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|| News Item: Posted 2010-12-07

A Gear Head’s list of fun tools (ok, toys)

By By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter Newsletter

It’s not about the gear…

It’s not about the gear…

It’s not about the gear …

Now that I have that out of my system, boy do I feel better!

I’m a “gear head” and I admit it. So here is a list of some cool/fun/interesting/ and even necessary toys I’ve used in the past year. If there is a bit of a pattern here, it’s indicative of my move toward using speedlights more and more.

In no particular order:

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Frio´ cold shoe

Frio´ cold shoe
It’s interesting how we will trust expensive accessories like speedlights, microphones, LCD panel lights and remote transmitters on a device that hasn’t improved much in 20 or 30 years. So from the mind of James Madelin (creator of the Orbis ringflash) comes the smallest but coolest of my 2010 toys the Frio´ cold shoe.

Take it from someone that has had a lot of gear slip out of the old, conventional cold shoes and go crashing to the ground. The Frio´ (Spanish for “cold” --- duh!) features an ingenious (but simple) dual locking system that secures your gear like no other cold shoe before.

I have several “locking” cold shoe adapters --- you know the ones that have a little thumbscrew sticking out of the side --- and I’ve had gear slip out of them all of the time. (Not to mention that little screw will eventually get bent and eventually be useless.)

The Frio´ should be available soon!

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Lumodi beauty dish

Lumodi beauty dish
I have a beauty dish for my Dynalight studio strobes and when I load up my SUV to head out to a portrait shoot, I look at that large box it’s in and I just end up leaving it in the garage more times than not.

(Yes it’s still in the box it came in, because it obviously fit and was the lightest container I had for it!)

As I move more to using speedlights for my portrait work, I have been looking for a good but portable beauty dish. I literally searched the web late at night for several days looking for a ‘dish that would fit the bill ---small, lightweight and provide wonderful light.

Most of the ‘dishes out there that are labeled for speedlights are ones made for inexpensive monoblock or studio strobes and have a large, cumbersome bracket to mount the flash and attach the whole thing onto a lightstand.

(Yes I did find the collapsible ‘dish from Malaysia that has been written about on several speedlight websites, but it was available only through overseas sources.)

Then I stumbled across the Lumodi. Made in Southern California by a local photographer, the Lumodi beauty dish is simple in design, no large mounting hardware, just a simple Velcro strap. It is made of lightweight plastic, so this rig will need to be carefully packed for travel. But it’s lightweight --- not to mention the cool padded storage case it came in --- is the reason why I like it.

Another reason why I like the Lumodi over the larger, metallic speedlight beauty dishes (found mostly on eBay and Amazon) is the opening cut into the back to mount the strobe. The opening is very tight and not wide open like the other ‘dishes, doesn’t lose light out of the back.

The light that the Lumodi produces, especially with the included “shower cap” diffuser, is well, beautiful! And that’s the bottom line when it comes to lighting control devices.

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FourSquare 20-inch speedlight softbox
FourSquare 20-inch speedlight softbox
Lightware’s FourSquare softbox is something I have written about in the past, both in the Sports Shooter Newsletter and the Sports Shooter Academy website. So you know that I am a big fan of the FourSquare.

And now Paul Peregrine at Lightware has added a 20-inch softbox to join the original 30-inch version.

What I love about the FourSquare is its versatility --- soft light (with the front diffuser), edgier (front diffuser removed) and feathered (by ratio’ing the strobes or removing the diffusion part way) --- and it breaks down into a very small package.

As with the original FourSquare, the new 20-inch version is well made, the fabric lightweight but tough and the collapsible rods a tight fit in both the box and the mounting block.

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LCDVF – DSLR viewfinder
LCDVF – DSLR viewfinder
As anyone that has made the “transition” from shooting stills to shooting video with a new hybrid DSLR camera will tell you that the first necessity to “pimp your rig” is a viewfinder for the LiveView screen.

