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Tronix Explorer 1200 provides location strobe power on a budget  
Thursday, June 2, 2005 | by Rob Galbraith

If you shoot with studio strobes on location, the Tronix Explorer 1200 may be for you.

Made by Innovatronix, an electronics company based in the Philippines, the Tronix Explorer 1200 combines a pure sine wave AC inverter and a rechargeable sealed lead acid 12V/12AH battery in a 15.4 pound (7 kg) package that's purpose-built for powering AC strobes up to 1200w/s in the field.

The device, which incorporates two three-prong AC sockets, battery status indicators and is available in both 115V AC and 230V AC models, is rated to provide 500 full power pops per charge with 600w/s strobes.

This product category isn't new: Dyna-Lite makes the XP1100, a pure sine wave AC inverter we've used on location with good success. And the XP1100 has two advantages over the Tronix Explorer 1200: its battery can easily be swapped in the field, while recycling times are comparable to when the strobe is running off an AC wall receptable.

By comparison, the Tronix Explorer 1200's battery can't readily be swapped for a fresh one on location (though it can be replaced by the user when worn out in the future), and recycling times are slower. For example, the fastest full-power recycling times achievable with a 600w/s strobe like those from Visatec or Elinchrom, says Innovatronix President Ramon Castillo, is approximately 4 to 7 seconds. Our own Elinchrom Style 600 S recycles in about 2 seconds when connected to Dyna-Lite's XP1100.

Elektrona, a firm based in Slovenia, also offers pure sine wave AC inverters with recycle times comparable to AC wall power. (Studio strobes will not work with the more common and typically less expensive square-wave inverters.)

Location Power for US$249

If other makers' products are more full-featured, then why look at the Tronix Explorer 1200 at all? Easy - because Innovatronix sells it for US$249 + shipping, which makes it a fraction of the cost of Dyna-Lite's and Elektrona's units. The XP1100, for example, sells for roughly US$1200 in the U.S. We typically shop on performance over price, but the fact is the cost of existing AC inverters for studio strobe use has been a signficant barrier to entry here, one that has meant we've borrowed and rented but not purchased.

tronix_explorer_01.jpg

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Tronix Explorer 1200 (Photos courtesy Innovatronix)

If the Tronix Explorer 1200 is a quality product - and we've not used it yet, so we can't say either way - then we'll gladly live with slower recycling times and a fixed battery. In fact, at that price we're likely to get set up with two, which would be helpful when placing lights on location.

In an email exchange this week, Innovatronix's Castillo stressed that the low cost of their product comes not from the company cutting corners in performance or safety. Instead, they designed the inverter to provide a relatively low continuous output of 150 watts, but with the ability to handle peak loads of 600 watts for 4 seconds. (Inverters of this type typically offer a peak load rating that's about double the continuous rating.)

This design approach, he says, is ideal if the goal is to construct an inexpensive but good quality inverter for strobes, since they draw a lot of power while recycling and very little while idling. The relatively low continuous power output of the Tronix Explorer 1200's pure sine wave inverter makes it much less costly to manufacture, while a high peak load capability greatly accelerates flash recycle times compared to what they would otherwise be with a 150 watt inverter.

Castillo also notes that as a producer of numerous consumer electronics products, Innovatronix has economies of scale working for them. They also sell direct - at a relatively small margin of profit, he suggests - and not building in a user-changeable battery further trims the final price. Ultimately, says Castillo, they set out to build an inverter for studio strobes that would offer a strong price/performance ratio. And, if the unit is good, at US$249 we won't be arguing that point.

Castillo indicates that they've tested the Tronix Explorer 1200 for compatibility with about 50 different brands of strobes (a compatibility list is here; note that most digitally-controlled strobes are not compatible). It contains both protection from short circuit and overload conditions, and will drive numerous other electronic products whose continuous power draw is less than 150 watts, including laptop computers. Its output voltage is regulated, such that it remains relatively constant even as the battery drains.

The only class of devices, says Castillo, that the Tronix Explorer 1200 definitely won't drive are those that draw inductive power loads, such as the motor in an electric fan. When a device like this is connected, the Tronix Explorer 1200 is designed to shut down and not be damaged. Castillo notes that the always-on fan in strobes like the Elinchrom Style 600 S is not a problem, however, because of the low power draw of this type of fan.

The Tronix Explorer 1200 has been shipping since November 2004 domestically in the Philippines, and since January 2005 internationally (photographers in the U.S., UK, Australia and Canada have snapped up units thus far). Castillo estimates they've sold upwards of 200 Tronix Explorer 1200's to date.

The company has no dealer network yet, which means all purchases are from Innovatronix directly, with all shipments coming from their base of operation outside Manila. Shipping times are 7-10 days, at a shipping cost of US$45 (plus US$249 for the unit itself). Three different versions of the device are available: 115V AC/60Hz, 230V AC/50Hz and 230V AC/60Hz. Regardless of the output voltage, all units can be charged worlwide with the included charging cord; a 14V car charger is also included. We have a 115V Tronix Explorer 1200 winging this way now, and will write more about it once we've had a chance to give the unit a whirl.

Printing in the Field

Innovatronix also makes the US$90 Tronix Ultra-lite, which is designed to power inkjet printers on location. All inkjet printers produced since 1990, says Castillo, use a switching power supply that is compatible with the DC output of the Tronix Ultra-lite. The company has tested over 100 different inkjet printers, including numerous popular models from Epson and Canon, says Castillo, and found them all to be compatible.

The Tronix Ultra-lite will power printers with carriages up to 13" in width. It's rated to provide 3 continuous hours of print time, or 100 4x6 inch prints. Two models are available, one that outputs 115V DC and the other 230V DC. Both include a worldwide charger and 14V car charger.

Revision History
 Updated the article to reflect the new shipping cost of the Tronix Explorer 1200 (June 3, 2005)
 Added more information on the design of the Tronix Explorer 1200 (June 3, 2005)
 Added more information on the Tronix Ultra-lite (June 3, 2005)
 Added a comment about the use of strobes with internal fans (June 18, 2005)

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