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Category : Reviews

08 Dec 2018

Sur Ron Light Bee Review – Imported by Luna Cycle – Update December 8, 2018

Update December 8, 2018

23:32 SOLVED! The forks need to be unweighted when adding or removing air. Granted most people mount these forks on a 40 pound mountain bike, not a 110 pound electric dirt bike. Doing that allows both the negative and positive air chambers to fill easily when they are fully extended. Whew!

Always helps to read the instructions Mark! LOL

Manitou Dorado Pro Sag Adjustment

Today while attempting to adjust the amount of static sag in my Dorado’s using my Manitou air pump air suddenly escaped from the forks causing them to collapse to almost a fully retracted state. Yet the pressure gauge continued to measure 5 bars. I have contacted Hayes who manufactures Manitou forks.

When the pump is attached to the valve I am able to extend the forks to their full extension. Of course letting them go returns them to the aforementioned compressed state. When the pump is not attached I cannot extend the forks higher than 1/3 of the way.

Stay tuned….

Only about two inches of travel remained after the air escaped.

Still shows 5 bars of pressure.

Update December 7, 2018

I decided to upgrade both the forks and headset from the Sur Ron stock parts. Unlike some on a Facebook Group I experienced no head set issues like play or binding. Nope mine were fine. And the RST forks are very satisfactory for 85% of the riding I do. That entails street riding to run errands, fire roads, bike paths, OHV parks and trail riding. The only times I noticed less than good front end behavior was during high speed bumps or holding a line in fast bumpy corners. What that means is hitting something with a hard edge, or ‘high speed’ compression. Think of running into and over a curb or down a long flight of stairs. Those are the types of bumps considered ‘high speed.’ The result was a rather jarring hit through the handlebars, or holding a line in a bumpy corner without having to over compensate to remain on my line. If large bumps are present for an extended run (300+ yards) arm pump would set in for me.

How the forks appeared on AliExpress’ site.

If you’ve read further down in this post you will see that in a former life I was a road racer. I had switched to Ohlins suspension on my RC51 and was overwhelmed by the difference GREAT suspension makes in a bike. In truth Ohlins suspension will spoil anyone who experiences the smoothness, the tracking through corners, etc. etc. Now paying 3-5k for racing forks is a different story when you’re in competition to win. No way was I going to fork over the cost of my total sur Ron on suspension for a bike I use for fun. I looked at Ohlins DH MTB forks….way too pricey for what I need or will ever use to their full potential. I’m pragmatic and maybe in a prior life I would have purchased them.

But a fellow owner alerted me to an AliExpress deal on a set of forks called the Manitou Dorado Pros. I had never heard of them and in truth had never researched any forks for the Sur Ron. I was just happy that Luna had opted for the Killah RST forks after assessing them against the DNM (Do Not Mount was their joking way of referring to those forks) forks originally installed on the first Sur Rons. So for $642.27 USD including shipping for a pair of Pros I just could not pass it up. After doing extensive research on the forks, Downhill News’ review  finally convinced me to make the purchase. I have found their reviews to be very comprehensive, candid and fair.

The only other worry for me was AliExpress. Since this would be my very first purchase through what many say is “The Amazon of China” plunking down 600 bucks and change made me a tad nervous. So I entered my credit card info and kept an eye on my account. Just ten days later a package arrived all taped and wrapped securely. My forks had arrived!

The package as it arrived on my porch. Only ten days from order to delivery too!

Great that the forks came with a pump. My Rockshox did not and I had to purchase their pump separately.

During my research of the Dorado’s I had noted that they made a major change to their forks in 2014. The pair I was purchasing was listed as being manufactured in 2014 so I checked the date on the box as well as on the fork legs. Sure enough both legs, although manufactured on different dates, were manufactured in 2014.

 

July 8 2014 as the date of manufacture.

I’ve done loads of work on motorcycles and bicycles, but had never replaced or removed a headset on either. So I was just a bit nervous. After talking to several individuals I decided to buy the right tools for the job. Most I will never use again, but I always believe in using the right tool for the right job. Here are the tools I felt I needed to replace the headset:

  1. Extra headset spacers. To compensate for the stem height difference between the RST and the Dorados.
  2. Headtube cutting guide. To cut the steering stem to the length I wanted. I can definitely use this later to cut any round tubing.
  3. Star Nut Driver. EVERYONE I spoke to said this is a must have. Driving the new star nut STRAIGHT into the new steering stem isn’t easy without this.
  4. Headset Bearing cup removal tool. You can use a punch or screwdriver, up to you.
  5. Headset Cup Press Set, Bottom Bracket Install Tool. Some use threaded rod and washers. I bought this since it is inexpensive and would prevent me from sourcing the items I would need to build it.

A view from below of the Cane Creek bottom headset cup.

The top Cane Creek headset cup and bearing cover.

Remember NONE of the above is absolutely necessary. I just like to keep my cussing to a bare minimum by using the right tool for the right job.

In the image below you can see the stock RST fork and how the spacers are placed along with their size. One below the top triple clamp and one under the bar mount. The distance from the top of the RST steering tube to the bottom bearing race is 8.25″

Stock handlebars, headset and RST forks.

You can see in the image below that I used the stock bottom spacer from the RST below the top triple clamp. I increased the size and number of spacers (with those I bought) between the top triple clamp and the bottom of the bar mount. This increased the height of my bars by 0.75″. I had previously replaced my stock bars with some that have a 3″ rise so in total my bars are 3.75″ higher than stock. Actually they are a bit higher than that because I reversed the stock handlebar mount which gave me another inch of height. I find that height just right for me when I’m standing on the pegs or pedals. BEFORE CUTTING ANY STEERING STEM MEASURE TWICE AND CUT ONCE. If you fuck up, it’s expensive. And be sure to leave at least 3mm of space LOWER than the top of the bar mount. If not you won’t be able to tighten down the forks against the headset which will give you too much play in the headset.

People have inquired about the ‘thing’ just to the right of the handlebar mount so here is a photo of my cockpit.

On the right is my little waterproof clock that is mount to the bars with a handlebar computer mount I cut down to size. The blue thing in the middle is a Quadlock Out Front Bike mount for my cell phone. I use them on all of my MTBs and the Sur Ron. One phone cover and I can use it on all my bikes.

My phone in its Quadlock cover mounted to the bars.

Here is a great headset installation video made by one of the guys at Luna Cycle where I bought the Cane Creek headset I installed. I highly recommend this headset. It’s made in the USA. Lots of folks buy Hope products. They’re good but just because they’re made by white folks in the UK to me doesn’t mean they’re NOT imports. Most folks seem to feel that stuff made in Europe aren’t imports…bullshit. In the installation video Jason is not using a star nut tool because he’s reusing the same forks. If you’re changing forks, you need a new star nut. There’s also no need to remove the bottom bearing race from the RST forks if you’re not reinstalling those forks.

So I’ve had a chance to do a cursory run with the Dorados. I can only say they are PLUSH in their ability to absorb both low and high speed bumps. Being able to set up static sag is super easy with an air sprung fork. I followed the advice of the Manitou manual for initial settings. I also noticed that a single click of either high speed/TPC (low speed) or rebound damping has a noticeable effect on handling.

Really straightforward setup. Something much appreciated especially compared to other forks complicated set up processes.

I have lots more to experiment with in a variety of situations. But at this point I will just say that I am not disappointed with the purchase. They feel much like my Ohlins did when I first installed them, incredible. More to come….

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.

Did another portrait of my beloved bike! LOL

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.

28 Nov 2018

Glow EZ Lock Deep Parabolic 48″ Quick Softbox Updated 11-28-18

UPDATE 11-28-18

My client has released the press publicity imagery for Rock of Ages so I can now share them which were lit with the Glow EZ 48″

Diana Huey stars as Sherrie in Rock of Ages at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Key light strobe is the 600Pro

Yeah she’s a funny gal that’s for sure.

“Mark you’re not gonna post that one are you?!”

