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Author Archives: pursang

18 Nov 2018

Glow Easy Lock X-Large Deep Beaded Silver Umbrella – Updated November 18 2018

UPDATE November 18 2018

I opted to use this modifier during a recent ballet shoot for a SF Ballet student. Lately I have been so impressed by the quality of light Glow modifiers produce. The Deep Beaded model is no exception. The flexibility to focus the light by pushing or pulling the strobe further in or out makes these a inexpensive alternative to focusing arm modifiers. I’d estimate they achieve 60-80% of what focusing rod modifiers can produce in terms of light quality and versatility. Part of the reason I surmise is the texture of the silver fabric in this modifier. It is much like my beloved Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa, pebbled.

The general setup for both of the shots below. The Deep is my key light. The three v2.0 Saberstrips are my hair and rim lights powered by AD200s.

Both of the shots that follow were taken with the strobe ‘mid focused’ into the modifier. I wanted the punch of contrast combined with a softness for the mood of the shot.

Using the Deep as a fill light fully focused combined with the three v2.0 Saberstrips as the key lights.

UPDATE May 13 2018

I recently used the Glow 65″ Deep Beaded Silver Umbrella on a commercial shoot. My decision to use this modifier over my normal focusing rod modifiers had to do with the unknown. Although I knew what the client wanted, I had no idea of the area where we were to shoot the session or whether I had to move from spot to spot. Breaking down and setting up a modifier could have presented a potential issue with time, so I opted to use the Glow. I was very pleased with the results as is the client. The beaded texture of the modifier is something I prefer as it adds more contrast to the images.

Glow 65 Beaded as key light camera left. eVOLV200 in the AD-B2 was the light source.

Glow 65 Beaded as key light camera left. eVOLV200 in an AD-B2 was the light source. Saberstrip was the hair rim light camera right behind the subject.

Glow 65 Beaded as key light camera left. eVOLV200 in an AD-B2 was the light source. Saberstrip was the hair rim light camera right behind the subject.

Original Post

Wow! I’ve read about ‘deep umbrellas’ for some time now and have tended to “poopoo’d” them. Sure higher end companies like Profoto manufacture deep umbrellas, but for their price point I’d rather go with an octabox. I had been a huge fan of PCB’s PLM umbrellas and still utilize them from time to time, but had made a move to more ‘professional’ (bullshit word btw) modifiers like Parabolix. I love the look of focusing arm modifiers produce. Punchy, yet soft when you want soft. Focused when I want focused light. I now find ‘normal’ softboxes boring in what they produce and when I want to keep spill with softboxes, I’d have to use grids. Not so with a focusing arm modifiers. This deep umbrella prevents “spray light everywhere” situations like normal umbrellas and non gridded softboxes.

Prior to using focusing arm modifiers my go to octa was the Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octabox 39″. The light that modifier throws is magical. So when I saw the Glow was offered in the same ‘pebbled’ texture silver interior fabric as my beloved Eli 39, so I opted for that model. BTW I continue to use the Eli 39″ in both a diffused and focusing arm configuration. During a client’s session they allowed me to use the Glow 65″ in some ‘test shots’ with their talent. I used it as the key light, camera right for two of the actors. The fill light was camera left and I was using a 69″ Elinchrom Oct which I have adapted to use a focusing arm. In this configuration I had it in the fully flooded position. In another post I have displayed my shot using the 69″ Eli with a focusing rod.

The actors are in costume for the play “The Elephant Man.”

The softness, control and contrast using this is very similar to a focusing arm modifier. The ability to control spill is wonderful. Only adjusted for color balance and contrast. You can obviously see her wig netting. I like to post stuff out of cam so you can see the modifier’s results. 600Pro was the strobe

Slight adjustments to angle produce wonderful results. 600Pro was the strobe. 

So the question is, would I use the Glow instead of the Parabolix, CononMark or Zeppelins. The simple answer to that question is ‘no’ I have yet to find a single modifier that can do EVERYTHING well. BUT when choosing the right tool for the right job I would not hesitate to use the Glow Deep with pebbled silver interior. As a matter of fact I plan to obtain the two smaller units as well. The ROI and ease of setup and striking of an umbrella is undeniable. What The Glow line has done is mitigate the down sides of the lowly umbrella for a price that presents an unbelievable value. And for me no matter how ‘cheap’ a piece of gear may cost, if it doesn’t produce EXCELLENT light when I’m using it, then it doesn’t get used.

For people on a budget I cannot think of a better modifier to use. And for people who make their living shooting, it’s an incredible tool to add to your bag.

17 Nov 2018

Flashpoint R2 Pro 2.4GHz Transmitter for Pentax (XPro-P) – Updated 11-17-18

Update November 17 2018

On a recent on location session in Seattle WA I encountered a situation where the R2Pro would NOT fire my strobes. I was in a club called The Triple Door to shoot publicity for my client’s upcoming performance for Rock of Ages. I had the room filled with haze for the session and the client wanted some shots with two of the stars in a booth. As I looked over I was blown away at the rays of light coming through the windows! The issue in obtaining the light rays just using natural light was the club is below street level and it was a cloudy day (Seattle! LOL) the sunlight was intermittently blocked by both pedestrians, vehicles and clouds. It was also late in the day so the angle of the rays of light would move quite a bit. 

I had my partner go outside with both a 600Pro and an AD200, both with cones attached. My thought was that using a strobe through the windows would produce the same light I was experiencing with the natural sunlight, but not blocked by clouds or people passing by. Yet even in complete line of sight for test shots the strobes would NOT fire. I can only surmise that the combination of concrete, brick, the wiring in the club and my lower elevation to the strobes prevented the radio signals from reaching the strobes. And yes I tried both the 0-30 and 0-100 distance choices on the R2Pro. The distance from where I was to the strobes was about 35 feet and 15 feet below.

In this shot you can see some of the natural rays of sunlight coming through the window. You can also see the lower elevation I was at since the club is below street level. My partner was standing to the very left of the bike with the strobes. I even went to the booth behind the talent and could see my partner when I attempted to fire the strobes to no avail. Obviously the strobe I had inside fired well which was my key light for the shot.

I always test my gear before putting it into workflow and did so with the R2 for the Pentax. But in this particular situation the radio signals would not reach the lights. Keep my experience in mind for your own sessions. I am NOT not recommending the R2 transmitters. Both my Canon and Pentax R2s have performed well. It’s just in this situation the R2 Pentax did not make a connection in this specific situation…..strange.

Original Post

FINALLY! I was thrilled when the R2 Pro for the Pentax was announced! As some of you who follow my blog know, I’ve done a workaround for the 1/125th max sync speed for my Pentax 645Z which can be found here. The short version is I was using a Cactus v6II trigger combined with older Godox USB plug in receivers. It worked fine, but like all workarounds it had limitations. That’s all over now with the R2 Pro for the Pentax! Yay!

So I just did some testing to determine if the trigger works with the 645Z and just as important if any banding occurs with the trigger. You see, I had originally purchased a MBX1000 Priolite when the Z was first released. At that time it was the ONLY strobe that would perform HYPERSYNC with the Z rather than HSS. I found that in addition to being quite expensive, the Priolite produced a gradient in the image similar to using a graduated neutral density filter which I found to be unacceptable for such an expensive strobe. Sure it could be corrected in post, but why should I have to do that with an expensive strobe?

All that is over now and here are my test shots I conducted with the R2 Pro for the Pentax:

The native light and setup. I’m using an eVOLV200 in a Saberstrip v2.0. Strobe is set to 100% for all of the following shots.

1/1600th f2.8 ISO 100

1/4000th f2.8 ISO 100. You can clearly see that there is NO BANDING when using HSS!

I could NOT use an eVOLV200 inside of the Saberstrip v2.0 because the USB port was covered when inserted into the SS. But since I no longer need a USB receiver I can now use my Pentax with these remarkable modifiers. I have not tested the trigger with the other xPLOR600s and 600Pros I own, but I have no doubt it will work well. If I find there are issues, then I will post them here in this short review. I have an upcoming client session on location where I now plan to use the Pentax and the new trigger.

A final note. Formerly while using my Canon R2 Pro attached to the 645Z (when not using HSS), pressing the shutter did not reactivate the R2 Pro after it went into sleep mode like it does on my Canon gear. I had to manually press a button on the R2ProC to wake it from sleep mode. Of course there were times I forgot to do so and missed a shot. Not so with the new Pentax R2 Pro. Now when I press the shutter it wakes the transmitter from sleep mode.

Thank you thank you thank you for producing a HSS trigger for Pentax!!!!

14 Nov 2018

How forums  can stunt your growth

I was recently reading a blog post about the new Flashpoint eVOLV 200 Round Flash Head – Godox H200R. I had purchased one and find it another remarkable innovation and improvement from Godox which translates to Flashpoint in the USA. I really like the protected covered strobe bulb that I can leave on my AD200 during airline transport. Prior to this head I would encase my bare bulbs in plastic or aluminum sleeves which I would carry in my camera bag. And yes I will be conducting some tests of the output of the unit. I also appreciate the yet to be purchased gel/grid/snoot combo pack designed for the new head. Incredible innovation and flexibility by Godox/Flashpoint continues.

What struck me about the back and forth the inane pie hole ad nauseam conversations were over is about  the shape of the bulb in the new round head. NOT ONE OF THE PIE HOLES had a link to their work. Why? Because most people who like to pontificate (meaning see their talking in text) on their perception of the technical aspects of anything don’t consider what actually happens in real life. Let’s see your body of work. Let’s see how you’ve used the light in question. Let’s SEE something you’ve created.

I post this to warn those of you who linger much too long on forums, sites, etc. Analysis paralysis stunts your creative growth. Instead of reading the bovine back and forth of those who produce NOTHING, go out and create.

“When it’s new you have so many people they don’t see, they don’t have the vision. They don’t understand, they don’t want to understand. Why change something? Ah you think it’s impossible. We will show you the opposite. “ – LOFT: The Jetman Story

09 Nov 2018

Glow EZ Lock Deep Parabolic 48″ Quick Softbox Updated 11-9-18

UPDATE 11-9-18

I will simply say having used this modifier for three months that it may be the best value in the business. I have found that it rivals my much more expensive focusing arm modifiers in terms of light quality when used with the disk at the maximum distance allowable on the short rod combined with the inner diffusion panel. Of course it does not have the versatility of a focusing arm, but the light quality is delicious. 

The quality of light is both punchy and soft, much like a focusing rod modifier. Incredible value considering it comes with a grid as well. The ease of set up and striking is incredible. I use a short length of PVC pipe to push the locking mechanism down since my reach to the lock is tight. I’m sure smaller versions of this modifier are easier to reach.

I have also used it for a recent (this week) on location publicity shoot, but cannot share the actual photos at this time. Having used it for one of my longest standing large clients will attest to my confidence in the Glow 48. Remarkable. I can share the light test shot I did of the Marketing team for my client before the actual talent arrived from hair and makeup. In the actual shot there are eight people, but for the purposes of my lighting test I only had seven individuals.

Anyone who has created group portraits knows the difficulty. The ceiling in this club is only 8 feet tall. Due to the shape of the Glow 48 it was perfect for this job. Narrow enough to get the elevation I needed, yet wide enough to illuminate most everyone. This was a five light set up. One key light, three gelled ambient lights and one light shot through a Fresnel to illuminate the person in the very back.

Below are all shot with the Glow 48 as the key light camera left with a Saberstrip v2 as the fill light camera right behind the talent. Pentax 645Z with the newly released R2Pro.

Publicity imagery for A Christmas Carol. The only adjustments to these images were done in Lightroom for white balance, lens correction and contrast. Strobes were: key light through the Glow 48 was a Flashpoint 600Pro and an AD200 in the v2 Saberstrip.

UPDATE 8-14-18

Our client Hillbarn Theatre just released one of their publicity posters for the upcoming production of West Side Story. This image was shot using a Flashpoint XPLOR 600PRO and the Glow EZ Lock Deep Parabolic 48″ with disk and inner diffusion panel as the key light. Rim light was a Saberstrip v2 using an eVOLV200

UPDATE 8-1-18

I did a re-shoot for a client’s West Side Story publicity imagery since they have actually cast the roles. I decided to use the Glow 48 with the metal disk and inner diffusion panel installed instead of my focusing arm modifiers for this session. I wanted a slightly softer yet still punchy look for the mood the client wanted created. I continue to be amazed and happy with the light quality and the ease of set up with this modifier. My only niggle is that it can be tough to push it open because of the size of the modifier. I have to stand to one side and really push down to get it to click. Ah first world problems eh? LOL.

Glow 48 camera left slightly behind the talent and feathered. Saberstrip v2 as the very slight rim light camera right.

Glow 48 camera right as feathered key light pointing away from the talent to just skim them. Saberstrip v2 camera left as rim/fill light.

UPDATE 7-3-18

I continue to be impressed with the EZ 48, so much so that it was only one of four modifiers I took for a personal editorial project down to El Segundo to shoot Luna Cycle. (I have an upcoming article on that trip along with photos of course….) The other two modifiers were my Fresnel and two the soon to be released SaberStrip v2.0 which comes out later this month. This project was editorial in nature over ‘beauty‘ in the traditional sense. (I find beauty in loads of things that may not seem obvious.) I know a good many of you (including myself) like to ‘learn’ about modifiers and how they apply to shooting beauty or product. But for me the real test of a modifier is just how versatile it can be in a variety of situations.

The light quality is always my first concern and the EZ has that down pat. The ease of assembly and if it is the right tool for the right job is my second consideration. For the two images below it fit both all three of those criteria perfectly.

Light test. This is when I knew I needed to add a light to illuminate the sign behind the chair for the talent.

In this photo of Ashley and her ‘puppy’ the EZ was the key light camera left sandwiched between the couch and some other boxes. I only used the disk reflector and the inner diffusion panel since I wanted a more specular light for these shots. The Luna Command Center sign was lit with one SaberStrip v2.0

How the scene appears without the use of strobes.

You can see the EZ reflected in Kyle’s sunglasses, a rookie mistake on my part, but that’s OK too. A SaberStrip v2.0 was used camera left as a very soft fill. Again the EZ used with the metal disk and inner diffusion panel only.

I have found that the value and quality of light presented by the EZ is remarkable.

UPDATE 5-25-18

I had a client reschedule one of my sessions, so I decided to do a quality of light test today with this modifier against my SMDV 110 using a focusing rod and my Parabolix 35D modifier. Since the Glow comes with this little metal disk I wanted to find out if it could produce a similar quality of light to my actual focusing rod light modifiers. Spoiler Alert: Yes it can! With one major limitation…..

The comparison group. Left to right, SMDV 110, Glow EZ 48″, Parabolix 35D

I was actually away at how good this 95.00 modifier’s quality of light is in real life. The major difference between it and my other focusing rod modifiers is its inability to feather light while using the disk. I almost always feather light using any modifier. I know that many people generally point a modifier directly at the talent, but my taste prefers having the light bounce away from the talent. It produces a delicious wrap that a direct shot just doesn’t accomplish. Because the light source on the Glow is pointing DIRECTLY TOWARD the talent, but is deflected back toward the modifier by the disk (much like a beauty dish), any angle not pointing directly toward your talent exposes the strobe bulb. This creates a severe hot spot and ruins the effects of the modifier. True focusing rod modifiers point the strobe bulb AWAY from the talent toward the modifier. That greatly increases the angle at which the modifier can be turned without exposing the bulb. In addition the housing of focusing rods which hold the strobes have a flange that also shields the bulb from direct line of sight.

One of the “potential issues” I had read somewhere is that the Glow 48 is passing light ‘through‘ the spokes of the housing skeleton. I’m always fascinated how people concern themselves with things like that. In my experience it does NOT affect the quality of light in this modifier.

Light pattern of the Glow with the disk in it’s fully extended position which I call Mid flood.

For the purposes of this test I shot all three modifiers directly at Jenni, no feathering. In the focusing rod comparison, no diffusion material was used on any of the modifiers. The reason I prefer focusing rods is the extra contrast, smoothness and punch they produce in the quality of light. They’re certainly not for everyone, but my clients now insist on this type of light for most of their publicity work. There are exceptions, but it’s what we both prefer. The ability to focus or flood the very same modifier to give different lighting moods/looks is wonderful.

For the SMDV and the Parabolix I had the focusing arm in their mid-flooded position (both used the Parabolix focusing arm and an xPLOR 600 with remote head), meaning halfway out from the apex of the modifier. I did this because the disk on the Glow would only go about halfway from the apex of its modifier. I did notice a color difference between the modifiers as well. I’ve decided to post the images without identifying which modifier was which…until the end. After all we each decide for ourselves what we prefer and I don’t want to influence your view of this modifier. So here we go….

The setup. The reflector is a Glow Reflector Panel and Sun Scrim Kit 39″ x 62″ which I will review later. The light used in the Glow 48″ is a Flashpoint 600 Pro.

Shot A

Shot B

Shot C

I also wanted to do a quality of light test using both diffusion panels which is the way most of the people will use the Glow 48. I did NOT use the diffusion disk in addition to the two diffusion panels. The inner diffusion panel has a 2 stop circular panel which effectively reduces any potential hot spots. My gold standard in a two diffusion panel configuration has been my beloved Elinchrom 39” Rotalux Deep Octa. I found the Glow achieves 90% of the light I love in the Eli. And considering the Eli is 290.00 PLUS an additional 55.00 for a Bowens speedring AND 86.00 for a hooded diffusion panel (no grid is made for the Eli Rotalux line) that’s a whopping 431.00 compared to 95 bucks. Is that 10% difference worth the extra three and change Benjamins? That’s totally up to how your client feels about the lighting. And if you’re not shooting client work, how you feel about the light quality.

Glow 48″ with both diffusion panels installed, 600 Pro Strobe, feathered light. Hair/rim light is a Saberstrip Light.

So let’s do a little math:

  • Glow 95.00 (46”)
  • SMDV 110 (44”) 325.00 (not including a focusing rod)
  • Parabolix 35D (89cm) Package 838.00 (including focusing arm)

In order of ease of assembly and breakdown as I used them today (without diffusion panels):

  1. Glow 48*
  2. SMDV 110**
  3. Parabolix 35D

* The Glow is the easiest to assemble and strike IF you don’t use the inner and outer diffusion panels. They must be removed and installed each time you use this modifier.

** The SMDV is hands down the fastest and easiest modifier to assemble and break down if the diffusion panels are installed. You don’t have to remove them when breaking down the modifier. They can remain on the modifier.

Shot Modifiers:

  • Shot A: Parabolix 35D
  • Shot B: Glow 48″
  • Shot C SMDV 110cm

I will simply say that the light quality and value of the Glow Deep 48” Quick is REMARKABLE. Add to that fact its cost and it’s a no brainer. It is going into my workflow immediately and I’ll not hesitate to use it when it’s the right tool for the right job. A side note, Jenni the young woman I asked to be my test subject is also a photographer. She was so impressed she plans on purchasing a Glow 48. Hell who can blame her?!

UPDATE 5-19-18

Zarli, a visitor recently asked me two questions, one of which didn’t take long to research and I’m assuming others will have this same question so I’m adding it here. He wants to know the diameter of the changeable speed ring in the unit. The measurement is 144mm or 5 2/3rds of an inch. If the light quality is as I expect I will change the Bowens speed ring to a Cheetahstand low profile ring. I’ve done this for all of my Bowens modifiers when using them without a focusing rod. The reason is the Cheetahstand Low Profile rings allow my Flashpoint strobe bulbs to penetrate further into a modifier giving me a percentage increase in light output. It’s a very easy change and well worth the extra 25 bucks.

The low profile speed rings I use.

You only need to remove one of the #2 Phillips head screws along with the thumb screw and loosen the other two to remove the speed ring.

Here it is with the speed ring removed. As you can see I didn’t have to remove all of the screws.

Figures a photographer would have a shitty photo of the ruler!

Just to show I can replace the Bowens mount with a Profoto mount. I have these Profoto speed rings to replace them when I’m using my Parabolix focusing arm which is the exact diameter of Profoto’s speed rings. Obviously I won’t be able to do that with this Glow modifier due to the rods. BUT the movable disk is intriguing me…..

