Photographers who need coffee rejoice! For now you can plug in that Nespresso machine of yours whilst on-location into a battery pack and enjoy a brew (no need to send me hate mail coffee snobs). Forget the 15kg Honda generator. All you need is the Jinbei Energon 350 battery pack (EN350).
Disclaimer: The following Jinbei Energon 350 review expresses the opinion of myself and myself only. No external parties have paid or endorsed the contents of this article. I am simply a coffee loving photographer who is OCD about having light.
Ok, jokes aside, this is a review of the Jinbei Energon 350 as a lay person (read: no electrical understanding). In Australia, you can purchase one from Photo Studio Shop for a cool $350 (or $399 from PROtog). According to its spec sheet, the Jinbei Energon 350 is a power pack inverter delivering 240 volts. It even claims to produce a ‘pure sine wave’. I have no idea what this means but this How Stuff Works article may shed some light for you (this page is probably most relevant). I just press buttons (sometimes) and drink coffee (a lot).
Jinbei is yet another China-based mass producer of lighting supports, fixtures, light modifiers, and lights. I have six 2.3m light stands from Jinbei. To date, I have never purchased any of their light modifiers or studio lights. Compared to Phottix, Jinbei is cheaper and the quality is understandably lower than Phottix.
For those who use predominantly speedlights, this is not for you. Power packs for speedlights are DC only (IIRC). The EN350 is for studio lights (constant, flash, LED etc.). But just secretly, all I want is a fancy USB-port to charge my iPhone. Weighing in at just under 2 kilograms (or 4.4 pounds), it is relatively compact and easy to bring with you on location.
So why would you, as a wedding photographer, portrait photographer, headshot photographer, prewedding photographer, or any on-location-based photographer be interested in a power pack such as the Jinbei Energon EN350? Lighting.
I have a set of Elinchrom BX500Ri studio strobes. They’re really designed for indoor usage. But I take the lights out for group photos on wedding days during reception time. Paired with a Phottix 90cm gridded octobox, the BX500Ri pumps out enough light for me to take crisp and well lit formal photos. For my clients’ relatives, these are the most important photos.
I should note that the modeling lamp of my Elinchrom BX500Ri will not work with the EN350. Only the flash tube fires. The Energon 350 does not produce a sustainable current, I think.
Sometimes, there is no accessible wall socket to plug my studio strobe into. At times, I forget to bring my gaffer tape to secure the electrical cord. On some occasions, there are no power sockets in sight! This is where the EN350 comes in handy. I can either place the battery pack at the base of the light stand or use the included light stand clamp to attach it to the support.
For those who shoot in day time and need to overpower the sun, you may use your existing studio lights on-location by plugging in the mains into the EN350. Personally, I use a single Yongnuo YN560-III speedlight to achieve daytime shots. It is easy to carry and no cables. But the EN350 provides you with another alternative and choice is an empowering thing.
I once assisted a photographer who used Elinchrom Rangers power packs. These were weather sealed, Elinchrom-specific power packs for Elinchrom monoblocks. It was a heavy motherf*cker (read: robust). I also borrowed a friend’s Elinchrom Ranger Quadra a few times. If you haven’t used one before, it is very compact and once again, is Elinchrom-specific.
The closest thing to the Jinbei EN350 that I can think of is the Paul C. Buff Einsten Inc. Vagabond series; namely the Vagabond Mini. Unfortunately, it is near impossible to get one’s hands on the Vagabond Mini within Australia. Something about an embargo and airline laws regarding lithium batteries. Anyways, basically, short of building an AC/DC inverter yourself, the Jinbei EN350 is your best bet. As far as I can tell, not much separates between the EN350 and the Vagabond Mini. But then again, I have never held a Vagabond Mini in the flesh.
Out of the box, the EN350 comes with a shoulder strap, a soft case, a battery, and a charger that looks reminiscent of a laptop wall charger.
As you can see, there are two Australian power sockets (240v). Thankfully the two sockets are adequately spaced to allow two normal male plugs to go in simultaneously. Note the socket for the charger, it is the black and red thing.
It takes a minimum of 3-hours for the EN350 to charge from its depleted state. Usually, I plug the charger in overnight. It probably takes around 4.5-hours to replenish the lithium core battery. How do you know when the (removable) battery is fully charged? Good question. Refer to the transformer of the charging unit. There is a LED indicator. Red means charging. Green means that you are good to go.
Conveniently, there is a removable battery. I think that this is an amazing feature. The bulk of the EN350 is the actual AC/DC inverter and you can buy additional 8800mAh Lithium batteries and have them as spares. It is incredibly simple to remove the battery. It slides into the EN350 and stays there by gravity. To remove, you lift the handle and up the battery comes.
To turn on/off the unit, there is a simple and universal switch.
How much juice does the EN350 provide? That is hard to gauge. At this wedding, I decided to have my second photographer act as a roaming light during the reception. Flash was not an option as I wished to retain the overall ambience of the wooden barn. Mounted on a Manfrotto monopod, I relied on a single Dedolight DLH4 150W spotlight to fill in the subjects (I should note that there was a second Dedolight powered by mains power acting as a general fill light). We probably got 1.5-hours of usage from the Jinbei Energon 350 with the Dedolight on max power. Personally, a single battery is not enough so I will be buying at least one spare battery per EN350 unit.
How about for studio strobe operation? Apart from non-support for modeling lamps, you can pop at least 200 frames with the EN350 at full power. I have never had to do so.
There is a 3-LED battery level indicator found on the top of the Jinbei Energon 350. It is hardly scientific but when you’re on your last red LED, you probably want to swap in a new battery very soon.
There is one more application of the EN350 that makes it ideal for my purposes. I often have lighting props (such as fairy lights or a string of edison globes) that require on-location power. In the past, in order to use these lights I have had to hire a generator. These things are heavy, loud, distracting, and causes more logistical planning than required. The EN350 can power these lights easily (provided that they are all low wattage globes). At a recent prewedding, I powered an ampersand marquee light and Dedolight DLH4 simultaneously. The Jinbei Energon 350 is small. Easy to carry over the shoulder. And above all else, it is silent!
FYI, no, the EN350 will not power a Mac Pro (doh!).
One thing I should note and that is my reservation on using this in the wet. There is absolutely no way I would be willing to use this in the rain. I have seen what weather sealed power packs look like and the EN350 is definitely not adequate for any form of wet weather. So don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
I will be buying at least one additional EN350 unit and a few spare batteries to go with it.