dependent on their flash equipment for their daily output of their required work.

Even some available light diehards are nowadays found with their flash gear just about permanently attached to their cameras because they have come to learn the advantages of subtle flash fill techniques that do not destroy the look of available light work but can only enhance their results. Even the most stubborn “flash hater” (I think there are a few of them still around) like to know that they have a reliable light source at hand when the lighting chips are down and there is little or no good light available at any given time. Just check out you local Paparazzi and you will see more flash gear than in a major camera shop! If you are a news shooter or photojournalist you know all to well that editors need their pictures and don’t care if the lighting is a bit flat as long as they help tell the story and it is not a great philosophy to come back with no images because of artistic considerations. The same goes for wedding and event shooters. I would rather have a disgruntled editor to contend with than a disgruntled bride any day of the week!

So… all of this goes to the fact that your flash gear is gonna get quite a workout if you are a pro or a prolific shooter and like anything else electronic or mechanical, if you take care if it, it will take care of you! A lack of good maintenance can shorten the life of all photographic gear and even the photographer if he or she doesn’t watch out for the dangers! Most new shooter may not be aware of all the maintenance issues that are part of good electronic flash usage. Most photographers would not clean their lenses with abrasive materials, subject their cameras to rough handling, keep the cameras in damp or dirty places or allow them to be exposed to excessive heat. Some of the things I have seen photographers do to their flash gear as far as neglect, improper storage and transport, lack of periodic inspection and testing, use of half dead flash tubes and ignorance of breakdown symptoms is enough to bring any good red-blooded gearhead to uncontrollable tears- or perhaps laughter if one has a morbid sense of humor.

Now- what I am gonna suggest here does not involve popping open your flash gear and giving a peak “under the hood” If you are not a trained technician in high voltage apparatus- don’t do dat! EVER! Now- I have been seriously and unjustly criticized by a few scientific/engineering types on the forum about my overstating my case about the dangers that are harbored within the innards of strobe gear. One told me that it is perfectly fine to walk in water while using a speedlight and that I was an idiot to write otherwise. Well my thinking may be somewhat overkill but here is my philosophy involved. Theatrically speaking, no engineer or circuit designer in his or her right mind is going to ignore safety issues while designing any electrical or electronic device. In the practical field, however, unexpected accidents can happen that even defy proven theory and serious injury or death has been known to have occurred. Theses incidents are indeed unexpected and that is why they are called serious ACCIDENTS. So call me an “old lady” or an alarmist if you wish because I would rather that you are here to insult me rather than my reading about you in the newspapers, especially in the obituary column.

To protect yourself, your valuable flash equipment and even you camera’s synchronization circuit, you should know a bit about how your flash gear works. I will try not to get into too much electronics jargon but just a few basic principles.

Whether you plug you flash gear into a wall outlet, use batteries or a mobile generating device the voltage received from these sources will be converted to high voltage DC power ranging from about 300 to 2400 Direct Current Volts. This energy is what the CAPACITORS within the unit feed on- they need this kind of energy to work. Theses capacitors are the heart of the unit in that they determine, along with the voltage, the power of the flash you end up with. Their job is to store up this energy so that it is released in a burst rather than a flow of current into the flash tube when the camera’s synchronization combined with the flashes trigger circuitry “tells it to do so”. At that point a gas in the tube becomes ionized and emits a burst of light. If there were no capacitors in the circuitry, the tube would only glow like a neon sign and would not produce sufficient light for adequate exposure or have action stopping ability. This is an oversimplification for sure but it goes to explain a number of facts. The volume of voltage and the way it is stored and released in the capacitors is what makes the equipment dangerous of misused under dangerous conditions such as in water or rainfall. It shows that it is not a great idea to tamper with this stuff unless you know exactly what you are doing. The power that is derived from the voltage/capacitance combination is expressed in watt/seconds. The average on the camera speedlight runs on about 80 to 100 watt/seconds, the more powerful hand held portables with external belt clip or shoulder strap power packs, such as Q-Flash and Lumadyne brands are anywhere from 100 to 400 watt/seconds and some of them can be powered down to as little as 25 watt/seconds or boosted with additional capacitor banks up to 800 watt/seconds. Studio units such as mono-lights, 2 or more lamp heads service by a common power pack or independent studio lamps supplied by individual power packs- theses are not very mobile and a rest used in studio. Theses units as well as the mono-lights run the entire gamut of power selections and some of the go up to 1,000 watt/seconds. The BIG power packs can go up to 4,000 watt seconds or more and are usually found in commercial studios and on location for commercial and industrial assignments.