Original Post

Although I have not had time to evaluate the actual light quality of this modifier, I wanted to give my impressions of the Glow EZ Lock Deep Parabolic’s physical build quality of the unit. As is my workflow, until I can test any modifier I won’t be using it on commercial shoots. Since this is my hectic time of year I’m not sure when that will occur. But once it does I will post my impressions here. And I’m not going to get into the fucking bullshit back and forth about whether this is a true parabola. If you’re one of those best of luck and start babbling about geometric facts somewhere else. My world is about creating compelling and excellent imagery, not having to be fucking right. Plenty of other troll places you can go online for that.

Ok…

Even though it’s marketed as a 48″ modifier, my measurements show it’s 46″ at the widest portion. Not a big deal, but if you’re looking for 48″ I didn’t find that to be the size of the opening. The outer fabric is a high quality rip stop nylon. I had read on some site that an individual didn’t like the yellow stripes and that their clients may disapprove. To each their own, but my clients could care less what my gear looks like, what I wear, what wine I drink, the brand of toilet I use ….blah blah blah. What they DO care about is my imagination, putting it into an executable and relevant concept along the quality of my imagery. 

I love it when retailers include a grid. Especially a high quality one like this. The squares are 1.5 inches and the grid fits very well in the rim of the modifier. No slop.

Just the other side, but I wanted to note that my 600 Pro holds this thing snugly and securely.

I always appreciate when the modifier fabric easily covers the speed ring. Not all do, but this one does. More about that zipper below….

I’m not sure why they’ve included a small zipper. Because of the rod that remains in the center of the modifier I cannot use a focusing rod where I would run a remote strobe head cable out of this opening. Perhaps it’s to make expanding the unit easier when opening. Because it’s DAMN TIGHT to open which is a good thing to keep the fabric nice and tightly stretched. Cussing level (4 of 7) to push the thing open.

I like to remove the rod ends from a modifier’s pocket to see the quality of the end caps. These are great and the pockets are deep enough so the rod ends don’t fall out unless you pull them out like I did to examine one. Also the width of the Velcro is nice and wide, about 2″. Even when I don’t use a grid, feathering light is much easier when a modifier has a wide dark edge.

The fabric is a shiny smooth silver made of a high quality rip stop nylon. I tend to prefer pebbled silver, but until I actually test the light quality I cannot say how it will perform to my taste.

In addition to the grid you get an inner and outer diffusion panel. As you can see they use a 2 stop circular piece of fabric on the inner panel to prevent hot spots.

A personal pet peeve of mine is when makers use those blasted infant clothing snaps on diffusion panels. Sure they’re fine to snap together, but a real bitch to take apart. I was pleasantly surprised that these are both easy to snap together AND APART. Cussing level 0 of 7!

This is the interior of the unit when expanded. The lock is very secure and almost identical to the Cheetahstand quick strip boxes I use. Very secure.

So Adorama includes this little disk which slides onto the rod using friction applied by a rubber ring. I “think” this “may” have a similar affect as my focusing rod modifiers. The marketing material states that the disk can be used this way or inverted to spread the light in a different manner in the modifier. I will test this when I have the chance.

I “believe” that the disk this close to the strobe “may” yield a more specular look to the light like my focusing rod modifiers. When I have my focusing rod strobes close to the center of the modifier I call it ‘focused’ which is much like this configuration.

At this point it’s way too early to give my impressions of the light quality, simply because I haven’t tried it! But from a construction standpoint I feel that for 95.00 USD it presents a great value. Is it ‘better’ than this brand or that brand? I can’t say, but will say that IF the light quality is great to excellent I will add this to my workflow when it’s the right tool for the right job. More to come…..later.

30 Oct 2018

Xplor/Godox600, eVOLV200 and Pentax 645Z, HSS!!! Updated 10-30-18

Update October 30 2018

No need to do this workaround anymore. Flashpoint has released their new Flashpoint R2 Pro 2.4GHz Transmitter for Pentax. You can read my findings here.

Update September 26 2018

I am preparing for a publicity shoot where I want to use my 645Z, so I had to remind myself how to shoot HSS with the method I explain below. A spider had built a cool web in my backyard so I had this crazy notion to use my eVOLV200 with the Pentax. BTW Flashpoint will be releasing the Flashpoint R2 Pro 2.4GHz Transmitter for Pentax (XPro-P) which will allow HSS without all the shenanigans I went through to make it happen. I sent this shot to a friend of mine who hate spiders. Now she’s not talking to me….LOL!!!!

EXIF 1/1000th f4.5 ISO 100.

UPDATE February 16 2018

I have confirmed that the new Flashpoint/Godox AD600 Pro works in HSS with the Pentax 645Z as explained below.

UPDATE September 8 2017

In my post about the Parabolix 35D I have some of my recent client work which was just released. All of those images were shot using HSS with my 645Z.

UPDATE August 31 2017

A visitor recently asked if the older AD360 line of strobes achieve HSS with a Pentax 645Z based on the method I describe below in my original article. The answer is YES it does. Rather than just ‘say yes’ under an ‘assumption’ that it would I decided to actually test it. I’m preparing for a dance session in two days and my partner who is making the move to all xPLOR/eVOLV units herself asked if she could borrow my old AD360s for the shoot. As a gift I had purchased an xPLOR TTL 600 for her so she wants to combine that with my old AD360s using my XTR-16 receivers. So a quick test before charging all of the units for her proves that the AD360 line works!

Pentax 645Z 1/1000th, f5.0, ISO 100. When using an older AD360 you need to manually set the strobe to HSS on the light itself. And if you’re going to ask me why I didn’t shoot this against a pure white seamless, I just did this as a courtesy to a reader. There’s no banding and if you want to see FOR YOURSELF, test it yourself.

UPDATE August 20 2017

I ran a test yesterday of various modifiers along with the new AD-B2 mount and discovered that when you are using the USB receivers in the eVOLV200s the only level of modeling light that can be activated on the AD-B2 is the lowest level from the FT-16 controller.

UPDATE: July 29 2017

I have just completed testing HSS with the eVOLV200 strobes with my Pentax 645Z. I have included my test shots with “Bob” and all Flashpoint USB triggers and Cactus v6II settings are the same as the Xplor/Godox 600 lights. But I have outlined how I set the eVOLV200 lights below.

All test shots with the eVOLV200 were shot at 1/2 power using the bare bulb head through a Fresnel modifer. It is necessary to disable all built in wireless receivers in the eVOLV200. The USB plug in receivers are necessary to make this work. You must also engage HSS using the button rather than depending on shutter speed on the remote to automatically engage HSS.

I’m using the ‘old’ 433mhz USB receivers along with the FT-16 transmitter. (see full setup in my Original test below)

Reference shot using only ambient light. The modifier I like to use is a Fresnel lens. It effectively replicates the look of sunlight.

1/500th f4.5 ISO 100 Pentax 645Z eVOLV200 at 1/2 power, bare bulb attachment.

1/1000th f4.5 ISO 100 Pentax 645Z eVOLV200 at 1/2 power, bare bulb attachment.

1/1600th f4.5 ISO 100 Pentax 645Z eVOLV200 at 1/2 power, bare bulb attachment.

1/2500th f4.5 ISO 100 Pentax 645Z eVOLV200 at 1/2 power, bare bulb attachment.

1/3200th f4.5 ISO 100 Pentax 645Z eVOLV200 at 1/2 power, bare bulb attachment.

1/4000th f4.5 ISO 100 Pentax 645Z eVOLV200 at 1/2 power, bare bulb attachment.

A few people contacted me to let me know they have been able to use HSS with a Pentax 645Z using other brands of lights with the Cactus v6II which I very much appreciated. But even though they have had HSS/645Z success with Profoto’s B1’s, Speedotrons, Photogenic Studio Max, etc. I wanted to make this work with the Flashpoint/Godox line of lights. Why? Well because for my work they fit my workflow with incredible innovation and the largest eco system of strobes. Using an xPLOR600 as either a monolight or pack/head system is just one reason. Combining two of them to make a single 1200 ws head when I need that power, creating their upcoming eVOLV200 twin head all combine to make it the line I love to use. I’ve had my fill of purchasing other strobes just for my 645Z, namely Priolites to achieve HSS. Now I no longer have to use separate brands of lights to do my commercial work no matter what brand of camera I’m using for the job at hand. And that’s great since I use three different brands of cameras!

Thank you to Cactus for developing a tool that is both remarkable and functional. It’s been a godsend for my work.

Original Test Review

Flashpoint R1 Flashpoint Commander Transmitter

To put it simply HALLELUJAH!!!! Oh my gosh for the past four years I have wanted with all of my want to have an option for HSS and my Pentax 645Z other than my MBX1000 Hotsync Priolites. Priolites do NOT use HSS, but rather hypersync and as the shutter speed increases the slight shading of banding increases as well. I’m not talking about black bars, but what looks like a graduated neutral density filter was applied to the image. Sure I could remove it in those instances where it’s obvious, but in my mind for $2600.00 per light it should NOT be something I have to do. Anyway there are several other issues that bothered me, but as ‘the only game in town’ for shutter speeds over 1/125th of a second when using strobes, I like other shooters was stuck. Ricoh never manufactured modern leaf shutter lenses for the 645 and based on their current financial situation and market share I seriously doubt they will. Plus leaf shutter lenses are expensive and limited to whatever focal length is produced. It’s one of the limits that smug shooters of Phase One or Hassy bring up when talking about the 645Z. I just laugh and now I snicker…

So here’s how I figured it out. I now use a Flashpoint R1 Flashpoint Commander Transmitter with older 433mgh USB receivers in my Xplor/Godox 600 strobes. The FT16 is placed on top of a Cactus v6II transceiver. And as you can see by the shots I’ve displayed below it’s a godsend. Will I miss 1000ws from my Priolite? Oh hell no, not when I can simply combine two Xplor600s and hook them to my 1200ws head. HSS using my beloved Xplor600 with my Pentax 645Z means Christmas came in July 2017 for me this year! Hallelujah!!!

How the scene looked in mid day Bay Area sunlight. That’s my buddy “Bob” who fills in for my tests.

One of my trusty USB receivers plugged into my Xplor 600

All radio signals turned off and HSS enabled. You MUST physically enable HSS on the strobe to make this work. The quarter power is just what I selected for the test. And yes you can use any power level you want.

On the Cactus v6II set the Camera System to Pentax.

On the Cactus v6II set the Flash System to Manual Flash.

The Flashpoint R1 Flashpoint Commander Transmitter goes on top of the Cactus.

1/500th f4.5, ISO100 Xplor600 at 1/4 power.

1/1000th f4.5, ISO100 Xplor600 at 1/4 power.

1/1600th f4.5, ISO100 Xplor600 at 1/4 power.

1/2500th f4.5, ISO100 Xplor600 at 1/4 power.

1/3200th f4.5, ISO100 Xplor600 at 1/4 power.

1/4000th f4.5, ISO100 Xplor600 at 1/4 power. That’s the 645Z’s max shutter speed.

A pulled back shot of the scene at 1/4000th f4.5, ISO100 Xplor600 at 1/4 power.

Will I like it if Cactus develops a firmware update for their triggers so that I don’t have to use the USB receivers? Sure! It would also mean I could use my eVOLV200s with my 645Z too. But for now I’m damn happy to have figured out how to use my 600s in HSS with my 645Z. No shaded banding whatsoever using my Xplor/Godox strobes.

I truly am one happy person!

25 Oct 2018

Converting a Mole Junior 412 Fresnel – UPDATED 10-25-18

Update October 25 2018

I recently conducted a studio session using my Mole Richardson Fresnel. I continue to be impressed with the quality of light it produces along with the versatility of focusing.

The Fresnel in it’s fully flooded position.

Fully flooded as the key light camera right. Gobo behind the talent with haze in the air. Not done in post but in studio.

Using it as a prop in one of the sessions.

Update October 14 2018

I was able to use my Mole Richardson Fresnel during a client dance session. I have been excited about using the Fresnel for dance since the light it throws is just delicious. I combined the Fresnel light with some Saberstrip v2.0 lights which use the Flashpoint eVOLV200s. In this case I just used a single xPLOR600 even though I have a 1200ws head in the Fresnel. I didn’t need the power of 1200ws for this job.

This is how I had set up for the dance sessions. I toggled lights on and off from my R2Pro trigger.

A portrait I created of Savage and Alison who are the teachers of the dancers. Fresnel is key light camera right. Saberstrip is my hair light.

I realize that many people chase ‘soft light’ but I have found that the light thrown by a Fresnel is more acceptable to my client base for quite a few types of sessions. For my blog post about the Saberstrip v2.0’s which I consider a revolutionary modifier I used in conjunction with the Mole Richardson, you can click here.

UPDATE May 14 2018

I recently conducted a client publicity session using my converted Mole Richardson 412.

Works well for close in head shots. Strobe in fully focused position.

Full body shot, strobe in fully flooded position.

UPDATE 4-21-18

I was finally able to run a session with both the converted Mole Richardson and my gobo light modifier where I use Rosco size B gobos. The Mole Richardson performed brilliantly. Since I was in studio I did not use both AD600s, but rather a single one. Barn doors were used along with a light modifier I am not allowed to display or mention. I used it as a fill for these shots.

Canon 1DXII ISO 100 1/250th f4.0

Canon 1DXII ISO 100 1/250th f4.0

Canon 1DXII ISO 100 1/250th f4.0

UPDATE 3-31-18

The final tweaks have been made to my now converted Mole Richardson Junior 412 2000w tungsten spotlight into a strobe. I have installed a Flashpoint 1200ws strobe head into the unit along with a 9″ reflector as well a diffusion bulb cover. I love the look large Fresnel lenses offer for light and plan to use this not only for portraits, but for dance. The modifications I’ve made allow me to convert the Fresnel BACK INTO a tungsten light. The design of the light is genius. By simply removing four machine screws the entire guts of the light simply drop out.

Simply removing the tungsten bulb, reflector mirror and power supply is all I had to do. Then I fabricated a mount and limiting arm to mount the 1200ws strobe head. The hole in the upper right allows me to push the connector through the box.

I covered the hole by using a garbage disposal rubber cover.

The Flashpoint 1200ws head. If I don’t need 1200ws I simply hook up one xPLOR600 strobe body. The 9″ reflector fits perfectly in the housing.

You can see the dual elements in the 1200ws bulb here. I have the head in the “Spot” or focused position in this shot.

To ensure the light is as smooth as possible I’ve installed a frosted glass cover over the 1200ws bulb.

On the front and back of the Fresnel are mechanical levers which allow me to move the light from Flood to spot. Here it is n the Flood position.

As you can see the light is now in the Spot position.

Here I wanted to see how sharp the shadows are produced by a Fresnel.

Testing the Mole Fresnel as the key light with a gobo for background pattern of light and an Aputure Fresnel for fill.

Bob without any fill light.

Bob with fill light from the Aputure Fresnel mated to an eVOLV200.

All done and ready for my first shoot. Total cost: 327.52 USD for a 10″ Fresnel that accepts a modern strobe.

UPDATE 3-29-18

I wanted to try the converted unit outdoors using the barn doors and HSS. Still more refinements, but I believe this will make a valuable tool in my lighting kit. Both images shot at 1/2500th f2.8 ISO160

600ws head being used.

Barn doors configured as a vertical slit. Fully flooded zoom position on the modifier.

Barn doors open wide as to not affect the light. Mid focused Fresnel. Love the ultra sharp shadows Fresnel lenses produce.

Original Post March 27 2018

I’ve been in love with the light a Fresnel throws. As a young man I marveled at Hollywood glamour portraits produces by film and Fresnel spotlights. I purchased and have used two Aputure 4.5″ Bowens mount Fresnel modifiers with much success. But I longed for a larger version of a Fresnel. So I researched models over 8″ in diameter. The only ones I could find were the Elinchrom FS30 and the Broncolor Flooter. 3k and 4.5k respectively in price. There are some new LED Fresnel lights that are great, but I wanted a strobe. So….

I purchased a used Mole-Richardson Junior 2K Fresnel Tungsten Light, 10″ Lens – 412 off of Craigslist and am converting it to accept a strobe. It’s going well and when the project is finished I’ll be posting how I did my conversion as well as some test shots. I’m excited to say the least as it’s going way better than I expected. I wanted to have the ability to switch from my 600ws head to my 1200ws head when needed. I love choices. One of the great design elements of this classic unit is the ability to switch it back to its native tungsten configuration. AND Mole Richardson sells a LED conversion kit that only takes four screws to install. The unit is designed so well. No wonder so many film studios used these things!

My total cost to convert it to accept a strobe including the cost of the unit? 315.00 including the barn doors! 

Focused

Flooded

14 Oct 2018

Saberstrip v2.0 – A REVOLUTIONARY modifier – Update October 14 2018

Update October 14 2018

I recently conducted a studio dance session using three Saberstrip v2.0s combined with a Mole Richardson Fresnel spotlight I have converted to a strobe. I continue to be so amazed and impressed by the versatility and light quality of the second generation Saberstrips. As I’ve stated before I’m just scratching the surface of what can be accomplished with these remarkable lighting tools.

My general placement of the SS’s for the dance session. I am able to control on/off levels using my R2 controller. The ability to place the hair/rim light so close to the ceiling is remarkable.

Here you can see my general placement of the Fresnel spotlight which has been converted to a strobe which uses a Flashpoint 1200ws head.

Each of these images were created using a combination of Fresnel/Saberstrip light modifiers. 

Update September 17 2018

Yesterday I conducted an all day dance session. I found that utilizing three v2.0 Saberstrips with 3 Flashpoint AD200s produced remarkable light for studio dance. Rim lights, using two Saberstrips and one overhead light produced the exact mood I was trying to achieve. Seriously this combination is incredible for my dance work.

How I configured the Saberstrips for the dance session.

The results…

Update August 1 2018

I recently used the v2 Saberstrips in on location sessions in Seattle. Man I could not have done it without them! You can read about it here.

I have also completed a publicity shoot using two Saberstrips for a West Side Story publicity image as shown below.

Two v2 Saberstrips in parallel to the ground. I just love the look of this light configuration.

Original Post

Like most other folks and way before I began shooting as a full time pro, I had a day job. It was during this time I discovered a very unique light modifier called the SaberStrip. What was so intriguing to me is its shape and the quality of light it produces. I was a bit suspicious when I first received my Strip because it seemed like ‘just a high quality shipping tube’ with some rip stop nylon as the modifier’s cover. Also this was back in the day when I was almost exclusively using speed lights, but had two PCB Einsteins for my ‘studio work.’ And this was well before the advent of built in radio receivers in speed lights, so I had to use a pigtail cable connected to my speed light inside the tube to attach it to the Phottix Transmission receiver I was using at the time. A bit of a hassle, but it was the only thing that existed at the time, which was ‘high tech’ for that era.

Although I loved the quality of light it produced, for me the power or rather lack of power of the speed light relegated the Strip to my closet. I tried to fabricate my own ‘Strip’ for my Einsteins, but found out it was not as easy as I thought. So I basically gave up and moved on to other things.

In 2013 I decided to create a series of images about the hands of artists which included both performing as well as creating artists. Since I wanted to shoot the talent in their natural environments I found that all of my ‘normal’ modifiers would not work well due to space. In some cases I had literally 10 inches or less to place a light and modifier to light the talent! So as I was rummaging through my gear closet I happened upon my Strip that I had doomed to its lonely existence in the back of my modifier closet. Eureka! That’s the perfect tool for this job and since most of the venues I was shooting in were very small I would not need a ton of light power so my speed light would do just fine.

By happenstance the Director of the Peninsula Museum of Art saw one of my images and asked to see the rest. She then asked if I’d consider having a solo exhibit at the museum the following year. I politely told her no and when she inquired as to the reason for my decision I simply replied “I don’t think my work is good enough for a museum and I think it would be very narcissist to do that.” She simply smiled and said OK. Later one of the artist I know mentioned that he had heard I was offered a solo museum exhibit but turned it down. Werner asked me if I ever go to museum exhibits to which I responded “Why yes, I love going, why?” His response was typical Werner, direct and to the point; “Well quit being so fucking selfish and let others enjoy and be inspired by what you’ve created Mark!” I’m seldom if ever at a loss for words but I had nothing to say. So I contacted the Director and agreed to display my work which I titled “29 Hands, 15 Artists.” With the exception of one of the images, all were lit with my Strip and a speed light.

