Toolbox: BRNO Dri + Caps

One of the topics that I really enjoy writing about is gear. I mean, at some level every photographer lusts after gear. In the beginning you can't get enough, you read every catalog, memorize every spec, and make crazy lists of stuff that you want. What eventually happens is either you grow tired of photography and move on to the next phase, or you become too busy hunting for that next killer shot to care anymore and you lose a little of that gear lust. For me, it was the latter. I became busy enough with trying to turn photography into a way to support myself to spend much time thumbing catalogs or searching the web for the latest and greatest. If I do buy something new, I am rarely what you would call an early adopter and the folks who get paid to write reviews or blog about such interesting things have probably written said bauble to death. That is why I was pleased on several levels to find the BRNO Dri+Cap. Those of you who shoot in the extreme cold or in humid climates are probably familiar with the effects that all the moisture exposure can have on your expensive gear. Bring your stuff in to a warm humid base lodge from a cold day on the hill and watch the fog appear.

This is enough to scare some people away from using their camera in the cold altogether, but guys like me don't really have a choice in the matter. Camera manufactures have helped by making cameras and lenses more weatherproof with seals and gaskets but that sort of protection only goes so far. Making your gear "splash proof" does not protect against to slow creep of moisture from long term exposure.

The best defense here is to make sure you store your gear in a dry place, that way the air can absorb that pesky moisture and keep things from growing inside your lenses. The problem here is that, if your like me, your gear spends most of it's like in a bag or case in the trunk of a car either heading to or from a shoot. And those non-shooting days tend to be filled with other important things, I would guess that my gear spends the better part of the winter in some sort of wet conditions whether it be snow or a damp camera bag.

Let me be clear here, I try my damndest to take care of my stuff, I'm not trying to give the impression that put my gear in a wet bag and leave it, we're talking about the 95%+ humidity condition, where there is too much moisture in the air to allow your stuff to dry out after use.

Anyway, I have been using these rechargeable desiccant bricks for a few years now. They work pretty well. I have two sets for every kit that I own and dry one set out in the oven while the other set is being used. They offer piece of mind because you know that your gear is dry until the indicator tells you that the brick is saturated and needs to be swapped out for a dry one.

The problem is that the sometimes need to be changed every day or more often when used in wet conditions. During these times its tough to keep up with recharging them, especially when traveling.

This it where the Dri+Cap comes into play. Not only does it add an another layer of moisture absorbancy, they actually seal the rear of your lens, or the inside of your camera against moisture, basically closing up the most susceptible part of you gear.  This also means that your lens gets dry faster and stays dry even if your bag does not.

The Dri+Cap is a two piece plastic affair with the main body of the cap having a small chamber where the desiccant packet lives. That chamber is sealed with an o ring and another smaller cap and the surface that seats against the lens has an o ring as well. The whole system is only slightly larger then the standard Nikon caps and arguably cooler looking (though, that is a matter of taste). The only real downside is that they currently cost like $20 a pop. Not cheap. But when you consider the cost of having to replace or rebuild a 70-200 or 24-70 then it starts to look like cheap insurance. If you don't think you can afford to outfit all your lenses with these at once, get a few for your most expenive glass now, and skip a few coffees until you can afford the rest. Besides that, you only have to buy the caps once and they can be reloaded indefinitely. The build quality is pretty good and they definitely should last for the life of a pro lens.


V flats

Ok, I actually started this post about 3 weeks ago, but I have been super busy with with finishing up school so a had to put things on hold for a little bit. There has been a whole lot of talk on the internet about solutions for correcting light spill and flairs in the studio. This is the sort of thing that you never really worry about when you are using speedlights, and the solution there is a quick piece of cinefoil or cardboard taped to the flash it self, no big deal. The real problem is when you start using big lights or halogen video lights, tape and cardboard is not only no longer effective, it's not safe. On the video side of things there are a multitude of different light control products available, but the tend to be SPENDY when you start adding them up. The photographer's solution has long been something called V flats or foam core cutters. Scott Kelby's blog has a nice little post about them HERE. The only problem with constructing them out of the standard foam core is that it is cost prohibitive to have shipped, so if you can't pick it up locally you are out of luck.

My solution was to use bi fold closet doors that I picked up second had at a used building material store, cheap, sturdy and very effective. They are super easy to build and you only need a few basic tools. I wound do a step by step here, because you probably can figure it out fairly easily, but I tried to include a lot of pictures for you visual learners.

A lot of the stuff that I have build/converted in the past was only economical if you already had the tools. This is not one of those projects, technically you only need a paintbrush and some paint. I took the hinges off before painting so I used a drill but a screwdriver would work just fine. The doors that I bought had metal pins in the ends to mount on a track, so I used a pliers as well. I already had the necessary paint leftover from a previous project, but I bought the cheapest interior that I could find, about $10 per  gallon if I remember correctly. You probably won't find a color chip for black paint but just ask and any place that sells paint should be able to mix some up for you. The white is easy, just go with a "high hide" pure white. Some landfills even safe old paint that people dump and give it away free, worth checking out.

Toolbox: Enercell Quick Charger

Enercell quick charger I found this charger by accident.  I was shooting on location one day and I needed to pick up some extra AA's (I didn't bring enough). Normally I try to avoid Radio Shack, but on this day I didn't have another option so I stopped there anyway. My main objections with "The Shack" are the same that I have with Best Buy: ridicules prices and awful service. Like I said though, on this day I had no other options. I was planning on picking up a pack of lithiums but this charger seemed like better idea, so I decided to give it a try.

