06 August 2011

Vagabond Mini Lithium - A great little power pack.

Vagabond Mini with Alien Bee 1600 Recycle Test

Ever think about taking your studio strobes on the go? The Vagabond Mini Lithium power pack by Paul C Buff is a great way to go. This unit packs a punch of power at only about 3lbs. I received this unit before I got my Alien Bee 1600 strobes, so my first test was with a couple of Adorama 620 Flashpoint II units. The unit responded well. When I got my Alien Bee 1600 I did a more controlled test. (see video for A/C vs. Vagabond Mini Power Supply.) 

The average recycle time is about double that of direct AC power, but for a 3lb portable power supply, I think it’s a great choice. The old standard Vagabond was about 18 Lbs. That is a 15 lbs weight saving. And though it only has two outlets, you can power up to three units with a power strip. I saw were on was testing with four units, but I think 3 would be the max I would push on this unit.

 What you see on the front of the unit is a Power switch flanked by two 120 V Outlets. There is a battery indicator with three lights indicating ¼, ½ and ¾ + power. The unit also has a 5v USB power supply for cell phones and such, but will not charge an iPad. The unit has a 30A flat fuse which replacements could be picked up at your local auto parts store. 

It also has a clamp on the bottom of the unit to attach it to a light stand. The clamp will not hold the unit where ever you clamp it. It will slide down to the next stop on your light stand. I usually attach my unit to the lowest section and allow it to rest where the three legs come together on the light stand.

These units are well-built and made in the USA. The Batteries come from China and are exchangeable for extended use. The Vagabond Mini Unit runs about $240, Extra Battery is 
about $ 90, and a carrying case is about $15.

Video of Vagabond Mini Power pack in Buff Bag with spare battery.

Video of recycle comparison of Vagabond Mini Lithium power pack vs. A/C power. Great little unit for portability.

DIY Adapter for Adorama Flashpoint II light Modifiers to Alien Bees

OK, this is a simple modification to attach Flashpoint II light modifiers to a Alien Bee. You may ask why? Well my first studio strobes were Flash point 620 units, as I hadn't discovered Alien bees. The flashpoint did me well, but I had one unit burn out. They are a little bulky which I did a lot of location shoots an they were kind of a pain to lug around. So I decided to upgrade to Alien Bee 1600, which are 1/2 the size and twice as powerful. Though I can get speed rings to use my softboxes, I still had a beauty dish and snoot which I couldn't use. So I thought I would go and seek out a DIY solution to connect the two. I was lucky to find just the right fix. See the Video to view the Adapter.

What was needed.
1 NDS 4" adapter (Found in the irrigation isle at Home Depot) $2.50
1/4" hard board or MDF $2.50

Utility Knife
5" Hole Saw
3 1/2" Hole Saw
Glue to connect wood ring to 4" adapter

03 August 2011

Cheap Nodal Rail Alternative for Panoramic Photography

Fotomate - Pro panoramic images on the Cheap for beginners.

As one who teaches workshops on Panoramic photography, I am always looking for alternatives for people who can't afford a $350 Panoramic system like a Nodal Ninja. I have been looking at Nodal Rails by a couple of companies as alternatives to a complete system and have found two; however, both are still out of the affordable range. The Kirk is running at about $110 and the Acratect for $199. Then I came across a Macro rail for focusing in Macro Photography. And it hit me this was an inexpensive solution for Landscape Panoramic images. I knew it would be limited; although it would work for people beginning to explore Panoramic photography. 

 **If you are unfamiliar with no Parallax point or what many call the nodal point see the video below. The reason to set your camera up for this is to help the Panoramic software, stitch your images seamlessly. If you don't, often you can get errors, especially in large complex images. This setup will help in getting that seamless 360 degree (horizontal) image. For 360 degree (spherical type) Panoramic images you will need a system similar to a Nodal Ninja.   

The Fotomate Macro Rail works well to adjust for your No Parallax point, also know by many as the Nodal point, though that terminology is being pushed away by Pros as they are not the same thing. By mounting your camera to the macro rail you can easily adjust for the No Parallax point with a turn of an adjustment screw. This $20 unit is actually easier to dial in than my Nodal Ninja system, which was about $350. Granted I have a great deal of flexibility with my more expensive system, however there are many times I shoot in landscape and can easily get away with the easier set up of the rail system. The video below shows how to set up the rail for the No parallax point. It should work fine with most wide angle to short telephoto lenses. I recommend shooting Panoramic images with either a ultra wide angle or preferred normal lens, like a 50mm on a full frame camera or about a 35mm on a cropped sensor. Above the rail is shown with my 10-22mm on a 40D. Works great with my 7D as well. 

The Fotomate Macro Rail can be found on e-bay. I got my for under $20 with shipping included. This unit is really well made. All metal, with metal thumb screws. Solid and no plastic parts. The side facing away in the above shot has two thumb screws, one for adjusting, and another to lock the cameras position. The side of the rail shown above, has measured increments which you could use to easily reset you camera, the next time you are out shooting. Just make sure you find the No parallax point for each lens you use and if you use a different camera body check those too. Also always level you camera before shooting Panoramic images as you will end up cropping out a great deal if your camera shoots on a downward or upward angle.