Longterm proper care of electonic flashes

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by SafetyBob, Jul 18, 2012.

  1. SafetyBob

    SafetyBob Member

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    Here is something that is starting to bug me as I was reading the portable flash thread. Is there a good way to keep my flashes in good working order? What specifically do I need to do to keep their capacitors from leaking or going dead?

    I seem to have many more flashes than the normal person should after doing a quick inventory. The sad part is that I like each and everyone one of them with some of them specifically made for a model of camera I have (and need to get out and shoot some film with).

    I would appreciate knowing what your best practices are or your suggestions for me.

    Thanks,

    Bob E.
     
  2. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

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    Well, one failure mode with high capacity electrolytics is increased electrical leakage after they sit for long periods uncharged. Now I imagine many newer ones have circuitry to slowly discharge them when not running so charging them and letting them sit with the flash off may not accomplish much. But charging them and keeping them charged for a period of time every so often will help "form" the capacitors. Off the top of my head I can't remember any specific numbers, but probably running a unit up in ready state for 15 or 20 minutes every three to six months or so would help. I used a Canon 188A a couple years back that probably hadn't been run in five years and it was OK. (But a 177A I inherited from my dad was kaput after maybe ten years. Unfortunately, with consumer electronics, there are numerous other possibilities, including corrosion from storing in high humidity that may or may not be avoidable.

    The other rule with any battery operated gear is to remove the batteries altogether* when storing the equipment for any length of time. The goop that oozes out of unhappy batteries is pretty nasty.

    * (Edit) This assumes removable batteries; some of the rechargeable sealed lead acid or nicad stuff may be more or less permanently installed. Those do tend to die over time, even if unused, no matter what. So that's another "stuff happens" situation.
     
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  3. Leigh B

    Leigh B Member

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    The "leakage" that DW mentioned is internal current flowing through the capacitor,
    not physical leakage with liquid coming out and forming a puddle on the floor.

    I concur with the every three-to-six month strategy.
    Powering up a pack for perhaps 15 minutes should re-form the caps and keep them in good shape.

    More often would be better than less often. Capacitor degradation and failure are really not predictable.

    If a strobe has been unused for several years, or is of unknown condition,
    there's a safe way to bring it up (if that's possible), to wit:
    Pick a convenient time of day; doesn't matter what as long as you're available every day for a week.

    I'll use noon in the example (don't fire the flash until the end of the week).

    At noon on the first day, power the pack up for ONE minute, then turn it off and let it sit.
    The next day at the same time, turn it on for TWO minutes, then off.
    Repeat this on successive days, doubling the time each day, i.e. 3rd day 4 minutes, 4th day 8 minutes, etc.
    At the end of a week you'll have the pack on for an hour. At the end of the hour you can fire it, and use it as desired.


    - Leigh
     
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  4. tony lockerbie

    tony lockerbie Subscriber

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    I've prettty much heard the same thing, so I "exercise" my flashes every 3 months or so. I have two Nikon flashes and a Metz 60Ct. Actually the only use they get these days is that exercise...really should sell them!
     
  5. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I don't have much experience with professional flash units but I do have lots of experience with electrolytic capacitors being an electronics hobbyist and a formerly active amateur radio operator. I used to love older equipment.

    It is commonly said that unused, electrolytic capacitors dry up and die. I actually have NOT found this to be true.

    They seem to degrade used or not and eventually die. When they are used right up to the capacity, they tend to have shorter life. When used in higher temperature, they seem to die sooner. Conservatively rated and used, they tend to last longer. Of course, being a consumer, we don't have a choice on design parameters....

    I personally don't worry about this. Use them when I need them. When they die, I just replace them.
     
  6. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    +1
     
  7. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    That's fine if you're talking about a capacitor even high capacity one as a capacitor isn't that expensive. When the capacitor is packed tight in a small flash unit it's not and easy thing to replace and if you replace the entire flash unit that's not inexpensive.
     
  8. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    As I said in the same post, it is my experience that they do degrade regardless. I have not seen enough example that regular use or "proper maintenance" actually do anything significant. For my own equipment, I do not exercise it (basically a charge and discharge cycling) hoping it will lengthen their life.

