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  1. #1

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    Longterm proper care of electonic flashes

    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.
    Nikon F5, Nikon F4S, Nikon FA, Nikon FE, Nikon N90, Nikon N80, Nikon N75, Mamiya 645 Pro, Mamiya Press Super 23, Yashica Lynx 14e, Yashica Electro GSN, Yashica 124G, Yashica D

  2. #2
    DWThomas's Avatar
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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.
    Last edited by DWThomas; 07-18-2012 at 08:03 PM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: Clarified statement that lapsed into geek-speak.

  3. #3
    Leigh B's Avatar
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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
    Last edited by Leigh B; 07-18-2012 at 05:03 PM. Click to view previous post history.
    “Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.” - Plato

  4. #4
    tony lockerbie's Avatar
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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. #5

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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.
    Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?

  6. #6
    ic-racer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tkamiya View Post

    I personally don't worry about this. Use them when I need them. When they die, I just replace them.
    +1

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by tkamiya View Post
    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.
    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. #8

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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".
    Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?

  9. #9

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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.
    Nikon F5, Nikon F4S, Nikon FA, Nikon FE, Nikon N90, Nikon N80, Nikon N75, Mamiya 645 Pro, Mamiya Press Super 23, Yashica Lynx 14e, Yashica Electro GSN, Yashica 124G, Yashica D

  10. #10
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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.
    Last edited by wiltw; 07-18-2012 at 08:55 PM. Click to view previous post history.

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