Photos © 2004 Jay Abend,
All Rights Reserved
When it comes to heavy-duty pro lighting
gear, Balcar has long been a name synonymous with high-end studio strobes. This
French company has been at the forefront of a number of trends in photography.
Started in 1952, Balcar has been behind the introduction of the photo umbrella,
the grid spot, the fiber optic strobe unit, and many others. Studio gear aside,
Balcar has also been at the forefront of the battery-powered location lighting
boom. Way back in the 1980s, Balcar had the full-featured P2 pack and PSU heads,
which I purchased and traveled the country with it.
slick new Balcar Iris head sits atop the
battery-powered AQ pack--12 ws of freedom!
This pioneer system was usable, but had just horrendous battery life. Even factory
fresh NiCd packs could easily be wasted after as few as 50-60 shots. The battery
packs had terrible memory effect, and they gradually degraded just sitting with
the unit off. My P2 routine was a tedious one. I would make my way from the
plane to the rental car, then on to the hotel. I'd hook up my P2 to a
single head, stick that head in the bathroom to avoid frying my eyeballs, and
then methodically pop away until the battery was expended. To do this meant
cycling the unit on and off for about an hour. Once totally spent, the battery
could be safely trickle charged overnight. The next day I'd pull the battery
off the charge on the way out the door, go to the shoot, bang away for as many
frames as I could, and then it was time to quit. Even with four battery packs
I always ran out of juice.
In the late 1990s I upgraded to the wonderful Balcar Concept system. Now my
battery problems were gone, and the new power pack offered excellent control
and room for three heads. Balcar's system has been to put the big and
bulky flash caps in the heads and only put the battery and flash triggering
circuitry in the pack. This resulted in a fairly portable pack, fairly large
and heavy heads, and a pack and heads that were 100 percent non-compatible with
the Balcar studio gear. If you wanted Balcar for the studio and for the road,
you had to buy two complete strobe systems, which I did! The advantage was that
you could plug three Concept Z4 heads into a single B3 pack--for a whopping
4800 ws of location power.
was able to balance the strobe output with the overcast ambient
light nicely, thanks to the Balcar's 1/10 stop digital control
panel. Model Taryn Mahoney put up with the chilly weather, as
did the Balcar gear.
Full-Featured Location Strobe
Now into the 2000s, Balcar is at it once again. While the trend in portable
gear has been to build very small and portable gear, Balcar comes out with a
fairly large and full-featured location strobe system. Unlike the previous Balcar
offerings, the new Balcar AQ system offers up a fairly standard 22 lb, 1200
ws power pack and studio heads. The heads are the new small and lightweight
"Iris" heads, and the pack has all of the flash capacitors built-in.
Balcar has extended their Nexus multi-brand head feature into the AQ, and now
you can use practically any head with this sleek location pack (with the appropriate
adapter cable). As Shutterbug's resident Balcar expert, I was eager to
give the new system a try. My local Calumet shop gave me a ring the second the
AQ system arrived, and I dove in.