Sunday, January 11, 2015

Conditioning Your New Old Speedlights
I won't reinvent the wheel. David Hobby, aka The Strobist, wrote a post on June 14, 2013 concerning the re-conditioning flashes speedlights. It is appropriate that I bring this up, since my last post concerned the resurrection of an old Nikon SB-24 Speedlight (circa 1988) for use with my Nikon D70's. My last post alluded to my "bottom feeding" habits when in comes to seeking out used equipment, and how I managed to secure two nice looking SB-24s for a pittance. As a reminder, it was Mr. Hobby himself who started the buying frenzy for SB-24s with this blog posting back in 2006, and it seems that the price has now come back down to earth, at least so far as brick and mortar stores are concerned.

Older speedlights have probably spent the last dozen years in a state of suspended animation in some dark drawer or lonesome camera bag. Hopefully, they were stored without batteries, eliminating the consequences of a corrosive battery leak. Luckily for me my two new acquisitions were pristine, so far as their battery compartments were concerned. But this dormancy leads to a deterioration of the speedlight's ability to hold and electrical charge, and just like frostbite, they need to be revived slowly and carefully. I am quoting Mr. Hobby's speedlight posting, but you can read the entire post by clicking here.

"...Speedlights are designed so that the capacitors remain fully charged (to over 300v) when the unit is on. So working your way up from low power can actually be a problem, as you are leaving the cap in a near fully charged state most of the time. Which can cause a thermal runaway.

The process is just as easy, just a little different:

1. Turn on the speedlight and set it to full power.

2. As soon as the capacitor charges up (ready light glows) fire the flash.

3. Repeat the process.

4. Alas, speedlights do not dissipate heat very well when popped repeatedly at full power. And the last thing you want here is heat build-up. You may wish to turn the flash off and let it rest and cool every twenty pops or so.

5. This technique will build up the aluminum oxide layer on the cap (assuming it was not too far gone) and breathe new life into it..."
Power. When I get around to re-forming large numbers of speedlights, I often use a Quantum QB -1+ rechargeable battery pack and the appropriate adapters to service two flashes at a time. I have several adapters that will work on most older Nikon speedlights and many more for the obsolete Vivitar 283/285 flashes. I picked the packs up cheaply on EBay, and spent some extra bucks for new batteries from Desaga. The Quantum QB-1+ packs can often be had for a song. I saw one at a local Good Will store for only $20.00  The adapters are equally reasonable, but you'll find the Vivitar adapters are more plentiful, and less costly, than those for the Nikon. Also, be sure that your adapters match your specific battery pack, as Quantum has several variations in their product line.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Weak. Another alternative is to use your nearly depleted AA cells solely for the purpose of re-forming your capacitors. When my battery tester tells me they have passed their prime, these AA batteries are tossed into a plastic jar, ready to use. With my SB-800s and SB-900s l might attach one of my Nikon SD-8 battery packs modified to the more current SD-8a configuration, since I don't have the appropriate Quantum adapters for these two speedlights. Incidentally, updating an SD-8 pack (incompatible with the SB-800 and SB-900) is as simple as sending it to Nikon for a cable replacement. I've had at least six SD-8s so modified at a cost of about $20.00 plus shipping per unit. The SD-8 packs were once available for as little as $20.00 each on EBay, but they too have become more expensive, perhaps spurred on by a California photographer (me) who snapped them up as soon as they were offered.

Update: Nikon no  longer offers the cable upgrade to the SD-8 battery pack. I must have depleted their supply of replacement cables.

A final note: You will increase a speedlight's life expectancy by using it at regular intervals. Try to "pop" the unit a few times every monthly to keep the capacitors fresh.