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LibertyPak Little Genny LG400 provides premium portable power for strobes  
Wednesday, September 30, 2009 | by Rob Galbraith
The LibertyPak Little Genny LG400 portable power pack combines a regulated pure sine wave 115VAC inverter and 360 watt-hour lithium ion battery into a compact gear case that, in our testing, can power a 600ws monolight for over 1000 full power pops with consistent recycle times comparable to AC wall power. We've been using a Little Genny LG400 through a steady diet of sports team and other group photo shoots since August, and it has become an indispensable - though expensive - part of our location lighting kit.

On Deck: The Little Genny LG400. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Portable power options

If you need to power monolights or studio packs in the field, there are quite a few options to choose from these days, including gas generators, systems that incorporate a battery in the power pack (the Hensel Porty Lithium series is one of the sweetest examples of this) as well as AC inverter/battery combos.

For several years, I, along with site co-editor Mike Sturk and shooting partner David Moll, have depended on a small fleet of Tronix Explorer 1200 inverter/battery packs.  Other than replacing the sealed lead acid batteries in several of the Tronix units over time, they have ticked along just fine. We've also rented the Dyna-Lite XP1100 and tried out the Paul C. Buff Vagabond II, and they have worked as advertised too, providing power to a mix of Elinchrom, Dyna-Lite, AlienBees and Profoto lights.

The LibertyPak Little Genny is a competitor to these products, but not really. It offers dramatically better performance at a dramatically higher price than entry-level units in particular and is also better specified than the XP1100. But again, at a higher price.

Skylight: A Little Genny LG400 in the field. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
So really, the Little Genny has no direct competitor that we know of in North America. Our experience with the Little Genny LG400 is, well, we've never used a portable power pack quite like it, one that provides incredible capacity for its size plus quick and consistent strobe recycle times in a durable, no-nonsense and fairly lightweight package.

Even with three AlienBees B1600 640ws monolights hooked up to a single Little Genny, with each light set to full for a total of nearly 1900ws every time the shutter button is pressed, the Little Genny has hummed along with no drama whatsoever.

We've used it at multiple outdoor team photo sessions here in Calgary as well as during a hot, dusty group photo shoot marathon in rural Saskatchewan in which I needed to be recharged long before the Little Genny.

In each case, the story has been the same: connect the strobes, turn on the Little Genny and then forget that it's there, because the strobes have acted pretty much like they're plugged into regular AC.

So much so that David Moll and I began to use it for indoor shoots too, to save the hassle of running extension cords to a distant wall socket. After roughly a couple of dozen outings, we're smitten: the Little Genny LG400 portable power pack rocks.

Ready Light: A Little Genny LG400, on the floor at right, providing power to three AlienBees B1600 monolights. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Getting to know the Little Genny

The Little Genny is one of several products from LibertyPak that was created for the motion picture industry. Most of the company's lineup was born out of the need to provide power for continuous light sources and cameras on movie sets and the like. All of LibertyPak's products utilize lithium ion battery technology. It is, says the product's creator, Stuart Lennox, the only commercially-available inverter unit of its type to utilize lithium ion battery chemistry, which among other things explains the impressive capacity of the Little Genny for its size and weight. Most other such units geared towards powering strobes utilize sturdy, inexpensive but far less potent sealed lead acid batteries.

The model of Little Genny we've tested is the LG400, and is comprised of a voltage-regulated 115VAC pure sine wave inverter rated to deliver 1200 watts of peak power for up to three seconds (600 watts continuous), a 29.4V lithium ion battery array with 360 watt-hours of capacity, twin three-prong AC sockets, an XLR-type charging connector, voltmeter, on/off switch and power indicator light in a 14.2 x 11.4 x 6.5in (360 x 290 x 165mm) customized Hardigg Storm iM2100 case. Weight is about 19lb (8.6kg).

Lennox stresses that while the unit delivers excellent performance, it's also designed to withstand the rigors of life in the world of movie equipment rentals, which is where a number of Little Genny units exist today. This necessitates a build quality meant to withstand the daily bump and grind of on-set use, plus several internal protections to prevent damage to the array of batteries, the inverter, circuit board and more.

