Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tripod DIY - Repairing or Making Your Own Quick Release

The Vivitar VPT-3600 Tripod

When I bought my Sony a200 DSLR the shop owner promised to give me a free tripod and I got it after a few days. The catch? It had no quick release plate or the fastening latch. I kept it unused for a long time. Recently I figured I could use it as a light stand and also put an umbrella adapter for full fledged use in the studio.

This model is made by Vivitar and is called the VPT-3600. It is retailing for INR 2,250 on ebay brand new. This model is very light and can be used as a travel tripod.  

After some more time I realized I can make the quick release myself. So I studied a lot of things online but nothing seemed to help. Unfortunately tripods come in variety of sizes and configurations. So do the quick releases as there is no universal standard in their size and function.

Slot for the Tripod quick release plate

I briefly even considered making the quick release by making a wooden cast and melting some plastic but realized that would be too much of a hassle and I didn’t have the tools or the expertise.
I figured the tripod is salvageable after all.

The Vivitar logo and mostly faded model name

I drew up the schematics and dimensions of the top plate.
I still haven’t made it, but sharing the info. Will soon put up the pictures or may be a video lets see.

What I am using is:
  1. 3 screws to fix the wood plate
  2. Some metal and rubber washers
  3. A ¾ inch hard aluminum (ideally somethign hard like a metal)top plate that will sit on top of the wooden plate
  4. A ¾ inch piece of wood with a thickness of 1 ¼ inch
  5. A ¼ inch bolt that will into the bottom of the camera.     
If you have a carpenter’s workshop in your area you can get it done or volunteer to do it yourself, but be careful while working the vice, saws and drilling machine.

to be continued....

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Studio Lighting Setup For Photographer On A Budget

translucent shoot through umbrella 

Firstly, I would like to begin by saying that all or atleast most of the photography lighting equipment and gear out there is very expensive. I cannot emphasize enough on photography and lighting as they are two sides of the same coin.

After checking out the prices of photography light kits online, I decided to put together my own DIY style photography lighting setup. Its been a long time now since I have been thinking about it and I wanted to setup my own cheap, unique and effective lighting system under a budget. So I started asking, looking around and found many inexpensive solutions.  

In Hyderabad, where I live, like everywhere else, photo goods are expensive as hell. I originally wanted to put together a strobe/flash system but after much calculations realized it will cost me nearly INR 30,000 (approx. $550) for all the lighting and related accessories. 30,000 for me is not a small amount. So I started considering other options i.e cheap manual/semi automatic flashes instead of strobes. Remember if you are buying strobes you will also have to buy sturdier stands to support their weight. With flashes you don’t have that problem. 

Btw this article is NOT about Strobes Vs Flashes, but Expensive Vs Inexpensive lighting.
I feel using a flash system instead of the strobes is not only economical but it is also very portable. Can you put strobe lights in your cargo pants? I don’t think so haha. 

I did look for information on many online forums before preparing this lighting setup. We shall compare flash system with the strobe system in relation to their cost and related accessories.

A pair of elinchrome strobes on stands with soft boxes

Here is a list for the costly strobe system:

       1.Two Prolinchrome strobes – INR 18,000
       2.Two stands – INR 3,000
       3.Two reflective or shoot through umbrellas – INR 300
       4.Two simpex triggers – 1,200
       5.Umbrella mounts for stand – INR 700
       6.Cables/connectors – INR 3,000

This is just a basic list. With some more accessories the total cost of the setup will come to nearly INR 30,000.

Lets see how we fare with the flash setup we have devised.

Note: The all manual Yongnou flashes have no TTL or iTTL but you can use them to trigger other flashes/lights/strobes in Pilot/Commander/Master mode. All you need is appropriate camera settings. I am mentioning Yongnou because they have good reviews online. Some of their latest models do support TTL. You can add your own favorite brand in the list. Btw the Yongnuo YN560-II at just $77 is a great flash gun.

Yongnou 560EX flashgun (pic stolen from Yongnou site)

Some photographers swear by proprietary flash guns from Canon and Nikon. Its their opinion. The supposed quality itself does not justify the high price of these flashes that cost more than two strobes. Both Canon flash and Nikon flash are extremely expensive. Nikon’s Speedlight SB-910 and Canon’s 600 EX-RT Flash guns both cost INR 33,000+. Yes, a single flash gun from Canon or Nikon costs almost as much as 4 strobes. Yeah ! its crazy expensive and also ridiculous. But if you are really crazy about proprietary flashes then you can buy them on the used market for much less. 

