Thursday, July 07, 2011

Pint-Sized Power to Go: Paul Buff Hits One Out of the Park


Three months into heavy use of the Paul Buff Vagabond Mini Lithium, I have found the battery I want to marry.

Short version: If you shoot AlienBees, White Lightning or Einstein, this pack is a no-brainer. But it is small enough -- and powerful enough -- to see much more varied use in our house.
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I've owned and used both earlier generations of Paul Buff Vagabond batteries, to mixed result. The v.1 was serviceable, but the required grounding cable made it pretty inconvenient.

The v.2 model, of which I owned two, was more user friendly. But one of the two packs was chronically unreliable, even after repair. And they were all really heavy.

They actually worked pretty well as a stand-in for a sand bag, which is a back-handed compliment for any battery system. No surprise, as seal lead acid (SLA) batteries are all about the pounds.

So when the new Vagabond Mini Lithium came out, I was both intrigued and suspicious. Okay, it's tiny and lightweight. But what about capacity? What about reliability?

Then I read Rob Galbraith's comprehensive road test post (which sounded almost too-good-to-be-true) and had to see for myself.

That it powers AB's and Einsteins well should come as no surprise. That's what it was designed to do. But it also will run a Profoto Acute pack, which is designed to suck a lot more current than Buff's models.

I have a pair of (battery-powered) Profoto B600's, but they only drive one head each. The Vagabond Mini allows me to add an AC Acute pack to that mix to added multiple outdoor heads whenever I need.

It will drive an Acute 1200 -- if you are very patient. It needs about 10 secs to recycle if you are using it at full power, so not real practical at 1200ws. But my main outdoor pack has grown to be a Profoto Acute 600e generator, which I got used, along with two heads, extension cables and soft box rings for $900.

(I know, right? A dentist listed it on eBay with a buy-it-now price of $900. Heh.)

Anyway, the 600 pack can drive up to three more heads. It usually gets used symmetrically, driving a pair of rim lights. The Vagabond works great for that, allowing me to use the B600s for key and fill.

The number of pops this little battery gives me is amazing. Rob has a full grid of results on his post (definitely read it of you are considering the Mini) and my results mesh with his.

Like Rob, we have found that the Mini is convenient enough to where it gets used for far more than big strobes. I learned long ago that the limiting factor when you are traveling and trying to get online is more often AC power than 'net signal. So the Mini travels with me. It'll greatly improve your battery time for a laptop, for instance, or recharge your camera batts.

The kids use it as a near bottomless pit of power for iPods when on the road -- and also to power the pay-as-you-go Virgin Atlantic Mi-Fi we all use to connect to the 'net. (Ben pretty much monopolized it on the last trip.)

Even though it does not have the memory issues of an SLA battery, I keep it topped off at home in case of a power outage. It'll easily drive a couple household lamps with CFL bulbs.

The lithium-based battery is rated as safe for air travel, but I have not tried to run the TSA gauntlet with it yet. Hopefully, they won't be jerks about it. On the plane, a Mini and a charged laptop would give you tons of time. And once arrived, and an Einstein and a Vagabond Mini is a lightweight match made in heaven.

If you shoot AB/Einstein/WL, I cannot recommend this pack enough. It's tiny, lightweight and runs like a horse. Reliability has reportedly been great, too. In fact, if I shot primarily with Paul Buff lights I would probably get one for each flash head. That would give you the faster recycles and more capacity. And at $239.95 ea., still would not break the bank.
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More info:

:: Paul Buff Vagabond Mini :: (product page)
:: Rob Galbraith's Comprehensive Tests::


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51 Comments:

Blogger PrePhoto said...

How do you guys know?

I'm sitting here debating whether it's time to pull the trigger on one of these and BAM! There's the answer... It's senior picture time, and Daughter #2 has deemed Dad worthy of photographing her. My fee is apparently a Mini + parabolic reflector.

July 07, 2011 4:58 PM  
Blogger Ron Nabity said...

