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|| News Item: Posted 2009-12-18

Photographer's Toy Box: Gadgets
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by

The juice pack air from Mophie
I love gadgets. My wife has nicked name me "Ralph" after a staff shooter at an unnamed Central Valley daily newspaper where I grew up. In the 70s Ralph seemed to be at every Fresno State and prep game with some new do-dad and gadget. Once at a high school football game it was pouring and there was Ralph with this device that clamped a large umbrella on his monopod, keeping him dry.

I remember my good buddy Barry Wong and I were shooting a Fresno City College football game on a cold November night in '74 or '75 when Ralph showed up, cameras, lenses and gear of all sorts clanging off of his converted fishing vest (this was pre-Domke vest times folks).

"Hey boys, you gotta get you a few of these," he growled at us, holding up a fistful of clear plastic tubes holding 4 rolls of 35mm Tri-X each with yellow removable end caps. "You put your film in these and you know what it is and can tell if it's been shot."

Barry and I looked at each other and then back at the tubes, both of us thinking that our jeans pockets had worked pretty well for us. But hey, it was just another one of those little gadgets that Ralph always seemed to come up with when we saw his every Friday and Saturday night. Horn Photo must have made a mint off of him!

At halftime of the game, Ralph rushed past us and mumbled "gotta make a deadline boys" and headed to the parking lot. Sometime in the 3rd quarter around the 20-yard line, I looked at my feet and what did I see? Four rolls of Tri-X on the grass next to one of those yellow caps …

So now every time Mr. UPS shows up at the door with some little piece of gear I've picked up my wife mutters "Ok Ralph".

With just a few days left in the Christmas shopping season … here's to all of you Ralphs out there: A look at a few cool things that that I found very useful this year:

• In my search for boosting the wi-fi signal on my Mac laptop I came across the Wi-Fire ( The Wi-Fire is an external antenna that is much smaller than comparable products and because it is USB does not require you to run a cable internally to the Airport or wireless card in your machine. In tests at home, I picked up several signals from neighbors' home wi-fi networks that were not visible before. In hotel rooms, the Wi-Fire antenna boosted weak signals by a minimum of 2 bars and often 3. Mounting it to your laptop is via a sort of flimsy rubberized clamp and the antenna swivels on this mount so you can adjust it to get the strongest signal. A bonus is the included connection software, Wi-Fire Connect, which gives you a more precise readout on network signal strength and connection speed.

Photo by

The Wi-Fire
• I love my Apple iPhone. But one of the knocks has been battery life. I had looked at all kinds of add-on batteries and frankly they all sucked. They were little boxes that you plugged into the bottom of the phone and looked bad and seemed like they could break or disconnect at the slightest touch. Now along comes the juice pack air from Mophie ( Unlike other external batteries, the juice pack air is a battery disguised as a hard protective case that totally envelops your iPhone. This case adds a bit of thickness to your phone but I don't think it's significant …despite what Jordan Murph says. Mophie boasts that the juice pack air doubles the battery life of an iPhone and I cannot dispute that after a couple of months of use. I used to have my iPhone plugged into a car charger while driving around but now I have found that I can go an entire day without "bumping" the charge in my phone…and if you know me I do a lot of email and web surfing. Some reviewers have complained the hard shell encasing your phone makes buttons hard to get to, but I really have not had any problems like that. The only drawback to using the juice pack air is that your iPhone connector for charging and syncing is now a micro-USB. So if you've invested in a couple of chargers, you'll have to take the case off to use them. The juice pack air comes with a charger and getting micro adapters for USB cords you already have is just a Fry's Electronics trip away or a visit to Cyber Guys' website.

• I know it is not available --- yet --- but I had the chance to use the Think Tank Photo Hydrophobia rain cover for the 70-200 zoom at the World Series and it is a home run. One of the issues with rain covers for short lenses is how to handle the strap. Think Tank has literally taken the strap out of the picture and has designed a rain cover with a strap built in. No more having to struggle before a game taking your strap off of a camera and threading it through the rain cover. The Hydrophobia loops the built in strap so it supports the whole rig from under the base of the lens, allowing for quick on and off, a snug fit and good balance when around the neck or shoulder.

• The Orbis is a cool add-on ring flash for your speedlight, easy to use, compatible with all leading small hot shoe strobes and moderately priced. (I've discussed Orbis ring flash in the past, in a cool video on When I use the Orbis for portraits, I usually mount the flash with the Orbis on a light stand, unlike other speedlight ring flash adapters, the Orbis is basically handheld with the strobe slipping into the bottom. No more. Now comes the ultimate
Photo by

The Orbis Arm
accessory for the Orbis, the Orbis Arm: The Arm is basically a sliding bracket that you mount your flash onto and connects to the camera by the tripod socket. Made of a sturdy piece of aluminum, it has two adjustment screws so it will fit any camera/strobe combo. Using the Arm on your Orbis ring flash adapter frees up your left hand so you can support the rig better and allows you to be a bit more mobile. I admit that when I first got my Orbis, I tried to find some off-the-shelf bracket that I could mount the rig to a camera. I went through a couple of different brackets but really did not find anything that worked. The Orbis Arm is simply designed but well built.

• Those cool-looking LED panel lights made for video cameras has fascinated me. But talk about over-priced? A 3.3 - inch panel is $300!!! No thanks. But wandering around an unnamed, huge camera store on a trip to NYC for the World Series, I came across a WAAAAY cheaper alternative to those expensive panel lights: The SIMA Ultra Bright Video Light Yes it's made of cheap plastic. No it doesn't have a pivoting mount. No it does not have a dimmer. But for about $40 what do you expect? What is does have is a nice, bright LED light source. Mounts to any hot shoe and as a matter of fact, has shoe mounts molded into the sides so if you want even MORE light, you can gang them up easily. This 1 _ - inch unit throws out a lot of light for such a small package. It has a built-in rechargeable battery and comes with a small wall charger. I've used the Ultra Bright on my Sony A1U HD cam as well as on my Canon G10 point & shoot (for both video AND stills). To control the output I've cut diffusion filters from sample packs and just tape it on to lessen the harshness and lower the "output". This is not the pretty - cool-looking device like the expensive Litepanels, but for the money, the Ultra Bright beats the hell out of it in my opinion.

Earlier this year I reviewed a couple of other cool gadgets that I used quite a bit. The Lightware FourSquare has become my primary lighting control device ( and the AquaTech's collapsible lens hoods ( continue to be helpful in making more room in my rollers and shipping cases…and I anticipate during the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver, they will be even more useful.

Happy Holidays!

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