The particular lithium ion variant employed in the Little Genny LG400 - lithium iron phosphate - is both the safest and has the longest service life of lithium options suitable for this type of product (it's very similar to the battery type found in the upcoming Chevrolet Volt). Lennox estimates that a Little Genny's battery array will require replacement after perhaps five to eight years of heavy use; data from one of the manufacturers of lithium iron phosphate batteries suggests that ten years of service life is also realistic.

The battery array's chemistry, combined with the way the individual cells are linked inside the unit, allow the Little Genny to meet IATA and U.S. DOT regulations regarding transport on commercial aircraft. No special handling, paperwork or declarations are required to ship the unit by air or include it in checked baggage, says Lennox. In addition, he says the Little Genny is essentially maintenance free, holds a charge for long periods and can be charged up at any time, including while the unit is in use.

Convertible: The Little Genny LG400 with lid open. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The Little Genny's minimalist controls are inside the lid: flip up the two latches, raise the lid and you'll see an off/on toggle switch and a voltmeter. As we'll discuss a bit later, the voltmeter, once you get an idea of what the numbers mean, provides good feedback about the unit's charge status. Our only voltmeter quibble - one of only two complaints we have with the Little Genny overall - is that it's not in a more visible location on the outside of the unit.

Under the Lid: Inside the Little Genny LG400. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The Little Genny can be run with the lid open or closed. If run closed, says Lennox, you may notice more instances of the internal cooling fan kicking on, and staying on longer. That said, about the only time we've heard the fan at all was while doing extended capacity testing. In actual shooting, with the lid closed, the fan has remained off most of the time.

If you opt to keep the lid open, you'll come across the only other Little Genny shortcoming we've identified: the lid's heft is such that when opened past a certain point, the entire unit rolls over backwards. The workaround is to use a ballpoint pen or other object to keep the lid propped enough to allow air to flow in, since the unit won't overbalance unless the lid is opened to about 90 degrees. Lennox says they're developing a hinge mechanism that will prevent this from happening on units in the future.

The LibertyPak LC04, a worldwide AC power charger, will charge up a fully-drained Little Genny LG400 in about 3.5 hours. The charger connects to a three-pin XLR port on the side of the unit.

AC DC: Charging up a Little Genny LG400 with the LC04 worldwide AC charger. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

A soft-sided foldable solar panel charger is also available, the LS6224. It will fully charge a Little Genny in approximately six to eight hours of full sun. Charge times are roughly double on overcast days.

Power Couple: The LS6224 solar charger connected to a Little Genny LG400. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Go Time: The LS6224 solar charger, ready for transport, next to a Little Genny LG400. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Capacity testing

In addition to just using it on location, we put the Little Genny through several capacity tests, to see if it really was as good as it seemed during real world shoots. To generate the results below, the flash was fired at full power once every 10 seconds (every 12 seconds for the Profoto Acute2 1200 when set to SLOW) for 30 flash pops, followed by a five minute rest. Modeling lights were kept off. Times are in seconds.

little_genny_table.jpg

As you can see, the Little Genny LG400's battery capacity is tremendous for a smallish pack, particularly with the monolights. We've previously tested the Tronix Explorer 1200 with the same Elinchrom Style 600 and pair of AlienBees B1600s. The number of full power pops is nearly four times higher with the Little Genny. Actually, with the Elinchrom, it could be higher still, since when we stopped the test of this strobe - at 1002 full power pops - some usable charge remained in the Little Genny.

With the monolights, recycle time is effectively the same as AC wall power, give or take a fraction of a second, until just before the Little Genny's battery is spent. This is true even when two AlienBees B1600s are connected, as was the case for the capacity test. While we haven't yet measured the recycle time with three B1600s hooked up, we have used the Little Genny this way on several shoots and found the recycle time to be only slightly slower than wall power.