Fast forward to today, 2018 and I was made aware of SaberStrip’s v2.0 version of the Strip which accepts an eVOLV200! In March 2018 I was shipped two advanced copies of the modifiers to test to see if I could offer any feedback. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

The 200 is inserted into the bottom of the modifier through what I call the “Tractor Tire” the designer fabricated it to attach the 200. I believe his design is to offer strength to the mount. I simply like to think he liked Tonka Trucks as a kid! The knurled knob on the left in this photo is the turning knob that screws the 200 in place. The other nice design feature is you can eject the battery of the 200 without removing it from the modifier, a very thoughtful design element.

Sorry for the shitty camera phone blurry image. The red thing you see at the top of this shot indicates that the screw is NOT attached to the 200 which is a very nice feature. One of the things that I found to be a design issue, it’s very easy to over tighten the screw. There’s no need to do so because it makes it VERY difficult to unscrew the unit from the mount. I learned the hard way and had to use a screwdriver and hammer to loosen the screw.

It’s also not possible to let the eVOLV slide down into the tube because there are ribs on the interior which keeps the strobe from sliding too far into the unit. I believe he may have other plan since those interior ribs seem to be reinforcements for four exterior metal nipples. Barn door or grid accessories for the future? Perhaps.

I painted a directional arrow on the housing to indicate which direction to loosen the mounting screw.

What the interior looks like in the v2.0 Strip. You can see the reinforcing supports which prevent the eVOLV from sliding too far into the tube.

Although most people will not have to do this, I ground down the mounting peg that is cast into the housing. This allows me to easily insert the peg into female mounts I use to place the modifier in either a vertical or horizontal position. Although the v2.0 Strip works extremely well in stands which offer the mounting peg to be in a vertical or horizontal position, not all light stands offer that option. When I travel to other cities I often have to rent stands and not all rental houses have adjustable spigot locations on their stands.

This is why I needed to shave down the diameter of the molded peg. It would not fit as cast. I find these female spigots invaluable in my gear bag.

I plan to use these to mimic a ‘ring light’ because I can now leave the modifier and strobe very close to the talent and back away to shoot with a long lens. Not possible with traditional ring lights. Also since the eVOLVS have modeling lights in the Fresnel head I now have a modeling light in this configuration. Sure, not brightest modeling light, but way better than none.

My first test was with Bob outdoors for a ring light style lighting test.

Canon 1DXII EF135 lens ISO 100 both AD200s set at 1/8 power. 1/5000th f2.0

Canon 1DXII EF135 lens ISO 100 both AD200s set at 1/8 power. 1/8000th f2.0

In those instances where I want to place the v2.0 Strip close to the ground I will simply use a Godox S bracket as a base. This configuration will be perfect for dance shoots as fill lights or anytime you wish to place the units very low onto a flat surface.

Comparison

 SaberStrip v1.0SaberStrip v2.0w/2 eVOLVS and SS
LightFlashpoint Zoom R2Evolv200 
Flash weight17 oz31 oz 
Power levelFullFull 
Distance to Sekonic5 feet5 feet 
Shutter Speed1/100th1/100th 
Aperturef5.6f11f13
Time to Recycle6.8 sec1.57 sec 
Length of fabric29″29″ 
Width of fabric2.25″2.25″ 
Length of modifier38.5″34.75″ 
Diameter of modifier3.5″3.5″ 
Saberstrip Weight19 oz27 oz 

For me the most significant stats are the recycle time and power. It’s the very reason I stopped using my original speed light Strip, it just lacked power. And in my work a one second delay feels like 12 years. Human expressions change in a nanosecond and invariably it’s the money shot I wanted, but missed because the strobe was recycling. Two full stops and five seconds faster in recycle time makes this modifier an incredible tool.

The ‘tube’ freely rotates around the mount so it can easily and conveniently turn the fabric to any position needed. There’s also a very small 1/4 inch 20 screw hole in the ‘tractor tire’ housing. I’m not sure why the guy put one there but it’s damn convenient. I plan to place a female mounting stud in there so I can either mount the Strip with the built in male stud or a female one. It should be noted that if you place a long ¼ 20 screw into that hole it will stop the free rotation of the tube. So IF you are the anal type and want to lock down the tube’s rotation you can do that with this screw hole.

This coming weekend I have three personal project shoots and I plan to test the light quality and applications in those sessions. I’m not sure how many times the Strip v2.0 will be my key light, but now that the recycle times and the power available through this meets my needs I’m sure it will always be in my bag.

Having a stand, a strobe and a modifier all in one easy to transport package is great for run and gun shooting, especially outside in moderate to high wind. My preferred stand for these is the Neewer Light Stand, 114 inches/290 centimeters Stainless Steel Heavy Duty with 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch Universal Adapter. It has a removable spigot that can be configured for either a vertical or horizontal female mount which is perfect for the new Strips. They are well made, strong and inexpensive.

The number of ways to mount the Strip seems endless. My current favorite grip mount for the Strip is the Matthews Mini Grip Head. I modified it by drilling out one of the holes to 9/16th of an inch which fits the Strip’s 5/8th inch stud.

What I like:

  • High quality Construction
  • Built in male mounting stud
  • Ability to rotate the modifier around two axis
  • Accepts the Evolv200
  • Well balanced, having the strobe at the mounting end of the modifier
  • Very wind resistant
  • Will fit into very tight spaces

Improvements

  • Male stud needs to be the 5/8th inch size standard of all spigots
  • Wheel that attaches the strobe needs to have directional arrows.
  • Wheel needs to prevent over tightening

During the weekend of April 21st 2018 I had my first opportunity to use the v2 Sabers in studio. I wanted to determine if paring them in a horizontal way would give me the ring light type of affect. I’ve always loved the look of a ring light shot, but have been frustrated that the distance of the light to the talent is limited by the focal length of my lens. Using my ring light further away to compress the talent’s face meant that the light is also further away, causing a harsher look. But using two Strips horizontal to the ground with the ability to adjust the distance between them allows me to leave the light source close to the talent, yet move further back to use a longer focal length. Having my cake and eating it too is wonderful!

The images below show how this worked on Jessica and I’m very happy with the results. Shot with a 135mm prime lens.

The flexibility of being able to angle the pitch of the Strips and distance between them is wonderful. More control than a ring light. As a fill/rim light I have not experienced a better modifier. Reflectors make great fill or rim light modifiers, but I have always preferred strobes for that task. It allows me finer control of my fill light.

By changing the angle of the top Strip in the image of Jess with her arm above her head I am able to cast a bit of a shadow on her eyes while filling in under her eyes to prevent shadows. That flexibility allows me to create nuance shadow/highlights with the Strips.

Here I am using the Strips as a fill and rim light. All of these images are three light shots. My 10” Fresnel is the key light, a gobo modifier is used on a light to create pattern on the background and the Strip is used as a fill/rim light.

The control of the Strip as a fill light is quite lovely and can be used as subtle or as bold as you wish. Here are two more images I created using two SS’s in parallel as a ‘ring light’ but in my view with a much better result.

Erica is 50+ and just the use of a shallow DOF and the two SS lights produced this image WITHOUT the use of Photoshop.

Two SaberStrips v2.0

Three SaberStrips v2.0

Oh and large groups in moderate to strong wind? I was recently at a client to cover the high school musical awards and prior to the event kids assemble outside. It’s often a fun place to get group shots before the show. The issue is always crowded sidewalks and of course crazy high school kids. I shot this image with ONE SS and one eVOLV200 at HALF POWER. 

1/100th f5.0 ISO100, SS v2 is the modifier and the strobe is the AD200 set to half power. Can you say incredible? It’s crazy.

I recently visited Luna Cycle in El Segundo to do some documentary photography of the staff. In the vast majority of cases the SS were used due to their flexibility and light quality. As in my 29 Hands Exhibit I was able to use the SS to light the talent in places where it would be almost impossible to fit a modifier in the space I had available and achieve a quality of light I wanted. Below is an example of one of the shots.

This is the ‘natural light’ scene where I was to photograph one of the young ladies who performs logistics for Luna Cycle.

Removing some of the boxes and shooting the light through the bookcase produced the image and quality of light I was after.

My apologies as I know you won’t be able to ‘unsee’ the image that follows, but to date it illustrates the rim lighting capabilities of the Strip. During this session I was to shoot two Drag Queens. The fella on the left is 6-1 without heels and with his 4” heels it makes him 6-5! I used the Strip as a rim light and if you notice the illumination from head to toe it’s quite remarkable. Could this be accomplished with a gridded light? Of course it could. But due to the very slim shape of the Strip it allowed me to get as close to the back drape as possible keeping spill to a minimum and certainly much less than a softbox without a grid.

Outdoors with the Strip is quite good. It is ‘almost’ impervious to wind, high wind. It is more wind resistant than my go to outdoor modifier, the PCB Omni. The disadvantage is since the Strip uses the AD200 it is a full stop less powerful than the AD600 I use with the Omni or my Aputure Fresnel head. But to circumvent that disadvantage I often use two Strips as a key light when outdoors. And in those instances where I want a very large light source I use three Strips configured in a Y shape. I find it’s the equivalent to a 45” octa with 600ws of power. Ever use something that size out in moderate or high wind? And I use all three on a single stand.

My partner recently conducted a head shot session using two of the Strips. She used one as the key and the other as a rim light. It was very windy under the concrete bridge where she was shooting and the Strips barely wobbled. The light quality is excellent and easily replicated her preferred modifier, a Glow 36” Octa. But in that kind of wind, especially the gusts that occurred an octa would have been quite the handful. She does prefer the catch light of the octa, a personal preference to which many people may agree. I happen to feel that round catch lights are the default, yet in natural light a catch light is anything but round…..

As you can see the quality of light produced by the Strip is excellent. Two lights, both Strips. One as the key light the other as a rim light.

Is it the perfect modifier? Nope, but as of right now there is no perfect modifier. Just like there’s not a perfect camera, lens or person. Is it the most versatile modifier I currently own or use? YES! For me the v2 Saber Strips are revolutionary and I have not even scratched the surface of how they can be used. Thank goodness for the AD200 lights and Scott’s development to incorporate them into the Saber Strips! Scott has mentioned that the v2 versions which use the eVOLV200s will be available in late July 2018.

07 Oct 2018

Sur Ron Light Bee Review – Imported by Luna Cycle – Update October 7 2018

Update October 7 2018

A member on a Sur Ron group I belong to lost their key and had to have a new one made. They kindly listed the type of key blank their locksmith found which works so I’m listing it here. It’s an Ilco X121 DC3 key.

Update October 4 2018

Not really an update but as a photographer I just could not help myself to use some smoke, strobes and reflection for a portrait of my beloved Sur Ron I named “Wall-E.” Fun!

Bless my gf for helping me! She was in charge of hosing down the driveway for a reflective surface. And yes I shot it in daylight.

Smoke and I have a total love/hate relationship. It cannot be controlled outdoors so when the wind blows the wrong way…….

Ah sometimes the wind gods smile upon me. Two strobes, 1 smoke machine and a great gf who helped. Yeah I love this bike, I really do.

Update September 19 2018

I was made aware of a fender upgrade a fellow FB group member made to his bike using the Topeak DeFender FX Bicycle Fender he purchased. Although designed for use on the front of a MTB, he modified it to use as an inner fender to keep muck off of his rear shock linkage and shock. Although further down in this post I had done the same, I like the aesthetics of his better since it follows the line of the tire. Anyway I decided to purchase the same unit to improve the look of my beloved Sur Ron. And while doing so I made some modifications of my own….

For 14 bucks I converted the Toppeak front fender into a rear fender and inner fender.

As you can see the “front” of the Toppeak is about four inches longer than the stock Sur Ron rear “fender.” It should be enough to keep more mud and water off of my backside…. I used the stock fender as a template to cut the corresponding slots to fit the new fender to the seat. In addition I created two bolt holes to use with the seat studs in order to make the installation more secure than the stock unit. There is flex to the fender, just like the stock unit. It’s meant to protect my backside from muck and water, not to mount items.

My former inner fender which is a Honda MX mud flap. Worked really well, just prefer the lines of the new configuration.

The rear part of the Toppeak is what I used for the inner fender. It nicely follows the line of the tire and just if not more importantly offers better coverage for the rear linkage.

A from behind view of the fender hack.

I opted to modify the Toppeak’s bracket so that if I decide I want to go sans inner fender I can! And if for some reason the inner fender breaks I can just buy another Toppeak and replace my ‘inner fender’ with no effort at all.

 

Just pressing a button on the clip removes or installs the rear inner fender. Easy. And yes all you have to do is make a small aluminum bracket to hold the clip. It doesn’t rotate because the fender is butted up against the bracket.

Update September 13 2018

I have assembled a downloadable PDF that lists the equipment I’ve changed or added to my Sur Ron along with links to those items. You can download the v2.0 PDF here -> Sur Ron Modification parts v2.0

Sur Ron Seat

A few months ago I recall being very interested in the Sur Ron X that appeared on the Sur Ron China site. Two of the new improvements which were of particular interest to me; the X Controller with a Sine wave, regenerative braking and an improved seat. There were other new improvements which were of little interest to me. Subsequent to the announcement I happened to be one of the lucky 50 in the USA who obtained the X Controller and in my view it is all that it was touted to be.

I never heard anything more about the new and improved seat. So many of the people I converse with through a group complained about the OEM seat; too hard, too narrow, hurts the ass much more quickly than the battery runs dry. And to each of those complaints I wholeheartedly (or assly) agree. So I decided to purchase one of the $35.00 OEM seats Luna had listed on their site. My plan was to use the extra seat as a form for Corbin in Hollister, CA. I’ve used Corbin in the past for motorcycle seats and they are true craftsmen. So my thought was to take the seat down there and have them make a custom seat. I know it would not be inexpensive, but for me it would be worth the price.

When I got the OEM seat from Luna I wasn’t sure if it was wishful thinking and seeing, but it appeared that the new seat was thicker and of a slightly different shape than the one which came on my Sur Ron. “Naw Mark, you’re just wishful thinking……” or was I?

Hum…they look different….

Is it my imagination….?

So I decided to measure the seat, the width, the thickness and the shape. And guess what!!??? It is thicker and of a different shape. So I can only surmise that the new OEM seat being sold by Luna is the NEW X SEAT that comes on that model! YIPPEEE!

Nope it’s wider than the one that came on my bike and obviously a different shape too.

Definitely thicker too!

I wonder what this connector is for? GPS? The other two connectors are for the tail light.

The real test though was my seat of the pants test. By no means is this scientific, but according to my ass the seat is a HUGE IMPROVEMENT. I rode my normal route which is about 13 miles. Normally when I get home my ass is sore, specifically the part that is three inches on each side of my crack. It aches and if I continue to ride it becomes painful after about 10 more miles. So in those instances I take a break and get off the bike. With the new seat my anal cleft and surrounding fleshy parts didn’t hurt AT ALL after the 13 mile ride.

Will I have a Corbin Seat made now? Nope. This is the best 35 bucks I’ve spent on my Sur Ron. My ass thanks me and a happy ass means riding longer!

Update September 4 2018

OK so up front I want to say that what I install on my bike are almost always attachment points that are temporary and don’t alter the stock form of the Sur Ron. I don’t like to drill, grind or do anything to the body work or frame. It’s just my personal preference.

I use the following items only when I am riding on the street to run errands which makes the tedium of errands fun for me. But if I am riding on a bike path or exclusively off road I remove the turn indicator. Off road only I remove both which only takes about 3 minutes in total to remove or reinstall.

I use hand signals and eye contact when changing lanes or turning/stopping.

Having ridden motorcycles on the street I just don’t feel good about not watching what goes on behind me, especially at a stop sign or signal. So for me a mirror was a must for the street errands. The turn indicator was just something I found that seems ‘ok’ and was cheap and easy to install and uninstall. YMMV, but I thought I’d just pass this along.

This mirror is easily removable using a hex key. I replace it with a handlebar plug when riding only offroad.

This is NOT intended for DOT wired turn indicators! It is wireless and is recharged via USB. It is NOT that bright in full sunlight even though I have mounted it under the seat. At twighlight and the evenings it is plenty visable. I still use hand signals. One cool thing about this little gizmo is it ‘beeps’ when any of the lights (except for the bottom light) flash, much like in your car. To cancel the turn indicator, you just hit the button again.

Here is the wireless turn signal/emergency blinker control. It simply attaches to the handlebar via a rubber tension strap, better known as a rubber band. Although each button is illuminated in bright sunlight, don’t expect to see the illumination.

A 1/2 inch piece of flat aluminum bent in 90 degrees and attached using one of the two Sur Ron tail light screws. I can remove the light using its built in quick release for charging or when I am only riding offroad.

Update August 29 2018 – Luna Cycle Sur Ron Bash Guard

I recently purchased Luna’s custom fabricated bash guard for my bike. In the old days when I raced motocross and desert, in some of my bike’s configurations the exhaust header exited downward. In other cases they exited upward. So when I would land ‘wrong’ the bash plate would dent the header pipe and never crack the cases. Sure a bent header pipe is crummy, but much better than a cracked case with oil spilling out all over. As well as the inevitable wrenching and money.

But with the Sur Ron there aren’t any exhaust headers! But there is a bash plate. The stocker is made out of steel and by my mic measurements is 2.16mm thick weighing 0.8 pounds. It is also easy to flex both laterally and horizontally by hand. As of this writing I have NOT hit the stock bash guard hard enough to severely dent or bend the unit. What concerns me was just on the other side of the bash guard is the electric motor. And unlike the dirt bikes I’ve owned in the good old ‘vintage’ days bikes had double cradle tube frames which would somewhat protect the engine cases along with their bash guards, the Sur Ron does not. There is one tube that runs laterally under the engine, but that’s it.

So a direct hit with enough force onto the bash plate ‘may’ crack the engine case. I say ‘may’ because I don’t know for sure and certainly don’t want to test that theory! I am not an expert on stressing metal, so I have no expertise in that area. And how/where/what one strikes the bash plate with, along with how much force/weight will also determine a failure rate. That much I do know.

Luna’s custom stainless steel bash plate is just about the same thickness as the stocker in my measurements, 2.13mm. The weight is significantly different at 1.93 pounds, a full 1.13 pounds heavier than the stocker. Some of you may think “Well sure they added the right side engine protection panel.” True, but even though I didn’t measure its thickness, the side panel is definitely thinner than the actual bash plate. I’d estimate about half the thickness.

I was NOT able to flex the Luna guard at all by hand like I could with the stocker. I would estimate that the Luna model could easily take twice the impact of the stocker without bending. I have no idea how much force it would take to dent the Luna guard enough to damage the engine. Again that would depend on so many factors; the speed of impact, the concentration at the point of impact, the weight of the rider, on and on and on.

The Tig welds are well done and the shininess of the unit is less than I had anticipated. I contemplated painting the Luna guard black to match the bike, but after installation I’m not so sure. So I’ll leave it its native stainless for a bit and decide later.

Which leads me to…

Installation

You must reuse the fender nuts that are attached to the stocker. (Fender nuts is one of the terms for those types of nuts with housings) The bitch of the installation is the Luna guard is NOT extremely accurate in alignment with the attachment points. I installed three of the four bolts into the frame/fender nuts and DID NOT TIGHTEN THEM DOWN. I simply started the threads in each to hold their places. The first one was easy. The second on the same side (I started on the cool engine guard side, the right side) took me having to use an awl to line up the holes before inserting the bolt.

On the left side of the bike I had to do the very same awl alignment to insert the top screw. And then came the bottom left bolt…..resulting in Mark’s 6/10 cussing level of frustration. Huffing and puffing, cussing at Eric, cussing at the Sur Ron, cussing at life and FINALLY I lined up the holes and rushed to put the final bolt into the hole. Guess what? It slipped back. Fuck! But I finally got them all in.

I would have liked to see both sides of the engine protected. This side, the left side is where I often ground down the cases on my racing bikes. But heck I guess if I didn’t fall, I would not have needed a guard…LOL.

So do I think the Luna guard is worth the 85.00 plus shipping and tax? For me it is because I ride on paths, roads, off-road and in OHV parks. Considering a new stock engine for this thing is currently 650.00, 85.00 insurance is worth it to me. Would I buy the guard if I only road in the street or on paths…nope. Sure you can always hit the plate on a curb, but that seems unlikely.

I’m glad they made this, as I feel the engine has a better level of protection. Will I paint it black or remove it again? Doubtful…unless I feel like cussing some more! Hahahahaha.

