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Old 21st of September 2007 (Fri)   #1
JBaz
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Default Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

How to use your vagabond II and become a walking, portable flash studio with the ABR800.

After I did the List Party with the Vagabond II on my shoulder for 5 hours straight, I knew there had to be a better way to strap 20lbs of battery comfortably. My neck was killing me after that shoot. I'm an eagle scout and have done a number of hiking/backpacking trips with well over 50lbs of gear and 15 miles in one day with little effort. I knew there was a solution as I've seen a few others online who used similar systems on the go.

Well, after taking up the whole day going to different stores, physically bringing in the Vagabond II in the store seeing if it can fit - not only that but actually go outside and run around in the parking lot for 5 mins in full gear (camera, abr800 and vagabond) - I think I found a good comfortable solution, minus some funny looks and mentions of looking like a "ghostbuster". I went to REI and found the Novara Big Buzz Hydration Pack.
http://www.rei.com/product/733838

It's suppose to be one of those camelback water book bags, but this one is big enough to house the battery and inverter. So far so good. It's got enough padding on the back and straps to be comfortable for long duration, and it has a waist and chest strap for snugness and security. It's got a lot of other small amenities such as side pockets and a nice front pocket to fit the GFIC surge protector in (won't need with the VBIIs, which I do plan on taking advantage of in two months).

What you have now is a complex, yet simple, powerful, yet comfortable portable studio that you can literally "run" with and not have the thing fall apart.






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Old 21st of September 2007 (Fri)   #2
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

that's a V II for sure. He has the gfci because it's recommended by paul buff on the AB forums, plus it allows you to plug in up to three strobes.
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Old 22nd of September 2007 (Sat)   #3
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

That's the latest Vagabond II. The one picture that shows two black modules is the separated battery and inverter. Paul C Buff announced today of an updated Vagabond IIs, which will include a built-in GFCI device, doing away the need for separate one, and should have an expected date of November 5th. Anyone who has bought a Vagabond since July 21st will be able to get the inverter replaced with the updated one free of charge! The one I currently have requires GFCI still.

This picture you see here is setup in the exact way I would shoot.

The bag fits very snuggly with the battery and inverter, which actually closes, But I leave the top open when shooting. I have a carabiner looped through the top tag and handle loop to make sure the top is secure and the inverter stays put. Even without the carabiner, the device still seems very secure. I want the security knowing that my stuff won't spill out when I need to sprint from location to location.

The ABR800 is fantastic. The whole mounting system is very customizable so you can adjust the height and how close the camera will actually be to the flash unit. When I'm doing events, I use the 30" moon unit that's designed for it so it's a lot bigger than just the strobe head. Of the two event's I've done so far, it's a bit bulky and certainly becomes interesting when maneuvering in tight spaces with lots of people, but people usually get out of my way. Even pro photographers get out of my because I look serious and mean business. Not saying I'm a pro or not, but they definately have been doing it longer and I guess I have that Asian look like I know what I'm doing... I also get funny remarks and comments on how large my system is, how "professional" I look, and how I looks like some sort of futuristic microwave weapons system (some cop told me that tonight... ).

I'm using the AB's cheapie wireless transmitter. Why I don't use the included pc cable? The actual PC connection between the cable and the camera is crap. It's not very secure and it's more of an engineering design flaw when, whoever, standardized the PC connector, not AB's fault. I have the wireless because I can effectively put the ABR800 (that has a quick release plate) on my tripod, slip off the camera in a mere 2 seconds, drop the powerpack, and shoot remotely untethered within 7-10 seconds.

You can check out my website at www.jbaz.net and look at "The List Party - Primp Salonbar" event I did last weekend. Same setup except for the bookbag. I've had the ABR800 for about a month now.

Btw, cooling is all done from the air vent on the top.





One more thing, Just came back from a fashion runway shoot with the same setup. The backpack performered perfectly. I shot for 4 hours straight with more than 500 pics and I felt very comfortable doing it. No stress on my hips, shoulder or neck.
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Last edited by JBaz : 22nd of September 2007 (Sat) at 04:27.
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Old 22nd of September 2007 (Sat)   #4
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to use the ring light during the runway event. The coordinator said "it would give [me] an unfair advantage compared to the other pro photog's we hired", which really isn't a definately yes or no answer I was looking. I asked if I could just use the ring light without the moonunit since its more compact like that and he just got pissed off and said if I asked him another question, he would call security and have me removed... It's very contained and to tell me that they didn't want the "clutter" and make some stupid "unfair" advantage excuse just says to me of how stuck up they are.