Diana Huey as Sherrie and Galen Disston as Drew star in Rock of Ages at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Key light strobe is the 600Pro

Tough to light this one, but it worked out.

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.

27 Nov 2018

LightSaver AD200 Flash Bumper – Update Novmeber 27 2018

Update November 27 2018

Because I’m a small business I always try to support other small businesses first before larger companies. I know how tough running your own show can be even given all of the advantages. As I was told long ago “You don’t get something for nothing.” which applies to situations well beyond paying for things. I had originally purchased and assessed the Lightsaver bumpers back in June of this year. To summarize what’s in my original review: I found it better than the Flashpoint Skins sold by Adorama in terms of padding, but didn’t like that the battery compartment was covered. 

I like to revisit sites of small businesses now and again to see if any improvements or new products are available. I was THRILLED to see that he has revised his bumpers to now include a battery compartment cut out!

Not only has he incorporated a battery compartment cut out, he’s notched the bumper for the released slider too! Very cool!

For those who follow this blog you will notice that I use new v2.0 Saberstrip modifiers with my AD200s. (Let’s hope Scott releases them for sale sometime soon!) Although it’s not my exclusive use of those strobes, they reside in those magic little tubes of delight 85% of the time. Which means that the ends of the strobes stick out from the modifiers, exposed. So I purchased two more of his bumpers to install on my AD200s.

Love his new colors too!

The bottom black bumper was my original purchase and you can see that I hacked the cover with my Xacto knife to make way for battery removal without having to remove the cover. But with his new design that’s all history! Hooray!

One of the side benefits of the bumpers is the ability to set the AD200 with the v2.0 Saberstrip flat on a hard surface. So often in dance sessions I use the SS’s as rim lights. The ability to just place them flat on the ground saves me hauling extra light stands too!

Being able to place the strobe and modifier flat on the ground without worry about wobble or damage is great.

An example of using rim lights on the ground with the v2.0 Saberstrips and AD200s.

In the past I’ve used a Godox S bracket to hold my v2.0 SS’s flat on the ground with AD200s and to protect the fragile screen from damage. 

Kudos to Lightsaver for taking the time to improve his design. I highly recommend his 20.00 solution to protect your AD200. Oh yeah, plus he’s a small biz like me!

Original Post June 6 2018

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. 

19 Nov 2018

Saberstrip v2.0 – A REVOLUTIONARY modifier – Update November 19 2018

Update November 19 2018

I continue to be so impressed how using two v2.0 Saberstrips can produce the light I so love which could only be created with a ring light. But the huge difference is since the lights are NOT attached to the camera, I can use a long lens, yet keep the lighting near the talent. This was taken with a Canon EF 85mm f1.2 lens. The versatility of these modifiers is incredible.

Not to mention my use of them in dance imagery creation.

Several of you have written to me asking when Scott will release these modifiers. I highly suggest you write to him on his website to ask. I continue to encourage him to release these modifiers.

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.

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!!!!

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!

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.

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.

02 Jun 2018

Flashpoint Godox AD600Pro – UPDATED June 2 2018

UPDATE June 2 2018

I installed the optional rear handle onto the Pro and love it. Being able to use the handle to adjust the angle of the strobe when it’s on a stand is so welcomed. Even though I often use a focusing rod modifier I do NOT like to use the rod as a lever to angle the strobe, so I simply hold the modifier to adjust the angle. There is one issue with the item I received. In order to install the handle you must remove the four Allen head bolts and use the longer ones which are supplied. I received two hex wrenches and I originally thought that they were different sizes, but they are the same. The issue is they both are TOO LARGE to remove or install the bolts. Luckily I have a huge tool supply and had the correct size of hex key. The supplier should investigate whether I just received an anomaly pack or if they’ve spec’d the wrong hex key.

Neither of the supplied hex keys fits the corresponding bolts.

The second issue is more of an annoyance than an actual issue. After I installed the handle the Pro would not fit into the cool little case that comes with the unit. Sad, I really like that case…sigh! But more importantly even with the handle installed it still fits nicely into my Pelican Case which is the one I use for airline transport. I recommend the handle, especially when a heavy modifier is mounted to the Pro.

The handle is really solid once installed and fits perfectly with the unit.

Too long to fit into its native case…sad!

Gladly it still fits into my Pelican case with the handle installed. You can see how much longer it is than the xPLOR600.

UPDATE April 4 2018

My client has just released the press imagery for Hunchback of Notre Dame so I am now able to share them. The session was held on location in Seattle at the Volunteer Park Water Tower which is four stories. After obtaining the required permits we had to lug all of the grip and lighting gear up four stories and I HATE LUGGING! LOL… Because the remote head was not yet available I didn’t use any focusing arms for this session. My modifiers of choice were the Elinchrom 69″ Octa and the SMDV 110cm octa. I used the 600Pro in the Eli and an xPLOR600 in the SMDV.

The four story water tower. We shot at the top for most of the session.

Boy how I wanted an escalator! LOL!!!!

The 600 Pro inside the Eli 69″ octa. Pentax 645Z shot at HSS.

The 600 Pro inside the Eli 69″ octa. Pentax 645Z shot at HSS.

The 600 Pro inside the SMDV 110cm octa. Pentax 645Z shot at HSS.

The 600 Pro inside the Eli 69″ octa. Pentax 645Z shot at HSS.

Toughest shot, natural light with the 645Z.

The talent, hair, makeup, wardrobe and marketing team. The 600 Pro inside the Eli 69″ octa. Pentax 645Z shot at HSS.

UPDATE March 15 2018

During recent client sessions, both of which were on location I had the opportunity to use the AD600 Pro in combination with a number of modifiers. Because the remote head for the Pro is not yet released I did not use any focusing rod modifiers. In one session whose images I cannot at this time, I used the Pro in an Elinchrom 69″ Octa with both diffusion panels installed. I did not go over 1/4 power and was shooting HSS with my Pentax 645Z. The unit performed flawlessly.

In the session I can post images below I used the Pro in a SMDV 44″ (110cm) octa with both diffusion panels installed. The interior of the theatre where I was doing these portraits was very dark so I appreciated the very bright modeling light so that I could easily obtain focus. To date I’ve found the Pro model exemplary in recycle time, modeling light and ease of use.

Waiting for the talent. It looks much brighter in this phone camera image than it actually appeared in real life!

Pro with SMDV 110cm camera left. Just out of frame camera right is my Sunbounce Mini reflector using the white side.

Pro with SMDV 110cm modifier directly in front of the talent. I’m shooting from below the modifier with the Sunbounce reflector under her face just out of frame.

 UPDATE: February 21 2018

Yesterday I was able to utilize the Pro during a commercial session. Here are my observations:

  • The modeling light is VERY bright, as bright as my former Einstein strobes.
  • IF I use the modeling light at any power that enables the fan, the battery life is much shorter than the AD600. My session was only three hours and at the end of it I had only one bar left on power. Keep in mind that I was using the modeling light at 100% during the entire session. The strobe only went to sleep after 30 minutes of non use. I will need to experiment with power control on this unit, i.e, modeling light, sleep time, etc.
  • The swivel mechanism is MUCH MORE ROBUST and far easier to adjust than the AD600. I tend to adjust the position of my lights often and in incremental steps during my sessions and the ability to pivot the modifier is excellent. Not having a ratcheting mechanism makes all the difference.
  • The recycling times are extraordinary. Literally no waiting for the strobe to recycle IF you’re not using 1:1 power. One second can seem like a lifetime when I’m shooting, but I seldom use 1:1 in rapid shooting. Normally in studio I’m at power levels of 1/32 to 1/2 at the most. I’m not a “spray and pray” shooter so when I say that I shoot at will, it’s when I see a gesture or expression that I want. And at those power levels it allows me to shoot at will.
  • Because the unit swivels so freely I will purchase the optional handle when it’s released. Although I plan to use the Pro with focusing arm modifiers and can use those to pivot the strobe, I’d prefer to use the handle.

