Friday, March 08, 2013

Travel with Speedlights and a Smartphone? Get One of These.


I very rarely review gadgets on this site. But this is something that may be new to many of you.

When I travel I try to take as little gear as humanly possible. But the Tekkeon MP1580, seen above at bottom right, is on my must-take short list every time I fly with a camera.

Here's why.
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On the Road

I am teaching in Dubai at Gulf Photo Plus this week, which probably at least subconsciously explains this week's travel-themed posts. After my last few years' schedule, I have my gear (and clothes) pack list pretty much down to a science.

And as little as I take, the MP1580 TEKCHARGE Mobile Power Pack and Battery Charger has wormed its way into my bag. This sub-$20 accessory is small, weighs next to nothing and is something I use every single day.


On the Flight

Before I even get to my destination, the MP1580 is already working for me. It holds four AA's (something any speedlight shooter will have in their carry-on) and converts that juice into power for my iPhone.

How long will it power your device? That depends on the capacity of your AA's and the normal battery size of your device. But I'll typically get a full iPhone recharge-from-near-zero from a set of four Kodak 2000MAh NiMH batts.

And I'll typically have a set of AA's for each flash I am taking. So on a long flight I got that going for me, which is nice.


In the Hotel Room

The MP1580 is also a smart battery charger, and runs off of your laptop's USB jack. It's a slow charge (6 hours for a set of 4 AA's) but a charger is one more thing you do not have to pack if you take this little guy along.

To be fair, if I am traveling with several speedlights or expect to use lights a lot, I might bring another charger. But this gets me by more often than not.


In the Field

I'll typically use the MP1580 to house an extra set of AA's, as it is literally about as light as one of those plastic AA cases you keep your extra batts in—and not much bigger. Seriously, this thing is pretty much all battery weight when assembled.

So I have an extra set of AA's at the ready which can be used for my flash or my phone. I don't often need them, but just having it allows me to offload a dull, nagging worry. And any time you can do that while traveling, that's awesome.


Everything you Need

The accessory pack included with the MP1580 is perfect. You bring your own iPhone/USB cord (30-pin or lightning) and you are set. The pack comes with a retractable USB to universal "male pin," with included adapters for mini and micro USB on the pin end.

Thus, you can power any small gadget (like most smartphones, but check yours here) that use a mini or micro USB port with no additional cord needed.

If your device needs more than a 1000MAh charge current then you are out of luck. For instance, It won't charge up your iPad.

In standard USB to micro USB configuration, the retractable cord is what allows your laptop to charge your AA's inside the MP1580 via the USB jack. Obviously, any USB->USB mini cord will suffice, too.


Caveats

When I first got this thing, I was ticked off at how light it was. As in, it feels like cheap crap—near nonexistent weight. But that is now seen as a plus to me for obvious gear-toting reasons. If you are not using it to carry an extra set of AA's, it feels like it's not even there.

But as a very lightweight device, there are caveats in the build quality department. Some have reported shorting when traveling full of batts (i.e., melty plastic). This has never happened to me. But just to be safe when I travel with a set of AA's embedded, I now use a strip of paper over the battery terminals as a precaution. Just common sense.


Don't Trust the Status LEDs

The power meter has three status LEDs. As soon as you plug your iPhone into it, they'll drop to a status of two LEDs. Disconcerting, but likely a result of the 1000MA current it reportedly delivers, which is awesome.

Can't think of anything other than that. I love this thing. And since I already carry lots of AAs in my camera bag around town, I feel like my iPhone has a bottomless pit of power at the ready.
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The MP1580 (manufacturer's page) is typically priced under $20 at places like Amazon and NewEgg, among others.


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28 Comments:

Blogger gretsch said...

Useful, thanks. One note: "MAh" on charging current should be "mA" in case someone gets confused :) Happy travels.

March 08, 2013 9:12 AM  
Blogger Jonh Hernández said...

I was looking for one of those, and size was the main issue, this sounds brilliant but i can't find it in european amazon...

anyone knows where to buy it in europe?

March 08, 2013 9:22 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

I bought one of these for a trip I was taking for all of the same reasons. Agree 100% on all of the above - and spent $17 on the thing! A true no-brainer for anyone in the strobist community that carries AA's anyway.

March 08, 2013 9:41 AM  
Blogger "Mister Nasty Clamps" said...