    Electrolytic capacitor is made of thin aluminum foil and wet paper. It's not sealed completely either. They do dry up eventually. There is a process to "form" this layer and rejuvenate capacitors by ramping up voltage slowly. It does seem to help ones that aren't completely dead yet. Even then, I do not consider these units reliable enough. I would want to replace defective components or buy a new one.

    They do last 10 years or longer unless they are severely under rated or defective. Most of them last much longer. Personally, (and I'm not rich) after that, I'm not worried about them much. I consider them "well served".
     
  9. SafetyBob

    SafetyBob Member

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    Thank you everyone for posting. Certainly is some food for thought there.....on both sides of the equation. Tkamiya may have a really good point though, as cheap as most of our "old" flashes are, who cares? Get a another one and go down the road. That said, if I had just thrown down close to a 1,000 for a new Metz outfit (and I know many of you have them (me too, just used)), then I think I would be much more attentive and recharge the battery every 30 to 60 days and turn it on for a half hour and let it sit.

    Since we will never know exactly what the quality level of the components of our old flashes, then I guess it's a roll of the dice. I do know that I need to grab the Metz though because I do believe they do recommend every 30 or 60 days you recharge your dry fit battery if you don't use the flash. Could this be another excuse to go take a picture?

    Bob E.
     
  10. wiltw

    wiltw Subscriber

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    Dynalite studio pack instructions:
    "When the power pack is not in use for one month or more, it is wise to periodically plug the power pack in and turn it ON for a couple of hours. It is not necessary to operate a flash head during this “idling” time."

    Metz speedlight instructions:
    "Formation of the flash capacitor
    "The built-in flash capacitor changes physically when stored for long periods of time without the application of a voltage; it deforms. To prevent deformation the capacitor should therefore be activated every three months by switching the unit on for about 15 minutes without firing flashes or by operating from the mains for 15 minutes using the mains unit N22."


    Speedotron studio light instructions:
    "Do not immediately fire the unit on the first use or when the unit has been
    idle for periods over 3 weeks. Allow several minutes for the power
    supply’s capacitors to form. Once this procedure has been followed at
    these times, subsequent use of the power supply requires no waiting
    period."


    The very first speedlight that I owned, Honeywell Strobonar, back in the late 1960's had similar instructions.

    My speedlight and studio flash units, purchased new and now about 20 years old, are still operating fine because I follow the recommendations published.
     
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  11. Leigh B

    Leigh B Member

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    There is no paper in an electrolytic capacitor. The electrolyte is a very thin layer, like a film.

    They are completely sealed. That's why they have a pressure-relief plug or can scoring.
    That's also why they explode when they fail.

    The manufacturers recommend that the caps be re-formed (see post #3) if they've not been powered up for six months.

    Novatron recommends operating their packs at least 30 minutes every four weeks.
    They recommend re-forming the capacitors if the pack has sat unused for longer periods.

    - Leigh
     
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  12. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    If you want me to be completely accurate and complete, I can. For the purpose and intent of this discussion, it wasn't necessary for me to mention it isn't always paper. If you take apart mylar or film capacitors, they are indeed film. I *think* (I'm guessing here), in order to achieve the capacity electrolytic capacitors achieve given the same and the surface area, it is necessary to have a material with high dialectic constant in between plates. I think that's why the fibrous structure and gel/fluid.

    Electrolytic capacitor has a fibrous structure between foils soaked with electrolytic fluid/gell. If you take apart really old ones, they are actually paper. I haven't taken one apart in the last 30 years so I don't know what they are made of now. Tantalum capacitors are sealed. Regular electrolytic ones aren't. I've seen plenty of them leak, actually. They also do dry up without exploding given long enough time.

    If certain equipment comes with an instructions to do certain things, I certainly recommend you follow them. Smaller flash units I have do not have such instructions and neither as many many equipment I have hear that contain electrolytic capacitors. Absence of specific instructions, I don't do anything but use it and fix it or replace it when it breaks.

    Anyway, have a nice day.
     
  13. Leigh B

    Leigh B Member

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    tkamiya,

    While the technology you describe might have been in use 50 years ago, it's definitely not used today.

    Modern electrolytic caps DO NOT use paper, and they ARE sealed.

