This might be a boring subject, but what makes a decent/good charger? What is the difference between a $15 charger and a $200+ one? Is it worth it to buy a high quality charger or should I just spend the money on a new plane?
The more expensive chargers can often output more power and/or charge multiple batteries and sometimes include the power supply. I usually look for decent chargers on sale. I have 6 chargers now, most of which I paid $15-$40 for. The power supply is shared and is from a computer. So, I can charge up to six batteries at once, doing a balance charge on each. All the chargers are name brand - either iMax or Turnigy. I have two fancier ones I paid around $30 for that had LCD displays and shows graphs and all sorts of information. Meh... I don't know. Maybe it will be useful when my batteries get old. Right now, none of my batteries have a really large number of charge cycles.
I would avoid knock-off brands unless you know something about them. A charger with poor firmware can cause you lots of dangerous problems.
One thing better chargers can do is balance charge more quickly. Cheaper chargers will charge all cells at once, then discharge the high cell(s) through the balance leads, then repeat. If your batteries are far out of balance, then that process can take quiet a while. A better charger can charge a specific cell that is low. I always balance charge and so don't really see this issue even though I am fairly certain my chargers are of the simple design.
A 2 channel SkyRC D100 that with included PSU. 100W on AC or 200W on DC that's sort of expensive (sale for $91 at banggood)
and the new single channel ISDT SC-608, 150W on DC with an external PSU. I use an old XT PSU 12V to power it at home.
Both works fine for my needs, none of them are cheap.
Well there are multiple reasons to buy a better charger. First and foremost the better chargers are less likely to burn your house down from improperly charging a lipo. If anything you buy or own came with a charger that is smaller then a cigarette pack throw it away now.
Second if you are like the rest of us you have the bug and will be in the hobby for a long time. You want something you can grow into and use for multiple things not just one type of battery. Any of the IMAX or Imax clones (EG: Skycharger B6ac0) like I got would be a good start. You can get these for 35 dollars on sale to 45 dollars avg normal price.
No one will fly or drive one battery at a time so you will most likely have a few batteries up to a box full at some point. A good charger will charge a battery at a safe and recommended 1c rate in an hour. So doing the math you will spend more time charging then flying or driving. Look to the future and get something decent right from the start.
Currently I only have three 4s batteries but when I was flying on 3s I had seven I would fly daily. That was a good one to two hours of being out doing what we do between setting up courses to fly, flying a battery, waiting for things to cool down on hot days, hangin out talking to people watching or in other peoples cases flying. It was also a nice number to be charging in the evenings while on the computer or watching TV with out becoming a mind numbing hassle.
There has been some research to suggest that charging at 2C is fine. I usually charge at that rate and nothing gets even a tiny bit warm. Perhaps when the batteries are older and have a higher internal resistance, then I will have to slow down the rate. I also keep everything on ceramic floor tiles with an air gap to the work bench. The concept of charging in a LiPo bag is fine, but only if you have balance lead extenders.
Some batteries are rated for higher charging rates. I don't have any experience with them.
The manufacturers recommend 1c as its safe and it is for the life of the batteries. Yes you CAN charge at 2c for some batteries but its proven that shortens the life cycle of the battery.
Besides I did my fire training in the Navy where we were locked in a room that was full of diesel fuel and they lit it for us to fight our way out. It was neat in a fire suit but I don't think I wanna try it in my house wearing only thin burnable clothing. I try not to test fate and the rules of Bill's Law as much as possible if I can help it.
A good charger (for lipos) has several cutoffs. First, is the usual voltage, and current cutoffs. Second is a "this battery is bad" and won't charge cutoff. Third is a "this battery has taken to long, and something is wrong" cutoff.
A good charger will have programs for balancing cells, setting storage charge, discharging packs, and good programs for handling other cell chemistries.
A good charger will "save itself" if something goes wrong. For instance my B6 has temperature and voltage cutoffs. If it gets to hot, it shuts down. If the input voltage sags, it shuts down.
The B6 series chargers have all of the above. But why is a B6 charger $30-50 and other chargers $4, and other chargers $200?
It comes down to features, and capacity. Cheaper chargers than the B6 tend to not have adjustable current, and typically do not have timed cutoffs. Some do not even have undervoltage cutoffs. They get cheaper, by removing features.
B6 chargers have "all the features". So what makes more expensive chargers cost more? Well the B6 chargers have pretty low current limits. Their maximum discharge is 1amp, their maximum charge is 5 amps. When you're charging a 16ah battery, 5amps isn't a lot.
Also, some B6 chargers have a built in power supply, that too brings up the cost.
To cover your question directly, a $15 charger is not going to have much adjust-ability (if any..), and it won't have many of the battery, and user protection features. A $200 battery charger is likely to have more than one charging channel, and the ability to charge much larger, and higher cell count batteries at a reasonable speed.
I'm seeing references to the B6 charger that say copy in parenthesis, would that be something to avoid? In the pictures they look exactly the same and claim the same features as the original name brand. I'm new as well and the battery/charger/power system stuff is as confusing as trying to figure out what plane to buy next.
Most of B6 clones are decent at this point. Just depends on how much total current they can charge at and whether they need an external power supply as well. The one I use has a built in AC converter and can be used on house current or in the field off battery power.
I think people are putting them in parenthesis more to state theirs is not an original. Just take your time before buying anything. Read up on them and find reviews people have done. Then you can make a better educated guess on what would be right for what you want to do as well as fit into your hobby budget.