Bright: An outdoor group photo powered by the Little Genny LG400. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

With certain strobes, the Little Genny provides a recycle time that's quicker than AC wall power. This may be because the working voltage range of the Little Genny, at 115-117VAC, is a few volts higher than what comes out of a wall socket here in Calgary, Canada. This shaves 1/10th of a second off the single Elinchrom Style 600 recycle time. Not shown in the table is the recycle time for a single AlienBees B1600, which is 1.6 seconds when plugged into the wall and 1.4 seconds when plugged into the Little Genny, a difference in favour of the Little Genny of 2/10ths of a second.

If you're using similar combinations of monolights to what we've tested, expect that you'll notice little or no difference in recycle time between the Little Genny LG400 and U.S./Canada AC wall power. Couple that with its impressive capacity and it becomes practical to do things like run two or even three 640ws monolights off one Little Genny, and do so through hundreds of full power pops. This is the reason we're really digging this product: it offers so much performance for its size and weight.

While the table suggests that you can expect about 25 more full power pops if you flip the Profoto Acute2 1200's recycle switch to SLOW rather than FAST from the outset, this isn't really the case. In a separate test, we found that once the Little Genny can no longer power this pack on the FAST setting, which happens after about 350 full power pops, you can switch the pack to SLOW and squeeze out about another 20 full power pops before the Little Genny is truly out of juice.

Other notes and observations:
  • We've also plugged in an Elinchrom Style RX 300 monolight to the Little Genny. This Elinchrom - like many similar digital-control strobes - is not compatible with the Tronix Explorer 1200 and probably most other lower-cost inverters, but it works a-ok with the Little Genny.

  • Our testing and general usage of the Little Genny has not included the powering of a pack rated at more than 1200ws, or multiple power packs. It has worked like a charm with three monolights totaling about 1900ws, however. The Little Genny's inverter will have a limit, but what that limit is, and how well it will work with, for instance, a 2400ws pack or any pack designed for extremely quick recycling, we can't say.

    Nor can LibertyPak. Lennox indicates that their testing has been limited to about 1000ws total flash power. If you intend to purchase a Little Genny to drive big, fast studio power packs, you can expect that if any battery/inverter is up to the challenge, it's this one. But you'll probably be among the first to try and use it this way.

  • The charging connector on the Little Genny is for more than just charging. It can be used two other ways:

    • To provide 24VDC power direct to compatible devices. This feature was included primarily to allow certain 24VDC continuous light sources to be run from the Little Genny, which is in keeping with the product's movie business heritage.

    • To enable the connection of additional sources of power to the Little Genny, for longer runtimes. Using a 2.5ft (75cm) XLR-to-XLR accessory cable made by LibertyPak, it's possible to connect a second Little Genny, where the second Little Genny's inverter isn't used but power is drawn from its battery array into the main Little Genny.

      It's also possible, using the same cable, to connect one of LibertyPak's 24VDC beltpacks or, perhaps most usefully, the 18lb (8.2kg) LP800, an external pack comprised of a battery array with twice the capacity of the Little Genny, in the same-size case as the Little Genny, but without the inverter. An LP800 pack linked to a Little Genny LG400 adds up to a total capacity that's triple that of the Little Genny by itself.

      An external battery can be connected or disconnected at any time, the Little Genny doesn't have to be switched off first. Once connected, circuitry in the unit balances the power draw from both internal and external batteries.

      External power source options aren't limited to LibertyPak products. It's also possible to connect some other 24VDC input, such as a truck battery, but LibertyPak does not sell cables for this purpose. Also note that because the Little Genny is a 24V system, you can't link up a single 12V battery, such as that found in most passenger cars. The power coming in via the charging connector must be in the range of 24VDC.

  • The combination of Little Genny and LS6224 solar charger enables you to go way off the grid and still be able to run laptops, chargers and other electronic gizmos each day that you're away. We've used the LS6224, and it's lightweight, seems well-made and does charge up the Little Genny as advertised. You can also be drawing power from it - such as while using your laptop - at the same time as it's being charged. We haven't yet done any specific runtime tests with equipment other than flashes, though we did confirm that an Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch would both run and have its internal battery charged, plus Nikon's Quick Charger MH-22 works also.