All flashes require some TLC regardless of their size or power in order to remain in good, safe and long lasting working condition. Some of the maintenance steps may seem very elementary and not even worth mentioning but y’all would be surprised on how many times they are overlooked or even ignored.

If your unit requires batteries it is important to keep the batteries fresh and not leave them in place, even with out use, for long periods of time. Most batteries, even the most expensive brands can leak in time corrosive materials into the unit which will usually cause irreparable damage. If you are not going to use you flash gear for an extended period of time, remember to remove them before storage. Heat can accelerate battery deterioration so remember to keep them cool even during short tern storage. If you end up with some bargain store batteries in an emergency; use them for the shoot and routinely recycle them after the gig- theses less expensive cells can be troublesome! Try to stick with the brand names that are not knock-offs or aftermarket kinds that can be unreliable. For economy, you can either use high quality rechargeable cells or buy the name brands from professional electronic suppliers in bulk. The major brands have pro-packs of 24 or more individual batteries.

Inspect the battery compartments of you flash units and also your camera and radio slaves. Closely inspect the terminals, contacts and/or springs and make sure no corrosion has occurred. If you see serious corrosion, tarnishing or rusting of theses contacts, a leak of fluids or gasses may have already occurred. If the unit is still in working order, make sure any dead batteries are disposed of and clean the contacts with an emery board, medium sandpaper or a wire solder cleaning brush. This condition can also cause all types of radio slaves to malfunction. If the terminals are badly thinned out, have them replaced by an authorized repair shop. It is best to prevent this kind of damage by frequently cleaning all contacts with a pencil or ink eraser before any corrosion builds up.

If you use rechargeable batteries make sure the are of the right type for your flash unit. Most of the AA sizes are 1.5 Volts but make sure their ampere/hour ratings are compatible with your flash unit and the battery charger you are using. Some chargers will taper off or shut off when the batteries are charging. Some cheaper models won’t do that automatically and overcharging can shorten the batteries life and even overheat to the point of leakage or explosion. Those units are best used in conjunction with a timer. It is also very important to find out whether or not the batteries you have “MEMORY ISSUES” OR NOT. There are so many standard sizes and custom or especially made batteries on the market nowadays; that it is vital that you learn about the care and feeding of theses batteries as soon as you press your unit into service. Some batteries will develop a memory if you do not recharge you batteries at certain intervals or levels of discharge. This can result in erratic duty cycles where you batteries will never be able to receive a truly full charge and may fail prematurely during shoots. This, of course applies to rechargeable and especially dedicated batteries and not disposable types. Used to be Alkaline, NiCads and Lead Acid batteries- no there are so many chemical and mineral combinations and that is not problematic as long as you know the “traits” of the batteries you are using and maintain them as per the manufacturer’s recommendations. In damp atmosphere, I apply a very thing coat of a lubricant called WD-40; the “WD” standing for water displacement. This prevents the dampness to cause minor corrosion to all the battery type contacts- us a tiny smear from a finger tip or a Q-tip will do the job.