Comparing the Sur Ron to KTMs and Altas

Recently I have seen and read articles written by a number of users comparing the Sur Ron to KTM gas 350s, Alta MXR electrics, and KTM SX-E Freerides electrics. They are entertaining to read and it led me to realize that the reason people are comparing a $3495.00 electric dirt bike to $8000+ motorcycles is because Sur Ron has developed a new segment in EV bikes. There really aren’t other bikes to compare it to. Sure there have been kids off road gas motorcycles for years. Heck we used them as pit bikes at Laguna, Thunderhill, Sears Point and Buttonwillow. (some of those track names have changed, but I refuse to use them…LOL) The closest bikes like the Neematic, The CAKE are currently all vaporware AND TWICE TO THREE TIMES THE PRICE OF THE SUR RON!

A guy named Grantland contacted me to ask if he could try my Sur Ron. I NEVER let people ride my motorcycles, but made an exception for him since he was seriously considering purchasing his own. Like me he had only read about them which doesn’t really prepare you for what it’s like to ride one. And just as important to see the build quality of the unit. His question to me through his excited grin after his test ride, “Mark, why doesn’t everyone own one? OMG they are great!”

Yeah I know……he bought his own too.

Chain Info

Adam Emanuel Brennan posted this valuable Sur Ron chain length information for various sprocket sizes:

104 links 42T
106 links 48T
108 links 52T
112 links 58T

Thank you Adam!

I can verify that the RK 420 chain 110 link, fits the Sur Ron sprocket well. I purchased this chain to use with the Super Moto with pedal kit rather than the chain Luna Cycle provides with the SM kit.  The SM kit does NOT anticipate being used with the pedal kit option. Also the cost of the chain (because it is not an o ring chain) is very inexpensive. I plan to purchase another one to use with a chain breaker if I need additional links for other applications.

Luna Cycle Sur-Ron Super Moto Conversion Kit Review

I recently purchased the optional Moto Kit from Luna. I like the option to change the personality of this fantastic bike from dirt to street. For $419.95 excluding tax and shipping I felt it to be a crazy good deal. It’s supplied with tires, rims, and spacers for the front rim, a rear sprocket and 203mm brake rotors on both wheels. They also include a chain to fit the 42t sprocket that comes with the set. Having purchased motorcycles and their associated parts my entire life, I estimate that this ‘ready to go kit’ would have cost me around 700 bucks if I assembled it myself. Not to mention the time it would take me to research where/what/how to source all of the stuff. So I made the plunge since it was a no brainer….

Installation

It’s pretty straight forward with a few caveats which will depend on how your Sur Ron is set up. On mine I have the pedal kit installed and for many personal reasons I love it. BUT the chain supplied with the Moto Kit does NOT contemplate having a pedal kit installed. It’s short by about two 420 chain links. The reality is no one but I will probably want the pedal kit installed with the Moto Kit. But for any other oddball who have the pedals, be forewarned that the supplied chain won’t fit. I didn’t try the stock chain to see if it would fit, but it may…..hum.

The rims size for both front and rear are 17” compared to the 19” stockers. It makes the profile of the bike shorter. Because of that the kickstand props the bike much more vertical than with the stock 19ers. Just keep that in mind. The kickstand still works well, but you’ll need to be mindful of where/what /how you park the bike because of the increase in vertical angle.

The other factor to be aware of is the tires come deflated, unlike the knobby tires that came on my bike. I measured tire pressure of 5 PSI for both the front and rear tires before I installed them onto the bike. In the package with the chain are two spacers for the front rim/tire combination. Others have said theirs came zip tied to the rim. For the rear rim/tire you simply reuse the stock rear wheel spacers.

My front tire was manufactured in March 2017 according to the tire’s date of manufacture mark.

Inflation recommendation for the front is 32 PSI measured while the tire is cold.

My rear tire was manufactured in August 2017

Recommended tire pressure is 36 PSI measured while the tire is cold.

Something I noticed after installing the rear rim/tire is the brake line is way too close to the tire/rim. I believe this is due to the smaller diameter of the rim over the stock 19ers.

Resolving this is very simple, just use a zip tie to attach the brake line to the swing arm and it’s all sorted.

Riding and Performance

Once everything was installed I took my bike out for a test ride. Because my former team mates and I  installed racing slicks and new brake pads every race, I’m familiar with how to bed in brake pads and new rubber. BE VERY CAREFUL when you go out for your first run. The pads on your bike are bedded for the 19 inch discs and need to be re bedded to the new Moto rotors. Lightly press on each brake as you ride. Heating pad/disc evenly is important to obtain a great bite and feel on brakes. Also the whole thing you see where people are ‘weaving ‘back and forth does not break in tires. Accelerating and braking is what does. Don’t  go full bore and then slam on the brakes. Get up to about 30 MPH, then gently squeeze the brakes which will heat up the carcass of the tire to remove any molding release agents. Keep doing that for about 20 repetitions and remember that the edges of your tires must be warmed as well.

The ride of the Moto kit is remarkable. It’s so much smoother than the stock knobbies, which they should be! It may be my imagination but the rate of acceleration with the Moto kit ‘feels’ stronger, perhaps due to my removal of the pedal kit. I did NOT attempt to corner like I did on a racetrack, getting my knee down in turns! The Sur Ron is NOT a sport bike by any means, but I believe this kit was developed to modify the bike into a super motard type of ride. So yes I did power slide the rear end like a super motard is meant to do. We use to call that ‘backing it in’ and it felt controlled and stable. Who’s this kit for? I believe people who will primarily ride their Sur Ron on the street, obviously. And for those folks this is a great way to transform an already remarkable piece of hardware into a fun street hooligan … and for not much cash.

X Controller Update 8-18-18

So today I opted to remove my moped plate and ride as an “ebike” to visit Joe and Luis, the two fellas of Motostrano in Redwood City. Motostrano is where I purchased my Haibike Fullnine RC “Sofia” as I named her back in 2016. And yes I still ride her regularly, she’s not to be ignored…LOL. I wanted to ride to Joe’s shop in a combination of bike path/on public roads to see how the X performs in regenerative braking and charging. Unlike my prior test the Sur Ron was fully charged to 100%. When Wall-E is fully charged I always start off in EP mode. Why? Well I am aware that the X controller does not have the ability to discontinue regenerative charging during deceleration even if the battery is at 100% capacity. This ‘could‘ damage the battery, the engine or both. So I travel about 2-3 miles in EP mode to bring the charge down to 95-97% just to play it safe.

Today’s combined dirt/public road journey was 15.9 miles round trip with a top speed of 38 MPH. Both of those stats are from the Sur Ron display since I did not use the GPS app on my phone. The route I took today was relatively flat as well. At no time did I use full throttle during this ride.

One of the things I noticed about riding on the street is I tend to NOT rush toward a stop and then chop the throttle. So getting off the throttle smoothly and early resulted in me slowing down much more quickly and well before the intersections. I had to give a little throttle to reach the intersections! LOL This indicated to me just how strong the X’s engine braking affects the bike. I was riding on the stock tires as I have not yet changed to the Moto kit.

Upon returning home my battery indicated a remaining charge of 61%. I’ll continue to post my finding about the X and the Sur Ron.

Sur Ron X Controller Review 8-17-18

This will be an ongoing post for the X Controller. I was completely intrigued by the Luna Cycle X Controller, especially after Matt Richard’s video review of the unit. I respect Matt and his reviews so I ordered one right away. Apparently Luna had only 50 of the controllers. Sur Ron is hesitant to import more to the USA for reasons unknown to me. At the time of this post they are currently sold out of the units and don’t have an ETA or when or if they will return.

Matt also created an installation video of the X Controller which is excellent. I did not follow his instructions to flip the bike upside down, but instead decided to leave the bike upright on a rear tire stand. I just felt it was a better solution for me.

One of the steps I feel is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY whether or not you keep your bike upright or on its back is to remove the battery. You will be disconnecting the main wiring of the controller and motor so you certainly do NOT want anything to arc or short out.

Almost all of the terminal connections on the X are the same as on the stock controller with the exception of one of the connectors. On the stock controller the smallest connector is not connected to anything and contains a blank socket. On the X controller there is a small triangular shaped connector that will not be connected to anything. I surmise that it may be for a future upgrade from Sur Ron. I simply placed electrical tape over the socket to try to prevent any moisture/debris from entering.

The Red, Green, Yellow, Positive and Negative terminal are clearly marked on the X Controller.

X is on the right, the stock controller is on the left

The X controller with the small triangular plug which does not connect to anything

The stock controller’s small non connected plug with a blank inserted.

I taped over the X controller’s triangular plug.

All buttoned up and ready for the test ride.

Performance

Luna makes the following claims for the new X Controller

  • 25% increased power from the stock controller
  • 10% increase in top speed
  • Smoother, more linear power band
  • Regenerative braking.
  • ($220 trade in for old sur ron controller)
  • Plug and play installation (max 20minutes)

So let’s take these one at a time….

25% increased power from the stock controller – TRUE

Because I have no ability to test the increase in power on a dyno (nor do I think anyone has as of this writing) I cannot say objectively that the increase is specifically 25%. What I can say and attest to is my seat of the pants experience. Prior to the X I had installed the 60t Luna sprocket. Prior to its installation, I was happy, but not thrilled with the torque of the Sur Ron. It was good, but I wanted more grunt down low for the type of riding I enjoy. Installing the 60t over the stock 48t provided me with the amount of low end grunt I wanted. Sure I lost about 15 MPH of top end, but my riding is primarily in the dirt on climbs and so losing the top end didn’t bother me much. Instead of the claimed 45 MPH I could only attain 42 MPH according to the Sur Ron display. LOL, as if 42 MPH on a 110 pound bike is slow, yeah right.

I had the 60t sprocket installed on my bike when the X arrived. After installation I took it for a test spin. Holy Shit! The increase in power of the X combined with the 60t sprocket was too much for my taste. Now some will ask “How can too much power be a bad thing?” I’m all about control of power, not brute power. So I switched back to the 48t and thought “OMG this is the PERFECT combination for me, the torque of the 60t with the top end of the stock sprocket.” So my seat of the pants assessment, absolutely it has a 25% increase. Maybe more like a 30% seat of the pants increase.

10% increase in top speed – TRUE

I have the pedal kit installed so I feel that the extra drag created by that kit reduces the actual top speed compared to a non-pedal kit bike. Before installing the X I could attain 42 MPH. With the X I could achieve 47 MPH. That’s a 12% increase. I have started to use a phone app that tracks speed using GPS positioning. At the time I saw 47 MPH on the Sur Ron’s display my GPS app showed 43 MPH. So the Sur Ron’s may be off a bit, but that does not mean the top speed didn’t increase with the X.

Smoother, more linear power band – TRUE

For me this may be the best part of the X. Prior to it, whenever I started increasing the throttle the bike would slightly ‘lurch’ forward. Not dangerously so, but it would not be smooth. And I have always prided myself on great throttle control skills based on my race training. With the X controller, taking off from a dead stop is now like a fine car….smooth as silk. And the power curve? Again, no dyno, but seat of the pants assessment is it is linear all the way up to about 80% of maximum throttle. That is where the power levels off. It does not shut down completely; it’s just not ‘pulling’ strongly at that point. The stock controller has a big initial jump, then levels off at about 30% throttle, and levels off again toward 75%. It becomes completely flat after that.

Why is smooth linear power so important to me? Well I ride single-track and places where there is loose gravel or dirt on top of hard pack. And when there is pavement it is often covered with silt or dirt. Getting on the pipe when on surfaces like this can lead to the rear end sliding, overshooting a turn, a myriad of unexpected stuff if throttle input is not smooth. Imagine having an early generation turbo engine or a two stroke bike. There is a flat spot and then all of a sudden the power comes on. This is an exaggeration of the stock Sur Ron, but it helps illustrate the difference between stock and the X. Throttle input is strong, smooth and predictable with the X. Much more so than with the stock controller.

In some ways I feel that presents a safer situation than the stock controller, ESPECIALLY the stock controller paired with the 60t sprocket. Because the power delivery is much more abrupt with the stock one, the torque hit of the 60t can be surprising. This is NOT to say the stocker is dangerous, just less predictable than the X. Enough said.

Regenerative braking – TRUE

I’m going to combine regenerative braking and engine braking here which is something Luna does not mention. In terms of engine braking for those who have not ridden a regular 4 stroke motorcycle, imagine you’re driving your car. You are approaching a stop light and remove your foot from the accelerator. At that very instant you shift your automatic transmission to “N” for Neutral. What you would feel is the car NOT slowing down, but coasting fast, much faster than you want. THAT is how the stock Sur Ron feels with the normal controller, no engine braking. Basically the compression of gasoline powered cylinders doesn’t slow you down, which is the nature of electric motors. NOW with the X – that feeling, that physical action of engine braking HAPPENS.

What it creates is a more ‘natural’ feeling, one most of us associate when we lift/turn our throttles off, not coasting, but SLOWING. The X accomplishes that in spades. On downhill sections, approaching a stop; letting off the throttle SLOWS YOU DOWN without the need to apply the brakes.

Doing so then regenerates the battery pack. I did not measure the voltage (like Matt demonstrates in his great video) during my tests. BUT what was apparent is on the very same 17.4 mile loop going approximately the same speeds, in the same wind/topography conditions – here are my very unscientific battery readings:

Stock Controller:

  • 100% charge at start
  • 17.4 mile loop
  • 3 miles of full throttle
  • Combination of dirt/pavement riding
  • Battery reading upon returning home: 48%

X Controller:

  • 96% charge at start
  • 17.4 mile loop
  • 3 miles of full throttle
  • Combination of dirt/pavement riding
  • Battery reading upon returning home: 52%

 

($220 trade in for old sur ron controller) – Unknown but TRUE

I have not sent mine in, so I cannot attest to this being true. HOWEVER I have NO DOUBT that Luna honors what it says. And what for me is even more important? Honoring early adopters by offering a trade in amount….unheard of in my world! Bravo!

Plug and play installation (max 20 minutes) – Nope not for me!

So Matt’s video shows him installing the X with little to NO issues. Well…. That’s fine for him, but not for me. I had a hell of a time removing the wiring connectors from the neck of the bike. Yes I removed the tip over switch bracket, but the damn horn was in the way. And when I tried to unloosen the hex bolt to the horn bracket it was so tight I just gave up!  So I pushed the horn to one side and was finally able to work the wiring connections free from the neck of the bike. Whew! In total it took me about an hour to complete the job. And my cussing scale was 8/10, mostly at Matt for making it look so fucking easy! LOL

This is certainly not my last or only post about the X. It will be ongoing as will my experience with the Sur Ron. I do NOT want anyone to get the impression that the bike is shit without the X! Far from it. The Sur Ron is a REMARKABLE bike, an INCREDIBLE value. The X Controller takes it to a different level in terms of smoothness, power, engine braking, and regenerative charging for 270.00 with the 220.00 trade in! Insane!

Unfortunately as I write this they are sold out. And Luna has stated that they are unsure if Sur Ron will supply more of them to the US. If true that’s sad because it’s wonderful upgrade to an already incredible machine. IF they are offered again, don’t be ‘that person’ and ‘wait’ just buy one!

Update August 13 2018

Just having some fun with the E Lime Bikes in my neighborhood!

I belong to a small Sur Ron Light Bee group and wrote up how to bleed the brake system on the bike. I debated over posting it here, but decided that some may want to know. So here you go!

Bleeding Sur Ron Brakes

  • My GF: “Babe I made you some lunch…wait what are you doing? I thought you JUST worked on your brakes!”
  • ME: “Yeah I did but that guy Matt wanted to know how to do it so I told him I’d post a how to.”
  • My GF: “You must really like this guy!”
  • Me: “He’s the one with that adorable little daughter.”
  • My GF: “Ah no wonder you’re doing this. OK lunch is ready.”

First and foremost I HATE when people try to tell me how to do something. Or worse they feel THEIR WAY is the BEST WAY. So I’m posting this to tell you how I do it. How you do it is up to you.

If you don’t want to do a full bleed, a simple way I maintain my brakes is to just remove the top mushroom screw, insert the plastic syringe into the hole, fill it about halfway with oil and pump the lever. As time goes on the bubbles move upward toward the brake lever and they’re easy to remove with this method. Up to you. Just be sure to adjust your brake lever so that it’s level to the ground and you’ve turned your handlebars so that the respective lever is higher than the lowest part of the brake line. 

Here is the kit I purchased to work on my MTB and Sur Ron brakes:

The Locktite isn’t included nor are the brake olives in the upper right hand corner of the shot.

I always remove the brake pads from the calipers no matter what I’m working on. Dirt bikes, MTB bikes, on road race bikes. I never want any contamination of the fluids to hit the pads or rotors.

  • Step one is to remove calipers from the fork leg and the rear swing arm. I think it’s a 5mm hex but I can’t remember. Easy.
  • Remove the pads from the calipers. Just use a number 15 Torx and unscrew the pin that holds the pads in the caliper. You’ll need to remove the small retaining safety clip on the end of that threaded pin. BE SURE TO INSERT A BRAKE PAD BLOCK INTO THE CALIPER!

Unlike motorcycle master cylinders the Sur Ron’s are tiny. Hence they use tiny screws too. On motorcycles I would draw the fluid from the top down. With the Sur Ron I push fluid from the bottom up. I like it better since it moves air bubbles up rather than down.

Here I have installed the bleeding nipple before attaching the hose on the front caliper. Where the bleed nipple is is where the tiny Torx 15 bolt normally resides on both calipers. Besides the pin that holds in the brake pads, it’s the only other Torx head bolt.

The threaded syringe and hose as I push fluid up to the brake lever. You can see the location of the teeny Torx 15 screw in the calipers here. It’s where I’ve inserted a bleed nipple, directly opposite of the brake line. You can also see that I’ve inserted a brake pad block into the caliper. It’s the red plastic thing.

  • Pick which brake you want to bleed first. Loosen the brake handlebar 5mm bolt and adjust the lever so that it is level with the ground. You should turn the handlebar to the right all the way if you’re working on the left brake. This will allow the brake line to be as high as possible.
  • In this case go to the back caliper and remove the teeny tiny 15 Torx screw which is the ‘bleed’ screw. Don’t worry if mineral oil starts to leak out. Place one of the threaded hose fittings (the one that fits from the kit I use) into the bleed port on the caliper. Attach the hose. Fill the syringe ¾ of the way with mineral oil and attach it to the fitting.
  • Undo the very small mushroom screw and place an empty syringe into the opening. Be careful to notice if the rubber washer is on the screw or left in the threaded hole. Place the non-threaded syringe into the hole.

The larger mushroom head screw is the one you remove to add or remove the oil.

  • Go back to the caliper and start compressing the syringe with the ¾ amount of oil. You will see the syringe on the brake handle start to fill and you will see bubbles too. That’s what causes the mushy feeling when you brake. Stop when you have about ¼ inch of mineral oil left in the caliper syringe.

The brake lever filling with oil as I push it from the caliper. This is the non threaded syringe from the kit I use.

  • Then pull the oil back through the line by drawing the caliper syringe back until the one on the brake handle is about 4mm from the bottom. Reverse the procedure and again push the mineral oil back into the line.
  • Doing this removes more bubbles than just doing it once. Once that’s done place the pushing rod slightly into the top of the brake lever syringe. Not too much, it’s just to keep the fluid from flowing out of the caliper fitting once you remove that syringe.
  • Remove the syringe, nipple and replace the bleed bolt.
  • Use the caliper syringe to suck out the majority of fluid out of the brake handle syringe after removing its plunger.
  • Replace the mushroom bolt, do NOT over tighten.
  • Wipe down everything with a rag and alcohol. (Not the kind you drink) The caliper, the brake handle, anything that has oil on it.
  • Remove the brake pad block and reinstall the brake pads and be sure to align the spreading spring properly as to NOT be in front of the brake pads.
  • Reinstall the caliper. I use Blue Loctite on the threads.
  • Remove the mushroom screw and reinsert the plastic syringe without its plunger.
  • Fill it halfway with mineral oil.
  • Pump the handle. This is to remove any remaining bubbles. If some remain, you will see them rise up from the brake handle. Do this for about three minutes.
  • Reinstall the mushroom screw and adjust your brake lever to where you like the angle.

This is the distance from the handlebar grip where I want my brakes to start having hard resistance. I want NO mushy feeling when I get to this point. Bleeding the air out of the lines resolves this for me. In case you’re wondering I safety wire my grips. Old habits die hard. And I’ve switched to Scott grips, I loved them on my motocross bikes.