    This is a pointless discussion since the recommendations of the manufacturers are clearly stated.

    Capacitors in photographic flash units behave quite differently than those in regular equipment because they sit unpowered
    for extended periods of time, then are expected to operate as low-impedance sources intermittently.

    - Leigh
     
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  15. paul ron

    paul ron Member

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    Electronics has been a long time hobby of mine as well. When it comes to capacitors "leaking" liquid, they are probably refering to the old waxed caps of the tube days of yesteryear that were built like batteries n were wet.

    Modern caps are built much better n leak alot less due to metal casings n special directional expansion slots to keep em from exploding like bombs n catch fire as they once did.

    I had an old studio 4 head Balcor that used 16 huge caps the size of dry cells. When that thing finally went the tops of a few caps blew n sounded like a welder with a stuck rod for a couple of seconds, that high voltage hummmmmm, then POP!.. lights out in the building. The stech of electronic smoke like a florecent balast cooking n the main entrance circuit breaker checked out. When I opened the box to see what the problem was several months later, I followed standard proceedure handeling caps, discharging the remaining uncooked ones, I noticed they were still fiully charged. Balcor diagrams showed a slow bleed circuit but it must be a very slow bleed. So don't think your caps are fully discharged because it has been sitting around for a long time, they do take time to bleed off.

    I fired up an old potato masher Sunpack 611 after not using it for 35 years. It whistled as it normally does then settled in to the usual beep beep beep so, out of habbit, I fired it at full power a few times. No problem at all n I have been using it regularly for the past year, even made a battery replacement using a sealed lead acid 6V battery.

    .
     
  16. Leigh B

    Leigh B Member

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    Do you mean "... and leak a lot less..."?

    This is not Twitter.

    - Leigh
     
  17. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

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    I too believe modern electrolytic caps no longer use paper, but we must remember some of these units we're talking about are approximately sixty years old!

    Circa 1975, a tech where I worked managed to wire a high current, low voltage power supply with a bunch of 2000 uF filter caps installed with their polarity reversed. When he threw the switch, there was a loud ka-PLOW! Amidst the smoke, bits of aluminum foil were fluttering around the lab almost up to the ceiling -- sort of like the chaff to fool radar in WWII. Wish I had a photo of the look on his face; no doubt one of his more memorable learning experiences.
     
  18. Leigh B

    Leigh B Member

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    Yeah, I'll go along with that. Perhaps not 60, but certainly 40 or more.

    - Leigh
     
  19. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    Ur bng a hatr.:sad:
     
  20. paul ron

    paul ron Member

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    N what's a twitter?

    I didn't realize we were being graded for speeling n grammor. uisn't content more impertent? It seams you new what I meat, so why plost uch a upid remak that has noting to do with the tipic at hand?

    Get a life!

    For a better understanding of caps, read this....
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolytic_capacitor
     
  21. Jim Rice

    Jim Rice Member

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    All electrolytic caps, by definition, use very thin (a few molecules thick)oxide layer as a dielectric. Capacitors using paper as a dielectric are (oddly enough) called paper capacitors. Caps are (and have historically been) the least reliable component in electronics. Period. One would do well to try and keep them happy.
     
  22. Jim Rice

    Jim Rice Member

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    Though, of course, you will fail.
     
  23. AgX

    AgX Member

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    Electronic flashes became available to a wider public after 1945. Even in Germany there were at least 13 portable types on the market in 1952. My oldest one is exactly 60 years old.
     
  24. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    A Sylvania Wabash electronic flash that I keep for occasional use was first marketed in 1946, but uses oil filled capacitors rather than electrolytic. The capacitors in my three units are fine, but two of the power transformers and some of the wiring has failed. Old 2000 volt equipment requires some caution when being used or repaired!
     
  25. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    Perhaps Leigh B's comment in respect of APUG not being Twitter was just dry wit. Dry wit as long as it is maintained and used properly never leaks and a big dose of it can cure a lot of things. :D

    pentaxuser
     
  26. Philippe-Georges

    Philippe-Georges Member

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    Of you happend to have old BALCAR units, then be carefull of you open them. They have paper capasitators that are hard to drain before working on the unit!