That’s it for now. I used the Pro with the Adorama 65″ Glow Easy Lock X-Large Deep Beaded Silver Fiberglass Umbrella. Incredible modifier which I’m finding can rival my focusing arm modifiers in some instances!

Original Article

I debated waiting to write an entire review of my experience using the new Flashpoint Godox AD600Pro strobe until I had tested most of the items important to me. Because this is my high season it would take me about six months to do a soup to nuts review. So I’m opting to write my findings piecemeal meaning – as I go along. Sorry, but I felt it best to do it this way for this strobe. As I integrate the unit into my workflow I will make mental notes and add my findings to this review. 

Also since I almost exclusively use focusing arm modifiers now, I probably won’t have extensive use of the Pro until the remote head is released.

Things that are immediately apparent as improvements over the Flashpoint Godox AD600 units:

  • The swivel adjustment is nice and smooth now. No more ratcheting which I hated and modified on my units.
  • The modeling light is B R I G H T and adjustable to the output of the strobe. Like my old Einsteins. Love that
  • The swivel mount now allows you to place the unit in a vertical (parallel to the light stand) position using a SuperClamp and a stud.
  • I like the power button located on the bottom of the unit rather than the side. When I pack my strobes into my Pelican cases I often worry about the units turning on due to the pressure from the foam pads. So I always detach the batteries which airlines don’t like in checked luggage. Also simply pressing the power button now turns to unit off immediately. I like that. You must hold the power button down for 2-3 seconds to power the unit up.
  • The Bowens mount seems much more snug than the AD600. But that depends on the modifier too.

Some people ‘may’ feel that the build quality is ‘better’ on the Pro but I never thought the AD600 exhibited poor build quality….except for the irritating ratcheting swivel which has been completely removed as well as improved. BTW the swivel adjusting handle can be moved by pulling and re-positioning it in the event the handle is being blocked by the strobe’s body or any attachments.

I’ve had zero issues with my units, only with the early remote heads where the LED modeling lights would fail after two months. If trolls are concerned about what happens if they drop the strobe, hell any strobe….well best of luck to them.

The overall length of the new Pro is longer than the AD600. I didn’t measure them, but the new Pro fits into my Pelican case which is what I wanted to know.

The Pro weighs 14 ounces more than the AD600

I purposely didn’t include the covers/Pro’s built in reflector to keep them apples to apples for weighing.

The charger input is the same as the AD600, but the OUTPUT is significantly higher in the Pro’s charger. 33.6v 1.3a. versus 12.6v 3.3a.

The swivel mount on the Pro has included an ingenious second hole and threaded mounting hole so that you can now mount the strobe vertically onto a lightstand when using the remote head. Very well done.

I prefer to use truss clamps when mounting the strobe to a lightstand. But now I don’t have to fabricate much. I simply bolt a spigot to the truss clamp.

Very easy!

With the new mounting hole you can simply buy a SuperClamp and pin to vertically attach the strobe to a lightstand. The advantage of using a SuperClamp over my truss clamp is the ability to use it on smaller diameter light stands.

Easy and Sano!

Whenever I have to travel with my strobes via airlines I remove the bulbs. TSA has broken bulbs before. I use these nifty short covers to protect the attachment points and LED modeling light.

The Pro’s bulbs are much larger in diameter than the AD600s so I found my old Tamrac MX5375 lens pouch works perfectly. They are no longer made, but there are plenty of others out there if you need to find one.

The Oryx Gear DSLR Lens Pouch, Medium which is available (and I just purchased and received) fits and protects the bulb perfectly when detached from the strobe body for transport.

Of course the real aspect of the Pro will be the light quality/battery life/recycle time. I’m very interested in recycle times and the Masking feature. For color consistency a separate menu choice like the Einsteins is great. But during those times my clients need absolute precise color I have never depended upon strobe color temperature, but instead the X-Rite Digital ColorChecker Passport and a recently calibrated monitor. 

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

In preparation for a session this week I plan on using the Pro with my 69″ Elinchrom Octa WITHOUT a focusing rod. The session calls for a Vanity Fair style of light, so I will use ultra soft lighting which the Eli 69 delivers in spades.

The Elinchrom Bowens speedring had been back ordered so long on all of the online retailers I decided to modify one. Since I knew it would take a bit of work to do this I also decided to use one of Cheetahstand’s Low Profile Bowen Speed Ring Inserts. Those inserts are about 2/3’s of an inch shorter in depth than normal Bowens inserts. This would then allow my AD600/H600 bulbs to protrude further into modifiers allowing for a bit more power. Yeah you have to drill out all of the rivets, shave the new ring down to fit the Elinchrom speedring, but I was motivated!

Wow so combining the 600 Pro’s new bulb/socket design and my use of the Cheetahstand Low Profile Ring the bulb is actually flush with the speedring in the Eli 69! Very cool! 

Further aspects and more will be forthcoming….stay tuned.

22 Apr 2018

Fabricating a Fresnel w/gobo for a strobe – Update April 22 2018

UPDATE April 22 2018

I recently used this unit during a session with a Fresnel. It can be found here.

UPDATE April 18 2018

I recently tested the Flashpoint xPLOR600 Pro on location using my gobo device for an upcoming session. Because of the Pro’s excellent modeling light I was able to see exactly where the pattern falls even in bright daylight. Plus the LED modeling light does not generate enough heat to affect the plastic Fresnel lenses in the unit.

Light pattern was created with a Rosco gobo titled “Construction.”

UPDATE March 25 2018

I decided to update this post even though the two gobo modifiers I use are sadly no longer available. The first unit I’m talking about is the SP Image Projector. It uses Rosco size B metal gobos. When it was available it was very inexpensive as well as very effective. I’m updating this post to say that I’ve adapted it to accept any Bowens strobe since I’ve switched from PCB Einsteins to Godox/xPLOR600 units. I also needed to have the ability to rotate the gobo holder so that I can angle the unit to suit my needs. When I was using the PCB strobes Paul’s mounting system allowed me to rotate the unit when attached to an Einstein. Not so with a Bowens mount so I simply used an older Bowens speed ring which allows me to rotate the SP Image Projector. 

My DIY mount to allow the use of Bowens strobe units. The thumbscrew allows me to rotate the gobo unit.

Rosco Size B window gobo. The heat from a theatrical follow spot caused the discoloration. I bought my gobos used.

I can rotate the SP unit at will to suit the mood or scene.

Keeping the gobo level in this test shot.

The SP Image Projector which sadly is no longer available.

I have used the SP Image Projector along with an appropriate gobo in many a commercial shoot. This was to portray Lee Harvey Oswald in the play “Assassins”

I used the SP Image Projector along with a jailhouse door gobo in a commercial shoot. This was to portray a convicted felon in prison in the play “Assassins”

The Bowens Universal Spot Attachment is yet another gobo strobe modifier that is no longer available. It uses the smaller Rosco M size gobos. What was so nice about this unit is that there is no fabricating to use it on a Bowens mount strobe.

For my project “Tango in the Mohave” I used the Bowens Spot Attachment with a cathedral window gobo paired with the Flashpoint Portable 1200ws Extension Head. Remarkable combination. Funny back story, when Eva, the dancer in this photo saw it on my iPad during the session she asked “Mark, where is the window? I didn’t see it when you were taking this photo.” LOL so cute!!!

Apparently both of these gobo modifiers were not popular enough for each manufacturer to continue producing them. Sad. I know that there are companies who make gobo projectors for speedlights so all is not lost if you want to use one. Before I found any of these unit I converted a Leko 1000w tungsten theatrical follow spot into a strobe gobo modifier. I wrote a post about this crazy idea and will be converting it to accept a Bowens mount. Yeah it’s damn heavy, but produces the best light to date for gobo use paired with my 1200ws head. Just kinda impossible to take on an airplane! LOL!

Yeah it’s crazy as shit, but when you’re motivated and you want something, well….

