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Vintage Portable Light: A modern take…

A couple of months back, I saw a Craig’s List listing for a Norman 200B pack, head and charger. The battery was dead and would not charge but the owner reported that it worked the last time he’d used it, it worked. I figured that for 200 Watt-seconds, $65 was not too unreasonable to gamble, so I bought it.

After purchasing, it was very interesting to note the date codes of the parts on the circuit board. They were all circa 1979. What’s more, it has the battery positive connected to the case: it was one of those positive ground devices I’d heard about but had never seen. Very interesting, indeed.

When attempting to power it up with a power supply, I had difficulty finding a power supply that would source enough current to get it to anything other than trip the over current and shut off the power supply. I ended up having to charge a large battery in the lab and using it. The pack draws pretty near 20 Amps while it’s charging up the capacitors, no small amount of current…

Intrigued by the 200B, three more packs, heads, flash tubes and chargers were cheaply acquired from the net and eBay. All the units, including the original had something wrong with them, though… I also picked up a 20 foot extension cord, and an 18 foot cable with no connectors that was turned into an extension cord by re-purposing the connectors from a charger and dual Y charging cable. The total investment in hardware for 4 complete units (pack, head, tube, reflector) and two extension cords, and an extra tube was about $300. That’s about $75 per 200 Watt-second unit…

While there are service centers that will repair old Norman hardware, the $65 starting fee for each unit plus the shipping forced digging into the hardware and reverse engineering the design. All four packs were restored to working order pretty quickly, easily and inexpensively. Two of the units failed because the foam packing inside allowed the torriodal transformer to shaker around too much and break a wire – supremely easy fix. All that remains currently on three of the units is repacking to completely restore them. Along with the repairs was the modification for low voltage triggering by modern DSLRs – the original sync voltage is about 120V…

Replacement batteries run near $100, a very unappealing price point. Gel cells that fit into the battery compartment run about $25 but only have a 2.9 Amp-hour capacity. I found 12V 7 Amp-hour UPS batteries on Amazon, two for $30, so I ordered them. The big disadvantage with the UPS batteries is that they are way too big to fit into the Norman pack.

Thus we arrive at the purpose of this post: Packaging up the Norman 200B pack with the UPS battery so that it can be taken on location.

A carried was built using 1×4 and 1/4″ thick particle board as can be seen below with one of the extension cables connected. The battery is held in place with a tight friction fit. The battery cable passes through a hole filed into the case halves.

The battery connections are brought out to banana connectors as seen below. They are spaced at 3/4 of an inch, the standard spacing for a dual banana plug/socket. The jacks allow for charging or powering something else. I’ve considered adding a cigarette lighter socket above the battery in the left 1×4 but not having one, I’ve shelved that for the time being. What’s missing for safety is a fuse. The pack itself has one internally, but there really should be one up and close to the battery, particularly if a cigarette lighter socket is added.

On the other side, I added D rings for carrying and for strapping the carried to a light stand. The whole assembly doubles as a weight, given all the lead in the battery, so why not put that to use? No need for carrying sand bags as well…

These photos were taken about 3 feet in front of a 70″ octobox with the Norman LH2 head inside. The octodome had an Alien Bees insert in the speed ring, so an adapter needed to be made. Fortunately, 3″ threaded PVC just fit inside the Alien Bees hole in the insert. A bracket for the head was made with PVC cut from a short length of gutter (the mount details will be the subject of a subsequent post…). At the moment, the mount does not swivel up or down since a Manfrotto super clamp holds the PVC fitting atop a light stand. Tilting will hopefully come later…

From behind the octobox with the shroud removed, we see the flash tube:

From the front side, with the inner and outer diffusion moved to the side:

I’ve been giving some thought to adding IGBT triggers to these for variable power control. Given the cost of parts, the possibility of popping the IGBTs, and the time to get it to work reliably, it probably does not make sense to modify or update these further. Used modern Alien Bees strobes with variable power can be picked up for around $250 or less.

But boy do these Normans recycle fast, even at full power, compared to fully charged, AA-batteried modern flashes… Popping at full power in quick succession warms up the black and red cable from the battery to the pack.

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Posted in diy by david on December 14th, 2012 at 5:38 pm.

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