  • Stand Tall: The Little Genny LG400 in upright position. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
    The Little Genny can be operated in any orientation, including laying down flat or positioned upright.

  • The Little Genny has been manufactured since 2004, but through most of its life it has employed a lithium cobalt battery array. LibertyPak has recently standardized on lithium iron phosphate.

    As mentioned earlier, the newer chemistry is promised to be a bit safer (ie it can't catch fire) and has a longer usable life. Plus, a key additional reason for the change to lithium iron phosphate, says Lennox, was the discovery that it allowed the Little Genny to run noticeably cooler when powering strobes. (There is minimal heat difference between the two chemistries when powering lower-wattage continuous light sources, he says.)

    The only downside is a slight increase in weight: the lithium cobalt Little Genny LGC400 was about 17lb (7.7kg), whereas the current lithium iron phosphate Little Genny LG400 is 19lb (8.6kg). Because of the improved overall characteristics of lithium iron phosphate, it is now the chemistry of choice for all LibertyPak products, though lithium cobalt versions can still be built, on request.

    Lennox stresses, though, that if you're a photographer intending to power flash units, you want to buy only the lithium iron phosphate LG400 model.

  • Because the Little Genny we've used outputs 115VAC, it's compatible only with flash units capable of operating at that voltage. This includes any AC-powered strobe built for use in the U.S., Canada and other 110-120VAC countries. If your strobes are designed for 200-240VAC exclusively, they won't be compatible with the off-the-shelf Little Genny LG400.

    connector.jpg
    Hooked Up: The socket type on the special-order 230VAC version (Photo courtesy LibertyPak)
    LibertyPak, however, will build a 230VAC version as a special order, with twin IEC 320-type power sockets and possibly slightly faster recycle times than the 115VAC version, says Lennox.
How to purchase or rent

If you use 110-120VAC studio lights on location, the LibertyPak Little Genny LG400 is a compelling new portable power option, like nothing we've used previously.

Its quick recycle times and ample capacity don't come cheap, though: the manufacturer's suggested list price (MSRP) for the Little Genny LG400 is US$2995 (in either a black or gray case). The LC04 worldwide AC power charger is sold separately, and has an MSRP of US$225.

Offsetting the initial cost is the fact that in many instances, you can connect multiple strobes to a single unit without significantly degrading the Little Genny's performance. And, it's built to go hard for five to eight years or more before requiring battery replacement. So, you'll spend a lot to get a lot. But there's no getting around it, a Little Genny LG400 is pricey.

The LS6224 solar charger has an MSRP of US$995. A bundle comprised of the Little Genny LG400, LC04 AC charger, LS6224 solar charger and a rolling case to hold it all has an MSRP of US$3900. The LP800 external battery pack has an MSRP of US$3500. The XLR-to-XLR cable for connecting the LP800 to a Little Genny is US$85 (the same cable can also be used to connect two Little Genny units together).

LibertyPak is in the early stages of establishing a network of pro photo retailers that will carry the Little Genny LG400 and related accessories. As of this writing, though, the exclusive way to buy it is direct from LibertyPak in southern California. The company will ship worldwide. Questions about payment methods, shipping costs, the current direct purchase price and information about special ordering a 230VAC version can be directed to sales@libertypak.com or +1 805-832-6806.

If you'd rather rent than buy for your next location shoot, the Little Genny is currently available from movie equipment rental house TCS in New York, as well as from the rental departments of Warner Bros. and Paramount in the greater Los Angeles area. It will soon be available at photo equipment rental houses in New York, Miami and Los Angeles in the U.S., plus The Camera Store in Calgary, Canada. When it is, the rental page on the LibertyPak website will be updated to list the new locations.

Note: While B&H Photo shows the Little Genny as available by special order, Lennox indicates that the listing is for the lithium cobalt LGC400 only. At this time, he says, the only way to purchase a strobe-friendly lithium iron phosphate LG400 is direct from LibertyPak.

Hijinx: A fun team photo powered by the Little Genny LG400. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Revision History
February 28, 2011: The wall socket recycle times for the monolights have been corrected.

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