UPDATE: August 4 2015

_PEN7955-Edit

One of the great advantages of having a portable gobo/strobe combination is the ability to use patterns of light outside of a studio environment. Recently I wanted to create the illusion of a window on a painted concrete wall located in a parking structure. I loved the texture the wall provided so I simply took my gobo device, one Einstein strobe hooked to a Vagabond Mini Lithium battery. An incredible little combination for on location light pattern needs.

Original Article

For years I have hauled around a full size stage follow spot just so I could use gobos in special photo shoot sessions. For anyone who knows me I seldom complain, it’s just how I was raised. But I will say that on a CONSISTENT basis my primary bitch is lugging gear. I hate it, I literally hate lifting, hauling and dragging gear to and from the airport, onto the car rental shuttle, into the rental counter, into the car, into the hotel, back out of the hotel into the car and then into the client’s venue. And then all of that in reverse. Get the picture? Assistants? Sure, but not on every assignment….

My SP unit with a multi circle Rosco B gobo as an accent light shot with an Einstein strobe with haze in the air. Key light is an Einstein camera left shot through a PCB Extreme silver PLM.

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19 Apr 2018

Aputure Fresnel Lens Updated April 19 2018

UPDATE April 19 2018

Recently I have favored Fresnel lighting for my on location outdoor sessions. The flexibility of the Fresnel’s ability to focus its beam, it’s matching light quality to sunlight and the stability of the modifier in high wind makes it a winner for my work. The other aspect of my work I’ve been trying to improve is the ability to make a lit scene not look lit. It takes much more finesse to light any scene as if it is just natural light, but with a high production look. Still much more to learn, but the Aputure Fresnel is a remarkable tool. My strobe of choice for this session was the Flashpoint xPLOR600 Pro.

This is how the location looks in natural light.

Just using enough fill from the Fresnel so as not to cast a strobe shadow takes practice. 1/320th f4.5

By far the most difficult lighting balance on that day was this shot. To not overpower the ambient light, cast any strobe shadows and yet fill in the talent took some effort. 1/250th f3.5

1/250 f3.5

1/500th f2.8

UPDATE February 25 2018

I’ve written an on location post where I’ve utilized an Aputure head.

UPDATE January 26 2018

I’ve recently written a post about my use of the xPLOR600/eVOLV200s with several different modifiers for a session. You can find that post here.

UPDATE October 2 2017

I have written a post about a dance session I conducted that uses these items. You can view that post here.

UPDATE September 10 2017

I recently posted an article on my use of all Godox units in one session. The article includes the use of this product. You can view that post here.

My initial findings for the Aputure Fresnel Lens – July 6 2017

Because I work with so many theatrical stage lighting designers and bow to their artistry along with how COMPLEX their jobs become, I am very familiar with the Fresnel lens. It’s a staple of the constant light stage world and was very popular in the early Hollywood celebrity portrait days. Many shooters now love ‘soft light’ the softer the better in their minds. But the use of bare bulb lighting and Fresnel light is very powerful and effective to convey the right mood in a shot. So for a whopping $69.00 I decided to buy the Aputure Fresnel Lens off of Amazon.

An example of my use of bare bulb lighting.

The body of the modifier is made of fiberglass and is extremely sturdy. The Bowens mounts fit perfectly into all of my Bowens mount lights including Godox and Xplor units. The construction is very well executed. I appreciate the 7″ reflector around the lens which easily accepts the grids and barn doors I have for my other hard reflectors. If you don’t want the reflector it’s easy enough to unscrew from the housing.

A handy degree marking is built into the left side of the housing. Adjustment is easy and smooth by loosening a knob on the opposite side of the mount to slide the lens forward or backward. Extending the lens reduces the angle of light.

Looking ‘into’ the housing from the back of the unit.

The front view of the unit. Four hex screws hold the 7″ reflector to the unit.

One of the things I will find out in actual use is how much light bleed from the vents on the side of the housing cause. I believe that will depend on where/how the strobes are placed in relation to the subject. Since the unit is made to be used with all Bowens mount units the vents are placed to dissipate heat. I don’t imagine that the light bleed from the vents will affect my work unless I’m using the unit for an overhead light which may bleed onto any seamless I’m using. Time will tell and if that is the case I will simply use some Cinefoil to mask off any bleeding light. Stay tuned….

I wanted to determine how much light loss happens using this modifier compared to a bare bulb or 7″ cone. My little test was done outside in daylight. Using an Xplor 600 at maximum power (1:1), 20 feet from the wooden wall, measured with a Sekonic L-358 light meter, ISO 100, 100th of a second. My finding:

  • Bare Bulb: f9.0
  • 7 inch cone: f9.0
  • Aputure Fresnel: f8.0

The f8.0 was when the unit is set at the maximum spread of 42 degrees. Things change when I zoomed the Fresnel to the 15 degree mark which yields f9.0 at the same distance.

No strobe, shaded daylight illuminates the wooden wall as my control shot.

Fresnel set to 42 degrees, 20 feet from the wall.

Fresnel set to 15 degrees 20 feet from the wall.

Obviously I will be continuing to update this post when I use it on a commercial shoot. In September I have a dance session where I plan to use this unit along with a gobo strobe modifier. At this point I’m very pleased with the construction and operation of the unit. Stay tuned.

29 Mar 2018

Converting a Stage Follow Spot to Accept a Strobe – Updated 3-29-18

UPDATE March 29 2018

Because I’ve changed from PCB Einsteins to Godox/Flashpoint 600s I needed to ‘convert my conversion’ to accept a Bowens mount. It was very easy since I simply bolted a Cheetahstand Low Profile Speedring onto the PCB umbrella reflector. His low profile speedrings allow the bulb to insert further into a modifier. Now I have the ability to not only use the 600ws heads but also the 1200ws head when needed. Very slick!

Original Article

Why? My view is why not?! A few years ago a friend asked if I wanted an old Leko stage follow spot. Being a bit of a lighting pack rat I said “Sure!” I originally used it so I could apply light shaped with gobos in my still photography for dance. It also allowed me to create lovely rays of light using haze combined with different gobo shapes. In its original state the Leko was a 1000 watt constant tungsten light. Plenty powerful for stage applications, but completely overpowered whenever I used it in conjunction with my Einstein strobes. Even though the Steins can go as low as 2.5WS doing simple math shows you that at 1000 watts shot at 1/250th of a second yields about 4WS, not a ton of power.

DSCF5789

Leko follow spot modified to accept a PCB Einstein strobe

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25 Mar 2018

Initial Sundisc 60cm portable impressions – Update 3-25-18

UPDATE: March 25 2018

I wanted to do a final test prior to using this modifier. I placed my eVOLV200 into the unit with both the Fresnel and bare bulb heads to see if there was any light output difference. I originally thought that the bare bulb would produce a higher output but I was wrong. Both the Fresnel and the bare bulb produced f32 at 2.5 feet from the front of the modifier. Power level for all shots was full power, 1:1. As I contemplated the output is not even across the face of the diffusion panel. Not unexpected since this is designed primarily for speedlights. Also ANY modifier where the light source is not centered would most likely not produce even output across the face of the diffusion panel:

With Fresnel Head

  • Center: f32
  • Right (where the strobe enters the modifier)” f29
  • Top: f30
  • Bottom: f29

With bare bulb attachment

  • Center: f32
  • Right (where the strobe enters the modifier)” f29
  • Top: f30
  • Bottom: f29

I also added my Godox AD-S18 Flash Tube Bulb Metal Protector Shovel Cap to see if blocking the flash bulb at the entry point would produce even light. But instead it reduced the amount of light across the entire face! Center was f22.

Godox AD-S18 flash tube shovel.

So I’ve determined for the uses where I plan to use the Sundiscs,  I will simply use the Fresnel head on the 200. It’s less prone to breakage than the bare bulb and I have a modeling light when using the Fresnel attachment. Keep in mind all of this was done using a Godox S Bracket to hold the 200.