Looks very exciting - I'm glad I held off on the Vagabonds! I hope Paul C. Buff is well-stocked with these!

July 07, 2011 5:15 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Been using mine for oh so many months... love them. Best cheap battery packs out there... so much better than their lead-acid Vagabond cousins (I predict they discontinue them one day soon). The battery release button just broke today unfortunately... I hate to be without one of them, but imagine they will repair it under warrantee, along with all my chronically misfiring CyberSync crap...

July 07, 2011 5:59 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It seems like a nice little power unit. I would like to see a power cable hack able to run a Speedlite/Light.

July 07, 2011 6:46 PM  
Blogger Gabriel said...

I am super glad to hear that it's working out for you. I ordered mine about a week ago, and expect to receive it on Monday. I *can't wait* to be able to take my big lights to random outdoor location shoots.

I can't wait to get some experience in on mine.

July 07, 2011 8:01 PM  
Blogger Wendy Mayo said...

I totally agree! My vagabond mini is one the best buys I have ever made! Now I have super flexibility and can shoot literally anywhere without hiring a pack horse to move my power source.

July 07, 2011 9:10 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

The Vaga Minis are great for running one studio head... but recycle times are slooooow if you run more than one. Rob reports 7-10 seconds for 2x PCB heads!

There is another option : The Explorer Mini. Its still pretty small, and the inverter has 3x the capacity so its much better suited to recycling high loads fast.

Details here http://www.innovatronix.com/detailpage.asp?categoryid=42&productid=393&categoryname=Products%20and%20Services

July 07, 2011 9:21 PM  
Blogger JettFoto said...

I shoot Profoto D1 1000ws monoblocs off this puppy!. I get a good recycle time when shooting 500ws or less and the recycle isn't terrible at full power (7 seconds at 1000ws). The cost of my Profoto BatPac is 7x more than the Vagabond mini and it's HUGE in comparison. The BatPac recycles my heads faster (3 seconds at 1000ws), but honestly the vagabond is rad. I own 2 of them with lots of extra batteries and I power a lot off of them. I still use my BatPac most of the time (doubles as my sand bag for my boom stand), but when traveling I only bring the Vagabond Minis. For the first time in my life I can say "Congrats Paul Buff, you did a good job".

July 07, 2011 10:34 PM  
Blogger JettFoto said...

Also, I have flown 4 times now with my mini's. They haven't been a problem yet at any airports. However I put them in my checked baggage. Haven't tried in the carry-ons yet.

July 07, 2011 10:41 PM  
Blogger James said...

I love my VML and Einstein combo, lot of pops from that little unit. We use it on the road for iPod, iPad and camera batteries too. Well worth it for us.

July 07, 2011 10:42 PM  
Blogger TonyQuotz said...

Can anyone comment on the lights that are not VagaMini compatible. I'm set on getting either Flashpoint 620M http://www.adorama.com/FP620M.html
or Westcott Strobelite 400 w/s
http://www.adorama.com/WE200H.html
I'm not sure if they will work with the VagaMini.

July 08, 2011 1:01 AM  
Blogger Mic Ty said...

I'm very happy with my Vagabond Mini as well. It has truly made the Alien Bees much easier to shoot with.

On the other hand, I recently got a WL X3200. The ~7 second recycle times on a Mini would be too slow for me, so this time around I will pair it with a [substantially discounted] Vagabond II which has a more practical 3.5-second recycle time. Plus like you said it doubles as a sandbag.

Best regards,
Mic

July 08, 2011 1:03 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Can I get a HELL YEAH for the 230V version please?

http://www.paulcbuff.com/vm120-230v.php

Ok I did that one myself but I can hear it echo. I am pleased.

July 08, 2011 2:13 AM  
Blogger Theis Poulsen said...

Really wish they where just as cheap here in Europe. Unfortunately they are about twice the price.

Still considering them to drive a couple of RX600's

July 08, 2011 3:32 AM  
Blogger SASDALLAS said...

Got it. Love it.

Just wish it had a better way to attach to the light stand.