I know the overwhelming recommendation for an LCD viewfinder (think loupe for “chimping”) from veteran DLSR video shooters is usually the Zacuto. And while I will admit that it is a well-designed, solid piece of hardware, I just could not spend $400 of my own money on it (my apologies Bob and Myung).

An LCD viewfinder not only helps in framing and focusing via LiveView, it also gives you a third point of contact when shooting, so you can be a bit steadier. Another reason why this is an important piece of gear to get.

So along comes the LCDVF from of all places Eastern Europe. Its unique mounting method is a frame around the LCD that holds the viewfinder in place by magnets. This makes for easy mounting and removal but some think it’s too easy. But that’s one of the reasons why I like it.

When I am running & gunning with the Nikon D3s in video mode, sometimes I need to shoot some stills as well. With the LCDVF’s lanyard around my neck, I can just push the viewfinder aside instantly when I switch from video mode to still and then look through the camera’s regular viewfinder to shoot.

The LCDVF comes with a nice padded carrying case, lanyard (mentioned above), cleaning cloth and a cushion for that goes around the rubber eyepiece. For me, the only thing missing (compared to the more expensive Zacuto) is a diopter and the $400 price tag.

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Nikon CoolPix 7000
Nikon CoolPix P7000
Point & shoot cameras have come a long way the past several years. Especially those in the category that I call “digital M4s” --- point & shoot with the retro design and feel of 35mm rangefinders from the 50s and 60s.

Canon’s “G” series of point & shoots have been the king of the hill in this category, with some people opting for the high-end Panasonics and the four-third cameras like the Olympus PENN.

(I’ve been using a Canon G-10 for a few years and have generally loved the camera.)

But a couple of things have been limiting when using point & shoots especially for assignments for my day job: Poor quality in low light/high ISO situations and very limited video functionality.

The recently introduced Nikon CoolPix P7000 addresses both of these issues to the point where this little baby could be an all-in-one mini Internet multimedia capture device.

Quality at 400 – 800 ISO is very good and when compared to previous high-end CoolPix and comparable cameras from other manufacturers it is exceptional. I liked to use the G10 when doing “set visits” --- photographing TV series being filmed --- because of the near silent shutter. But shooting at 200 ISO would not cut it most of the time. Being able to crank the ISO to 800 and even 1600 with good to decent image quality would make life on these assignments so much easier ---not to mention better photographs. Using the point & shoot means I can dump the cumbersome Jacobson Blimp for my wide camera.

High-def (well 720p) video is an upgrade in the P7000 but the kicker to this is the addition of an external stereo mic jack. The ability to capture good quality audio via a shotgun (handheld or mounted on the hotshoe) or wireless mics is a great feature, one that elevates this to another level compared to other cameras in this price range.

Other features:
-128mm-200mm zoom range
-10MP sensor
-Improved AF tracking
-Optical viewfinder (So you can really pretend you’re shooting a Leica! This is a feature that unfortunately is disappearing in many high-end point & shoots.)
-Built-in intervalometer
-Electronic virtual horizon

Honl Traveler 8 – mini softbox
As I accumulate more and more speedlight gear, the bag that I use to carry the gear becomes bigger and heavier … sort of defeats the purpose of “small ball lighting”?

Dave Honl has created some of the best lighting control devices out there for small strobes ---well designed, well-made and most of all small. His gear is sometimes copied but never really duplicated.

Dave’s latest creation is a small softbox, the Traveler8. Collapsible so it’ll fit in any bag, it means you can have a device with you at all times that will produce a nice soft light (placed close to the subject) and also a way to shape accent and background lights.

Putting a the Traveler8 on a speedlight combined with an off-camera TTL cord is a great way to shoot soft, diffused run & gun portraits. The 8-inch front panel means the light falloff can be quick and the light, while soft used close in, is easily controllable.

I will often use two Traveler8s for either quick cross lighting (espn mag – style as I call it) or front-to-back lighting (main light at a 45-degree angle, background light shaped on a wall for separation).