The brake levers are also adjustable for reach, although it may not be readily apparent. Using a 2mm hex wrench you can adjust the reach to be further or closer to the handlebar with this small screw:

Update August 11 2018

I recently purchased and am awaiting the Super Moto kit from Luna Cycle. I have also changed from the 60t sprocket back to the stock 48t sprocket since I have also ordered the new X Controller which offers more torque, top speed, engine braking and regenerative charging! During the sprocket change I noticed that the pedal kit I have installed was coming apart. The pedal kit is the weakest link in the build quality of the Sur Ron and is actually a poor build. It is basically a tube that gets bolted to the frame. A rod runs through the tube and is held in place by two screwed in caps on each end. No bearings, no shims, just a hole on each side. The sprocket itself that turns does have a bearing. But because the end caps are just ‘large threaded washers’ the play of the rod is quite large. What this means is that the chain tension varies as the pedal sprocket turns because the rod has so much free play. Much like a motorcycle whose sprockets or chain are worn, the tension varies depending on where the pedal kit through rod is in its varied position. Not good.

When I got my bike which had the pedal kit installed, I noticed that the chain tension was very tight. MUCH tighter than I’d ever have on my motorcycles. I had read and been advised by other owners of the Sur Ron that the bike didn’t need to have chain slack like a regular motorcycle. The opinion of one owner: “Because of the jack shaft, the chain tension does not change through the entire motion of swing arm travel. Thus the chain can be tight and it will keep it from flapping. The fact that there is no chain guide confirms this. I run my SurRon snug and my motorcycles proper loose.”

Well intended, but what I found in my actual experience is by loosening the chain to allow play of about a 1/2 inch either up or down in the middle of the chain, it provided me with seat of the pants torque equivalent to the 60t sprocket compared to the stock 48! Yes THAT LARGE OF A DIFFERENCE.  Better acceleration, higher top end, just by allowing more play in the chain than it’s been since delivery. Whether or not the ‘jack shaft’ location has anything to do with the chain becoming more tight or more loose as the swing arm compresses, my recommendation is that having some play in your chain is well worth trying. Some without the pedal kit installed recommend 5/8″ play. Your own mileage may vary, but give it a try.

For the poorly designed and executed pedal kit; I may look into bearings which will fit the ID of the pedal tube and the OD of the shaft. That would solve the poor tolerance issues.

Update August 8 2018

Luna Cycle asked Matt Richards to test their new X Controller for the Sur Ron. This is the YouTube video which show the results which are very impressive. It is expected to be released by Luna later this month. Once I have the chance to test the controller I will post my findings here. Stay tuned, but this bike just gets better and better and better! I have begun to use my Sur Ron on the street since it is now licensed and insured as a moped in California. Formerly mundane errands are now fun not to mention saving wear and tear on my car. Make no mistake, my primary use for the Sur Ron is off-road and now with a valid CA Plate it is legal at all CA OHV parks too! To have it serve as a dual sport electric bike is incredible!

I have also ordered Luna’s Sur-Ron Super Moto Conversion Kit which will be delivered later this month. I plan a full test and review on that road option as well.

Update July 11 2018

My motorcycle pal Chris sent me this screen grab of an article about the evolution of technology and how that relates to motorcycles and now ebikes. Very cool that it specifically mentions the Sur Ron Light Bee.

Update July 9 2018

Not really an update on the bike, but had fun jumping Wall-E yesterday until something went wrong that I cannot remember because I got knocked out for 45 seconds. And for those who think I’m silly to have mounted a first aid kit to the front forks, this is the reason why. Not my first concussion on a bike, but the first for the Sur Ron. At least I didn’t get airlifted to a trauma center after crashing at 145 MPH in turn 10 at Thunderhill Raceway! LOL. No one saw the actual crash, but I must have gone over the bars. The only damage really was the right foot pedal arm got a bit bent and the right bracket of the Fisher FabHouse headlight got a bit tweaked. Other than that no damage. I think that because the mass of the Sur Ron is so low (110 pounds) damage is low during a crash. Kinda like when I crash my mountain bike, little damage occurs….

I certainly look much worse than the bike…thank goodness as I was too handsome anyway! LOL!!!!!

The morning after…..kinda stung when washing these road rash sections in the shower… Oh and using my face to stop seemed like a good idea…NOT!

My forearm smarts the most…..

Update July 8, 2018

When I was riding street bikes one of the most used features of the tank bag on my bikes were the bungee cords on the top of the tank bag. It was so convenient to shove my gloves under the little black cords or clothing I wanted to shed when the weather turned warm. So I decided to fabricate something similar on my Sur Ron (Wall-E as he’s been named….)

The tough part was figuring out how to mount everything. My workflow is to NOT permanently alter things by drilling or cutting native materials. Wall-E’s ‘tank’ is plastic and I could have easily placed eye hooks through the plastic by drilling into the cover and bolting the other end from the inside. But I opted instead to use hooks to secure the bungee cords. The first issue I had is what the hell are those flat kinda hooks called? Well they’re known as ‘gutter hooks’ and I found the ones I needed through Wolfman luggage. (The same company who I purchased an off road tank bag for Wall-E BTW) Then in examining the slope and angle of Wall-E’s battery cover, I determined that I’d need to secure the top gutter hooks to the plastic by using some sort of tensioning strap. I decided upon some Reusable Fastening Cable Straps off of Amazon specifically the 18” one. I bought the bungee cord and tightening lock from REI.

I simply ran four zip ties through the gutter hooks and then crossed the bungee through the zip ties. I had originally thought about just running the bungee through the gutter hook slots, but they are too narrow and would not allow the bungee to smoothly slide. On the back gutter hooks, I securely attached two other zip ties to keep the ones I used for the bungee cord from moving back and forth.

The Pepsi can is just for size reference….although I could carry a can of beer…..hum….

No problem lifting the cover.

Here you can see where the gutter hooks are located and secured.

I also added those Flappy Strap Holder Clips by Wolfman to hold my USB cable or my rear view mirror armband.

My armband rear view mirror. I just leave it here when I’m not using it…..

Just a handy place to keep my USB cable too.

What I really like about this set up is that I can still see the battery indicator and lift the plastic cover to remove the battery if needed. And since it’s always on Wall-E if I stop somewhere to grab a sandwich, or need to shed clothing I can simply stuff it under the bungee contraption……score! And a final convenience is I can leave this on the bike even when I’m using my Wolfman tank bag! (I have a photo of that bag and a link to it down toward the bottom of the post.)

Update: July 1 2018

I have installed the Fisher Fab House Ultra 3200 headlight and written my review of the product in this post

Update: June 27 2018

This posting appears with my permission on ElectricMotorcycle.com

Today I installed the Luna Cycle 60t stainless steel sprocket. My desire for more lower end torque over top end prompted me to purchase one of Eric’s units. Went on easy as can be. My only concern is that the included chain extension takes the chain adjusting screws to almost the end of their reach. Not a big deal, but I will probably remove a link to keep the rear axle in the middle of the adjustment range. The added torque down low changes the personality of the Sur Ron more to my personal taste. Exiting a corner and the ability to climb steep hills has always been good, but now it’s great!

Tonight I wanted to see just how much the 60t sprocket reduced my top speed. (like I need ANY excuse to ride Christy!) Luna states that it will max out the top end at 28MPH. Another user stated he obtained a top speed of 32 MPH. Tonight I got 36 MPH measured via a GPS app on flat ground. The hill climbing with the larger sprocket is incredible especially for a bike this small and this light. For what I use my bike for anything over 30 MPH is plenty. My top track speed on my RC51 was 168 MPH so if I want top end I’ll ride that bike! LOL

I’m not sure what the angle degree it is to get up to this spot, but it’s easily over 30 degrees. No question if the Sur Ron would climb this hill, not even a slight hesitation. Remarkable.

 

I am pleased with the modifications I’ve done to my Sur Ron. I added a First Aid kit to the front. Why? If you’ve never crashed while riding alone in a remote area then you have no experience in being injured and alone. Enough said. I continue to be impressed with the Sur Ron and plan to mount the 60t rear sprocket I purchased from Luna next week. Don’t need top end, need more torque…. Stay tuned. The fenders work very well to keep mud from being flung onto the controller and the rear linkage and shock body. One definite improvement I’d like to see either Sur Ron or a third party make happen…a better seat! I tend to ride an average of 20-25 miles at a time and man my ass hurts! I’m not a big fella nor do I have a big ass, but the seat makes my ass hurt. Even when I wear bike shorts with padding! And if you think it’s because I have a peddle kit, think again grasshopper! LOL

Original Post

Before…. (stock)

After….(my mods to make her my own)

I realize this is my photography site. But I like to post things I’m passionate about and two wheeled vehicles DEFINITELY fit in that category. They have occupied my thoughts and activities my entire life. So for you photographers looking for my latest assessment of a strobe, modifier or something similar, keep moving along. And for the two wheel crowd who are visiting and wondering WTF is a photographer doing posting about the Sur Ron Light Bee on this site? Life isn’t about just one thing is it? And like my photography posts this is all about Paying it Forward. The experiences I’ve had and the modifications I’ve made to “Christy” are to enhance my use of the Light Bee and may not apply to your needs/uses. But if some of what I’ve done helps others, so much the better.

Some Background

So before getting into my impressions of the build quality, performance and value of the Light Bee and Luna Cycle’s customer service, I’m going to post a bit of my background. I’ve ridden two wheeled motorized vehicles almost all of my life. I’ve raced motocross, TT and long haul desert events. Saddleback Park (RIP), Barstow to Vegas twice, Carlsbad, and Indian Dunes were just a few of the places my dirt bike days covered. Roger De Coster, Brad Lackey, Charlie Bower were my dirt bike heroes. I owned a Yamaha DT125,  a Penton 125, a Bultaco Pursang (250) and a Maico 250 with leading link front forks. On road courses I campaigned a Honda RC51 1000cc vtwin. I belonged to Keigwins at the Track and was one of their original instructors. Laguna Seca, Buttonwillow, Thunderhill and Sears Point were our venues for both track days and training racetrack tactics.

Clockwise, upper left: Me in turn 5 at Laguna Seca, Keigwins at the Track original coach/team members Center, me as a 15 year old desert racer in Barstow, CA (with hair no less!) lower left, me at Thunderhill Raceway turn 2 during a student demo using ‘illegal’ knee sliders with titanium chips to make those sparks…which started an infield fire! Lower right, me and Ginny goofing off for a student demonstration on her Yamaha pit bike heading down to turn 10 at Thunderhill.

As I aged I finally surmised I’d never contend in World Superbike and felt that my reaction times had gotten to the point where I may endanger my fellow racers so I stopped racing. Chasing a mid-level AMA racer and crashing in turn three at Laguna and then a helicopter ride to the Enloe Trauma Center in Chico after crashing at Thunderhill Raceway convinced me. I still did track time for a year and a half after that chopper ride though…..

And street riding, well I loved it in the early days, but after 28,000 miles of track riding/racing it just no longer appealed to me. So I got into mountain biking because I missed the ‘offroad life’ and bought a Specialized Hard Tail with Rock Shock forks. It was sure fun, but I missed the tinkering and fabricating a ‘real’ motorized two wheeled ride offered me. So I began looking into eMTBs and bought a Haibike Fullnine RC in 2016 from Motostrano in Redwood City. I’ve written a post about my experience with “Sofia” in another post on this site. You can read that here.

I wanted a ‘bit more’ in terms of speed and power so I started researching other ebikes. Not necessarily legal either…. I found two possible bikes, one made right here in San Francisco called The Bolt (which has now changed to Monday Motorbikes and they have moved to SoCal). At the time it was not really available for sale. I’m not sure if it is now since their website is not very clear about sales only preorders. And I could find very little non marketing material by real users of the bike. Plus the bike is really designed for street riding. And if I’m going to do that I would just use my now street legal RC51. But again, I’m not keen on street riding anymore. ESPECIALLY with all of the fuck heads who think texting is OK because they can multi task. Bullshit. Let’s play slap face texting. You text on your fucking phone while I slap your face and let’s see just how quick you can react to block my hand. Enough said.

The other bike that was VERY intriguing to me is the Neematic. A trellis frame, 50MPH top end and ‘seems’ well built. But at 8500 Euros and still vaporware I didn’t have much hope for the bike actually being produced in quantities that would actually hit US shores. And as of this blog post (June 2018) I still cannot determine if it’s being produced. And no actual user reviews of the unit…..bad. Not really much new marketing materials either…..suspicious.

I cannot recall how I happened upon the Sur Ron Firefly as it was called when I first happened upon it. But I sure as hell am glad I did!

The Meat and Potatoes

OK so like you I searched a LOT on Google about the Sur Ron. Lots of video reviews were done and the ones I especially appreciated are from Homes Hobbies on YouTube. John (ahem he must get a LOT of shit about his name…LOL!) has such informative and useful information I highly respect his channel. The other resource I found helpful is by Sur-RonUSA and I’ve followed several of his recommendations on my own bike. I also researched Luna Cycle and had originally planned on flying down to LAX to visit their location. I grew up not far from LAX (Crenshaw) and know right where El Segundo is, but after reading TONS of information about the Sur Ron I opted to nix that idea. Why? Because reviews from actual users about both Luna and the Sur Ron convinced me to just pull the trigger. Eric and his crew at Luna seem like no nonsense, no bullshit fellas, the kind I like. As a matter of fact Eric reminds me of Paul Buff, a guy who doesn’t give a good hot shit about what established makers think of what he’s doing. He seem to only care about innovation and quality, much like Paul (may he rest in peace). And like Paul he has built his own company albeit a bit smaller and younger than PCB.

I can tell that Luna is a young and growing firm, having the same growing pains all young companies experience. But what instilled trust in me parting with 3500.00 USD plus tax and shipping was the level of response I received from his crew. And the other web posts that talked about his other products, those developed well before he became the sole US distributor for the Sur Ron. His video on the teardown of a Sur Ron was the final selling point. Having wrenched on Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki motorcycles has shown me how brands stand above and beyond each other. Small things like bosses welded into frame points rather than loose connectors are the small things that show build quality. The video and the fella’s comments illustrated that. And when I received my own Sur Ron I confirmed the quality of the build. It’s a Honda level quality build and that’s saying a fucking ton.

Shortly after I made my purchase I noticed that Luna had discounted the pre orders by 200.00. I wrote to them to ask if I could get that price. They responded immediately that my account was credited 250.00 for any future purchases. Again, excellent customer service, well done and timely.

Luna shipped my bike via FedEx Freight which is different than the way I normally received FedEx packages. I was told from Luna that the driver would contact me via phone to confirm a date/time when my bike would be delivered. As I waited for the day my bike showed it was to be delivered, I received no call. And their website never showed “Out for Delivery.” So I called FedEx and was transferred from the number I normally call to their Freight division. I was pissed when I was told that the bike which showed it was to be delivered on a Friday would not be delivered until the following Wednesday. As a young man I had the patience of a teenage male’s stiff dick and as a more elderly person now I have a little more patience….of a 28 year old hard on! LOL!!! Just be aware that when you get notification from Luna that FedEx has picked up your bike, CALL FedEx Freight. Their number is 866-393-4585, don’t call their normal package delivery number. Don’t just trust their website, call!

My Sur Ron was well packaged and included the installed Pedal Kit which I had ordered. As a matter of fact had Luna not offered the pedal kit I would not have purchased the unit. In reality the pedals don’t really do much to propel the bike forward. And of all the elements on the bike the rotating spline on the pedal kit is the weakest link. It is not well machine and has a significant amount of play while rotating. Why get the pedal kit at all? I’m not going to answer that for you, but it should be obvious why you’d want them…..enough said.

One of the YouTube videos I watched shows the guy cutting the shipping straps, but I found that they make handy tie downs so instead of cutting you may want to just untie the ends and release the buckles.

I suggest that you immediately remove the battery and begin the charging process. My Sur Ron arrived with an 83% charge in the battery.

I believe this is v2 of the charger. In Homes Hobbies video he mentions that Sur Ron had revised the charger from the one he received which I don’t believe had the fins or fan. This charger remains dead cold as it charges, as does the battery.

The Pedal Kit includes the pegs too, so not to worry. A simple tool kit is included which takes care of mounting the front wheel.

Luna’s Mountain bike pedals are nice large flat and studded pedals. One of the issues I found is on the left side of the pedal kit the threads are not reverse threaded meaning counter clockwise tightening. Since the pedals rotate counterclockwise on that side it can loosen the 14mm nut. I found that putting Blue Locktite thread locker on the nut/bolt thread helps prevent this. Also the two hex head bolts on the right side of the pedal kit must be tightened to get any friction on the pedals. Mine shipped loosely fastened.

The user guide refers to a ‘fuse box’ located in front of the ‘air switch’ and an extra fuse. I could not locate a fuse box or an extra fuse. I believe the air switch is a breaker switch, much like you have in a modern house.

In this shot the breaker switch is the red switch just below the ignition/USB plug. I’m not sure what the white connector is with the black electrical tape’s function is for the Sur Ron.

The suspension is damn impressive. Compression and rebound on both front and rear. I converted my RC51 to full Ohlins forks and shock just to get those features!

Compression for the front really works. Just adjust a click at a time.

Rebound on the same fork leg as the compression adjustments dial is located at the bottom of the right fork.

Rear shock’s compression damping is on the top of the remote reservoir. Rebound is located on the bottom. I’ve adjusted the spring preload. It comes fully extended, so adjust to your weight/riding preference.

During my first rides I had an issue where my Sur Ron would either cut off engine response to the throttle or not respond at all to the throttle when leaving my garage. The level of battery power varied anywhere between 100% to 70%. The lights and the display stayed on, just the response to power died. After writing to Luna it was suggested that it ‘may’ be the brake safety sensors. After contacting John Homes at Homes Hobbies he instructed me how to remove the brake cut off sensors. I removed the threaded collars that are just below the brake lines on each of the hand levers. I noticed that on the front brake (right) the very small set screw was backed very far out. I’m assuming that may have caused my no throttle issue. I have no idea how those sensors work, as they don’t seem to be pressure sensitive, but rather magnetic. In any event after removing the brake sensors I have not had any issues with the throttle not responding.

I replaced the sleeve bolts and filled them with Instamorph (BEST shit EVER!!!) to ensure moisture doesn’t get into the master cylinder levers.

These are the brake sensors in the levers. I could not locate any moving parts which may indicate they are magnetic sensors.

I found that both the rear and front brake lines were about 5 inches too long. So I shortened them to what I feel is the proper length so they don’t catch on brush or branches. Like mountain bike hydraulic disc brakes the Sur Ron uses Mineral Oil for hydraulic fluid. I have tons of that from changing my ebike brakes. Just use a sharp pair of cutters to cut the lines and buy some brake Olive and connector pieces. Bleed the brakes and you’re all set!

Removing the brake sensors and trimming the brake lines made Christy’s front end very tidy!

I also took the advice from one of the site’s I’ve listed to increase the height of the stem by simply reversing it upside-down. Doing so adds about an inch of reach at no cost. Very slick! The Quad Lock bracket simply holds my cell phone when I ride.

I like riding in the rain and the resulting mud. OK so I never outgrew the toddler phase of my life, so what?! LOL. But after racing off-road I know firsthand the toll packed mud can take on suspension or cooling fins. It’s never pretty. So I’ve installed a fender on the front of Christy and am installing a rear off-road shock guard to keep mud off of the shock body, linkage and spring.

Front Fender by Mud Hugger. Rear is fabricated by me. I simply took a 5.5 inch piece of 90 degree aluminum and cut/bolted it to the existing bosses on Christy’s swing arm. Just buy an addition 5mm x 12mm long bolt for the right side boss which is empty. I attached a Honda mud flap to finish the job.

I will be riding solitary most of the time. I don’t know others who own bikes like this so I feel it’s important to carry some basic tools with me along with a first aid kit. I use to tell students at the track, “Hey I know it’s fucking hot today. It’s fine to not wear your back protector. Just wear it when you know you’re going to crash!” The Sur Ron uses fasteners that are basically mountain bike nuts and bolts so I’ve lashed a multi tool pouch with a MTB multi tool to the right side seat frame.