I also guess I gave him the impression that I'm a "pro" with my assertiveness, outgoing, positive attitude and all of the equipment strapped to my body. If you Assume something, you make an ass out of you and me. He talked to me like I've done runway events before, which I haven't and he was very snobbish to me. I kept asking questions of what I could do and not do and everyone there kept getting annoyed. This wouldn't have happened if they actually got back to me a month earlier when I contacted them. I should have done my own thing and not be polite to anyone. Better to ask forgiveness than permission. (I'm full of proverbs )

I used my 430ex speed light and had some problems during the event so most of my shots were crap of the actual runway event. There were probably about 10 other photog's there, all but two were amatures with rebels or nikons. I did take some nice pictures of my friends dresses afterwards. They had a white backdrop setup.

I did the after party next and did all of the settings manually since the e-ttl metering, at least I find, less than perfect for dark settings. When I start shooting, I do test shots of the scene and have between 3-8 different types of scenarios in mind. The best part about photography is that everything is dealt with simple fstop numbers and you can do some simple calculations to compensate with the different variables involved.

Here's what I was shooting with the 430ex speedlite:
1-3 feet away: ISO 200, 1/32 power, f/5.6-8, 1/125 shutter
3-5 feet away: ISO 200, 1/32 power, f/4, 1/125 shutter
3-5 feet away: ISO 200, 1/16 power, f/5.6-8, 1/125 shutter
5-8 feet away: ISO 200, 1/16 power, f/4, 1/125 shutter
5-8 feet away: ISO 200, 1/8 power, f/5.6-8, 1/125 shutter
10 feet away: ISO 200, 1/4 power, f/8, 1/125 shutter
10-20 feet away: ISO 200, 1/2 power, f/5.6-8, 1/125 shutter
20-25 feet away: ISO 200, 1/4 power, f/2.8-4, 1/125 shutter

These are just loose guidelines I was shooting at in almost complete darkness.
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Old 23rd of September 2007 (Sun)   #5
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

I asked the coordinator if I could still use the ring light without the 30" moonunit and he got pissed off still. The ABR800 comes with a transparent diffuser and a small reflector. It still gets rid of the shadows, but the gradient, or transition is a little bit harsher. I'll do some test shots tomorrow to show you what I mean.

The runway was wide open, outside in a park so there was plenty of room for me to move around, but again, they didn't want to impose on the two-three photog's they hired. I think it's ridiculous for them to not use strobes for a fashion runway event. Sure you can get away doing speedlites, but if they wanted pro work for such a "glamorous" runway event that they tried to host, they should have hired one photog and have strobes setup. One set for the end where the models pose, and another set where the models enter and start walking (get a motion shot). At least that makes sense to me. Their loss if they want to showcase the runway more and want high quality pics.

I don't think an external battery back for speedlites are necessary. I've gotten a lot of shots out of my 430ex. I would recommend getting good quality rechargeable AA batteries if you plan to use it a lot. I've already went through two dozen+ batteries with it, but now that I have the mobile studio setup, I only use it as backup.

The ABR800 bulbs are fairly cheap. Go to Alienbees.com and they have their price listing there for replacements. They are rated for something like 250,000-500,000 flashes for each bulb and bulbs are like $40 each. The ABR800 has a 2yr warranty.

The vagabond II, also sold by alienbees, is great. The inverter weighs almost nothing so most of the 19lb bag is the car battery. At the list party, I shot about 500 pictures on 1/16-1/8 power mostly and had a good amount of life left. I was also powering the modeling light frequently so that eats up some power as well as having the inverter on for hours on end too. The battery can be drained if you have the inverter and the monolights on standby in about 8-20 hours.

The fashion shoot, I was shooting 1/2 and full power at f/11-16 mostly to get the full intricate details of the dresses. I was a little over 500 with the vagabond system. Shot about another 100 with the speedlite, but just looking at it, most of them sucked. I'm so spoiled since I've been working with studio lights exclusively now. Who doesn't love working on ISO100 between f/5.6 to 16 in almost complete darkness? You can add more car batteries to increase the shooting capacity.

Doesn't take that long to charge the battery, but I really haven't timed it yet. I just leave it hooked up to the wall socket when I'm not using it. You're supposed to do this to keep the battery topped off otherwise you could loose battery life if you just store it. If you do store it, either drain the whole battery first or charge it to about 80% and put it in your freezer (the battery only). It's rated for 600 recycles, but the battery is easy to replace and you can use full sized car batteries if you want. They use a smaller compact battery, similar in size to the small batteries you find in compact euro cars or after market compact batteries.
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Old 23rd of September 2007 (Sun)   #6
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

if you can understand basic exposure math, then flash photography is very easy. I only take test shots and then "guess" on the fly when taking pictures. 95% of the time I guess right. I even stun myself when I set the settings correctly and find the first test shots come out great, just because I'm pretty familiar with my camera. I would use my L-358 meter, but in reality if you have time, you can do stuff on the "trial and error" method. You would need the metering if you are setting up a large and complex shoot (say 4 or more strobes).

