Travel with Speedlights and a Smartphone? Get One of These.
I very rarely review gadgets on this site. But this is something that may be new to many of you.
When I travel I try to take as little gear as humanly possible. But the Tekkeon MP1580, seen above at bottom right, is on my must-take short list every time I fly with a camera.
On the Road
I am teaching in Dubai at Gulf Photo Plus this week, which probably at least subconsciously explains this week's travel-themed posts. After my last few years' schedule, I have my gear (and clothes) pack list pretty much down to a science.
And as little as I take, the MP1580 TEKCHARGE Mobile Power Pack and Battery Charger has wormed its way into my bag. This sub-$20 accessory is small, weighs next to nothing and is something I use every single day.
On the Flight
Before I even get to my destination, the MP1580 is already working for me. It holds four AA's (something any speedlight shooter will have in their carry-on) and converts that juice into power for my iPhone.
How long will it power your device? That depends on the capacity of your AA's and the normal battery size of your device. But I'll typically get a full iPhone recharge-from-near-zero from a set of four Kodak 2000MAh NiMH batts.
And I'll typically have a set of AA's for each flash I am taking. So on a long flight I got that going for me, which is nice.
In the Hotel Room
The MP1580 is also a smart battery charger, and runs off of your laptop's USB jack. It's a slow charge (6 hours for a set of 4 AA's) but a charger is one more thing you do not have to pack if you take this little guy along.
To be fair, if I am traveling with several speedlights or expect to use lights a lot, I might bring another charger. But this gets me by more often than not.
In the Field
I'll typically use the MP1580 to house an extra set of AA's, as it is literally about as light as one of those plastic AA cases you keep your extra batts in—and not much bigger. Seriously, this thing is pretty much all battery weight when assembled.
So I have an extra set of AA's at the ready which can be used for my flash or my phone. I don't often need them, but just having it allows me to offload a dull, nagging worry. And any time you can do that while traveling, that's awesome.
Everything you Need
The accessory pack included with the MP1580 is perfect. You bring your own iPhone/USB cord (30-pin or lightning) and you are set. The pack comes with a retractable USB to universal "male pin," with included adapters for mini and micro USB on the pin end.
Thus, you can power any small gadget (like most smartphones, but check yours here) that use a mini or micro USB port with no additional cord needed.
If your device needs more than a 1000MAh charge current then you are out of luck. For instance, It won't charge up your iPad.
In standard USB to micro USB configuration, the retractable cord is what allows your laptop to charge your AA's inside the MP1580 via the USB jack. Obviously, any USB->USB mini cord will suffice, too.
When I first got this thing, I was ticked off at how light it was. As in, it feels like cheap crap—near nonexistent weight. But that is now seen as a plus to me for obvious gear-toting reasons. If you are not using it to carry an extra set of AA's, it feels like it's not even there.
But as a very lightweight device, there are caveats in the build quality department. Some have reported shorting when traveling full of batts (i.e., melty plastic). This has never happened to me. But just to be safe when I travel with a set of AA's embedded, I now use a strip of paper over the battery terminals as a precaution. Just common sense.
Don't Trust the Status LEDs
The power meter has three status LEDs. As soon as you plug your iPhone into it, they'll drop to a status of two LEDs. Disconcerting, but likely a result of the 1000MA current it reportedly delivers, which is awesome.
Can't think of anything other than that. I love this thing. And since I already carry lots of AAs in my camera bag around town, I feel like my iPhone has a bottomless pit of power at the ready.
The MP1580 (manufacturer's page) is typically priced under $20 at places like Amazon and NewEgg, among others.