Plugs, Jacks, and switches in small flash units: If you examine the switches, jacks and plugs on may of today’s speedlights and lamp heads you will notice that the are quite small and I can tell you that the are somewhat more fragile and susceptible to damage that their big brothers and sisters on studio type equipment. Some of theses components are not all that strong in their basic construction. Many of the slide switches are not really self-contained- they are merely metal contacts sliding off the edges of printed circuit boards and with rough handling can breakdown badly and as the say in the repair business- go and try to fix that! The sockets are not exactly made of gun-metal either and the biggest problems with them are that they easily become deformed from the leverage excreted on them by plugs that stick directly out of the unit. It is wise to use the flat plugs that leave the unit at 90 degrees. This kind of strain relief can add years to the life of you flash units with no major repairs needed. Some of the switches are delicate as well and operate via a small coiled spring and a tiny ball bearing. Take it easy when switching and make sure that the switch clicks into place when you set it.

The PC male plug is the worst connectors ever invented because it is highly susceptible to damage due to eccentric force- just a little tugging each time you use it will eventually deform both the shell and the central pin. One company invented a very strong PC cord tip which would not let go so the ripped the PC contacts right off or out of the camera and you don’t wanna see the repair bill for that one. If this is not attended to, the bad cord will pass the damage on to the female synch socket in the camera. To prevent bad contact, missed flash shots; go easy on the switches and provide lots of strain relief for all you connector cords on you camera, radio slave and/or the flash unit. Buy better quality cords; the cheaper coiled ones tend to self destruct in no time at all due to the continual expansion and contraction of the internal conductors.

Big power packs: Theses units came in many configurations and power ranges. The basic idea is that one central power supply will power up to 4 or 5 lamp heads. Simple configurations will divide up the power evenly among the heads and more complex setups allow for the selection of different lighting ratios by having various power levels going to different output sockets atop the unit. Theses power levels are controlled by varying the voltage or by switching various capacitor banks in and out of the circuits or redirecting them to various outlets.

The units draw their primary power form the line voltage at the outlets or mains. The secondary or high voltage is created in a voltage multiplier circuit and a rectification circuit and then sent to the capacitors. Triggering and synchronization is accomplished in the same way as in smaller units. One of the most important maintenance issues in theses types of units is in the high voltage carrying cables. All that energy that is involved in theses power supplies need to be properly and safely conducted to each lamp head. The cables, if not properly maintained can cause all kinds of serious problems. Some of theses cables are the diameter of a good garden hose because there are a bunch of smaller wires running through the outside casing. There is the high DC Voltage to power up the capacitors. Then there is a 120 volt pair to provide the modeling lights with power and if the trigger circuit is located in the power supply instead of the lamp heads, there are wires to accommodate that. You don’t want theses inner wires (called conductors) to come in contact with each other or very serious short circuits can occur especially in the higher voltage conductors. Of course each conductor is well insulted but rough handling and improper storage can cause insulation breakdowns whic can reek havoc with your flash system.

The plugs or connectors on many of theses power pack systems are extremely heavy duty. Some of them are made to military specifications. There are multiple pins and corresponding sockets aboard the power supply to accommodate each conductor. In the throws of setting up, taking down and transportation of theses systems the plugs and sockets as well as the cables are usually subjected to lot of ware and tare and can be badly damaged if care is not taken.

The cables should never be forcefully bent or rolled up too tightly. I use Velcro bands to gently roll the cords up and provide space in the carrying case for relaxed storage and transport. I apply that WD-40 stuff gently to the surface of the female connectors on the power pack- this retards dampness affecting the connectors and prevents difficulty in easily connecting and disconnecting the heads. In some of the more sophisticated power
supplies you can connect or disconnect theses cables at any time without problems occurring whether the power is on or off. YOU MUST CHECK TO SEE (IN YOUR USER’S GUIDE) IF THIS FEATURE EXISTS IN YOUR UNIT. IF NOT; CONNECTING OR DISCONNECTING ANY CABLE WHILW THE UNIT IS ON AND POWERE UP CAN CAUSE A SERIOUS ARC-OVER! UPON DOING THAT YOU WILL SEE LOTS OF SPARKS AND HEAR A LOUD BANG AT WHICH TIME YOU WILL HAVE DISINTERGRATED MOST OF THE CONTACTS IN THE MALE AND FEMALE CONNECTOR PARTS AND EXPERIENCE A NASTY REPAIR BILL AND A POSSIBLE BURNED HAND. I can guarantee that if you have not experienced this in the past you will be traumatized or experience a medical emergency even if you don’t get electrocuted or have a heart attack.