Now that –– THAT's –– a tech tip we can all use. I'll be getting one of those lil' chargers as fast as I can (cuz' it'll likely prove to be mighty handy while wandering the halls at NAB next month).

Thanks for the recommendation. Please, let's see more tchotchke posts.

March 08, 2013 9:41 AM  
Blogger Reed said...

Looks like a cool & useful accessory - And the fact that it uses AA's makes it even more alluring.

While not exactly the same thing, I've been packing a rechargeable LiOn unit for several years now - Just the ticket after a long shoot when you have to catch a flight and the cell phone's just about dead.

One big plus, and the MP1580 will work for this as well is to use it for a USB powered LED light. I do a lot of theater and dance shoots, and I plug in one of those USB keyboard LED (on the long bendy shaft) and I can get hours of unobtrusive light for my camera bag while in a darkened theater.

March 08, 2013 9:47 AM  
Blogger Yugo said...

Thanks for the heads up, David! While I love rechargeable low self-discharge NiMH AA's (such as Eneloop), for this application, I much prefer lithium ion USB battery packs for their light weight, small size, and higher capacity (keeping in mind the higher voltage means fewer amperes are needed). In fact, flipping this around a little, what I'd REALLY love to see is a lithium ion rechargeable USB pack with appropriate outputs for high voltage ports on speedlights!

March 08, 2013 10:13 AM  
Blogger nweez said...

While it makes sense due to always traveling with AAs, I find something like this to be better for almost everything: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009TCUPIC/ref=oh_details_o02_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Most will do 2amps output, so you're good for your iPad as well. While the NiMHs are excellent for flashes due to low internal resistance, these pretty much kill it in terms of max power storage - 44Wh. Four NiMH AAs in series will prob get you 10Wh.

March 08, 2013 10:21 AM  
Blogger Carlton SooHoo said...

My external battery of choice is the 4000mAh red Mophie, http://www.mophie.com/mophie-Juice-Pack-Powerstation-p/2037_jpu-pwrstion-2-red.htm

Love red!

March 08, 2013 10:22 AM  
Blogger Bob K said...

Heh... looks like I did the right thing by ordering from B&H before I finished reading the article. Out of stock now.

March 08, 2013 11:15 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've been using a device like this for a couple of years - mainly to juice my phone when I'm off cycle touring in the back of beyond. Like you, I often find it useful to toss it in my bag before heading off on a shoot - you can *never* have too many options for when things start to go pear-shaped.

For UK readers who might struggle to get hold of the MP1580, I can thoroughly recommend the 'Extreme 500 Dual AA/AAA Battery & Gadget Charger', which is available for just over ten of the queen's finest drinking vouchers. I bought mine from www.batteryvault.co.uk, but you can get them from several places online.

March 08, 2013 11:26 AM  
Blogger bradmagnus said...

I have to say I got really excited when I saw an iPhone, a flash, and a device, I thought it was a wireless remote for the iPhone and you were about to tell us you've dropped your Hasselblad for an iPhone :)

March 08, 2013 12:05 PM  
Blogger KafkaPie said...

Maybe its just my confusion, but am I to assume you will be photographing using an iPhone, with an external speedlite flash? how is it possible?

thanks

March 08, 2013 12:20 PM  
Blogger Kyle Nishioka said...

I used to have one of those Tekkeon chargers. It went bad after a year or so of bumping around in my camera bag. I think some wires got crossed and the unit overheats now if I put batteries in it. It overheated to the point where the plastic started to deform. Just keep an eye out for that as your unit gets older.

March 08, 2013 2:50 PM  
Blogger Grisanti said...

Couldn't help but notice your Caddyshack quote:
". . .I got that going for me, which is nice." So the real question is, will you receive total consciousness on your deathbed??? ;-)

March 08, 2013 9:25 PM  
Blogger shmazo said...

Nice Caddyshack reference.

March 08, 2013 11:08 PM  
Blogger Restaurantourist said...

I'm with BradMagnus -- my jaw dropped when I saw the picture, thinking it was an OCF sync device for smart phones.

Sad to say, I already carry a Vagabond mini lithium with me to keep my phone charged. I just stuff it under my shirt and tell people I ate too much.

March 09, 2013 12:08 AM  
Blogger Claus Jepsen said...