And I plan to go on extended rides, sometimes at night. So I want to carry snacks or extra layers of clothing. So I simply bought an off road tank bag by Wolfman. It’s perfect for my needs and stays damn secure on Christy’s ‘tank.’ And yes that’s a water bottle on the right side of the frame. I hate wearing a backpack so I installed some removable boss fittings onto the frame to attach a water bottle cage. Does it stay secure? Yes it does!

What Luna and Sur Ron have here is what I consider to be an absolute winner. The build quality of the bike is incredible. I have no idea how either of those companies make a profit off of these bikes. The margins must be very slim. The fun factor is incredible and I’m sure there will be loads of performance upgrades.

In terms of performance upgrades I’m a real bitch about tire pressure, brake performance and suspension over horsepower. I had read somewhere that a user was going to change the stock Sur Ron brakes to Magura MT5s. I installed those on my eMTB, but I find the stock Sur Ron’s are great and don’t plan on any brake conversion. Great feel and modulation on the stock units.

Sure like anyone else I like ‘more power’ but after racing I KNOW that it’s what you can USE and for me races are won or lost entering and exiting turns. Late braking and getting on the pipe coming out of the corner is where it’s at. Additional horsepower is great, but at the expense of greatly reduced battery range would be an issue for me. I’ll keep Christy for what I think are for the rest of my days. And after that my daughter wants Christy! She’s pissed that I let her ride it on Father’s Day. Now she’s figuring out how to budget her funds to get her own…..or when her old man will die and leave her the bike and all of my damn tools!

My daughter took riding lessons when she was a young teen and has a naturally affinity for the skill. Plus she LOVES speed…chip off the old block as they say.

My son had the opportunity to ride the Sur Ron and he loved it. Since he wants to get a street bike I discovered just how valuable this bike is for a new rider. Learning on dirt (the way I did) is MUCH better than on the street with a heavy bike. Teaching him throttle control, body position, sliding, hard braking, etc. on this thing is brilliant! The feel and the mechanics of bike riding are much better done on the dirt too. So cool!

I had purchased a Thule Easy Fold bike rack prior to purchasing my Sur Ron for the two ebikes we own. Both are Haibikes one a Full Nine and the other a Trekking. So I wanted to find out if I could use the Easy Fold to transport the Sur Ron and guess what? It can which means I don’t need to have or rent a truck to take it to off road parks or trails! SCORE! 

Testing prior to putting the rack on the car’s hitch. With both the Sur Ron and the Haibike Trekker with both batteries removed it just makes the weight limitation of the Easy Fold. I did buy the XXL Fat Tire straps offered by Thule to fit the Sur Ron rims/tires.

23 Sep 2018

Seamless need not be boring!

Occasionally my clients ask that I shoot in front of seamless. Most of the time it is because they have a graphic artist add treatments to the shot. In other cases they don’t have the time or budget to go on location. Shooting in front of seamless is my least favorite type of shooting, but sometimes it’s necessary. In a recent studio publicity session for Noises Off the client asked that I shoot in front of white seamless due to actor scheduling issues preventing an on location shoot. In addition he conveyed to me that no graphic treatments would be added to the final image. The Director of the play sent me a photograph created in NYC by another theatre company for the same play, Noises Off. They had shot their publicity image on location. It conveyed the mood of the shot to me very well.

So my challenge was to recreate that mood in front of seamless. No room, no textures of walls, just plain white paper is all that I had. So after giving it some thought, I decided to combine three different light sources to create the shot within the Artistic Director’s confines, but give the Director the mood and story he desired. I asked that some furniture be used to create levels between the seven (yep 7) different characters in the shot. It would also provide a much less sterile feeling of the seamless. A chair, a small table and I opted to bring a prop lamp I had purchased from a theatre company long ago.

So here’s what I used to create this final image:

Testing my speedlight/Fong concept at home in the lamp before using it on the client’s shoot. I wanted to ensure I could balance the light with ambient light.

Setting up the ‘room’ with the lights and props. The talent found this very entertaining to see me flashing the lamp and gobo strobes while all of this was going on! LOL

It was at this point I opted to change from my Glow Grand Para with focusing rod to the PLM 86″ I was not content with the light I was getting for this session with the Grand. Right tool for the right job is my motto.

Key Light was a PCB legacy 86” Soft silver umbrella. I had intended to use my Glow Grand Para focusing rod modifier, but found that PCB worked much better for this shot. Camera left was its placement. I cannot vouch for the newer version of the PLM soft silver umbrella as I have not purchased or used one. The strobe I used for the key light was the Flashpoint 600.

Here you can see that I started off using the Grand Para. I use my Pentax 645Z for all of my publicity work.

 

Here you can see that I’ve switched from the Grand Para to the PLM 86″. In the lower part of this shot you can see that I always shoot tethered to my iPad so my clients can see the shots in real time. Saves a lot of time.

The lamp was lit using a Flashpoint Zoon R2 Manual Flash with a Gary Fong Lightsphere placed inside the lamp shade. Because I was using strobes, any normal light bulb would have been completely overpowered so I needed to illuminate the lamp with a strobe. It just added the authenticity of light that I wanted for the shot.

The ‘window shadow’ I decided to add was created using a Flashpoint XP600 Pro attached to a Flashpoint XP600 Pro Portable 600ws Extension FlashHead using a now discontinued Bowens Universal Spotlite Attachment with a Rosco window gobo. I wanted some visual interest and a cue to the interior of a grand room to add mood.

Just one of the best aspects of the new 600Pro is the intensity of the modeling light. Because of this I am able to accurately place the gobo light without any issues. As you can see I have the remote 600Pro head attached to the 600Pro on the lightstand. It acts as a great ballast weight too! I do wish the cord on the 600Pro remote head was longer…. It’s shorter than the 600 remote head.

Part of the story of the shot is the ‘butler’ dumping a tray of appetizers on one of the other characters. So in order to time the shot, I asked the ‘butler’ to nod when he was about to dump the tray. The tumbling of the items off of the tray was not done in post, but in camera. It’s just my workflow.

As professional shooters we are so often asked to create a mood and story out of nothing. It’s just the nature of the job. Using your imagination and different light sources/modifiers can do things that one can only imagine.

23 Sep 2018

Luna Cycle – Eric Hicks – UPDATE September 23 2018

Update September 23 2018

I realized that I had not posted the portraits I created of Cathy and Andrea who like Ashley are the lifeblood of making things happen at Luna. Sure Eric is the Crazy Professor, but these two help put the rubber to the road. EVERY single company or start up I’ve worked with and for has people like these. Often overlooked and under appreciated, their contribution to this emerging company is undeniable. Rock on ladies, you are more appreciated than can ever be expressed! Next time I visit, dinner and drinks are on me.

“Amazing Andrea”

“Crazy Cathy”

UPDATE August 11 2018

I wasn’t always a commercial photographer. Prior to this wonderful life I was a ‘suit’ a corporate guy in several different industries. Energy, broking, retail, software and entertainment were the majority of my career areas. Yes unlike most I switched industries rather than just positions because I became bored…LOL. But what was common to all of those industries for me was the marketing and PR portions. Every company from the Fortune 100 one I worked for to the smaller ones spent loads of funds on marketing. My positions included being a loading dock forklift driver to the COO of a Fortune 100 company.

So I’m always suspicious of marketing hype. I know firsthand its purpose, to bring in more revenue through increased sales or new customers; or both! So when I read that Eric from Luna Cycle was touting taking care of early adopters who would buy the Sur Ron, I thought to myself “OK another marketing ploy, but good for him.”

I was happily proved so WRONG about Eric’s early adopter promise. He recently released a limited supply of X Controllers for the Sur Ron which was reviewed by Matt Richards. The controller offers many benefits like regenerative braking and charging, increased performance, etc. I respect Matt much like I respect John Holmes (no not THAT one!) and Jackson who have all produced Sur Ron videos. I’ve stated elsewhere on this blog that Jackson’s video of the teardown of the Sur Ron is what pushed me over the edge to get out my credit card and buy a Sur Ron.

Most people who follow my photography blog know that I am an early adopter for lighting gear. NEVER has a company such as Godox supported us early adopters like Eric. All of my lighting gear is produced by Godox and I switched from a US based company I was loyal to for years. As a matter of fact, early adopters are seldom rewarded like Luna Cycle has done:

“Luna will also be announcing some exciting new upgrades which will only be available to people who buys their from us.” TRUE

“Luna customers who bought their Sur-Ron from us can trade in their old controllers for a $220 store credit. After you receive your new sine wave controller simply send your old one back to us and you will receive the credit.” TRUE

Sur Ron X Controller

What I have experienced with Luna Cycle is that Eric is TRULY supporting the EV segment of this community. Not just with cute marketing slogans and bullshit, but with action. Sure like any new and growing company, especially in an emerging industry there are the same issues all growing companies experience. Supply chain issues, CS issues, employee issues, etc. I’m irritated by what I view as ‘entitlement attitudes’ by some, meaning trying to take a remarkable offer like an actual cash credit for turning in an old controller into ‘hey just take that 220.00 off of the 490.00 price right now’ kind of bullshit. How in the world does anyone expect any company to make a profit off of an already discounted product? Oh perhaps they’ve never owned their own business or been responsible for a company P&L, yeah that must be it. I hear the same shit from photographers when a company makes an incredible advancement in a product. “Oh I’d buy it if you had just made it microwave my gluten free food and also built a washing machine into the strobe that it would do and fold my laundry like my mommy. And have the whole thing weigh less than a pound. I don’t see why you couldn’t do that!”

My bottom line; I will continue to support Luna for as long as I see their business practices and incredible foresight into products elevate the EV industry. And support the honor in which they treat their customers. Why? Because I have never seen or experienced their type of ‘Marketing.’ Amen

Original Post

I try to complete a personal project twice a year to stay sharp and exercise my creativity. I say ‘try’ because often my plans don’t happen due to client work. And as a small business if I don’t work, well I don’t eat so some year’s personal photo projects take a back seat to food. In the past I’ve focused on dance, as you can view on my Conceptual photo page. Tango and ballet have been my focus simply because I love the athleticism and art of dance. I have two long term projects which are currently in their fourth year; Our Perceptions, Ourselves” and “A Book by Its Cover” which are yet to be released.

In each of these cases I have known the individuals well prior to the shoot, have interacted with them on a regular basis and have befriended each of them. And the photographic elements created illustrate beauty in what I classify as its common form. But for this particular project I wanted to step outside of my own comfort zone and focus the project on people I don’t really know at all. And to capture beauty in a way that some may view as ‘nontraditional’ yet I view as gorgeous in a very different way. Two elements from which I will never vary for personal projects are; my love of visual storytelling and my passion for the subject matter.

Yet unlike my previous projects where I have a passion for the subject matter the talent performs (dance), in this case the subject matter is something I’ve done, riding/racing motorized two wheel vehicles. A huge difference….no one should ever see me dance!

I was drawn to Luna Cycle because I was intrigued with a product they import called the Sur Ron Light Bee which is an electric dirt bike manufactured in China. Luna is the exclusive USA distributor for the Sur Ron. I ended up buying one primarily due to Jackson’s video review of the Sur Ron’s build quality on Luna’s site. I then began to roam through Eric’s site to see more about the company and his products. I became intrigued about Luna Cycle more than the Sur Ron.

I’ve had the privilege to get to know some of the people who I view as geniuses in their fields; Paul C Buff of PCB and Steve Jobs when he worked for NeXT after being canned from Apple. What struck me about Eric from his YouTube videos is he seemed to possess the same drive, passion and determination of those men. And just like those two, he seemed to be a bit odd, out of the norm, the kind of mind and personality it takes to move an industry out from what has always been accepted as what’s ‘right.’

So I wrote an email to Eric giving him my pitch for an editorial photo shoot on the dates I had available and waited…nada. So the day before the final first day of my availability I wrote to him once again. I stated that since I had not heard back from him and airline fares are terrible booking the day before I was not going to make the trip and proposed that we could do it another time if he was interested.

In a very short time thereafter he wrote back to me and apologized for not responding sooner. He offered to cover my flight and lodging costs if I could still make it down to his El Segundo location for the shoot. So I booked my flights for the very next day and off I went on this adventure.

Upon arriving at the Luna Cycle location I recognized the area based on the YouTube videos where the staff and Eric demonstrate the speed of the Sur Ron against other much larger gas bikes. I rang the Nest Video Doorbell and waited….nothing. Yet as soon as I started to walk away I heard the door open and there was Eric. Just as he looks on video, crazy hair, intense eyes and those famous pajama pants, the kind my own kids harangue me about if I leave the house wearing them. After explaining that I really had to pee (I was actually going to search for a place around the outside of his building where I could piss) he offered me a cup of coffee from his way above my pay grade expresso machine. And that’s where the fun started….

As I began to look around the one of two warehouse/factories he operates I was simply blown away at the scale of the building in which we were standing. I really had no concept of what it takes to build or assemble ebikes so it was all new to me. In the middle of what I will call his ebike building is a large sectional couch which Ashley (his business and life partner) told me is where ‘Eric and I hang out’ along with a product photo ‘studio’ where an ebike was placed among some constant lights and a backdrop screen Eric built.

Eric explained to me that his first career was as a chess teacher and that he himself is a Chess Master. He went over his philosophy that ‘talent’ is not what he considers to be the key element in creating exceptional people, but rather hard work separates the wheat from the chaff. I agree with his theory since I’ve known a ton of ‘talented’ people who, because of a lack of effort let their skills go to waste. It was then I realized that just like my experience talking with Paul or Steve, Eric is EASILY distracted. Think “SQUIRREL!” and you’ll get the picture. Although I don’t classify him in the same category as these men, my friend David who is the Principal Horn for the Berlin Philharmonic is also easily distracted. We just call David Squirrel! LOL. I just think it’s the nature of the beast for people of this caliber, or so it seems to me. One of the staff members came over to ask Eric a question and I took that opportunity to fade away to meet other members of his team.

The first man I spoke with was Kyle, another person I recognized from the Luna YouTube videos. I was struck by how tall he is, well over six feet. I say this because as I saw both he and Jackson (who I met later but only briefly) sitting on the Sur Rons and it didn’t appear as tiny as it actually is in real life….odd. He’s responsible for quite a bit of the ebike assembly and testing of the Luna Cycle line. Prior to working at Luna he worked for Specialized and some other bike makers in the Bay Area. One hell of a nice guy who’s also very intelligent, he was a joy to speak with and get to know.

Then there is the logistics area where bikes/parts are prepared for shipment. It was one of my favorite places to shoot while I was there. I was so happy to use my SaberStrip v2.0 for these shots. If it weren’t for that modifier combined with the AD200 it would have been a real bitch to light!

Agustin who is the company’s do it all handyman!

Their kids were hanging out with mom so I had to do a family shot!

“Cut the shit with those fake photo smiles girl! Give me some love!”

Yeah now that’s the kinda smile I like.

She only looks serious….in real life she’s a pure peach….and she likes photography!

And then of course there’s Smudge Ball the company’s mascot. He was closely guarding the batteries!

Venturing across the parking lot to Luna’s other building felt I was going into a whole different world. This is where the actual manufacturing of the batteries and other hardware is conducted. The piece of equipment I was completely enchanted by is their laser cutter. It is massive and occupied a room just by itself and rightfully so. While I was there Eric and his team were cutting ½ inch stainless steel as if it were warm butter cut by a hot knife. This is where I had the opportunity to roam around and find little gems of discarded or in process parts I lit with the AD200 with the Fresnel head attached. And for me this is where the true beauty of a factory lives. “Seeing” through light is wonderful. Even more so that it is in and around epic light….a laser!

Eric kept asking me about the AD200s I was using.

Shoving an AD200 in these to light them from the inside out was fun.

 

The master as he operates his laser.

Showing Eric Mark’s “Photo Voodoo” where he watches the image fly through the air to my iPad from my 1DXII

The battery room

One of the interesting parts of this trip was discovering that Eric and Ashley share a very similar life path as I do with my partner Tracy. We both work in the very same industry, work together and live together. I don’t know many other (none actually) couples who can share time 24/7 without a homicide occuring! Oh sure just like me and T, Eric and Ash have ‘their moments.’ It just would not be natural to not, now would it? I consider them the Ying to my Yang. An older white guy with a young Asian gal versus and older Asian guy with a young white gal! Hahahahahaha!!!!!

And finally it would not be a Mark project without portraits.

Eric relaxing in his office playing chess on his PC.

What I discovered during this project is Eric has created a segment in the ebike market that has the potential to turn the market upside-down. Because of Eric’s innovation and ability to execute ideas into actionable forward thinking products he may become the leader in the market. I simply say ‘may’ because there are many other factors which come into play, as Steve or Paul can attest. Unlike Apple and their widely accepted consumer products, the ebike market is not a segment every person will want to join, it is a more specific market like Paul’s lighting segment. But just as Steve created the iPhone and Paul the monolight, Eric has the capability to create a never before seen ‘thing’ in the ebike market that we could not imagine, but afterward cannot imagine living without. Sounds familiar eh?

But in my mind the raw elements are there, an innovative mind, irreverence for the ‘norm’ and a work ethic like most can only imagine. I wish Luna the best and feel lucky to have been given a glimpse into his world.

06 Sep 2018

Glow Grand ParaBox Pro Softbox (70″) & Glow Grand ParaBox Zoom-In Bounce Rod – Updated September 6 2018

Updated September 6 2018

I have an upcoming publicity session so it was important for me to test the Grand prior to deciding on using it for this project. I asked Sammi, a local actress to be my model for the shoot. I have decided to not use any other lights or modifiers when I test new gear to see how they stand on their own. I normally shoot with at least three lights and modifiers during a session. In this case I only used the Grand 70 using a Flashpoint 600 with the remote head. I did not use the Grand with anything other than the focusing arm, no diffusion panels at all. Here are my observations:

My first test was against seamless to ascertain the glamour capabilities of the Grand 70″

I wanted to see how the modifier handles full body shots. In each of the following images I stood directly in front of the Grand which was 10 feet from the model. I also wanted to see how the light quality would be effected by different outfits, some shiny some mat.

In the image below you can see in her eyes the light pattern which I had fully flooded to create a ring light affect. I’m standing directly in front of the modifier.

My next test was to move away from seamless to see just how angling the modifier can create a completely different look.

In both of the instances above the light was feathered to one side of the Grand in order to give dimension to the shot. Both were shot with the light in mid focused position to add contrast and drama.

I will continue to try other methods with this Grand that I was never able to do when I rented the Bron Para line of modifiers due to time constraints. At this point I will simply say that the Glow Grand Para line, at least this 70, truly competes with the Para 177 at a third of the cost. I find the light quality as good for glamour imagery and am thrilled that Adorama has started to carry a line of modifiers like this. I recently purchased and am awaiting the remote head for the 600Pro which I am anxious to try with this Grand. I also plan to use the outer diffusion panel with the focusing rod to experiment with the light characteristics with that combination. Stay tuned, but for now I highly recommend the Grand line if you are looking for a viable alternative to the Bron Para line of modifiers.

Updated August 27 2018

In just over a week I will be testing this modifier on actual talent. I am anticipating a very good result. So much so that I had a client meeting this morning for an upcoming publicity shoot on location in front of a grand staircase at a Fairmont Hotel. Because I anticipate using the Grand Para 70 for that shoot I had to determine if it would fit into my SKB hard sided golf bag! IT JUST FITS thank gawd! LOL

My trusty SKB golf bag. I use this for all of my away games!

Original Post 8-22-18

These are my initial impressions of the Glow Grand 70 and the Zoom-In Bounce Rod. I won’t be able to test the modifier on talent until early September. So for right now I will go over some of the facets of the  modifier and bounce rod, AKA focusing rod. It’s the first 24 rod octa I’ve owned, although not the first I’ve used. The Broncolor 177 ($4300 USD) is the closest in size to the Grand 70” ($1150 USD plus $490 for Bounce Rod = $1640 USD). The Bron Para 177 measures 77” across its face, 7 inches larger than the Grand 70. Both utilize 24 rods in this configuration. The Grand 70 comes with a choice of strobe mounts; mine arrived with a Bowens ring although I won’t ever use it without the Glow Grand ParaBox Zoom-In Bounce Rod.

The assembly of this octa is very different than any other modifiers I have owned or rented. The new configuration consists of 24 levers that are spring loaded which must be ‘locked’ into adjoining bars on the modifier.