What I do, though (which works well for me) is just (instead of attaching to the vertical part of the stand) attach down by the "leg bracket" at the bottom of the light stand. Gives the stand a bit of stability as well. Got a nice, short power cord and "away you go."

The thing works like a champ. This and an AB BD (IMHO) is a perfect setup for outdoor work. Indoors, with a C stand on wheels it is truly portable around the studio as well. As a guy who has been switched to the "Strobist" philosophy for years now, this has revised my interest and use with "big lights."

July 08, 2011 8:07 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

My girlfriend (at the time) ordered this for me back in November for a Christmas present and by the time it arrived, we were already engaged (Christmas morning) and I have really loved having it. I used it last night on our honeymoon to take photos of us. I'm glad I have a wife that appreciates my photography, although I have to buy her own DSLR since she has been having fun shooting mine when I have been shooting black and white film.

July 08, 2011 8:19 AM  
Blogger rickdallasphoto said...

Affordable and lighter that the Vagabond II. It's a great addition to the Paul C. Buff line. The lighter weight will be great for location shoots.

July 08, 2011 8:26 AM  
Blogger Bill Giles said...

The old sealed lead acid batteries were commonly called gel cells, referring to a gelled electrolyte. I have some of these that were made in the late eighties that still work. The newer ones are AGM batteries, which stands for absorbed glass matrix. The AGM batteries appear to be very sensitive to sulfation. If you let them discharge completely even once, you may have a bad battery. The original battery in my Vagabond 2 failed after a couple of years. I put a new one in a year ago and it appears to be failing. I think that the culprit is allowing the Vagabond to sit for a month or more without charging. I have a bunch of AGM batteries for various purposes and they are all currently connected to automatic chargers to maintain the charge. I haven't been doing this long enough to see if it will make a difference. As far as the lithium batteries, I'm sure that they will be expensive, but time will tell how long they last.

July 08, 2011 8:35 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Dave! PCB and Co. have had a very hard time keeping these things in stock, especially since their inverter manufacturer changed the design and made the thing defective and they had to work that out and the whole time it was on indefinite backorder. Now that you've given it the Strobist Bump they could raise the price (not a very PCB-ish thing to do, just making a point) and I would still have to get on a waiting list!

Thanks a lot!

July 08, 2011 9:46 AM  
Blogger Anna Nguyen said...

I absolutely love my mini. Always traveling by myself, lugging a lot of gear gets really heavy, this is a great piece of equipment that I'm happy I bought!

July 08, 2011 10:34 AM  
Blogger Kurt Jürgen Lindner said...

This is hilarious, I just got my email from Innovatronix announcing the Tronix Explorer Mini.

July 08, 2011 11:50 AM  
Blogger TrappedLight said...

DH,
Slightly OT but how long do you guess a Mini could power a 23W light? I'm trying to justify a purchase with alternate uses to the CFO (wife).

July 08, 2011 1:53 PM  
Blogger Dave6163 said...

David,

I have one as well and love it. A friend and awesome photographer provided me an AB800 and I really enjoy using the Vagabond Mini with that setup. As you mentioned great for traveling to keep my other electronics charged too.

Nice post. Thanks!

July 08, 2011 2:10 PM  
OpenID e7802420-a990-11e0-a37f-000bcdcb2996 said...

Just got mine 2 days ago and waiting to put it through its paces.

Drives a Hensel Integra 500 and 1000 monolight thought the 1000 is understandably slow.

The biggest complaint online about it is how to mount it to a stand, I discovered my Bogan Super-Clamp with thread adapter fits perfectly !

July 08, 2011 2:34 PM  
Blogger Carlos Ocegueda said...

Does anyone know if vagabond mini works with Profoto compact R600's? I would love to purchase a couple if they are compatible. Thx

July 08, 2011 3:17 PM  
Blogger Trevor said...

Just do yourself a favor and ditch the stock clip. That spring makes it far too easy to pop off of the light stand.