Removing the front diffuser also gives you the option of going with a harder edge light.

In the “old days” having a white bounce card in the back of your Domke Bag to use with your Vivitar 283 was a photojournalists’ standard. The Honl Traveler8 is one of those devices that anyone that has to make portraits quickly or in a confined location should have in the back of their Domke Bag (or Think Tank Photo rolling case).

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Standbagger - Lightstand bags
Standbagger - Lightstand bags
Another product made in Southern California is the lightstand bags made by, who else, Standbagger.

While searching for a bag for some small light stands for my speedlight kit, there were dozens to choose from, but most were too big and too bulky. In other words not made necessarily for the speedlight mindset: Small and functional.

While cruising the web late at night weeding through dozens of bags on dozens of retail websites I came across the Grab ‘n Go, specifically designed for speedlights. The Grab ‘n Go comes in three sizes (28”, 41” and 49” depending on what stands your have) and have two large pockets that will easily hold speedlights. If you want a run & gun lighting kit (with no frills) this is it --- two stands, an umbrella or small/medium softbox and two strobes all in one bag.

I have never been a fan of the “roll up” style stand bags, but Standbagger has a special combo deal for one of its Grab ‘n Go bags along with one of their original roll up bags…I couldn’t resist!

Now I have two bags for my speedlights, the Grab n’ Go 8 for my 2 19-inch stands and mini-boom AND a Rollup 8 (which has four old lightweight stands I ---had retired--- plus a collapsible parabolic reflector and a boom arm.

So which of the Standbagger bags do I use the most? Believe it or not, the roll up.

These bags, while very simple, are well made, durable and very functional.

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Eye Of Mine - GoPro accessories
Eye Of Mine - GoPro accessories
The GoPro miniature waterproof video cameras are all the rage with video and still shooter alike and you know it’s made it when third party products and websites pop up.

One of the best I’ve come across is Eye Of Mine a company based in Long Beach, Calif.

Eye of Mine has a ton of fun and cool instructional articles and videos. The company also sells all of the standard GoPro products AND several products they have designed and make themselves.

“The Way I see It” – Book by Dave Black
Dave Black is one of the best photographers on the workshop “circuit”.. A great shooter, an inspirational speaker, willing to share everything he knows and really, just an all-around great guy.

If you can’t make it to one of the workshops that Dave is involved with --- or for that matter even if you’ve been to several --- you will want to get a copy of his book “The Way I See it”.

Dave has basically taken his teaching technique to the printed page, insightfully dissecting photographs and shooting situations. Heck, it’s worth getting a copy of the book just to have a collection of Dave’s work!

You can get a copy of “The Way I See It” in two different formats, analog (a printed bound book) or digitally (via download):

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Cygnett Bassball mini speaker
Cygnett Bassball mini speaker
I thought I’d throw in a fun little toy…this is courtesy of my brother James.

The tiny, collapsible Cygnett speaker doesn’t provide the fidelity of larger speakers (obviously) but if you want a clean sound with a pretty good bottom (bass) out of your iPhone or media player, check this thing out.

(The Black Keys sound kicking on these little speakers!)

I even use the Bassball speaker on my laptop when watching DVDs on the road and even when editing video and I don’t want to have headphones on for a long period of time.

The Bassball comes with a retractable USB cable (that’s how you charge it up)/mini plug.

There are several other tools/toys that didn’t make the cut --- 20-buck Chinese shoulder rig for videos shooting the most notable --- but these are the 10 that I thought I’d share. And if you have a friend, colleague or loved one you’re looking for a cool gift to give, you can’t go wrong with any of these.

Happy Holidays!


Robert Hanashiro is the person responsible for starting Sports Shooter, the Sports Shooter Workshop & Luau and the Sports Shooter Academy. He is an incurable gear-freak and his day job is USA TODAY’s West Coast staff photographer.

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