Attention Photographers: You Need an SPD (Surge Protection Device)

If you live on a planet that doesn’t have lightning, you might make it through life without a surge protector. But if you live here on Earth, better pony up and use protection.

Power surges can happen anywhere. That’s why you should protect all of your computers, televisions and other plugged in devices with some type of surge protection. There are many choices available, but I am going to use the Tripp Lite Isobar IBAR4 as an example because it’s perfect for a computer, printer, scanner and monitor set-up—the kind of stuff a photographer is likely to have.

And they are affordable (around $50 or less). I bought my first Tripp Lite about 20 years ago, and I would never use any other brand.

First, A Word About Power Strips
Power strips might look like surge protectors, but most are not. They offer a convenient way to plug more than two devices into a single wall outlet, but most do NOT provide protection against power spikes. Don’t trust your valuable equipment to anything that does not have a UL (Underwriter’s Lab) surge protection rating printed on a permanent sticker.

How They Work
SPDs use MOVs (Metal Oxide Varistors) to absorb excess voltage and divert it to the ground wire. How fast and how well they perform this task is indicated in the unit’s specifications.

SPD Specifications
Three specifications clearly indicate of the level of protection offered.

Clamping Voltage is the maximum total voltage that is passed to the protected equipment at the peak of the surge. In the case of the Tripp Lite IBAR4, the number is 140.

Energy Absorption Rating, listed in Joules, indicates how much energy the SPD can absorb before it fails. The IBAR4 has a rating of 3,330 Joules / 85,000 amps. This is a much higher rating than most units in this price range. The higher the number, the greater the protection.

The third specification is Response Time. Since surge protectors cannot sense and respond to voltage spikes instantaneously, your electronic gear is exposed during the lag time. Buy a surge protector that responds in less than one nanosecond. This is generally indicated as “< 1 ns.”

I photographed this untidy arrangement in an active, professional testing laboratory. A pair of Belkin SPDs are protecting a number of devices. The names are withheld to protect the innocent. ©2016 Jon Sienkiewicz

The Tripp Lite Isobar IBAR4 has other cool features: the housing is metal so it won’t melt or burn, it has a lighted switch with integrated 12 amp circuit breaker, and the 6-foot power cord has a right-angle plug that allows the cord to lie closer to the wall. It also comes with a lifetime warranty and $50,000 insurance coverage for connected equipment.

—Jon Sienkiewicz

Tripp Lite AV88SATG Surge Protection Device.