I replaced mine with a truss clamp that holds it very securely to the stand (got the idea from someone in the Alien Bees Flickr group): http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/690057-REG/Global_Truss_JR_CLAMP_Global_Truss_Jr_Clamp.html

July 08, 2011 3:20 PM  
Blogger Logan365 said...

the reviews say this is a no brainer but I'll keeping my VB2.

The mini is great if you're shooting indoors where you cant get to a AC plug, but if you're outside, you still have to carry a sandbag to weigh down the umbrellas and modifiers.

The VB2 gets more pops and is faster than the mini. I'm sticking with the VB2

July 08, 2011 3:39 PM  
Blogger MasterOfGoingFaster said...

I have both the Vagabone II and the mini. Both power my Hensel Integra 500 monobloc lights just fine. The V2 is better because it acts like a sandbag.

But...

I use the Mini with a PCB ring light and boy does that work well. I've attached it to a Lowepro Field and Stream belt/harness. Now I have a real ringlight with complete portability.

July 08, 2011 6:01 PM  
Blogger fotosiamo said...

It would be cool if there is an extended battery pack options that can attach to the Vagabond Mini, just in case you have to go on a longer shoot

July 08, 2011 7:22 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Byrnes said...

Once upon a time when I worked in a studio they used Alien Bees and White Lightening as their lights. I was accustomed to seeing Paul C. Buff as being a great company. So then came the day when I opened my own studio and I started with a lesser quality company in terms of lighting. We went from small strobes to using Profoto. I, at that time did not have any battery packs and wasnt about to try and afford a Profoto pack. Another photographer I knew was running a Vegabond V2 on the Profotos. So, naturally based on the cost and quality intermixed with how the Vegabond could power two Profotos I made the choice to purchase the Vegabond. I used mine a total of 3-5 times before it died. Sounds bad right? Well when I called up Paul C. Buff they informed me that the batch of inverters in the last round were bad and that a new one would be shipped out to me within a few days. I was instructed to return the bad one in the same box as the other one and shipping was taken care of. Their souther hospitality mixed with their great products will keep me purchasing from them. I still run the Profotos, but would like to pick up a few Alien Bees or an Einstein or two. I do not need to "test" the mini to know that their newest pack is full of power and not just a small shell of awe.

July 08, 2011 7:32 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

@TonyQuotz - The Innovatronix range is better suited to running other lights than the Vagabonds. Minimum 3x the load capacity means much less voltage drop. PCBs lights are built to take run on extremely low voltages, many other flashes don't cope (unless they are specifically designed to run from battery packs).

The Westcott Strobelites you mention are one of the rare units that won't run with even the Explorers. I have both and the Strobelites won't charge on full power. Mine are 240V, I'm assuming the 110V units will behave the same.

Innovatronix have a HUGE compatibilty guide on their website. Well worth checking out.
http://www.innovatronix.com/compatib.asp

The discontinued Explorer 1200's inverter had specs a little better than the Mini if I remember correctly. Mind you it was 3x the size. The Vaga Mini is amazing for its size... but does not do everything the larger units do.

The new Explorers have much, much more powerful inverters, so are much better suited to running high power or multiple flash heads.

July 08, 2011 7:36 PM  
Blogger Digital Latte said...

I love my VML, I use it to power both my 285's and bee's....very impressive product. If your on the fence, don't be...get one

July 08, 2011 8:58 PM  
Blogger Kevin B. said...

I want to emphasize Leo's comments on using Innovatronix to power Profotos over the vagabonds. The big selling point for me was the fact they are certified compatible with Profoto where the Vagabonds aren't. Sure, they'll still work, but should something happen that shorts out your lights, then PCB says you're out of luck. Whereas Innovatronix will stand behind it and pay for the repair. I like that extra sense of security when it comes to powering my expensive Profotos.

July 09, 2011 10:06 AM  
Blogger Lee Love said...

I ordered 2 minis as soon as they were available along with two spare batteries so I have been using them for months. Running one mini on its own Einstein is a great combination and I have given up speedlghts all most completely. I found this to be a much more versatile (and less expensive) than the multiple frankenstein speedlight setups some recommend.