Be kind to you cables and never use them to drag on a lamp head or anything else. If you see any fraying in the wires, exposed conductors, or breaches in the strain relief collars at the top of the make connectors; you most take that cord or head out of service immediately and have the repairs done. The same goes for synch cords and other low voltage connectors. If you don’t take care of them they are destined to fail at the most inopportune times- such as in the middle of a ceremony at a wedding, the most crucial and exciting play at a sports event or the arrival of an elusive VIP at a news assignment. Individually powered studio lights with their own individual external power packs have only one coiled high voltage cable to maintain but the precautions are the same as to handling and treatment of the connectors.

Mono lights have no cables- the high voltage is transferred directly to the flash tube and the trigger circuitry via buss bars which are solid pieces of copper stock. The maintenance issues are the same as most other flash equipment. There is a wide variety of theses kinds of flash units on the current equipment market and of course there is a wide differential in quality and prices of the equipment. Theses flashes are very popular among professional portrait and commercial photographers because of their compact size, portability, build in modeling lamps and great versatility in usages and easy adaptation to a wide scope of light modifiers. The can be powerful, self contend and therefore need no bulky power packs or cumbersome cables all over the floor. Some of theses units can be battery powered and many work on AC power.

With professional grade mono-light and power pack lamp heads, on of the most important safety and maintenance issues have to do with HEAT. Higher levels of heat are the enemy of many electrical or electronic devices because of the risk of burnout of components and circuits due to elevated temperatures. In theses units the greatest sources of heat are the built in modeling lamps, especially the tungsten-halogen variety. Because these lamp heads and mono lights are oftentimes use with light modifiers and may loose some of their intensity when the light bounces off the interior of a soft box or umbrella and pass through diffusion screens, they are usually of fairly high wattage so that the photographers can see their lighting patterns after some of the light has be lost in this bouncing process. Some of theses modeling lamps run as high as 250 watts and therefore generate all kinds of heat. If the heat is not convected away from the unit bu way of a heat sinking design or a built in ventilation fan, it can cause serious damage to the circuitry within the unit. This especially applies to configurations where the mono-light or lamp-head is confined within a soft box or other closed modifier. Poor ventilation or convection of this heat has been known to set fire to the modifiers and even if the lamps are too close to an open umbrella, fire can occur.

Some of the higher end units are designed to provide protection from this kind of accident but some of the less expensive units have no such features and one must be very cautious and vigilant in operating this kind of gear. Some of the cheaper units have heat activated cut off switches which will shut the unit down when overheating is detected. This may be specified as the units having a thermal switch. Of course this is somewhat safer but can be very inconvenient on jobs where a longer duty cycle is needed. Doe professional heavy duty work the more expensive and well engendered units are highly recommended. Constant overheating will also do in your flash tubes prematurely or at least dislodge the protective Pyrex envelope around the actual tube.