Remember there many even thousands of inexpensive flash gun brands like Yongnou, Polaroid, Vivitar, Metz, Nissin and many many unknown brands. The mechanics inside any flash is almost same, so there are very much repairable and salvageable if they give trouble or anything.     

Sigma flash

With this list we are trying to go as low as possible money wise. If you have some more bucks you can choose accessories with more/better specs.

        1.Two Yongnuo manual flashes - INR 4,000
        2.Two Yongnow triggers – INR 2500
        3.Two reflective or shoot through umbrellas – INR 300
        4.Two light stands – INR 1400
        5.Umbrella mounts for light stand – INR 700

       The costing of this list is coming to a grand total of INR 8,900.

       So with this photography lighting setup you are saving INR 21,100 (approx $383). Yes a huge amount indeed. This setup is extremely useful for a small studio that is primarily into portrait photography.

Light stands

You can buy pro gear when you start making money off of your assignments, until then you have to make do with what you have and get creative.

When you are working with manual/inexpensive flashes like Yongnou or Vivitar etc you have to understand their limitations and have to turn these limitations into your advantages. On that note I would like to add that there is no shame in being poor and having no money for expensive gear. It’s really the disadvantages that teach you great lessons. In life you have two options, either you can drown your problems with a truck load of money or learn to work with your limitations and turn them into learning opportunities, creating, developing ingenious ideas and having lot of fun along your journey as a photographer.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Lowepro Photo Traveler 150 (Mica) Camera Bag Review

The Lowepro Photo Traveler 150 Mica on a chair. 
I put it on a chair so you will have a better idea about its size/scale.

I really never wrote any camera bag reviews but seeing as it is, I thought may be this will be useful for someone.  Firstly to begin with, this is a very small bag. I mean a tad bigger than a lunch box.

Before buying this camera bag, I would carry my gear in a normal backpack with my jacket as padding. Yeah I was that poor and stupid when I began my career as a photographer. Don't do that. Its unprofessional. It can put your gear at risk. I also used to think I didn’t need a dedicated camera bag. What a fool I was. But I had to buy one. 

Inside the Lowepro Photo Traveler 150 Mica bag. 
The empty space you see is where I kept my Nikon D200

So I started searching camera gear sites for suitable, affordable bags with different features. I wanted to buy something below $60 (Approx.INR 3000). I didnt have too much of gear. Just two camera bodies and a few lenses that is all. So after searching a lot I finally found the Lowepro 150 Mica (INR 2499) to be a suitable one on I was impressed with all the things I saw crammed in it. In the pictures and videos the bag looked big enough, so I placed an order. It came almost after 2 days from Bangalore which is fast enough. I opened the box and was shocked.

The bag is just a little bigger than a normal lunch box. I considered sending it back after I tried to fit in my D200 and it was difficult.  I called up the site but they wouldn’t take it back. I also posted an ad online but ZERO responses. Heck, may be its destiny. I decided to keep it anyway. I unpacked all my gear from the sleeve they were in and one by one tried to put in all my gear, which isn’t too much. I realized, to fit in my gear, I had to remove/adjust some compartments. I did. Slowly one by one, to my own surprise, I managed to cram every piece of equipment I had into this camera bag, which is a wonder in itself.

This is what all I put in
  1. Nikon D200 with 18-55 lens
  2. Nikon battery charger
  3. Nikon batteries – 2 nos
  4. Sigma 28-105 lens
  5. Sony a200 camera body
  6. Sony 18-70 lens
  7. Sony battery charger
  8. Sony battery   
   In the top panel  
1 . Sony HDMI cable
2 . A multi card reader
3 . Sony power cable       
4 . Nikon power cable
5 . One CF card
6 . Business cards

There is a provision for a pen/lens pen in the top panel. My only gripe is that there is no more space for a flash gun, but wait a second...viola I can put the Canon 430 EX in the top panel just below the zipper. May be I could also cram it in somewhere in the main compartment if I am a little clever, will try that after a bit. In the main compartment, to adjust and utilize the space I put my Sony a200 and the Sony kit lens 18-70 separately.

The quality of the bag is very good. It’s well stitched, well zippered, well planned. Size is the only deal breaker. There are so many other bags so much bigger and at half the price. I feel $50 for a bag of this size is way too much money. The only consolation is the quality. This bag is strictly for amateurs who have minimal equipment.