The unit is basically a 15min charger with the option to plug it into the wall or a 12v car outlet. I know that there are other options out there but most of them are either junk or cost a fortune. The Enercell charger cost me $40 and came with a set of 4AAs and 4AAAs. I checked online and you can buy this package for $30 direct at the moment HERE. The unit will charge both AAs and AAAs individually, unlike most inexpensive chargers that will only charge in pairs. It will also indicate if there is a fault with any of the cells that are charging, basically indicating when a cell is no longer useable. These features make the charger a great value. But does it work as promised?

I have been using the charger a few times a week for the past 9 months and it has been holding up great, the batteries are pretty much junk after heavy use but they did last work well for most of that time (I would buy Eneloop or Lenmar AA separately). One thing that you will notice is that the charger can get very hot while in use, it even has a built in fan to help keep things cool. I would guess that it will shorten the life of your batteries if they are consistently being cooked with every charge so it is wise to think about where you set the unit while in use. The main reason I got this charger was to charge batteries on the go so my solution has been to stick the unit upright in a cup holder where there is good airflow on both sides. Just using it on a hard surface will be good in most cases.

A lot of people get upset at the notion of using quick chargers on their precious batteries fearing that it will shorten the life of the cells. This is almost definitely true, but think about this: The alternative is to have many sets of AA's trickle charged and ready for every shoot. Maybe you will use them, maybe you don't but the cells will endure a charge cycle regardless. On the other hand, I can keep fewer sets on hand and charge them on demand, so even though they last fewer cycles, I don't have to charge them as often without using them. I am not saying that they will last any longer then normal, but it less frequent charges helps mitigate the negative effects of fast charging the cells.

Now, as low discharge cells become more common, the issues that I have mentioned are less relevent, but I still like the fact that I can carry less sets of cells while not having to worry about running out of power.

For the record, I do trickle charge my batteries when I have the chance, and I always keep the cells in the original sets that they were purchased in. I have not noticed any benefit to doing this but when a set a starts to fail it is much easier to track then individual cells.

This has become the charger that stays in my bag all of the time. It takes up about the same amount of space as a normal was mount charger and has the added flexibility of working in the car as well.

Highly Recommended.


Toolbox: Clamps

This week I thought I would share a couple of cheap and really useful pieces of gear. To please everyone, there are three options here: an off the shelf/industry standard solution, an inexpensive and easy DIY option, and a piece that you can either make or buy. First up is the Bogan Super Clamp.

An in depth post about this guy is available at the STROBIST site. These things are awesome! Basically, there are a ton of uses for 'em. They let you mount and join things together and are generally the best solution for makeshift light mounts. They can clamp to anything up to 2" wide, pipes, doors, whatever you can think of. The back side accepts a standard 5/8" stud, meaning that they are compatible with a wide range of the other pieces of grip gear like camera and hotshoe flash  mounts. Chase Jarvis uses these things to put remote cameras on all sorts of things. I have used them to mount lights on boat towers, bikes, and even cars. The original super clamp is manufactured by Manfrotto but there are a bunch of other places that sell them under various brands, including this Impact clamp sold by B+H Photo and this Flashpoint one by Adorama. I have heard mixed reviews on the budget model clamps with some raving about them and some complaining of failure. My feeling is that the Manfrotto clamps are pretty cheap already and I would rather spend the extra few buck then drop and camera or light. All my clamps are marked Manfrotto and I have not had one fail yet (knock on wood).

Option 2: A-clamp

The alternative to the store bought clamp is this lighter-duty DIY version. Now, there is no way that this clamp will hold a dSLR with any sort of security, but it will hold a hotshoe flash to a railing with little trouble. I explained how to build one of your own in THIS post but you should be able to tell how it was made just by looking at it. I took an inexpensive A-clamp from HOME DEPOT and drilled a 3/8" hole in the handle to allow a MINI BALL HEAD to be attached. You could go as cheap or as pricy as you want with either of these parts, my clamps cost about $11 each with the parts shown and work pretty well.

Even if you don't build a few of these for your self you should definitely pick up a few of those green clamps to put in your bag, infinitely useful.

The last piece is an accessory for the other two. This is something that most people don't think about until disaster strikes. The safety wire is really a no brainer, and is so cheap that there is no reason not to use 'em. Basically a safety wire is a length of cable with a small carabiner on each end. I allow a essentially unbreakable connection between the flash or camera and the solid object that it is clamped to. This is important  if the clamp slips or is bumped, especially if clamped up high were it may drop and injure someone. In some cases the location or production that you are working at may require them for safety/liability reason.

The good news its that they are extremely cheap and don't take up much space in your bag. You can buy them HERE or HERE or you can make your own like I did and save a few bucks.

If you care to make your own I would use 1/16" or 1/8" wire rope and a carabiner that is rated at least 5X the max load that the cable with support. The cable and the connectors are cheap so don't skimp the the weight rating. I cut 30" lengths of cable and crimped loops on the ends for the carabiners, then I slipped a short length of shrink tubing over the ends of the cable to keep it from fraying.

So now we have a few alternative ways of mounting gear to fixed (or moving) objects, and a way to add a little security to the operation.

Next up? Who knows, I'll think about it and get back to you.