Flash tubes: If you don’t do lots of flash photography, you will not have much trouble from flash tubes, however, if you used you flash gear frequently some flash tube issues can creep up on you. When a flash tube ages and get’s “sick” it may not fail immediately but will sometimes show some puzzling symptoms that are not usually attribute to flash tub issues- that’s because the darn thing is still flashing. After long and hard years of service some flash tubes, especially the ones in higher powered units, will CARBONIZE. The carbon, in the form of blackening of the electrodes that enter the tube and blackening or graying of the inside of the glass tube itself, is an indicator that the grim reaper will soon be there for you ailing flash tube. While this is happening you images may take on a reddish cast that though the wrong white balance had been set. The blackened electrodes begin working like filaments in a tungsten lamp and the images beginning to look red or yellow/red. There could be some pressure loss in the tube that will exacerbate the problem. Examine your flash tubes closely and ff the exhibit theses symptoms- it’s time to put in an order for replacements. If you start seeing strange color crossovers, check out the tubes. Color problems like these are difficult or impossible to correct even in PhotoShop. Also- even if the tubes and strobes are in fine shape, dirty modifiers can also cause color problems. If you use a fixed fill light set up using any kind of cloth reflective or diffusion panels, dust, mold, airborne contaminants can cause discoloration, again on the yell side and create color balance problems. Some of this cloth material can be washed or dry cleaned and returned to use. If the problem is mold or mildew, the may be impossible to clean or the may become eroded or frayed and offer less diffusion qualities.

Power Setting Switches: If your unit has a power selection switch- a slide switch, a toggle type or even a rotary switch with click stops you should take notice of this. Wait until the unit has fully recycled before changing power settings. If you do not do this the switch can be burned out and possibly only deliver full power or fail completely. This has to do with power surges when you switch the individual or banks of capacitors in and out of the circuit. There supposed to be a network of wire-wound resistors to accommodate this problem but if you switch too fast you can have problems. Modern up to date units may not have this problem but some of the older units, still in use may still do this. Check with the manufacturer or repair tech to find out about this.

Deformed Capacitors: The electrolytic capacitors in you flash are like Stradivarius violins- the need to be played- the need to be used. If the are dormant for long periods of time that can become DEFORMED, that is the dry up or otherwise deteriorate and stop working. The good news is that in many cases they can be REFORMED and the unit can be placed back in service. The deforming problem can be avoided entirely by firing up the unit about once a month, leave it one for a few minutes and fire it a few time before returning it to storage. I have lot of flash gear so I put some of in on a timer to go on for an hour per day. If you have an older unit that has been neglected for a long time you should assume that the capacitors are indeed deformed and follow this procedure: Turn the unit on bit DO NOT FLASH IT FOR A WHILE. Leave it on a few hours and then fire it several times. Repeat this action. If the unit works well repeatedly and no smoke, strange fumes or smells occur and recycling times seem normal; you should be able to press this unit into service again. If the unit emits smoke, fumes, noises or loud bangs or pops, the capacitors have most likely came to their sad and expensive demise. It is also likely that all that smoke and noise is indicating further damage to the circuitry and would it would not pay to fix a unit in that condition.

If your unit is sick and about to die- it will try to tell you so that you can save its life. If you hear a sound like frying bacon, a loud pop or bang or smell something like plastic burning- shut it off, take it out of service and bring it to a qualified repair facility. If you continue to use it when any of the above conditions appear, you can expect it to burn out beyond repair, suffer a capacitor explosion, harm the camera or even hurt the photographer. As I promised, I don’t really want to get into too much electronic jargon but we should mention the basic concept of the SHORT CIRCUIT. If the unit suffers a short circuit, very basically, electricity of various types and amounts end up where it should not be. Wire and other parts are insulated so the electricity it is conducting stays within the conductive material within each wire or component. The various circuits are ISOLATED from one and other so each of them can do their job without affecting the other in damaging ways. Overheating, impact, insulation breakdowns, wetness, and/or inapt tampering can cause dangerous voltages to become re-routed in such a way that the can kill other parts, cause small internal explosions and even pass through the camera killing its electronics and even harm or kill the photographer. Ever realize how close your eyes and forehead are to a speedlight mounted on the camera’s hot shoe?