You can make this DIY very easy. I made some battery boxes out of 4x D-cells with a connector to flash AND a USB-out (car adapter type).

Here is pictures from the previous model before we added the USB-out connector: http://www.bedrebilleder.nu/batterypack2.aspx

You can see the USB charger here:
http://doocoor.en.made-in-china.com/offer/losEMvjDkIWh/Sell-New-Double-USB-Outlet-Dual-USB-Car-Charger.html

March 10, 2013 3:07 PM  
Blogger Yugo said...

Here's one near-perfect answer to my previous comment about USB-out in an external flash power pack:

http://www.nissindigital.com/ps8.html

This one has 2A USB output, which is great for iPads and other high-current devices. Unfortunately it's NiMH rather than Lithium Ion, so it won't carry as much charge for the size/weight, but it does use interchangeable custom batteries rather than AAs, for greater efficiency. (That's a pro or a con, depending how you look at it. Personally, if we're going custom, might as well go lithium.)



March 10, 2013 6:52 PM  
Blogger NBPhoto said...

It is me or is everyone kinda losing the point on this one?

You don't need a $60SUD Lithium battery charger (and certain Lithium battery types are restricted carry-ons in some countries due to it's possible explosive nature).

Another AA vs Li is, this unit uses removable and replaceable cells, if an AA dies, you're sweet - you can grab a set from anywhere, even alkaline. What do you do if your li-ion cell dies in your whizz-bang unit? There's a 3-1 replacement cost ratio here of the AA vs a Li unit.

The D-cell DIY idea is pretty nifty, but the technician side of me thinks twice before throwing unknown amps into something as fragile (and expensive) as an iPhone. Not as DIY-repairable as a flash.

Another note for those lusting after a Li pack for speedlights, Li cells have a controller chip which cuts power before it gets too low and damages the battery, ever had a torch with a rechargeable Li cell and been stuck when it just dies out of no-where and doesn't slowly dim like A Nicad or NIMH: Imagine being stuck in the middle of a shoot and your little Li pack just stops recharging your speedlight, no recycle slow-down so you're made aware with warning - nada, just WHAM-dead. That's something I constantly fuss about with my mini-vagabonds,but at least they have a visible battery gauge!

Also, no-one thinks of a quantum pack?

March 10, 2013 11:15 PM  
Blogger Mark Roberts said...

They are available in Europe from :-
http://www.portsmitheurope.com/tekkeon/tekkeon1580.htm

Mark

March 11, 2013 6:24 AM  
Blogger dvas said...

I am using something similar and it does not have the limitation of 1A. It can charge up to 2.5A, so it will charge iPad as well. It costs via eBay around $10 and it is using 18650 batteries. I have access to lot of 2-3 old year computer batteries, so i take that appart and take out those quality 18650 non-protected cells.
YOu can also charge it via 5V (USB or external power supply), but since I use 18650 extensively (flashlights), I have fast chargers as well for 18650.
eBay search link

March 11, 2013 7:40 AM  
Blogger Fahad said...

I expected this device to act as a trigger for iphone (or other phones). that would've been something really cool

March 11, 2013 10:43 AM  
Blogger Ian Pack said...

Thanks for this David. Amazon here in UK don't stock, but if you don't mind posting this, it can be obtained here: http://www.portsmitheurope.com/tekkeon/tekkeon1580.htm

March 14, 2013 9:41 AM  
Blogger KJP Images said...

Great little piece of kit. Thanks for sharing.

March 15, 2013 6:56 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I wanted to offer one small clarification. This will charge an iPad. It'll just do it very slowly under what's known as "trickle charge". It won't say that that it's charging, but it will do so in an absolute pinch.

March 16, 2013 1:06 AM  
Blogger Peter Jensen said...

Those are super useful, although I must caution that at least early versions were known to melt and fail; mine generated enough heat that if it had been tucked in to a bag or under papers I am worried that it would have caught fire. Photos of the what my MP1550 looked like after the fact:
http://www.diff.net/media/2011_01_30_Tekkeon_TekCharge_MP1550_failure/

March 16, 2013 9:09 AM  
Blogger CaqKa said...

When i first saw the article i thought it is a trigger for the flash which works with smartphones...

March 29, 2013 5:44 AM  
Blogger Joseph said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

April 11, 2013 2:05 AM  

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