Bowens Travel Pak Review

Bowens New Travel Pak Lighting Battery system


Bowens Travel Pak: The Next Generation

Bowens have just launched a new generation Gemini Travel Pak, a piece of kit that is a particular favourite of mine and of the thousands of photographers who use them. In my opinion, the Bowens Gemini Travel Pak has been one of the most important pieces of flash equipment to be invented for many years and has transformed the way that many ordinary photographers can now work.

Of course, larger powered battery pack and head systems have been available from Bowens and other manufacturers for years, but it’s the Bowens Gemini Travel Pak that has really made a difference. Worldwide sales have been phenomenal, and photographers everywhere, both amateur and professional have benefited from the freedom a Travel Pak can give; with it, you are able to work anywhere without a mains lead.

Unlike the larger and more expensive battery pack systems, the Travel Pak is not a major purchase. The Travel Pak is affordable, it is very small and lightweight, and can be used with any model from the Bowens Gemini range, from a modest 200j up to and even above 750j. In short it’s a brilliant piece of kit!

"the Bowens Travel Pak has been one of the most important pieces of flash equipment to be invented for many years"

When I talk about the Travel Pak the key word is ‘freedom’. The freedom to not have to rely on mains power. That doesn’t mean that you only need them for location work in some remote field, it means that you can run Gemini’s anywhere, even where the power supply is limited. In addition and as importantly, with the Bowens Gemini Travel Pak you don’t have to run the risk of using an extension power lead. Using pretty much any type of studio flash via an extension lead can be risky; apart from the dangers of having metres of cables all over the place, an extension lead can impede the correct flow of current into a flash head and can cause expensive capacitor damage.

So, by using a Travel Pak you don’t have to worry about finding a handy power point for your head, you can just position it wherever you want, whether inside a huge factory, outside a church, or in that remote field! Commercial, fashion and wedding photographers have all found the Travelpak an invaluable asset.

Step up to a System

I must admit that I wasn’t sure how Bowens could improve on the original version, but Bowen’s technical team have really put their thinking caps on and come up with something completely new. The latest Travel Pak is now a system rather than an individual item. Its two key parts are a separate and interchangeable control panel and a range of clip on batteries, making the Bowens Travel Pak even more versatile than it was before. It’s worth mentioning here that there is still no modelling lamp function from the Travel Pak, but as I’ve said before, shooting without a modelling lamp is really no problem at all.

Gone is the austere ‘metal box’ feel of the original, now changed for a better looking and more subtle design; a rectangular shape with the corners rounded off and a rubberised rim around the top and bottom for added protection. It does look and feel much better than the old Travel Pak.

Bowens TravelPak Family

The whole TravelPak family - Large and Small, with and without control panels attached

The control panel has a very simple layout and features a new battery level indicator. Gone are the traffic lights of the old model, now changed for a line of neat green LED’s with three calibrations, 25%, 50% and 75%. As with the old Pak the new one has two sockets, A & B, but now each has a red flashing LED to indicate the charge and ready state. As before a spare dummy plug is used in the ‘dead socket’ when running only one head.

TravelPak Control Panel

The new detachable TravelPak Contol Panel

Knowing the charge or battery state of the Bowens Gemini Travel Pak is one the most important factors, and this is now clearly shown in percentages. When the Pak is first switched on the green LED will flash at 50% for a few seconds until the true battery state is measured and then shown accordingly. Beside the green LED’s are the other main controls, the charging socket, followed by two switches, one for Fast/Slow charging and the On/Off switch. Image

Small and Large Battery Packs

The Travel Pak large battery is 35mm (1.4in) taller and 1.4kg (3lb) heavier than the smaller one.

Bowens have introduced two new batteries, a standard and a large version that clip neatly into any control panel. This means that you can now choose the battery or batteries best suited for your own application. The difference between them is size and therefore how many shots per charge; I’ll give you all the facts and figures later. The batteries themselves are straightforward and have a useful carrying handle, two small sockets that connect to the pins from the control panel and a charger sockets so that they can be charged without being connected to the control panel itself.

Small Battery Pack

The TravelPak small battery pack - supplies enough power for around 375 1 200Ws head flashes.

To connect a battery and control panel together, the carrying handle on the battery is pressed flat. The control panel is then placed above the battery with its two pin connection above the batteries sockets. The battery has large studs at each corner that locate into four holes in the base of the control panel. I liked the satisfying clunk when the battery and control panel came together, safe in the knowledge that they will never fall apart! To remove the battery, large latches at each side of the control panel are pushed in and the battery is then released, it couldn’t be easier.