Original Article

Sundisc

I came upon an article by Michael Sewell about the Sundisc modifier. His review intrigued me enough to further research the piece of kit. After looking it over on other sites and reading his review in full, I felt it worthwhile to invest in two to see how I could use them in my workflow. My original thought was to use them in those infrequent, but frantic ‘run and gun’ situations where a client needs me to go around different parts of a venue and with very little time with the talent. I also thought that they may be a nice alternative to overhead or side fill lights.

It took about two weeks from ordering to arrival since they are shipped from China directly to the consumer through Sundisc. As with all gear I test them thoroughly before even considering using them on set. Determining the best use of a tool along with how I would configure it is just protocol for my workflow. So the first task is always examining the quality of the construction. The units are well made, seams are well sewn, zippers and elastic are of high quality. The reflective materials are thick and well placed. The Sundisc allows you to reverse the modifier for silver or gold reflection, very nicely done. The elastic loops are designed to hold speedlights, but I found that using a Godox S Mount is much more useful than using the elastic bands. You’d have to use some sort of swivel anyway to mount this to a light stand so I found that an S Mount is just right for my use of the Sundisc.

The Godox S bracket fits perfectly snug inside the Sundisc.

I have modified my S brackets, removing the rubber from the compression bracket. It allows me to insert my eVOLV200s with the silicon skins attached.

Silver interior. Here you can see the elastic strap designed to hold a speedlight in place.

Close up of the elastic band. Although it is of high quality and well sewn, the band allows the Sundisc to ‘flop’ over once you tilt your speedlight beyond 80 degrees. I want to have the ability to adjust the modifier to any angle without it flopping over.

It’s extremely easy to reverse the Sundisc from silver to gold. A great design.

All of this would easily fit into a small backpack! Perfect for any run and gun imagery or portraiture.

At this point I only tested the Sundisc with my eVOLV200 using the Fresnel head. The bare bulb attachment would easily work as well. One of the other advantages of using the S bracket is the ability to place the head of the strobe very low in the modifier, thereby filling the entire surface of the diffusion panel. Keep in mind that I don’t think I’d ever use this outdoors or in a mild breeze. I’m not sure how the construction of the disk keeps the sides separate, but whatever is holding them apart works well. Yet even a slight breeze would cause the modifier to twist or turn, so for me I’d only consider using it indoors.

So I decided to try it on Bob to view the quality of light the Sundisc produces.

Bob’s set up. The Sundisc is about 5 feet away from him.

Very good quality of light, much like a nice softbox.

My eVOLV200 modeling light is turned on. As you can see by having the strobe placed low in the modifier, it allows the light to more fully fill the disc. By using the elastic band inside of the unit to hold a strobe or speedlight it places the unit about 4-6 inches into the modifier and creates a dark area at the bottom when triggered.

Some people may ask if the strobe produces any hot spots in the modifier close to the actual flash head. At this time I didn’t notice any hot spots.

This is most likely how I will use the Sundisc, as a hair or fill light. It’s very light at only 14 ounces and placing it on a boom with my eVOLV200 and S bracket will allow me to be very portable. Not to mention using a boom arm that is light weight.

Testing it as a hair light. Since like me, poor Bob has no hair so I let him use my custom made top hat!

During my initial evaluation of this unit I find that the quality of materials and the quality of light it produces is well worth the investment. Obviously during actual use more uses/issues may become apparent than just during my initial overview. I really like how thin the unit is and how small it packs down to transport. It’s very light weight as well which is another plus. The only downsides I see right now is my perceived inability to use the unit in a breeze, but other than that I’m happy to try them on a commercial shoot. Although they will work with my H600 remote heads using a Bowens ring to insert into the hole of the Sundisc, I doubt I’ll be using them that way. Using it as a key light? Uhhh….not sure, maybe? Like I always say, never say never….Time and experience will tell though…. 

21 Mar 2018

OPENCLOUD Glass Diffusers for Godox AD600/1200

 

While reading an article that Markus Klinko wrote I found an effective glass diffusion dome to go over the AD600/1200 bulbs. He uses them primarily in Fresnel modifiers and I can understand why. Unlike focusing arm modifiers or diffusion panel softboxes, Fresnel lenses project a beam of light through a lens. So any details or more accurately patterns of the bulb element will be projected onto the subject. I found this in my own experiment with the now discontinued PCB Retro Laser modifier which projects light through a parabolic (a real parabola!). When I was using my 1200ws head that contains two bulbs elements the resulting light showed the separate bulb patterns in my test.

Two separate elements reside in the 1200ws bulb.

My PCB Retro Laser with the 1200 head.

1/4000th ISO 100. Distance from light to target is 35 yards (105 Feet, 32 meters). The two element bulb pattern is clearly visible.

I noticed that the diffusion glass cover he uses is sourced from China so I found one that may be made in China but has a short shipping time. That is the one I’m reviewing which is the Opencloud brand I found on Amazon. It’s also less expensive which is interesting since the one he uses is sold by Opencloud as well…go figure!

Fits well over the 1200 ws bulb.

I had to remove some of the foam tape located at the rim of the frosted glass cover so that it would fit over the bulb without too much friction.

I simply removed some of the foam tape so that it easily slides over the bulb yet is still secure.

Fits well on the AD600 bulb as well.

Without diffusion glass cover.

I decided to test the cover to see if the diffusion reduces the output of the strobe. I placed my Sekonic meter 10 feet away and set the AD600 to 1:1 power without any modifier. Without the cover at 1/100, ISO 100 the output was f14. With the diffusion cover it was f13. Now before you all get your panties in a twist thinking “Wow that is very low!” remember that a 7″ cone reflector is going to amplify the light much more than just firing any strobe with a bare bulb. My point is NOT to show how powerful the strobe is but to test to see if the glass diffusion cover reduces the output, and it does by only a third of a stop.

I plan to use the glass diffusion cover whenever I use my Retro Laser, Fresnel, PCB Omni or any other modifier where the bulb is focused without diffusion where I notice an element pattern on my subject. It’s nice to have this inexpensive option.

17 Mar 2018

iRobot Roomba, Really?

OK so I know this is primarily a photography blog. Most folks come here for photo stuff…I think. But for me life is much more than just imagery. Hell I’ve written about ebike lights, toolboxes, my late Mom….it is after all my blog. So it means I can write about whatever I want and if you don’t wanna read about it, you don’t have to, do you?

I own my home in the Bay Area, one of the most expensive places in the world in which to live. And I plan to die here since I never plan to sell. So I keep up my place, I do the vast majority of housework, cleaning toilets, showers, the yard, laundry and yes vacuuming. Even though my girlfriend lives here her division of labor is cooking, albeit has somewhat dropped off. Since I travel for 50 percent of my work, doing chores is not something I look forward to when I’m home.

One of the things I really like are freshly washed towels and vacuumed carpet. I just like the way freshly vacuumed and clean carpet feels on my bare feet. But hauling out the vacuum cleaner, plugging it in, moving furniture, etc. isn’t something I’ve enjoyed. But I pay that price for a clean carpet so my tootsies can be happy when they get to walk on freshly vacuumed fiber. Weird maybe, but WTF I’m weird anyway.

So about four months ago a friend of mine was in town from Dallas to do a concert. He’s the co concertmaster at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and we’ve become friends. We shared some talk about what’s been going on in our lives and he mentioned that for Christmas his parents bought him a “Roomba.” “OMG” I yelled,” I’ve wondered about those things but have never known anyone who has one. Plus they’re damn expensive!” He laughed and said he didn’t know anything about the cost, but loved his. He then showed me the app on his phone that shows how it can be scheduled, its vacuuming history, etc. Boring as shit stuff to most, but for me I was intrigued.

So we said our goodbyes and I went home and immediately searched Google for reviews of remote vacuum cleaners. I found this Consumer Reports review and decided on a Roomba 890 based on Nathan’s recommendation and their review. Man they’re expensive, ranging from 400 to 1000 bucks! So I did what I usually do, I looked for refurbs or “Like New” returned units and guess what? A model 890 was available for under 400 bucks so I took the plunge. Amazon has such an amazing return policy I figure if it didn’t work for me I could return it.