This is where I encountered the most difficult part of assembling the Grand Para. In order to put enough tension on each individual arm, I needed to stretch each arm out from the center of the modifier. Doing so alone without assistance, I found that I could not create enough leverage to push each rod away from the center of the modifier to get the lever to ‘click’ into its corresponding bar. This may be easier with the smaller modifiers. Right now this is one of the primary differences between the Bron Para 177 and the Glow Grand 70. The Bron’s rods are hinged in the middle and must be extended before using a crank to expand the modifier. Much easier to do and keeps the fabric taut. Because they’re hinged the Bron’s collapsed length is shorter than the Grand, but its collapsed diameter is larger. The Grand’s interior fabric is very similar if not the same as the Bron; a very shiny silver and very tight as well. The Bron’s outer fabric is thicker than the Grand, but I believe both are very durable.

This is the interior reflective fabric of the Grand. The eyelet is for the supplied inner diffusion material.

A close up view illustrates how each rod ‘snaps’ into place using a hooked tab which engages a bar on the latch.

In order to gain enough leverage to bend each rod to engage the bar, I found it best to use the Bounce Rod for leverage. I GENTLY pulled the rod toward me and then the rods would easily snap into place. The rods are fiberglass so they won’t permanently ‘bend’, but using caution is always the best practice when stressing any modifier rod be they fiberglass or a metal material.

The octa itself is very well made and much lighter than I expected. It has a ‘pass through’ slot which I had hoped would fit/accept my Flashpoint Portable 600ws Extension FlashHead. But unfortunately the opening is not large enough to allow the Extension socket to pass through. No matter since the cord is more than long enough to allow it to come through the front of the modifier to easily reach the strobe body.

The Bounce Rod attaches to the Grand 70 via four spring loaded/nylon shimmed Phillips head screws. I changed them to wing nut/turning knobs so I would not need to have a Phillips head screwdriver with me when I set this up.

The Grand Para will not fit into its supplied case with the bounce rod bracket attached. It WILL fit into the case by detaching the bracket, inverting it and inserting it into the ring hole which reduces its length to fit into the bag. The modifier comes supplied with an inner and outer diffusion panels (not shown) as well as a speed ring for your strobe connector of choice. Mine came with a Bowens mount (not shown). I doubt I’ll ever use it as a traditional octa bank. I prefer the look/flexibility of focusing arms. Adorama also supplies an empty sand bag (not shown) that can be used as a counterweight on either the Bounce Rod focusing arm or the leverage arm.

The focusing arm has an eyelet on the end for the sand bag.

The leverage arm also has an eyelet for the sand bag.

I did not find a need to use the sandbag to counterweight the modifier. It may be because I am using an extension head rather than the weight of an entire moonlight on the focusing arm. Although I believe the Bounce Rod would support the weight of a moonlight I would highly recommend NOT using that method.

One item that was NOT included with the Bounce Rod is a flash head bracket. I thought this was very strange since in order to use a focusing arm, one needs to have a strobe head holder. In the image above I am using a Cheetahstand BirdCage for Chopsticks for Bowens mount lights. Because I have a number of focusing rod modifiers, I have several extras. But if you order a Bounce Rod, be sure to obtain a light cage of some sort.

The construction of the Bounce Rod is excellent. The only part I will replace is the pivot swivel handle. It is made of plastic and does ratchet, however the ‘feeling’ of the lever does not instill confidence in me. That is NOT to say it will break, it just means my preference for a piece of hardware that provides this much torque should be metal.

The focusing rod is located on the top in this photo. The leverage rod is the bottom one. Both are removable from the bracket and easily store in the supplied carry bag. The plastic swivel handle is located in the U shaped bracket. The whole bracket is well constructed.

I’m all about options so I appreciate that the bracket has both a vertical and horizontal mounting hole. IF I’m ever inclined to mount this modifier facing down on a very sturdy light stand I have that ability.

The focusing rod has two sections, the first slides into the housing and is secured by the turning knob on the top of the main cylinder. It can be moved in and out as needed for distance. The second portion is adjusted using a friction knob. My preference for using the focusing rod is to slide the first section all the way into the cylinder and use the friction knob portion to move the light to the fully focused, flooded or anywhere in between position.

I prefer to adjust the focusing arm distance from the front of the modifier. The Grand allows me to do that due to its rod configuration. It’s smooth. I am able to see the effects of the position of the light while in front of the modifier rather than from behind.

This is an example of how I adjust the light position.

One of the most attractive aspects of the large Bron Para line with focusing rod is its ability to replicate a ring light flash and sculpt the light by simply adjusting its angle. But unlike a ring light the ability to stand in front of the modifier while still creating a shadow less light on the talent is wonderful. And then the ability to sculpt the shadows simply by turning the angle of the para to remove or add light to one side or the other is another fantastic feature. Bron has created a well done video about the method to which I’m referring.

Light Pattern Test

To determine if the Grand can accomplish the light control of the Bron, I ran a preliminary test with my partner. Here are my results:

Fully focused

Fully Flooded

The light position in its fully flooded positon creates a ring light affect which is wonderful. As you can see in the photo the light is shadow less, much like a ring light. I was standing directly in front of the modifier and my partner is about 9 feet in front of me.

A close up of her eyes reveals the ring light affect.

All of this means very little if the light quality of the Grand is not excellent. BUT having said that and having had experience using quite a few modifiers I can say with 90% certainty that this will easily compete with the Bron’s quality of light. In early September I have scheduled a shoot with talent to actually test this modifier in a studio session. Of course I’ll be posting my thoughts and images here. I’m really excited about this modifier!

Stay tuned….

Glow Grand Parabox 70

Glow Grand ParaBox Zoom-In Bounce Rod

27 Aug 2018

Testing Before Using

I know that I often state whenever I get a new modifier/strobe/etc. I ALWAYS test them BEFORE putting them into my workflow. I’ve had a suggestion arise lately about showing them in a group in addition to in each of my modifier/strobe posts. Sounded like a good idea so here we go, but I have no plans to make this post comprehensive for all of my tests. Just a few. The first covers the Saberstrip v2.0 that utilizes the Flashpoint eVOLV200s.

Saberstrip v2.0

Sometimes I use them in a triangle, sometimes just two parallel to the ground. Replicates a ring light, but with the ability to back away using a long lens to compress the talent.

Test using a triangle configuration.

Test using them in a pair.

The Glow EZ Lock

Test setup.

Mole Richardson Fresnel Conversion

Bought this 1965 MGM Studios MR 412 Fresnel and converted it from a 1000 watt constant tungsten light into a strobe Fresnel. The following images were all shot AS TESTS prior to putting the Fresnel into my workflow.

Parabolix 35D

Elinchrom 39″ Deep Rotalux 

 

I NEVER place anything into my toolkit unless I’ve tested it previously. Too many unexpected situations come up in any session. Being unprepared with things you KNOW about is not wise.

07 Aug 2018

ResMed Air Mini Travel Cases – Non Photo related

This little expandable lunch box fits all of my AirMini CPAP supplies in one small and luggage strap-able container!

I have noticed that so many of the reviews/recommendations are from companies who sell the unit and because of that I’m always cautious of their views. There is one site I found well done that is NOT a company, but a user. His review can be found here. Accessories for almost all medical devices are expensive, or more expensive than I feel they need to be so I opted to find products that fit the AirMini as good or better than ResMed’s own products. And that’s what I want to share here.

ResMed offers two different cases for the AirMini. One is the $29.99 ResMed AirMini CPAP Machine Travel Bag that just holds the AirMini CPAP device. The other is the $61.00 ResMed AirMini Travel Bag which holds all of the needed AirMini items, the CPAP, the hose, the mask, the power brick, etc.

First off although I’m sure both of those cases are of good quality I felt that they were way overpriced for protective carrying cases. Plus the $61.00 carry all travel bag does not have a strap to hold the bag onto my rolling luggage handle. Perhaps it does, but I could not see it in any of the photos. So here is what I found that performs great for less money:

$17.99 MIER Insulated Lunch Box Bag Expandable Lunch Pack

Here you can see that it has two separate handles. The one that goes across the lid is the one I use as a strap for my luggage handle. Fits perfectly as you can see in the opening photo of this post. I store the shoulder strap in the cover pocket.

Yep a lunch bag and expandable to boot!

Everything stores inside this expandable lunch sack without needing to be expanded. Nice to have the option to enlarge it though! You can see that I use the Mavic Pro drone controller case to hold the AirMini CPAP. It’s like it was made for it! BTW the power strip in this photo is one I carry to use with my CPAP in the event the wall plug is further away than the AirMini’s power cord will reach. It also has four USB power connections which I find really convenient.

Everything fits nicely and there’s even a separate sleeve for the hose. BTW I use the P10 mask so if you use the larger ones just expand the lunchbox to accommodate it! Done!

All buttoned up and ready to go. Nice and small.

$14.99 DEEPLITE Hardshell Carrying Case for DJI Mavic Pro Drone

I fly a drone for my work and it comes with two cases. The smaller top case meant for the Mavic Pro’s controller fits the AirMini unit perfectly.

The larger hard case that is actually meant for the Mavic Pro drone fits everything but the AirMini hose! Another nice option if you want to pack even smaller. May not be practical for the masks larger than the P10…

$10.95 Tupperware Black Smidget Set of 5 with clear seals

These little Tupperware containers are perfect for the HumidX disks! And they don’t break like glass holders.

I use one of the HumidX disks for only a week and then they go to waste since ResMed recommends that they only be used for 30 days after opening the airtight package. So I store them in the Tupperware containers after letting them dry out for one day after I return home. I also put the disk through my SoClean machine to allow ozone to disinfect the disk. I believe this will prolong their life and not having to throw them out after only a week’s worth of usage. I do replace them after 30 days of use, just not 30 days after I’ve opened the package. I wrote to ResMed to ask them the reason why the disks have a 30 day life, but never heard back. I will mention that when I took the AirMini camping the night temperature was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and quite a bit of moisture accumulated in my hose. Just FYI.

Shacke Medical Equipment Luggage Tag for Respiratory Devices (Black / Vertical)

Pretty self-explanatory, I just want it clear to the TSA and airline staff that it’s medical equipment and doesn’t count as a carry on item.

Batteries

As of this writing ResMed has yet to produce a battery for the AirMini. I have used two different ones when I was camping. The first is a battery pack I used for portable flash strobes, the PCB Vagabond Mini. It has two 110 pure sine wave outlets and one USB female outlet. Fully charged the unit lasted two full nights before needing to be charged. 

PCB Vagabond Mini

The second unit I used was a Romeo Power Saber. It contains a universal AC 110v outlet, two USB outlets and one USB-C outlet. I purchased this for my airline laptop/cell phone use. It lasts 10 hours using the AirMini and only takes 2 hours to fully charge from dead.

Romeo Power Saber

I’d recommend either of these units it just depends on the size/recharge time configuration you need at the time. Longer time? Vagabond Mini. Smaller footprint/faster recharging time? Romeo Saber.

I hope this post gives you more options for cases and portable power for your ResMed AirMini. If so I’m happy!

02 Aug 2018

Evolv200s, Xplor600s, 600Pro, Saberstrip v2s on location

People always get so nervous when they see how I hold my cameras! I hate straps. LOL!!!

Shooting as a pro means there are times when you have to prove yourself once again with an established client. Not doing a great job either in the finished product or through your service simply means you’re not used again. One of my long standing clients, Village Theatre recently changed Artistic Directors. Jerry Dixon, their new AD planned to attend two of the three on location publicity shoots all to be held in different cities in greater Seattle area. The first session for the play Curious Incidents is also the play he is directing. No pressure eh? LOL

The second aspect of this day that is always a bit concerning was that I NEVER SAW ANY OF THE VENUES IN ADVANCE of the day! Sure the Marketing Director sent me some camera phone photos and links to the MOPOP (Museum of Pop Culture) areas where she wanted to shoot, but I had never been there. Nor had I been to Spangler Book Exchange/Reread Books, the quaint bookstore where we were to shoot the Matilda publicity or the alley in Everett where I’d shoot the Howard Barnes publicity. Add to that the additional element of time. For each venue we were limited in time based on either the schedule of some of the talent or due to the venue’s prior commitments.

The only element I ever insist on from clients is to answer; “What is the mood you want from each session?” Why? Well because the expression of the talent(s) and the LIGHT is something I have to plan for BEFORE I hit the job….which leads me to….

The Marketing Director kept asking me “Mark, I need to know your power requirements for each venue so I can work with each of the operations managers to plan power for your gear.” Since I exclusively use Flashpoint strobes, guess what….they need no outside power!!! SCORE! I hauled seven, yes seven strobes from SF to SEA in a small Pelican case. 49.5 pounds…just UNDER the 50 lbs. limit! Three Xplor600s, one 600Pro and three Evolv200s! I split the four 600 batteries between me and my partner’s carry on camera bags instead of inside checked luggage to save weight (btw I always put gaff tape over the contacts of the batteries just in case…). All of the stands were rented in Seattle and for the smoke I advance shipped smoke grenades to the Marketing Director. It takes planning folks….LOL

For modifiers I took three v2 Saberstrips which use Evolv200s with their Fresnel heads. I cannot speak highly enough about both the Evolvs and the new Saberstrips. Together they create what I view as a revolutionary combination in camera lighting. Yeah they’re that good. I knew that both the MOPOP and the bookstore sessions would be VERY CRAMPED in terms of space. Using “traditional” modifiers or strobes would be a total pain in the ass. Sure it could be done, but would easily have been a 10/10 on my cussing scale. I knew I wanted a softer light for both the MOPOP and bookstore feeling, but a hard light in the alley. So I took three Fresnel modifiers for that session. All of my modifiers fit into my SKB hard sided golf case which I use to transport my light modifiers when traveling out of town.

So here’s how it all worked: (All of the BTS images are by my partner Tracy Martin)

Session 1, Curious Incident shoot at MOPOP

The Marketing Director wanted an image in MOPOP where the talent appears to be ‘inside’ a dream. So placing modifiers INSIDE this structure for the style of light I wanted to achieve would have been next to impossible without the Evolv200 and the v2 Saberstrip.

One of the final images before editing.

Using the Evolv200 and the Saberstrip to create the feeling of an overhead light source WITHOUT the need for a boom arm is wonderful. Almost all of the other modifiers I own would need to be tilted at an angle to face toward the ground without a boom arm. The Key light is a the Explor600 Pro with a Fresnel head modifier to my right next to the tower structure.

Final shot. Balancing the light to not overpower the hand held flashlight was key for this image. Had I only used the Fresnel pointing at the talent it would not give the impression of an overhead light which was key to this shot.

Session 2 for Matilda at ReRead Bookstore

About 20 people were in this tiny quaint bookstore just for this shoot! I think the actual customers were highly entertained. (They were taking iPhone photos of us! LOL) Here the Marketing staff and the talent review some of the images on my iPad.

Marketing looks over the shots in real time. As you can see the Saberstrip was invaluable in this session. Soft light, yet so good in tight spaces! I love it!!!

Jerry the AD attends to the details. I feel we made a great team since I sometimes miss the small but so important details when I’m in a session.

Ah I cannot say enough about the value of the Evolv200s paired with the v2 Saberstrips!!!!

A few of the Final Images

Session 3 for Howard Barnes in an alley in Everett WA

I laughed as I watched people walking by! They had no idea what to make of what was going on. Oh and that puppet freaked me out!

The Director of Howard Barnes is my light test fella. This is the alley in ‘natural light.’

The talent just yucking it up while I balance the smoke lights. Oh and if you’ve ever worked with smoke it’s great when there’s no wind…..LOL

A few of the Final Images

So cool that wind was coming up from that ground grate so her tail would fly!

Four Xplor600s and two Evolv200s lit this shot. Whew!

I was so shocked to see an article written by James Spangler the owner of ReRead Books where we shot the Matilda publicity! All if not most photographers know that getting feedback is rare so this was both a nice and humbling surprise. My whole point on this post is to highlight the incredible leap in technology and innovation in the field of photographic lighting. Sure all of us can figure out how to do something even if it’s tough. But to have others who are helping to ease the stress of creating beautiful light is wonderful!

22 Jul 2018

Teaching High School Kids About Photography

Jamie Smith, a man who I met in 2010 while attending a week long class by Greg Gorman has remained in contact and become my friend. Jamie worked with the famous Jay Maisel for over 10 years in NYC and now runs Social Fabric Collective“Social Fabric Collective is a non-profit organization that provides professional photography equipment, education and inspiration to high school students who are as diverse as they are dynamic.”

Earlier in 2018 Jamie asked if I would be interested in speaking to his class of young high school students about my view of photography. Prior to becoming a full time pro I was in the field of training at the corporate level. Even back then I HATED/LOATHED/WAS DISGUSTED by PowerPoint or rather how people attempt  to utilize PP. So I opted to do my hour long lesson old school, with paper that students read and actual photographs they could hold and view. As a training professional I know that a self paced lesson lends itself to much more retention. I know that so many people today like video because ‘it’s easy’ meaning it’s passive. And it’s NOT self paced, especially in a classroom environment.

So I thought I would post what I presented in the event it helps others pick and choose parts of my syllabus to teach others. The first part was handing out a printed form of this:

“July 17 2018 – Palo Alto CA

Hi my name is Mark and I’m a full time professional photographer. Prior to this life I was a trainer for Sony Playstation, a 3D animator and back then some of my clients included Johns Hopkins University, Estee Lauder, Nike, Bausch and Lomb, and DHL.

Photography tends to be a solitary activity and although I have no idea why you decided to enter this course I will assume that you have in interest in creating imagery. The type of imagery everyone wants to create is as varied as the number of people in the world. Today, everyone is a photographer, whether we’re talking about the ever present ‘selfies’ (ugh) or taking photos with whatever you have at the time. Photography is a satisfying pursuit, and I have found it is my lifelong endeavor. My preference is photographing people – dancers, actors and musicians. In reality I use a camera just to meet people.

It’s kind of easy to get into the ‘tech trap’ wondering what is the best camera, the best lens, the best light, the best camera bag. You get the picture. My personal view is to not allow myself to get hung up on that aspect of this life. It’s easy to see if you peruse photography forums, heck forums of any kind. There are always haters, boasters, see ME! types. Always discussing gear, what is the BEST, blah blah blah. But what is so apparent are the haters seldom if EVER post photos they’ve created other than silly test shots. Buying expensive things does not make an expert or an artist.

It’s also easy (and in most cases necessary) to focus solely on the technical aspects of photography. F stops, depth of field, shutter speed, sync speed, ISO noise, blah blah blah blah blah. But there are literally TONS of sites and Google searches we can do to find that info. And yes those elements are important but what I want to try to pass on to all of you today is what took me a long time to learn for myself….the art of seeing.

My epiphany happened when I was watching an Argentine Tango performance and became captivated by the light, the movement and the shadow. Those elements didn’t need a camera to be appreciated and were not the elements that made me a photographer. Nope, it was all about looking at the world in a way I had not encountered before. Instead of just looking – I would view a scene, a person, an object as a story. As I looked upon a sunset, a sunrise, a beautiful scene, an interesting or beautiful face, a tragedy, an object of any kind, my mind would begin to formulate a story about what I was viewing. I’d identify the feeling I’d emote while looking at the person, object or scene. I’d notice the light, how it fell upon the scene/person/object and how the light made me feel, how the shadows played against the light. The EMOTIONS I was feeling as I focused my gaze.

It went even further. I began to associate imagery with senses not normally associated with a picture. The smell of a sunset, the taste of a rock, the music I would hear in an expression. It was then that I began to notice that my photographs turned into much more than just a ‘pretty picture.’ Without a story, without feeling, a nice photograph is just a pretty picture. Some of my favorite imagery by artists I admire are underexposed, overexposed or blurry. But it’s the FEELING and STORY of the image that moves it from nice to fantastic to memorable.

Immerse yourself in the moment. I found that looking at the back of my camera while I’m out and about often meant that the truly GREAT shot was missed because I was paying attention to the wrong thing, the past, not the moment. There’s plenty of time to appreciate or loathe the image you shot…..later.

All art is about FEELING and STORY. Focus on the elements that don’t depend upon a camera so that when you have one in your hand, you will create something incredible. Be patient and watch. Observe, listen, smell, taste and touch. It will make your work rich beyond what you could have imagined.

Welcome to a different world. Welcome to Seeing

When you’re done reading this, but more importantly understand what I’m saying, raise your hand.”