I wasn't allowed to use the studio light for the actual runway event, but I took pictures with the studio light before and after. I used my 430ex instead and most of them turned out like ****. I just did a few more club/bar shots with just the diffuser and reflector since it's more compact and still got great pictures. The light was a bit harsher then I'm used to, but I might build myself a custom transparent fabric diffuser softbox over the reflector. The diffuser on it now is a simple plastic cover that's a bit textured.
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Old 23rd of September 2007 (Sun)   #7
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

Yes. period.

you can't match the power of a simple speedlite against a studio strobe. There's a reason why I have 20lbs of battery strapped to my back, and its not for my health...
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Old 23rd of September 2007 (Sun)   #8
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

Yes. period.

They are daylight calibrated (5600K) bulbs and provides a very consistent quality of light. You can get UV coated bulbs, but I see little effect with UV haze, but I also have a UV filter on all of my lens and UV is easily correctable in post processing. With this power, you can change the quality of light a lot more readably in terms of light modifications, use of umbrella's, softboxes, grids, gels, etc.
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Old 23rd of September 2007 (Sun)   #9
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

I mainly set the white balance to daylight (5600K) unless I'm dealing with a lot more ambient light, then I usually set it to AWB, but I shoot in RAW and Jpeg, so I can change the white balance in post production. I end up fine tuning every picture I publish through RAW. Jpeg is used only to view the picture if it is blurry or not properly exposed when processing pictures.

You have a variability in the WB color range in alienbee's just because of the way they are designed, it's only +/- 100-200 in color and is marginal at best. It covers a full 5 stop range (full to 1/32). White lightnings, almost made by Paul C Buff Inc. are designed to shoot consistent flashes with their WB always at either 5200 or 5600k, depending on the blub. The power cords for all Paul C Buff equipment uses standard PC power cords so you can use any that you wish. They come with 15ft long cords and they do sell 25ft long ones. I'm using a 2ft long one from one of my older computers and is short enough to hang by itself.

I shoot between 1/60-1/160 hand held. When I'm on a tripod and want more ambient light in the shot, I'll go as slow as I want it. I've done stuff of around 2" so that LCD's have enough burn-in time when I do product photography.
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Old 29th of November 2007 (Thu)   #10
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

i think the sun has some stiff competition
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Old 29th of November 2007 (Thu)   #11
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

just wait till I can afford to build a portable power pack system using the Zues 2500. Then I would have enough power to over power the sun during mid day.
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Old 7th of March 2008 (Fri)   #12
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

no offense but shooting a runway event is crazy using a ABR800 ... The flash to subject distance would make it impossible unless you take the shots from the same distance each time.. This to me would defeat the purpose of being creative in regards to where the model is and what she is doing.... ETTL is a great tool for runway shoots and should be utilized properly.. I have 2 ABR800's I use for shoots all the time and I can't imagine using them at a runway show..
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Old 7th of March 2008 (Fri)   #13
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

For runways, just set the lights up and meter where you want to take pictures of. For most shows, the models will enter the stage, stop & pose, walk in the same path, stop & pose at the end of the stage, return walk, and last stop & pose (same position when they entered the stage). Some inexperienced models don't really follow this or have their own choreographed moves.

The runway wars I did a few months ago, I had 5 positions metered and taped off on stage. I would focus on one model take pictures and adjust the aperture while still take pictures. Takes some practice to get used to in a fast paced show. Even if you missed the stop, PP tools can help.
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Old 8th of March 2008 (Sat)   #14
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

Quote:
Originally Posted by JBaz View Post
For runways, just set the lights up and meter where you want to take pictures of. For most shows, the models will enter the stage, stop & pose, walk in the same path, stop & pose at the end of the stage, return walk, and last stop & pose (same position when they entered the stage). Some inexperienced models don't really follow this or have their own choreographed moves.

The runway wars I did a few months ago, I had 5 positions metered and taped off on stage. I would focus on one model take pictures and adjust the aperture while still take pictures. Takes some practice to get used to in a fast paced show. Even if you missed the stop, PP tools can help.
What you are saying does make sense it's just not as practical as using a very fast lens with a high iso or a bracketed flash with metering capabilities.. I agree however it can be done with predetermined settings as you discussed. Good luck in the future!
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Old 8th of March 2008 (Sat)   #15
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Default Re: Vagabond II bookbag - mobile studio

Yes you can do use ETTL and regular flash, but setting up studio strobes gives you more power and control over lighting. It may complicate matters more and reduce your coverage, but what you end up are higher IQ when you are dealing with ISO 100 or 200 pictures vs. 800+. A small number of Pro sports photog's uses high powered flashes up in the rafters at different locations. One of the courts at my school has strobes setup using PW's.
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