The Roomba 890 arrived, I installed the app on my Android device and I was off to the races. I named my 890 “Maria” (which is my gf’s first name (hehehe) and started her. But before all of that I vacuumed my entire house to see what if anything Maria would collect on her maiden voyage. What I noticed is she goes around my home (a single story place) without any seeming rhyme or reason. She got stuck in my bedroom walk in closet when she closed the door behind herself. She sometimes becomes confused in my bedroom having to navigate around all of the light stands and studio crap I have piled in there too. But most times she eventually finds her way out.

After her first voyage I was shocked when I opened her dust bin to find a lot of stuff! Remember I had just vacuumed the entire place so I expected very little to be collected. It may be due to the fact that she can go under furniture where my regular upright has trouble fitting. Or I’m just a shitty vacuum operator! One of the coolest things is how she collects long hair in her rotating brushes. It all gets pushed to the ends so when I remove the brushes to clean them the hair is easy to remove. I don’t have pets, but my gf has long hair. I have a shaved head so it’s certainly not mine. Cleaning her is very easy and I use my compressor to blow out all of the dust when she’s done.

“Maria’s” main page

You can schedule it whenever you want.

This is the 890’s main menu.

80 percent of the time Maria finds her way back to home base and docks to recharge. In the 20 percent when she can’t find her way back she runs out of battery life and just stops where she ran out.  My feet love being on freshly vacuumed carpet, even more so when I don’t have to do the damn vacuuming. My gf thinks I’m crazy, but I could care less. She’s not the one who ever vacuumed the place! On a flight home from Seattle she sat next to a woman who works for Amazon. And as luck would have it she was the one in charge of the vacuum devices division! She told my gf that ‘if you can afford it’ the Roomba line is the best one to buy.’

And just like with all things my gf believes what other people say way more than me. Is Maria worth the price? That’s up to each individual, but I’m happy to pay a bit more than a normal vacuum to eliminate a tedious chore, yet enjoy the feeling of clean carpet under my feet. Having my cake and eating it too…a rarity!

Maria has found a permanent home here. I love her. LOL!

15 Mar 2018

SMDV Alpha Speedbox-A110 Updated March 15 2018

UPDATE March 15 2018

During a recent client sessions, both of which were on location I had the chance to use the AD600 Pro in combination with a number of modifiers. Because the remote head for the Pro is not yet released I did not use any focusing rod modifiers. In one session where I cannot release the images at this time, I used the Pro in an Elinchrom 69″ Octa with both diffusion panels installed. I did not go over 1/4 power and was shooting HSS with my Pentax 645Z. The unit performed flawlessly.

In the session I can post images below I used the Pro in a SMDV 44″ (110cm) octa with both diffusion panels installed. The interior of the theatre where I was doing these portraits was very dark so I appreciated the very bright modeling light so that I could easily obtain focus. To date I’ve found the Pro model exemplary in recycle time, modeling light and ease of use.

Waiting for the talent. It looks much brighter in this phone camera image than it actually appeared in real life!

Pro with SMDV 110cm camera left. Just out of frame camera right is my Sunbounce Mini reflector using the white side.

Pro with SMDV 110cm modifier directly in front of the talent. I’m shooting from below the modifier with the Sunbounce reflector under her face just out of frame.

Original Post

A few years back I purchased a SMDV S70 28” softbox when I was using speed lights with modifiers. I was impressed at the quality of the light, but even more so with how it opened and closed with ease! Later Adorama started selling their own version of the softbox under the GlowPop brand. They use the very same mechanism as SMDV for opening and closing the unit. I bought one of the GlowPops for quick run and gun shooting and liked the light weight both units provided. I changed both of those modifiers from the speed light bracket to Bowens brackets since I no longer used speed lights.

I recently wanted a more robust modifier that would set up quickly and have a better attachment system than the SMDV or the Glow Pop. Both of those hold the speed light or Bowens bracket onto the speedring with VERY SMALL SCREWS and on both the GlowPop and SMDV units I own, they have stripped out. We’re talking Phillips screws so small you must use a jeweler’s screwdriver to remove or install them. That’s small!

I’m also in the process of ‘paring down’ the number of modifiers I’ve collected over the years. My personal rule of thumb is if a modifier like my Zeppelin 47” with its heavy mounting bracket can be replaced by something within 10% of its size I’ll do it! You see I use focusing arms for many of my modifiers so I seldom use the diffusion panels that come with the modifiers. After doing some research I found that SMDV sells an A110 softbox that measures 44”, close enough! Plus it’s much lighter and a great shape for ‘parabolic’ focusing using a focusing rod. And their signature opening and closing mechanism makes it even sweeter to replace the Zep.

The largest GlowPop made is 38” and still uses those tiny damn screws to hold the bracket onto the speedring. The SMDV makes a 44” which fits within my personal parameters when I’m considering replacing another modifier for various reasons, in this case my 47” Zep.

So here are some of my initial tests using my trusty buddy “Bob” to ascertain the light qualities/spread/focusing capabilities of the modifier. If you are not familiar with focusing arm modifiers I suggest you search the web. This post is simply about my own findings with the SMDV 110. As I use this on real client sessions I will be updating this post. If at some point I opt to use the SMDV 110 with its included diffusion panels I will post those images as well.

This is a HUGE improvement made by SMDV! No longer using those silly little jeweler’s size Phillips screws to hold the bracket onto the speedring! Plus it gives me the flexibility to change from Bowens to Profoto if I want to use my Parabolix focusing arm with the 110. Yay!!! Those small plastic tabs replaced the pair of tabs to close the softbox on the smaller  SMDV units. I find that just like the smaller units with only a pair of tabs, it is best if you apply downward pressure on the softbox as you press the tabs to release the rods.

I appreciate both the silver material SMDV uses on this unit along with the tension the 12 rods put on the material to spread it evenly. The unit is well made.

Using the light in its fully flooded position.

Bob in the fully flooded position. The modifier is directly behind me and I’m standing in front of the modifier. It resembles the look of a beauty dish in this configuration.

Light is fully focused in this shot.

Bob in the fully focused position. The modifier is directly behind me and I’m standing just under the modifier. This provides a much more specular look as well as a more slimming light to his face.

Fully flooded and I have rotated the modifier to Bob’s left which darkens the left side of the modifier so that the light is bouncing off of the right side which is the ‘key light’ in the modifier. So the left side is the ‘fill light’ that fills in the right side of Bob’s face. Confused? Research how focusing arms work on the web….

Same as above, but the light is fully focused.

I didn’t shoot Bob in the mid focused position, but this is what it looks like. You can see that the light has a much different quality in this position.

So remember this is ONE LIGHT, ONE MODIFIER and simply angling the modifier to the left or right or focusing or flooding the light produces dramatically  different looks. It’s just ONE of the reasons I love focusing arm modifiers. And the SMDV 110 is perfect for my needs. Well made, well designed and the quality of light it produces makes it a great choice for me. Oh and the weight and ease of assembly is just icing on the cake!

03 Mar 2018

Flashpoint R2 Pro C – Updated March 4 2018

UPDATE March 4 2018

Yesterday I was commissioned to create imagery of a dancer for an upcoming magazine cover. It was all on location and I was using xPLOR600s one with a H600 remote head. All of the locations were outdoors. In the first location I was completely outside with no walls or ceilings around me. The Flashpoint R2 Pro C worked flawlessly. When I moved into an area where two vertical walls were present that’s when my troubles began. The strobes would not fire. I had to restart my camera (1DX Mark II) as well as restart the R2 Pro. The strobes would then work for about 4 flashes and then the same issue would occur. I got my shots and then moved to the final location. Again one without walls, but during the last portion I was shooting in a tunnel which of course has walls and a ceiling. In all but the aforementioned venue the R2 Pro worked flawlessly. I’m not certain what would have caused the misfiring. I have my trigger set at the 0-30 meter setting and the strobes were well within those distances. Strange….