As with everything Bowens, the batteries and control panel feel very meaty and chunky, both having nice rubberised rims around the top and the bottom for protection. With the usual rubber grip handle, the control panel also has two sturdy rings on each side to attach a carrying strap. So no problems about the build quality; like the old model this new Bowens Gemini Travel Pak will cope with any situation.

Facing up to the facts

There are a lot of facts and figures to look at to completely understand this new system. First, the recharging times for each battery to reach 100% power. Bowens quote three hours for the small battery and five hours for the large battery. They also recommend that you don’t allow either battery to fully discharge, as it could reduce future operating times and the life of the battery itself.

Bowens quote a range of flashes per charge according to the Gemini or Gemini’s used and I’ve listed them below.

200 250 400 500 750 1000 1500
Small battery 1 head 375 300 185 150 110 75 50
2 heads 185 150 95 75 55 38 25
Large battery 1 head 750 600 370 300 220 150 100
2 heads 375 300 185 150 110 75 50

All the figures quoted in the table above are for the number of flashes available at full power. Using the Bowens Gemini Travel Pak, especially on location, it’s very unlikely that you will need to run heads at full power all of the time. Whenever I’ve used Travel Pak’s outside, I’ve found that to balance daylight conditions, even a Bowens Gemini 250 head can be set at half power or less. This makes a big difference on the number of flashes you can expect per charge. So don’t take these figures too literally - treat them more as the minimum, rather than the maximum number of flashes that the Bowens Travel Pak will give you.

"Commercial, fashion and wedding photographers have all found the Travel Pak an invaluable asset."

In terms of recycling time, you would expect that the Bowens Travel Pak would take longer to recycle that the mains. In fact the recycling times are very acceptable, using the Fast charge just under 1 second per 100j. So a Bowens Gemini 400 takes a little under 4 seconds to recharge at full power, quicker than that if the power is turned down. Using the Slow charge will get you a few more flashes per charge, but at a cost, the recycle time jumps up by about 50%. I really don’t see any point in using the Slow charge except to eek out those last few shots when the batteries running low.

Just a word about syncing: no problems with the Gemini’s and Travel Pak from Bowens when inside, you can use a standard sync lead and slave cells as usual. But remember, the built in slave cells don’t operate that well in bright sunshine. So for location work I would strongly recommend using the Bowens Pulsar Radio Trigger, one for each head. Using Pulsars will also give you the complete freedom to place the lights over 25 metres away and still be confident about syncing them.

The Bowens Travel Pak comes with a standard 3 metre lead connection from head to pack using the same computer type plugs and sockets as before, a longer 8 metre lead is also available as an accessory. The standard Pak charger comes with universal multi pin adaptors that will recharge a Travel Pak pretty much anywhere in the world.

I haven’t mentioned sizes or weights so here is another table to show all of this information. If like me you get confused by kg’s & mm’s, I’ve also shown them in lbs & ins!

  Control Panel Small Battery Large Battery
Weight 1.6kg       3.8lbs 3.5kg       8lbs 4.9kg      10.8lbs
Length 140mm    5 1/2 in 140mm    5 1/2in 140mm    5 1/2in
Width 170mm    6 3/4in 170mm    6 3/4in 170mm    6 3/4in
Height 120mm    5in   85mm    3 1/4in 120mm    5in

Bowens Travel Pak: Conclusion

To sum up, Bowens have made a great job of updating the Travel Pak. The system appears to work really well and is easy to operate. The control panel is simple to understand and the green LED’s let the user know the charging state at a glance. I like the way that the control panel and batteries fit together and that a battery can be charged on its own, or via the control panel.

For those of you reading this still trying to decide what make of flash to buy, it is worth looking at the Bowens Gemini range in a new light, if you'll excuse the pun. Knowing that you can either buy a Gemini kit with a Travel Pak, or that you can add one at a later stage should be taken into account. Believe me, to have the freedom to use a flash head anywhere you like is an incredible feature and offers the photographer endless possibilities to create amazing work inside and outside the studio.

If you have any questions about the Bowens Gemini Travel Pak system, or other questions about studio flash, drop me an email.

Bowens TravelPak Rating:

 8/10 Design
 9/10 Ease of use
10/10 Compatibility
 9/10 Performance

Overall:Overall 9 out of 10

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