If you drop a flash unit, if it gets wet in a rainstorm, if you notice a dent in a unit or its power supply or if the unit blows a fuse or circuit breaker you should become suspicious and have it checked out. NEVER attempt to bypass or defeat a safety device like a fuse or a circuit breaker- they are designed to protect you and your equipment. Never use an AC cord without the grounding pin intact. A minor accident can cause the body of the unit or the power pack to become live and administer a nasty electrical shock upon touching it. Even a small speedlight can pack 300 DC Volts- enough to cause a nasty burn or some nerve damage in your hand of fingers. An electronic defibrillator works on the same electrical theory as a flash power pack- it is equipped with high voltage under capacitance. If you ticker does not need defibrillation and you get a shock across your chest… well need I say more? Theses are more reasons to treat your cables with respect and TLC and look out for frayed wires or cables. OK- enough talk about injury and death so let’s talk money.

As far as I am concerned, I find most of the prices for decent flash gear somewhat outrageous. The current kinds of speed lights will set you back over a grand for a decent pair. Perhaps many of you will disagree with me but I consider most of the on-camera units as being built like toys. The practical features are good but in the areas of ongoing reliability, adequate power and coverage leaves lots to be desired. If you want to buy some of the better pro units which are built with longer duty cycles, more rugged construction and more power, you might find the price for a good candid or studio set up to be totally outrageous especially if you are trying to equip yourself for business.

The reason for this article is so that once you make a sizable investment in good flash equipment you want to protect and properly maintain it which makes for great longevity and good performance when you are depending on its reliability. This should also help as a guide when you are ready to buy equipment especially on the used equipment market. There is lots of decent used stuff out there but all of the aforementioned pitfalls apply while inspecting used gear. Dents, discolored flash tubes, frayed cables, blackened connectors, strange smells or noises, inconsistent recycling times, apparent signs of overheating and/or generally bad cosmetic appearance can all be signs of underlying defects, abuse or impending failure of the entire system.

Many photographers tend to dislike or disparage flash photography because their equipment is far from ship shape and it just won’t work right no matter what they do.

I hope this helps.

Ed

























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Old 05-24-2013   #2
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Wow, Ed. I didn't read the whole thing, but what I did read sounded like good information. However, seeing your post brought up a question that maybe you, or someone else, can answer.

My studio strobe has the small mini jack (is that redundant?) for triggering. I had the tip of a plug come off while in the mini jack and I'm not sure how to get it out. Do you have any suggestions or simple repair technique for this? I currently have to use the optical trigger on this strobe as I can no longer plug in a wireless trigger.

Thanks.
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Old 05-24-2013   #3
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Hi! Yes- that is a common problem and that is why I mention “strain relief” for theses plugs and sockets in my article. As you know, I am reluctant to suggest DYI repairs of strobes unless one is experienced in the dangerous aspects of high voltage. If the back panel can be removed without sliding out the entire chassis of the unit where the capacitor bank becomes touchable you may be able to do the repair if you are good at soldering electrical wires and can perform the task without burning or injuring nearby or adjacent other parts. There is lot of stuff crammed into theses units and simple repairs can oftentimes be more problematic than one might think. It os best to fix this so that the plug part will not drop into the unit.

You will probably find the business end of that plug lodged in the female jack where it can be easily accessed and removed. If it was poked at from the outside of the unit I could have fallen into the innards where it can possibly cause a short circuit. Even if you remove the offending part, there s no guarantee that the female jack was not damaged by the eccentric stress that snapped off the plug in the first place. My suggestion is to bring it in for service and if there is enough space, have the socket replaced with a full fledged (1/4 inch- I think) standard phone plug that are usually installed in some of the high end studio flash units and mono-lights. If a radio slave is used; be sure to provide some strain relief with cable ties and Velcro so that the radio will not dangle from the flash unit or accidently be abruptly yanked from the unit.

Let me know if you have any success with this remedy!