First location, no walls or ceiling. R2 Pro worked flawlessly.

This was a light test and I was not happy with the light so I moved him back into the shaded part of the structure you see in the background. During this light test the unit performed flawlessly.

Once I moved in between the walls the R2 would misfire as is evident in this image.

After rebooting both my camera and the R2 the strobes would fire, but only for about four flashes. 

Moving on to the next location without walls or a ceiling, again the R2 performed perfectly.

Well into the tunnel that has both walls and a ceiling the R2 performed perfectly. Both strobes without incident.

I am literally at a complete loss for why the R2 would misfire in my second location. So as a backup I now plan to carry both the R2Pro and an X1 whenever I go on location. I am using rechargeable alkaline 1.5v AAs in the unit which were fully charge. I have another outdoor on location shoot this coming Friday so I’ll be taking both.

UPDATE December 9 2017

I just returned from a two day studio session using the Flashpoint R2 Pro C on my Pentax 645Z. The unit performed well and I discovered that when using the transmitter with another non Canon (C) camera the Standby feature does not function as it does on the camera it’s designed for. I have the R2Pro set to Stby in the menu and when mounted to my Canon when I half press the shutter the R2 comes back to life. Not so with my Pentax. I must physically press any button on the R2 unit to revive the transmitter. Other than that (no TTL or HSS) it works well.

UPDATE November 15 2017

I recently had the opportunity to use the Flashpoint R2ProC during a commercial session.  The short story is it worked flawlessly. My issue with the XT32C sometimes misfiring when standing right next to my key light did not occur at all. I have the unit set to 0-30m distance in the Custom Functions. The most significant feature I can highlight at this point is being able to view most if not all of my strobe settings at once. It’s wonderful. I did run into one issue that is totally user error when attempting to use the ALL button to change all of my light settings…

Even though I was only using groups A and B I had left all of the group settings ON.

I had left A-E lights active but for this session I was only using two lights. I became frustrated when trying to adjust all of the lights at once since the unit seemed to only allow a 2 stop range down or up. What I realized when I got home is that by having more than the number of strobes I was using active on the screen, the unit will only go up or down based on the lowest or highest setting of a group.

To explain:

Let’s say group D which you’re not using is set at 1/64th. If you scroll power down and have your units set to 1/128th as the lowest setting all of your adjustments down are limited to just one stop. So the answer when using the unit is ONLY KEEP ACTIVE those light groups you’re actually using. I tried to find this in the user guide but it is not listed. Now you know.

Be sure to just leave the groups you’re using active (ON) or when using the ALL feature you will limit yourself to the lowest or highest group settings for adjustment.

Original Post

The new Flashpoint R2 Pro C. What a great improvement over the previous versions of their transmitters!

I have assembled some of my initial impressions and comments about this transmitter. It will be a few weeks until I can actually use the transmitter in sessions. But that won’t be before I run it through some of my own usability tests. I must admit that I was hoping Godox would develop a transmitter like this. I want to say straight off that in life there isn’t a single thing that is perfect for everyone. I laughed out loud when I read one person was concerned about the angle of the R2 Pro which they felt is ‘too angled’ and forced them to tilt their camera ‘too much’ to see the display. Another person complained about the R2/X1 controller having no tilt and hitting him in the forehead when he looked through the viewfinder. All things can be improved including human attitudes. The important thing is if a piece of equipment is right for YOU. And of course every manufacturer can and should improve their products, and the R2 Pro is living proof of that concept!

For many years I enjoyed the use of the PCB’s CyberCommander with his Einstein line of strobes. Sure the CyberCommanders involved a bit of a learning curve, was not the most elegant interface…BUT it was so well designed from a function/operational standpoint those aforementioned issues seemed petty. I loved being able to view the power settings of all of my strobes in one look. The range of the CyberCommander was excellent and the variety of controls I had at my fingertips made my job so much easier and more importantly was my ability to focus on the talent, not the lights.

One of the things I noticed right off about the R2 Pro was the battery level indicator. (BTW neither the R2/X1 or the XT32 have battery level indicators) I had just put fresh rechargeable Enloop AAs into the unit and in a matter of seconds it went from 3 bars to 2. Strange…so I changed to a new pair and it was the same. I then got out two fresh Duracell Alkalines and guess what? Three bars stayed. Since I had not yet read the manual and figured I needed to put batteries into the unit to follow along I began to search for the answer in the user manual. Page 09 states:

“AA alkaline batteries are recommended…..Low Battery Indicator When the battery power is weak, less than 2.5v…replace them to assure a strong wireless signal and reliable flash triggering.”

Well there you have it. Alkalines are 1.5v and rechargeables are 1.2v. So right off the bat 2.4v is BELOW the 2.5v they recommend if batteries need replacement. This is certainly not a deal breaker even though I use rechargeable batteries for all of my gear. I will research if anyone makes 1.5v rechargeable batteries. And I will have to find out through testing if 2.4v affects the transmitter’s ability to consistently fire my strobes. If not, then it’s back to using alkaline batteries in this unit. It’s also very interesting that the battery indicator does NOT come on immediately when you boot up the unit. There’s about a two second delay before it appears. I surmise that the unit is ACTUALLY testing the battery level before displaying the remaining voltage…..interesting.

I was shocked to see that the battery level was at 2 bars after just putting in freshly charged Enloops….until I read the manual.

I should also state that I am NOT a speedlight user. I may use one now and again, but my work does not lend itself to speedlights. My work involves the use of strobes so I won’t be testing/writing much if anything about the unit’s compatibility with speed lights. Sorry. I’m not a review site, but like to post what I observe to help other shooters who may or may not operate with the gear I talk about. While I’m on that subject I realize that this unit has TCM, TTL Converted to Manual. Never had that, seldom if EVER use TTL. I’m the old school light meter kinda OG and with digital hell I don’t really need to use my light meter all the time. I can get pretty close because I do this so much and adjust my lights/aperture/ISO/Speed after looking at the shot and Histogram. So I will get around to ‘testing’ the TCM at some point and report my findings. It seems like a cool feature though…

The R2 Pro works just as well with my Pentax 645Z as it does with the XT32 and X1/R2 transmitter. For that I’m very happy. Later I’ll test it with my Fuji X100T, but I’m pretty sure it will work on my little Fuji too. AGAIN I’m not a TTL guy

This is just to illustrate the different angles of the R2 Pro and the XT32. Both are mounted on Canon 1DXs. The R2 Pro is in the foreground.

Side by side shooter’s view of the R2 Pro and the XT32C. LOL I just recently discovered that I never removed the plastic film from my XT32 so I just did! Let’s see how long I leave it on the R2 Pro!!!!

Clockwise from top left, the Godox XT32C, the Flashpoint R2 Pro C and the Flashpoint R2 C.

Initial operational observations

HSS and Second Curtain Sync

The R2 Pro requires you to select HSS, Second Curtain Sync or nothing. Unlike the R2/X1 and the XT32 which automatically switch to HSS above Canon’s sync speed, you must enable HSS on the unit or the camera will not go above the sync speed, at least on the 1DX. With the X1/R2 when the shutter is set at 1/30th or slower the camera automatically goes into SCS. The XT32 does not and you must set SCS in the camera’s flash menu when using the XT32. On the R2 Pro C you must set SCS on the transmitter or the flash will remain in first curtain sync. Unless I plan to use SCS I found that leaving the controller in HSS allows it to function in both HSS or normal sync.

Modeling light

In the Group view you must press the MOD button which lights all of the group’s modeling lights. Only then can you turn OFF individual modeling lights for multiple strobes. If you do not turn on all modeling lights in the group view then selecting a specific group with the physical buttons on the left side of the controller does not show the MOD choice on the menu. Sounds confusing I know, but once  you get a unit you will see. I prefer the ability to decide which strobe’s modeling light is on or off and the unit has that ability.