I agree with the comments on the clamp and suggest a bogen clamp and their threads stud.

The one TINY complaint I have is the power switch should have been recessed or at least have a cover over it. It is very easy for it to get turned on while in your bag. So beware of this problem.

The mini is light weight and if you have an assistant it's not a problem to carry using the enclosed strap. Then put an alien bee with a soft box on a monopole and you can shoot almost anywhere.

July 09, 2011 11:39 AM  
Blogger Markus Anthony said...

I've had this battery since March and took it overseas to Manila, Philippines.

https://fbcdn-sphotos-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/197663_10150210229518858_798608857_9212048_2576991_n.jpg

TSA has no problem with it provided that you bring no more than two batteries as carry on, and the inverted is secured in your case from being turned on.

What I did was keep in the original box w/foam inside a carry on bag and printed this out:

http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/batteries.shtm I've had it inspected through Korean Air, The NAIA Airport and even Xray'd at SFO with no problems with TSA.

But it's good to have Paul Buff's Vagabond Mini Manual close to this printout or at least a printout of page 11.
You should also check with your airline and airport's TSA, get the manager's name of the TSA at your airport just in case they feel they want to change their mind the moment you're getting your battery scanned lol.

July 09, 2011 12:44 PM  
Blogger szpeter said...

Dave,

Storing Li packs topped off can degrade their capacity. For longer storage they recommend 30-50% charge. This is also valid for short storage as we learned when using LiPo packs for RC cars.

July 09, 2011 2:13 PM  
Blogger jim said...

uaed our V-mini last weekend for first time with one einstein at quarter power. recycle time was insanely quick- after 100 shots, we still had 3/4+ battery left.

July 09, 2011 3:39 PM  
Blogger suzephotography.com said...

Disappointed that they cost $239.95 in the US & $399 in Australia... why?!

July 09, 2011 5:56 PM  
Blogger Michael Agar Photo said...

Ive been looking for a portable power supply to power a smoke machine and my laptop when shooting on location.

Has anyone tried this setup, how many hours did it last?

July 10, 2011 8:15 AM  
OpenID damnuglyphotography said...

I think this thing is gonna seriously cut into battery systems like the Profoto 7B. I mean, one 7B battery pack and head costs about $4300. I could pick up THREE Einstein's each with it's own Vagabond power supply for $2250!!! And then when you factor in that a 7B with a head weighs in at 31 freaking pounds compared to the unbelievably lightweight Vagabond/Einstein combo at about 8 pounds and I can't imagine what would make you even consider the Profoto lights! And the cost of batteries for both systems...$565 for the Profoto vs. only 90 bucks for the Vagabond...makes this one of the biggest game-changing no-brainers in years!

July 10, 2011 12:19 PM  
Blogger Tristan said...

Wow, I just got my new Einstein kit with a single Vagamond Mini. I've run some of my own tests and was very pleased to make it through a couple shoots out of doors with two Einsteins hooked up to these.

It might seem obvious to some, but its worth mentioning: kill your modeling lights while running off a Vagabond if you can. Or power them down as much as you can. They chew up more battery power then your strobes on a longer shoot.

Recycling time is very reasonable even when running two einsteins at 320ws or even 640ws. Helluva battery... and so small!

July 11, 2011 1:22 PM  
Blogger jun said...

I have been looking at both the VML and the newly released Tronix Explorer Mini.

After much searching the internet, I came into the conclusion that the VML was designed mostly for PCB lights only. It won't work with
Bi-voltage lights such as the elinchrome Bxri or 2 DLites4.
So I decided to purchase the Tronix explorer mini today. Works well with bi-voltage ligths, very fast recycling time. 3 seconds full power recycling with 2 einstiens but lower total number of pops per charge. I decided that recycling time for a model shoot is more important than number of pops, as I typically use less than 100 in a shoot.

July 14, 2011 11:37 AM  
Blogger JBucknerPhotography said...

Does anyone know if they can power Elinchrom Bxri 500??