Thanks- Ed

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Old 05-24-2013   #4
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Good article Ed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Shapiro View Post

Now- what I am gonna suggest here does not involve popping open your flash gear and giving a peak “under the hood” If you are not a trained technician in high voltage apparatus- don’t do dat! EVER! Now- I have been seriously and unjustly criticized by a few scientific/engineering types on the forum about my overstating my case about the dangers that are harbored within the innards of strobe gear. One told me that it is perfectly fine to walk in water while using a speedlight and that I was an idiot to write otherwise. Well my thinking may be somewhat overkill but here is my philosophy involved. Theatrically speaking, no engineer or circuit designer in his or her right mind is going to ignore safety issues while designing any electrical or electronic device.
You can design and make something that is fool proof.

You can design and make something that is idiot proof.

You simply can't design or make something that is damn fool idiot proof.

You fall into the last category if you open up a flash or strobe without proper training, and it is an exercise in stupidity you may not survive. Darwin's theory in action.
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Old 05-25-2013   #5
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Default Re: Electronic Flash Maintenance for all Photographers.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Shapiro View Post
Hi! Yes- that is a common problem and that is why I mention “strain relief” for theses plugs and sockets in my article. As you know, I am reluctant to suggest DYI repairs of strobes unless one is experienced in the dangerous aspects of high voltage. If the back panel can be removed without sliding out the entire chassis of the unit where the capacitor bank becomes touchable you may be able to do the repair if you are good at soldering electrical wires and can perform the task without burning or injuring nearby or adjacent other parts. There is lot of stuff crammed into theses units and simple repairs can oftentimes be more problematic than one might think. It os best to fix this so that the plug part will not drop into the unit.

You will probably find the business end of that plug lodged in the female jack where it can be easily accessed and removed. If it was poked at from the outside of the unit I could have fallen into the innards where it can possibly cause a short circuit. Even if you remove the offending part, there s no guarantee that the female jack was not damaged by the eccentric stress that snapped off the plug in the first place. My suggestion is to bring it in for service and if there is enough space, have the socket replaced with a full fledged (1/4 inch- I think) standard phone plug that are usually installed in some of the high end studio flash units and mono-lights. If a radio slave is used; be sure to provide some strain relief with cable ties and Velcro so that the radio will not dangle from the flash unit or accidently be abruptly yanked from the unit.

Let me know if you have any success with this remedy!

Thanks- Ed
Thanks, Ed. I'm an EE, so I could probably do it and am well aware of the effect of those capacitors, but I was hoping there was some method to simply pull the broken off piece out of the existing jack without having to disassemble the unit. Interestingly enough, I had the trigger taped to the cord, thinking that would alleviate any stress, but apparently it didn't work.
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Old 05-25-2013   #6
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Hmmmmm. I am now stroking my beard- not that it does any good. It just generates static electricity to give myself some of annoying little shocks. Perhaps it will jump start my brain.

A challenge to ponder! Perhaps a tiny watchmaker’s screw driver could be used to ease out that plug part just enough to be grabbed with a teaser, a small long nose pair of pliers or a hemostat. A very aggressive adhesive tape or liquid on the tip of such a screw driver or pin may catch it. How about one of those Dyson super suction vacuum cleaners that can suck in a house cat would work unless it sucked in all the other components at the same time. Problem is that once the tip of the plug that is the plus conductor penetrates the spring loaded contact in the socket it could get pretty hard to dislodge it without getting in there and pushing the part upward.

On some of my own units unscrewing a few machine or sheet metal screws will enable removal of the back control panel and I could easily replace or repair broken potentiometers, fuse blocks, indicator lamps and jacks. On some other models one needs to be part brain surgeon to make a simple repair. On some of the German made units you would need specialized jigs to hold everything in place while a repair is being made. One can loosen one long screw and all of the parts and the entire chassis will fall apart like an exploded schematic diagram. Without the jigs you would need 4 people to put it back together again.

