Balcar's AQ Lighting System
An On-Location, Battery-Powered Strobe

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.

The slick new Balcar Iris head sits atop the
battery-powered AQ pack--12 ws of freedom!

"Early" Portable Power Problems
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.

I 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.

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