Once each student was done reading the handout, I gave them an envelop with 10 photos and 10 index cards with these instructions:

Instructions

In this pack are ten images along with ten index cards. The images have a number written on the back of them. On the index card I would like you to

  1. Write the image number you are viewing on the index card
  2. Write a title for the image
  3. Write the Feeling you get when viewing the image
  4. Turn the card over
  5. Write your story of the image

Do this for each image, so in the end you should have ten index cards with a Title, Story and Feeling

When you are done, raise your hand

Here are the ten images that were contained in the envelop:

I then had all ten of the images posted at the front of the class with the corresponding numbers on envelops below each image. I asked each student to place their corresponding index card into those envelops. I asked each student to read all of the other cards to see how people view images differently. Unless you go to galleries with others or those who have also attended it’s tough to hear what others think of the very same image. What that does is it allows people to understand that everyone brings their own bias or experience in viewing any image or painting. It ‘opens your eyes’ to the view of others.

I also asked each student to text me their favorite photo. It didn’t need to be taken with their phones, but they must select one favorite image. I printed out each of the photos and made a lanyard so they could hang their favorite image around their neck….backwards. Each student sat in front of the class facing the whiteboard while the other students voiced how they each felt about the photo and what the story was for the image. The student who took the photo just listened, no feedback was allowed be it verbal or physical in nature. This allows each student to hear other people’s impression of their work. It gives them a window into how people perceive what they’ve created. That is an important part of learning in the creative arts. For the two students who didn’t send a photo I believe they missed an opportunity not often offered.

 

And finally I had a Q/A session where each of the students could ask me questions about photography.

And of course, a lit class photo.

02 Jul 2018

Fisher Fab House Ultra Headlight – Sur Ron 12v version

Using two separate lenses on the FFH is quite clever and so effective in producing a fantastic light pattern!

While visiting Luna Cycle I contacted Josh from FFH to see if I could pick up one of his lights while I was in the LA area. He was kind enough to drop it off with one of the Luna staff so I brought it home with me and installed it. Later tonight I will be testing the light quality and the pattern, but based on his videos I’m sure I’ll be pleased.

These images are screen grabs from FFH’s Facebook video which shows the difference between the stock Sur Ron light and the FFH at 3200 lumens.

FFH’s example of the stock Sur Ron headlight’s illumination and pattern.

FFH’s example of the Ultra at 3200 lumen setting.

Installing the light is straightforward with some caveats. First the plugs supplied with the light are NOT simply plug and play with the Sur Ron plug harness for the stock light. I ran some tests to determine which color wires go with the FFH and the Sur Ron:

  • Blue to Red
  • Brown to Black

Connecting the wires in this manner allowed me to use the stock Sur Ron plug located under the ignition switch. Simply cut both connectors off of the stock head light and the FFH and join the wires as I’ve outlined above. (They include two crimping connectors, but I chose to solder the connections and shrink wrap them. It’s just my personal preference for all things electrical.) Then plug the stock connector into the wiring harness on the Sur Ron and you’re all set. I’d like to see FFH supply the correct connector to the Sur Ron in future editions.

The light is held with two milled aluminum 31.8mm brackets which are mounted on the handlebars. They’re well made, but I’d like to see the female receiver on the mount tapped into the bracket rather than using a lock nut. I have other mounts like this one and having one bolt rather than a bolt and a nut makes for a cleaner installation process. But the parts fit perfectly on the Sur Ron handlebars and I like the light being just a bit higher than stock. NOTE Josh let me know after reading this review that FFH had originally threaded the female side, but it could be cross threaded due to differing variations of 31.8mm bars, which would have the bolt enter at the wrong angle, hence their switch to a locking nut.

In the photo above I have highlighted the button used to activate and change the FFH’s power levels. You can also see the milled aluminum handlebar brackets which hold the light to the bike.

Unlike all of the other lights I own the FFH light uses what I call a ‘step less’ switch. Sure you have to press it to activate, but until you press the button, the light remains off. I much prefer this to the stock light which is always on; because there are times I don’t want to be seen from the front with a light I cannot control. This is a 3200 lumen light at its brightest setting, much brighter than the stock headlight. The reason I call it step less is based on FFH’s instructions:

“Your light has 5 separate modes which you activate using a single button. Select any mode by quickly tapping the desired number of times regardless of the current mode.

  1. Dim – 80 lm                 1 tap
  2. Bright – 770 lm           2 rapid taps
  3. Super – 2900 lm         3 rapid taps
  4. Ultra – 3200 lm         4 rapid taps
  5. Flashing – 770 lm      5 rapid taps
  6. Turn off                        Hold the button down for 2 seconds

FFH Ultra light features and functions

Our ultimate high power LED light for those of you who want to see and be seen. We built the 12 volt Ultra specifically for use on the Sur Ron and it’s capable of an ULTRA bright 3200 lumens.

Over the years of development we found that color spectrum was important. The Ultra 3200 uses 5000K CREE LED’s to give riders the best depth perception and visibility.

To get this much light in a small 6oz. package creates some heat so the light protects itself from overheating. If the light is in Super or Ultra mode and there’s not enough airflow it will automatically set itself to the Bright mode. Once there is enough airflow the light will go back to Super or Ultra.”

As an example if I’m in the Bright mode and want to go to the Ultra mode I rapidly press the button four times, not two which would be like other lights. There is no click or tactile feedback to the button press, so just be aware of that. 

The light pattern of the FFH is just my cup of tea. Just like in cameras marketing people brag about megapixel count and in light it’s lumens. But so many lights I’ve used for my bikes have gigabillion lumen counts (marketing BS) but the pattern sucks because it’s pinpoint. I want a light pattern that is wide AND long in distance and the FFH has that in spades. I am so pleased to hear that Josh has taken into account the color temperature of the light 5000k, which is very close to the 5800k photographers like, sunlight! And it’s true the depth of field view is wonderful with his light. Bumps and irregularities are easily seen in the dark. The other element that pleases this photographer is one of the two lenses used in the FFH headlight is a Fresnel! I believe that is what he uses for the width portion of the light and the other lens is the more focused one for distance.

The following are my actual photos of the FFH at three different levels:

Bright 770 lumens

Super 2900 lumens

Ultra 3200 lumens

I’ve named my Sur Ron “Wall-E” because he looks so much like that character I could not help myself! LOL

The light pattern is both wide and deep which is something I so appreciate in a trail light. I can see why Luna has the FFH listed on their site. It’s a remarkable value at its current price point of 199.00 USD. I’m very happy to have purchased this light which is invaluable for night time trail riding. If you just want to be seen by traffic on the road, the stock Sur Ron head light is fine. But if you want a great headlight not just to been seen in traffic but to increase your trail night vision, buy the FFH. It’s really that well-made and designed. If you do order one, make sure to specify that it’s for a Sur Ron 12v bike.

13 Jun 2018

Seeing Light and Shadow

I get quite a few questions about light. Specifically questions about strobe brands, what I feel is the best modifier, focusing rods, octabanks, blah blah blah. I get it; I want to know about things like that as well. But on a recent trip to a client’s location I was asked to photograph a group of 2800 high school students as they attended the 5th Avenue Theatre’s Annual High School Musical Awards. It’s a huge event equivalent to the Tony Awards for High School students.

Almost all of the imagery I create at this annual event is ‘non lit’ meaning no strobes or modifiers, only available light. I’m not speaking of available ‘natural light’ from the sun. Nope it’s all unnatural light either from stage lighting or very dark back stage or street lighting. If you’ve never been in the wings of a live theatre just imagine the illumination of a strip club bar and you get the idea of what it’s like.

The real visual story action happens in the alley behind the theatre. It’s where the kids are collected to go backstage before their school performances of the productions for which they’ve been nominated. Obviously the energy is very high. Combine adolescent hormones with a very exciting event and you get a small picture of the energy!

The lighting in the alley is what you’d expect. The illumination is to prevent crime, light the trash bin areas and the HVAC equipment. Anything BUT something conducive to creating any type of portrait photography! But I decided to grab a few groups of students to use what light I had to create some portraiture. I wanted to test my own theories and when people ask me how to use light I simply say “study light.”

So the alley has about eight tungsten lights, the kind you see in the back of any retail establishment near the loading dock or employee entrances. Covered in an industrial plastic, they’re hearty to resist breakage as well as being damn bright. Each light is about 15 feet high on the brick walls and spaced about 25 feet apart running the length of the alley.

So I placed the groups of kids so that the light that fell on them created shadows I wanted and lit their faces in the manner I wanted for the mood of each shot. How I did that is something I won’t go into and I didn’t use any reflective materials or trash to fill in the shadows. Nope this was completely ad hoc shooting with the light I had from those alley lights. My point here is rather than concentrating on what brand, how many watt seconds, whether the modifier you’re lusting after is ‘truly parabolic’ study light and shadow. In my view it’s what will elevate your lighting beyond elevating your credit card balance with little actual yield.

Just a small view of the insanity that occurs in the alley. You can see that it’s dusk and one of the lights is just coming on.

“Light” (LOL) camera right 15 feet above the talent. How you position people is key in this sort of situation. The light is unmovable, but the people are not!

Same thing light camera right, but purposely overexposed to ensure the shadow detail is retained. I brought down the exposure in post. A whole different look than the image above this one for a different feel.

This group is directly across from my other two groups. I wanted a more broad light across their faces for this shot.

06 Jun 2018

LightSaver AD200 Flash Bumper

I purchased one of the LightSaver AD200 Flash Bumpers to determine if it offers more protection than the Flashpoint Silicone Skins which I have been using for the past year. I watched their demo video as they drop a protected AD200 from about five feet onto a carpeted floor. He was out of stock on all but his black units so I ordered the last one he had. It arrived on time and after installing the unit on my AD200 here are my observations:

The LightSaver is about two and a half times as thick as the Flashpoint Silicon Skin.

It lacks a cutout for the battery and I view that as a major oversight. I don’t want to remove the cover just to eject the battery

There is no cutout below the power switch to allow access to the micro USB port. Due to the thickness of the LightSaver it prevents accidental movement of the on/off switch. A nice additional feature.

I ended up using a X-Acto knife to cut out the battery compartment opening so I would not have to remove the cover to eject the battery.

Because the Silicon Skins precisely match the AD200s for fit and openings, I opted to cut one down to size to fit my needs. It’s not as thick as the LightSaver, but I don’t plan on dropping my units. But then again no one ever does! LOL

I always appreciate when anyone develops a product that addresses a need. And in the case of LightSaver I believe he’s done that….to a degree. But by not having cut outs for one of the major access points I utilize often makes it a no go (meaning not purchasing another one) again. At 25.00 listed on his main page (but 20.00 on his buy page…?) versus 9.95 for a Silicon Skin I’ll opt for the latter. Again it’s all about personal preference. And as far as dropping ANY gear it’s a risk we all take. My main plan is to sometimes rest my modifier/AD200 combo on the AD200 when I set it down. And the Skins do a fine job of protecting the units under those instances. 

05 Jun 2018

Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Solar Power Station

OK so anyone who knows me KNOWS that I love haze/smoke/atmosphere for my personal project shoots. Heck even some of my clients are AWARE and ask me to add atmosphere to a shoot. The quality of light when you add particulate to the air and shoot light through it is delicious and magical. Anyway….

Although I don’t consider myself a survivalist per se, I do live in the San Francisco Bay Area – AKA earthquake territory. Yes I was here during the ‘89 Quake and it scared the shit out of me. Because of the desire for fried chicken on that fateful day my wife and infant daughter were not on the Cypress structure that collapsed and killed so many people. So I know that being prepared is the intelligent thing to do. I have a Yamaha 2000 gas generator, water purifiers, things to cook with and extra food. But for my photography purposes, I like to use my generator to power my Chavet smoke machine when there’s no power available, like in the middle of the Mohave Desert or on the Coast of California.

Using smoke on the California coast for a ballet session.

The final shot of Natalie.

Using smoke in the Mohave Desert for “Tango in the Mohave”

One of the final images of Pato and Eva.

Using smoke to add atmosphere in an alley in Seattle for my client 5th Avenue Theatre. This was one of the publicity images for the production of “Assassins

In my backpacking days I relied on my Suntactics USB solar charger made right near where I live! For such a small device I love its lightweight and high wattage output. I wrote a review on my experience using it on this blog. You can find it here.  But when I needed AC inverter plug in power that small solar charger just would not do. I’ve recently discovered that the National and State Park services frown heavily on the use of gasoline generators in forest areas. And with very good reason given the rash of horrid California fires. So I started to investigate solar power stations and decided to purchase the Goal Zero Yeti 1000 from my beloved Costco. These days there are very few brick and mortar shops I frequent, but Costco is one of them. And after doing some research I found that the GZ Yeti 1000 was 300 bucks less at Costco than anywhere else.

So I’ve tested the GZY1000 with my Chavet smoke machine and it works very well. When heating the Chavet pulls almost 1100 watts, well below the rating of the GZY1000. But since I tend to be practical I didn’t want a 1k machine just sitting around until I was on location so I started to figure out how to use it on an everyday basis. My partner and I own ebikes and ride them almost daily. We put about a thousand miles each on of our bikes annually. It’s just plain fun and we’d ride more if it wasn’t for work. This summer we plan on taking the bikes camping so we will need a way to recharge the packs. And many camping areas no longer allow gas generators….thank god. They’re noisy and people who are totally inconsiderate run them at shitty hours.

The Chavet smoke machine pulls about 1100 watts when heating and blowing out smoke. At 11am PST my two solar panels are inputting 127 watts.

My Chavet smoke machine.

Goal Zero Boulder 100 Briefcase

Renogy 100 watt panel.

So I thought I would buy a solar panel, one that is easily transportable. I opted for the Goal Zero Boulder Briefcase 100 for my portable panel. But then Amazon (damn them) had a Gold Box deal on the Renogy 100 Watts Panel for $99.00 so I bought that one too! Much less expensive than buying the 200 watt GZ briefcase. I’ve installed both panels on my roof and hook them into my GZY1000 to power the things on my patio. That includes a water feature, my outdoor refrigerator, the patio bistro lights along with the power outlet station on my patio table. The GZ portable panel is mounted so that it can easily be removed from the roof and the Renogy is in a permanent position. I have a small hot tub and tried to power it with the GZY1000 and it does well UNTIL I power the jets to their highest level. Then the GZY1000 just shuts down, which is the safety feature. So for July I will see just how much PG&E (utility company) money I save by hooking just the hot tub to the unit and not using the highest jet setting.

I opted to install the Goal Zero Solar Charging Optimization Module which increases the solar and AC charging wattage. I’m not sure why GZ doesn’t just incorporate this into the unit. But it does increase the input of the solar and AC current.

Installing the Charging Optimization Module is straightforward and well designed.

If you’re looking for a solar power station I cannot recommend the Goal Zero highly enough. There are other units available, but for a much higher cost. For me the value of this unit is wonderful. Putting the unit to use daily makes much sense to me rather than just keeping it for emergencies or shoots. Besides some of the money I spent can be recovered by not paying PG&E!

05 Jun 2018

Glow Reflector Panel and Sun Scrim Kit

The Glow Reflector Panel and Sun Scrim Kit with the 2/3rds stop scrim fabric.

Before I started to use lights of any kind I would proudly (and arrogantly) say to anyone who would listen, “I only shoot with natural light.” I pontificated that only ‘pure photography’ was created in natural light. Truth was I didn’t know shit about using anything other than available light. Sure I had used speed lights ‘some’ but as I look back on my images I thought were great back then, well…… they are pure shit in my view today!

So during a dinner conversation with a longtime friend who knew I liked taking photos asked, “Hey do you know who Greg Gorman is? My brother Seth works with him and you may want to talk to Seth about seeing if you can take one of Greg’s classes.” After picking my jaw up off of the ground I responded “WTF you mean THE Greg Gorman? The fucking guy who has shot about every fucking celebrity I can name? Your brother KNOWS him?”

So after contacting Seth he conveyed to me that later in the year he was teaching alongside Greg during one of his classes. So I signed up. The course was one full week in Albion, CA where Greg has a residence and a studio. I won’t go into the whole thing, but suffice it to say that I owe quite a bit of my success as a photographer to what I learned from him about light during that week.

His whole objective was to teach us (four students) how to see and use light. And for the first two days we used ‘natural light’ meaning the sun along with reflectors and scrims, specifically Sunbounce gear. Because of Greg introducing me to those items along with my real life experience of all the Sunbounce gear I used and have since purchased (way too many to list) I am not only a loyal Sunbounce consumer, but have found that for on location gigs nothing beats them.

What I learned is if you have a crew of three and there’s good sunlight there’s no need for strobes! The two reflectors are Sunbounce Minis and the Sunswatter is the overhead scrim.

Working with Greg was great. We’re now friends and give each other shit that no one should ever hear. LOL

Nope this was not a natural light shot of Greg.

I received a Glow Panel which is 39″ x 62″ right between the sizes of the Sunbounce Mini and Pro panels I own and use. The Mini is 3×4 feet and the Pro is 4×6 feet. I have many of the Sunbounce fabrics, 1/3, 2/3 stop scrims, silver/white reflective fabric and some gold/silver combo fabric. I find that I seldom use the gold/silver since I’d rather add warmth in post if needed. And the other fabric I use all of the time is the black. I learned from Greg just how valuable a light detractor is in sculpting light. I’m not certain if Adorama plans to offer a black fabric for this device.

Here you can see the hinges in the middle of the frame.

Prior to using Sunbounce stuff, I like others used those pop out type reflectors or white foam core. The issue I’ve always had with those pop up type reflectors is they are crap in moderate wind. One of the things I look for in any reflector is its ability to keep a tight fabric surface. Trying to feather the right amount of light onto talent is hard enough. Having to wrestle with a flexing reflector is ridiculous. And foam core, uh OK it’s cheap but a pain to transport and it never lasted too long in my hands.

The Glow Reflector/Scrim kit comes with both a 2/3rds scrim and silver/white reflector reversible fabric. The frame of the unit is hinged and fully connected via smart hinges. There is a bar that attaches to the frame which holds the unit on a light stand. It’s nice that they include a grip to attach the unit to a light stand. Unless you purchase the Sunbounce Kit, no grip is included.

The fabric is attached via Velcro and is well done and keeps the fabric nice and tight. But I do NOT like to use Velcro to attached fabric to reflector frames. Why? It’s a personal preference, but I have found that when I am shooting on location the time it takes to attach fabric via Velcro to a frame is time consuming. I had tried Photoflex framed scrims and reflectors. They used shock cord to assemble the frames, much like a tent. And the fabric was attached via strong elastic bands at each corner. Convenient to put on and off, but not very tight in holding the fabric tight and easily blown off in wind.

One issue I found with the Glow unit is when placing or removing the cross bar onto the frame, the entire end mounting pieces must be completely disassembled to attach the units onto the bars of the frame. Again more time than I’m accustomed to.

If you purchase one of the Glow Reflector Panels I strongly suggest you purchase light stands which allow you to mount the spigot either vertically or horizontally. Doing so allows you way more flexibility in how you wish to angle the panel.

The hinges in the middle of the frame can pivot in two different ways. Only one of those ways is the way it’s intended to pivot in order to fold the frame in half to fit into the carry bag. The other pivot method simply places the frame into a 90 degree angle with the opposing side of the frame. Frustrating….

Now for the good news. If I were to keep this Panel in a studio environment and not have to assemble and disassemble the frame/fabric I’d have opted for the Glow Panels over my Sunbounce units in a second. Why? Well the fabrics are of high quality and the units present a much better value for studio work. At 99.00 which INCLUDES the light stand mounting grip, a scrim and a reversible white/silver fabric, versus a Sunbounce Mini at 378.00 PLUS and additional 153.00 for a 2/3 stop scrim you’re looking at a whopping 531.00! The performance of the scrim/reflector material is equal to the Sunbounce fabrics. But if you need to assemble and disassemble the frame on a regular basis (like I do) there’s no competition with Sunbounce. And as far as those pop up reflectors, I really don’t like their performance in the conditions in which I shoot. Sure they’re damn convenient to ‘pop up’ but their use in wind or in keeping a uniform surface has not been good in my experience. The Glow framed reflector is a much better choice.

I’m using the white reflector panel in this configuration for my shot of Jenni.

The reflector adds a nice amount of soft fill when properly placed. Just like any reflector, how it’s used is the responsibility of the shooter.