July 15, 2011 1:07 PM  
Blogger jun said...

hello Jbuckner,

The vagabond mini lithium won't even work with a single Bxri, while the tronix explorer mini will work with 2 bxri's. That was
my deal breaker.
search google video . there are many videos about the vml and the tronix explorer mini

July 17, 2011 12:32 PM  
Blogger jun said...

Another thing, aside from the
Vagabond mini lithium not working with many bivoltages flashes, they also recycle slowly. something that I cannot afford to do with a model shoot. I have to capture their expressions asap when they posed.

The vagabond II was better, if only it was not plagued with reliability problems.what I was expecting from PCB was an improve Vagabond II in terms or reliability. It just did'nt happen. The VML was a step backward in the wrong direction.

July 17, 2011 12:38 PM  
Blogger Paul D'Andrea said...

I got one of these this week and had a chance to play with it yesterday. I got it to see if it would work with a set of Elinchrom DLite 400s.

The Vagabond Mini does pretty well powering one at a time, but not at full power. Or, not at full power if I pop the flash quickly. It seems to handle slow shooting, but after around 6 to 10 quick pops the flash will error.

In my testing, setting the power at 5 (out of 6) or bellow will allow the flash to be recycled, even quickly, with no errors.

July 17, 2011 1:05 PM  
Blogger Andrew Kufahl said...

jbucknerphotography - VML works wonderfully with my BX500Ri. Sometimes recycle-time seems a little slower than I'd like it to be, but I guess I expect that it'll be slower than being plugged directly into a wall outlet. Overall, I'm very happy with it and haven't had any troubles with it.

July 22, 2011 12:37 PM  
Blogger Dylan said...

Wow, it looks like this power pack has been impressing a lot of people. A couple of local photographers used it on a shoot in the rockies and did a video review on its performance. Check it out at:

http://tocreate.ca/?p=232

Between these two reviews I'm definitely thinking I might have to pick one up!

July 28, 2011 1:05 AM  
Blogger Ken Thor White said...

I bought one of these things and, to use the understated language of diplomacy, I can only say that any photographer who does not buy one is the dumbest person to have ever lived in all of recorded time and even for three years before people started recording time. It's lighter than a cartoon character and has more capacity than Stephen Hawking's mind. If you don't have one, run out and get one. Don't even lock your doors. Go right to Tennessee and do it. Leave me your address, though, so I can...um... watch your stuff for you. Seriously, get one. You won't regret it.

July 29, 2011 4:13 PM  
Blogger Michael McMillan said...

I got one off of craigslist for $200. So far I have charged it once.

I have a pair of ab1600s. Since I have charged it I have used it for:
a 2 hour shoot with about 40 1/8 power pops
a second 2 hour shoot with about 150 1/8 pops + 120 1/4 pops on the second strobe,
and 2 hours as a work light around the set of a strobist meetup.

One thing I have done is replaced my modeling lights with dimable LED light bulbs.

With all of that abuse the battery still says it is at full capacity, and I can't detect any degredation in flash charge time.

The battery pack is about 150 watt hour, or about the equivalent of 40 AAs.
BTW, the explorer mini has about half the battery capacity, and weighs 3 times as much, and according to spec, while the battery is cheaper to replace, the lithium battery should have a cycle life 7-10 times as long.

September 27, 2011 11:07 PM  
Blogger Aah Dad said...

I was seriously debating getting he Vagabonds for my Profoto D1s but ran across this in the Vagabond manual:

‎"...Profoto brand units will generally not operate from the Vagabond Mini™ Lithium..."

The Vagabond has a serious drop in voltage immediately after a flash and Buff's line of strobes can take such drops in voltages without damage.

I'm guessing that the higher end strobes, such as the Profoto's (all digital circuitry), may not be able to handle the sharp drop in voltage.

Even though the Profoto/Vagabond combo is working for some, I'm afraid that prolonged use may cause an early death.

I really like the concept of the Vagabonds, but hate to ruin expensive equipment with it.

September 30, 2011 11:58 AM  

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