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Lightweight and compact: Sunpak’s TR-2000 weighs slightly more than 24 ounces and measures 5 7/8 x 4 5/8 x 2 ¼ (HxWxD). As battery packs go, it’s cute!

Event, wedding, and sports photographers who rely on shoe-mount strobe units need flashes that recharge instantly and reliably all day long. These guys can’t be fumbling with AA cells, or waiting as pooped AAs take longer and longer to pop. They (and possibly you?) need high-power, rechargeable external battery packs to juice their shoe-mount flashes.

Not long ago, these power packs were three- and four-pound, lead-acid-powered bricks that no amount of finessing could hide under a sports coat. Then came NiCad and NiMH rechargeables, and size, weight, and pricing came down so that even average shutterbugs might consider buying an external flash battery pack. Such packs typically supply power to a flash’s battery compartment via accessory cords.

Which brings us to Sunpak’s TR-2000 power pack. A glance reveals some of its unusual features. Styling, for starters. We never thought we’d use “battery pack” and “stylish” in the same sentence, but the TR-2000, with curvy edges and matte-black surfaces (some rubberized) is more than just another black box.

Also unusual: The actual power cell (a.k.a. power cluster) snaps in and out of the TR-2000 proper. Heavy users can own several of the relatively affordable clusters, and snap them in and out as needed. Removing the cluster creates a somewhat smaller silhouette for added flexibility when packing a tight camera bag. Finally, this refinement lets Sunpak (uniquely) offer less expensive NiCad ($80, street price) or lighter, memory-free NiMH cells ($105, estimated street price).

The TR-2000 offers high- and low-voltage output (320 vcd/5.5 vdc). Having both options lets you use an inexpensive flash (such as the Sunpak 226D) as a back-up to fully dedicated, TTL unit, many of which accept the more convenient high-voltage option. Low-voltage operation requires a single-pin, RCA plug ($20-$30) the mates with the flash’s battery compartment. High-voltage connections link via 10-foot, coiled, seven-pin DIN cords ($30-$40) that plug into special terminals in high-end flash units. Sunpak offers adapter cords for its own flashes ($33, list price). Quantum, Paramount and some others supply cords for most current flash units.

Connecting battery to flash: High voltage connections, such as this one on Sunpak’s 5000 AF flash, are easier (“plug and pop”) and more durable than the less-convenient, jerry-rigged low-voltage adapters that slide into the flash’s battery compartment (not shown.)

What’s the TR-2000 like in the field? Our first charging took about six hours, and we monitored its progress via the power cluster’s five-LED power gauge and via the System Status LED on the pack’s control panel. The status LED was unusually informative telling us: that the unit was ready (solid green), charging was complete (flashing green), charging was underway (solid red), charging was required (red/green flashing), inadequate voltage for charging (solid orange), the unit was in its sleep mode (no LED), and, one we never encountered, an error had occurred (flashing red).

The TR-2000’s 24-ounce weight is easily managed (see photo caption for complete dimensions). Thanks to its curved edges, it’s one of the most comfortable power packs we’ve carried on our belt. (The TR-2000 comes with a belt clip and shoulder strap.) If you must bend at the waist, for example, there are no sharp corners to jab into your side or abdomen. Its inside wall is curved, so it hugs the contour of your waist, where it’s less likely to catch on chairs (or people!) as you navigate a crowded room. It also creates a less-noticeable bulge under a tux jacket.

In operation, the TR-2000 worked flawlessly for us, providing instant flash charging with consistency and reliability across hundreds of flash exposures per charge. We never missed a shot. Using Sunpak’s 5000 AF flash, it was a simple matter of plugging the power cord from the TR-2000 into the flash unit and firing away.

Should you consider the TR-2000? If you already have trouble juggling a flash and an SLR, you probably don’t need another box, cord, and shoulder strap (or belt clip). Stick with AAs. If you’re a coordinated photographer who can deal with a little extra gear, however, you can reap major benefits from the TR-2000, especially if you’re missing shots due to sluggish flash charging. Selling for about $300, the TR-2000 may ween you from AAs forever.

See Portable Flash: “What to look for in a portable flash unit.”