Review and field test of the Tronix Explorer XT3
Available from: Barker Photographic, Cork
All content copyright Michael O’Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.
I have recently got my hands on an innovatronix Explorer XT3 Portable battery powerpack for review. It is a production unit exactly like the units available at Barker Photographic. Firstly – I would like to point out that this is an independent review, and reflects my own impressions of the unit being reviewed. It is for information purposes only, and I also hope you find it helpful, and entertaining.
My previous Experience with Innovatronix products has been a positive one. For this reason, I had enough confidence to risk testing this unit on real-life assignment shoots. This particular unit is an upgrade to my existing unit, the Innovatronix Explorer XT. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these units, the “Innovatronix Explorer” range, is a range of portable power sources for taking mains powered monobloc lights out of the studio. Basically, it contains 2 sealed lead/acid batteries, inverter circuitry, fan cooling, and some other fancy bells and whistles. Full Specifications available at www.innovatronix.com .
Just like the previous unit, it promises to run upto 2 monobloc units with a total combined output power of 2400ws. I have used the Explorer XT on location without issue, and have regularly used it with 2 monobloc units rated at 1000ws each. I have had no issues with the unit itself while run as recommended. The only issue I did have, was the need to replace 2 dead batteries after it had been left uncharged for about 2 months after being run to depletion while out on loan to a friend. Innovatronix advises that you never deplete the unit to below 25% charge, that it is charged up asap, and that you keep it connected to a power outlet while not in use. In my experience, I have experienced NO issues while maintaining the units in this fashion.
So how does the new unit compare?
Firstly, it looks MUCH sleeker! The older unit did have a “Garage-built” look to it in some ways, and they have refined the look somewhat. The moulded plastic edges and handle give it a much more polished and professional appearance. You would be surprised how much attention an on-site client pays to your equipment on set. It also seems sturdier – less “edges” to snag or get damaged while lugging it to and fro. The plastic carry-handle is also far more comfortable, and makes the unit much easier to carry.
One major annoyance of mine with the previous unit was the positioning of the sockets. The Irish/UK style sockets were positioned with the Earth Pin upwards and the Live and Neutral pins downward. This is the standard orientation for our plug/socket types. However, on the Explorer XT, they were positioned close to the bottom of the unit on the face of one end. This means that when using the unit, the cables for the plugs are coming out of the bottom of the plugs and there is not enough clearance for the flex to bend out along the ground without pulling the plug out of the unit, and disconnecting the light. The shape of the openings at the end of the carry case make this even worse. It is impossible to use the unit in the carry case with the lights connected.
The new unit addresses these issues beautifully! Firstly – the sockets are now oriented the other way up! This means that the cord points upward into empty space, away from the ground and other obstacles. The Carry Case now becomes a far more useful accessory and CAN be used on location. This enhancement alone, makes a huge difference in the quality and reliability of performance on location.
In testing the unit, I used it as the primary source of power on four different shoots. Where 3 or more lights were used, the third and subsequent lights were back-lights or other non-primary lights and were powered using a power source not being reviewed.
On Location shoot 1 – UCC’s Next Top Model Competition. Indoor fashion group shoot involving 12 models.
For this shoot, the unit was used to power 2 Elinchrom 600Ws Monoblocs mostly on full power. A third light used as a backlight/rimlight was mains powered. Lighting such a large group in a large room required a big spread of light, and therefore lots of power! The Key-light was in a 1.9m Rotalux Octabox positioned out of frame to camera left, and lighting the group from the side. For this, the Octabox was positioned as far to the left as possible, and feathered toward the camera in a way that would spread the light as evenly as possible across the group. This needed to be run at max power at all times. The second light was further back at 45 degrees to camera-right. This was lighting the shadow side of the right hand side of the group to overcome the problem of the main light narrow-lighting the models at this side, as opposed to broad-lighting the models at the left hand side. This light was being run alternately at full power and half power.