Oh- another though- tack solder a small piece of bell wire to the stump of the old plug par from the outside. If that works- WOW, however, a technique such as that may add new meaning to the phrase “ jumping out of the frying pan into the fire”! There is also a drill bit called an Easy-Out that is used to extract decapitated screws- that may be overkill especially if the plug part starts to spin rapidly- just a thought!

Remember Rube Goldberg?

Ed

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Old 05-25-2013   #7
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Default Re: Electronic Flash Maintenance for all Photographers.

Ed, thanks so very much for taking the time to write this article.
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Old 04-14-2014   #8
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Hi Jeffery! Welcome to posting on the Camel.

Electronic flash equipment is in wide use by the majority of professional studio and location photographers and advanced amateurs- even many of those who prefer to work mainly with available light. In some cases, photographs have to be made at events under circumstances where there is just not enough existing natural light This can occur in all kinds of professional work such as photojournalism, wedding and event photography, industrial and commercial work and many other types of assignments where there is no chance to re-shoot the job under better lighting conditions.

Savvy available light enthusiasts know how to add just a wink of fill light to bring up shadow detail in low light or overly contrasty lighting situations so as to keep the dynamic range of the image under better control. Advanced flash techniques can either agument or simulate natural light conditions wiht the use of light modifiers and varios multiple light and bounce techniques.

Many studios are equipped with very sophisticated multiple lighting setups.

Among some inexperienced photographers, electronic flash has gathered a bad rap in terms of flat over lighted images. This is because they confine themselves to on camera flat lighting and are unfamiliar with off camera and specialized lighting techniques.

Obviously if you never use or intend to use electronic flash, this article is of little use to you.

Good electronic flash gear is costly and a program of good maintenance will keep the equipment it top operating order and provide many years of reliable usage. Larger studio type equipment, that is in daily use, can be especially vulnerable to damage if not used and maintained properly. Repairs and down time can be extremely costly if theses systems fail.

The misuse or malfunction of some electronic flash equipment can also be dangerous do to the lethal voltages that are contained in the power supplies of theses kinds of equipment. Even smaller "speedlights" can involve sufficient voltages to seriously damage you digital camera or cause sever bodily injury to the photographer- even electrocution if the units become damaged or use in hazardous conditions such as in water or explosive atmospheres.

I hope this answers you question.

Ed
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Old 04-14-2014   #9
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Default Re: Electronic Flash Maintenance for all Photographers.

FWIW, all of the Nikon flash manuals say:

"Nikon recommends that you have your Speedlight serviced by an
authorized dealer or service center at least once every two years."

I have two SB-800 which were still functioning fine, but which I recently sent in after nine years, just in case. Nikon replaced the flash tubes in both, for $75 each, plus shipping and tax.

They still work OK, the difference I see is the uncorrected white balance is a little better now, a little more blue. Flash WB varies with power level though, and still usually needs a bit of correction however.
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Old 04-14-2014   #10
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Very interesting Wayne! My experience has been that the higher the power setting the cooler to color. Interesting enough, old flash tubes tend to carbonize with age. This becomes apparent when the general color balance shows a red bias which is difficult or impossible to fully correct with by on-camera filtration or in post production procedures.

A viable graying or blackening begins to appear where the electrodes enter the flash tube- sometimes even slight blistering or deformation of the glass. This problem occurs a bit prematurely in small linear flash tubes that are confined to small spaces in the lamp head- very typical of speedlights. Perhaps this affect is accelerated by heat without adequate ventilation that is found in plug-in flash tubes in larger unenclosed lamp heads.

I once inquired of a rep form a flash tube manufacturer and his explanation that those carbonized electrodes begin to act like a filament in an incandescent lamp and produce a more red/yellow cast in addition ht the cooler light produced by the ionized gas in the tube- kinda like built in color crossover that can result in mixed lighting scenarios.

I have no scientific data to this effect but when my old tubes begin to blacken- I replace them and there is an immediate return to easily obtainable color balance.

Ed


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