For some individual model shots after the group shoot, the lighting set-up remained the same, and we manipulated the balance by positioning the models. The Battery pack performed flawlessly and at no stage in the shoot did I become conscious of any performance issue in terms of charging etc. compared to the third light which was mains connected. After 100 shots, the highest power indicator light was still illuminated.
Location Shoot 2 – “Fallen Angels” Series shoot. 2 separate models, outdoor location & Indoor Location
For the first leg of this shoot (Outdoor), the unit was used to power 2 Interfit 1000Ws lights. The Rimlight was another 1000Ws light, powered by it’s parent brand proprietary battery pack. he XT3 was powering the key light and second light. The Key light was mostly running at between half and full power to help control the ambient exposure. The second light was providing light to the shadow side, and was mostly on quarter power or lower.
For the second leg of this shoot, the unit was used to power 2 Elinchrom 600Ws lights in an indoor area filled with fog from a fog machine. The Key Light was on full power to camera left, and the second light was a rimlight behind the model to camera right.
While powering only one light, the unit charged the 1000Ws light without any delay. It matched the other “Own Brand” unit easily for charging speed.
There was a noticeable slow-down initially when powering 2 lights on full output, but as I have noticed with the original XT, the unit seems to adapt and speed up. Once the power of the second unit was reduced, however, the charge-time was back up to speed, with no noticeable delay. At this point, it is fair to mention, that it was now powering 2 lights, as opposed to the “Own Brand” unit, which had only a single load.
On the first leg of this shoot, the unit’s rugged construction came into its own! Working in a ruined abbey means, damp, dust, and very uneven ground. The new socket orientation, and the improved carry case mean this is no problem whatsoever for the XT3!
Location Shoot 3 – UCC’s Next Top Model 2013 – Indoor Period portrait shoot
For this shoot, the lighting set-up needed to be very mobile. It involved shooting 12 models singly and in pairs, moving quickly from room to room around a large Period mansion. Some shots had multiple lights, while others used a single light set up. On a shoot like this, it is preferable to use battery packs due to the limitation of socket locations, trailing cables etc. Keeping the whole set-up portable is a must. From a safety stand-point, trailing cables are a major problem, potentially leading to accidental injuries, and/or damage to equipment. On the other-hand, a battery pack can be positioned to minimise cable trail, and might even be used as ballast/weight on a light stand. Where the XT3 was used, it was powering one or 2 lights, namely the keylight, and one other.
Once again, the unit performed flawlessly! Charging was consistently quick, in line with other options, and the capacity proved to be much higher than the rated estimates as stated on the spec sheet. Obviously, this experience might vary from light set to light set, and shooting intervals, but I can only say that I was very impressed with the capacity.
Location shoot 4 – UCC’s Next Top Model 2013 – Fantasy Characters shoot.
Outdoor location with use of some corridors and hallways
Here the unit was powering 2 Elinchrom 600Ws lights, and was moving in and out of doors in the historic grounds of University College Cork. For the majority of the time, the unit and the lights were open to the elements, and with broken weather, we needed to get to cover at the first signs of rain. The equipment needed to be very mobile once again, but would still need to withstand some minor bad weather. Once again, this is where a battery pack like the XT3 shines. The weather worthy case can be sealed up very quickly allowing you to worry about getting the lights and camera equipment to safety if necessary.
In Summary, it is fair to say that the XT3 is a major upgrade to the older Explorer XT. For the location photographer, there is always a struggle to maintain the balance between power and portability. Sometimes, power may be sacrificed in favour of a solution which is very mobile and trouble free. For me, or for anyone else lighting large areas, large groups, or dealing with high ambient light levels, it is always painful to make this kind of compromise. The XT3 is a far more mobile and hassle free solution than the already high quality offerings that went before.
The sturdier build quality and ergonomic improvements afford a much higher degree of confidence when on location. The plug issue being resolved is a MAJOR plus for me also! Without that being addressed, the previous model was usually a “Back Up” Power supply for me. The New XT3 unit is definitely a primary power supply!
I highly recommend this unit to any photographer who is looking for a good balance between power, convenience and reliability!