Sound

Like the modeling light I prefer to control individual units beeping, but it appears it’s an all or nothing choice with the R2 Pro. Certainly not a deal breaker! The nice thing is this unit has a Menu button which easily accesses the former “Cf” function area. That’s where you can enable or disable the sound along with other functions.

Individual Group On/Off function

There are often times when I want to turn an individual strobe on or off and this can easily be done with the R2 Pro. You simply go from the Group view to an individual Group and toggle through the choices of M, TTL or Off using the physical Mode key. Easy!

Distance

This is in the Menu area and it’s welcomed. There have been a number of times when I was using my XT32 that I’d get misfires while standing right next to my keylight! It was not all the time, but sporadically and at random times. Now in the Menu area is a DIST choice of 1-100m or 0-30m. In studio and on location I tend to shoot within the 30m distance so it’s nice to have that choice. I’ll be testing to see if I get any misfires when close to strobes. I’ve never had an issue with either my X1/R2 or XT32 at long distances.

ALL

Good god I love having an ALL button that is physical so I can easily turn all of my lights up or down keeping ratios I’ve set before the same. I’ll use this feature all of the time.

Something I’ll miss….

On the XT32 when you change Channels in the upper right hand corner is a little diagram of how the old school dip switches correspond to your channel selection. I know most of you don’t use those old dip switches anymore. But for me when I use my Pentax 645Z and the old FT-16 USB receivers to get HSS with xPLOR/Godox strobes I am often changing channels. It’s pretty idiot proof for me to just look at the diagram and switch those little dip switches. Oh well… I’ll just carry my XT32 as a backup anyway.

I’ll miss those little dip switch illustrations…..

Initial Summary

These are just my initial impressions of the long awaited R2 Pro! And the topics I’ve outline above are the features that are important to me and my work. I have yet to test the unit other than to see how HSS/SCS work and they perform just fine with both the xPLOR/eVOLV line of strobes. I’ll be posting more as I have the time to test the units and finally in commercial work. So stay tuned.

26 Feb 2018

Review: Coolbox – “The World’s Smartest Toolbox” – Updated 2-26-18

UPDATE February 26 2018

OK so after having used the Coolbox on location for a few weeks I have an improvement I’d like to see them make on the next version. The lifting handle opposite of the wheels is way too short. Why you ask? Well it’s fine for lifting the box in or out of the car, but leaning down due to the short handle as you roll it is a pain. It’s because the handle is made primarily for lifting and not rolling the toolbox. My ‘fix’ was to attach some rope to the handle opposite of the wheels so that I don’t have to lean down so far when rolling the toolbox. A friend of mine purchased one for her husband who’s 6-2 and he refuses to use it due to the oversight in designing the pulling handle. She wants to sell it! For now that’s it though!

Original Article

In April of 2016 I along with many other folks contributed to the Indigogo program for Coolbox listed as the “World’s Smartest Toolbox.” I was made aware of the campaign by my photo partner. She said “Mark, check this out! So much of what they plan to build into this thing meets our needs!” So of course I plunked down my 199.00 plus 50 bucks in shipping and supported their campaign. Their original delivery date was scheduled for July 2016, a mere three months from my payment…not bad. Fast forward several months, then several years and nada, no Coolbox. But they kept communicating which was much better than the Kickstarter fiasco I invested in for a Kraftwerks bullshit device that never appeared.

Today, January 15 2018 I received my Coolbox and am thrilled with the product. I know it’s built for many different purposes, but for a working photographer who does studio shoots in a number of locations, this thing ticks so many boxes. I have used two canvas tool bags to carry my grip equipment which includes Super Clamps, DIY truss clamps, gaff tape, extension cords, you name it. I also take along a portable Bluetooth speaker to keep things lively during sessions, having the talent tap into the speaker with their favorite tunes on their cell phones. I shoot tethered to an iPad and as such take a stand specifically to hold the iPad so my clients can view the images in real time. Extension cords for smoke machines along with power reels so I have plenty of outlets. Then USB charging ports to power my phone, recharge my iPads, etc. Well guess what? Damn near ALL OF THOSE things are built into the Coolbox!

The Coolbox has a clear lift up panel that protects two USB charging ports, one a 2A and the other a 1A from water. The AUX female input is for playing music without using the Bluetooth feature. The Mode and UP and Down arrows adjust the clock. As silly as it seems having a clock on this is a godsend for me. During sessions I have to keep on schedule and having the clock will be epic! The speakers built into the box are very good in sound! Wow I didn’t expect them to be so good. Now just one less thing I have to pack….or forget! Oh and to the top right of this image is the bottle opener! Never too early for a root beer! LOL!!!

On the left side are the wheels (yay it rolls!!!) along with three 110v power outlets. The power outlets are covered by a plastic flip up lid that protects them from water.

Another seemingly ‘silly’ feature is the cell phone holder located on the front of the unit. I always silence and place my phone in my camera bag during a session and often forget which ‘pocket’ I’ve stored it in! Now I don’t have to wonder!

In their video the original design shows a retractable cord. The actual final design has an exterior cord wrap. Fine by me.

The top of the box has a built in slot that holds a tablet. This is my iPad Mini Pro with cover which fits very nicely. Now this will replace the stand I traditionally use for clients to view the iPad! In their video they show that the top lid has a magnetic surface to hold bolts, screws, etc. The top is NOT magnetic in the final product.

And there is an interior tablet holder too!

The white board is double sided as well as removeable. It’s cool that they’ve thought of placing a dry marker holder on the lid! (Marker not included BTW)

This is the lift out tray that neatly holds so many of the grip tools I utilize on a regular basis!

OK THIS IS EPIC! See that LED strip light at the bottom of this photo? Well it has two levels of intensity but what’s brilliant is that it ILLUMINATES THE INTERIOR OF THE BOX!!!! OMG having a light to see black on black grip gear is better than sliced bread!

AND the LED strip light detaches from the box and can be hand held. It recharges off the internal battery or while you’re charging the box simply by plugging it in.

Empty box with the light replaced so you can see the volume.

My new Coolbox replaces the canvas bags I use to haul all of my grip gear to sessions! I cannot tell you how happy and more organized this tool makes my life!

So the only bit of bad news? As of this post, January 15 2018 I see on their website that the Coolbox is backordered. Bummer. But if you feel it will fit your needs, GET ONE. As time goes on I’ll be updating this post to report if I’m still in love….

25 Feb 2018

Review: Adorama’s Flashpoint eVOLV 200 TTL HSS – updated 2-25-18

UPDATE February 25 2018

I’ve written an on location post where I’ve utilized both the AD200s and AD-B2s.

UPDATE December 9 2017

I recently conducted a two day session using two eVOLV200S mounted to an AD-B2 unit shot through a Cheetahstand Quick strip box. The strobes were used as second key lights combined with my xPLOR600 with remote head shot through a CononMark 120CM focusing octa modifier. The units performed well and the stopping power of the units is excellent. I shot all sessions using a Pentax 645Z whose sync speed is limited to 1/125th of a second. During jumping action shots the strobes froze the action of the talent jumping. I’m continually pleased with the performance of both the eVOLV and xPLOR  units. It should also be noted that I was able to complete two full days of shooting without charging either the eVOLV or xPLOR units.

The two eVOLV200s in the AD-B2 can be seen behind the Cheetahstand Quick Strip box in the center of the seamless.

Full body shot of the talent as she performed a leap into the air.

 

Full crop of the necklace to illustrate the stopping power of the strobes.

UPDATE October 2 2017

I have written a post about a dance session I conducted that uses these items. You can view that post here.

UPDATE September 29 2017

I have written a post about the Flashpoint Silicone Skins for the eVOLVs. You can read that post here.

UPDATE September 10 2017

I recently posted an article on my use of all Godox units in one session. The article includes the use of this product. You can view that post here.

UPDATE August 25 2017

Although this is not specifically about the eVOLV 200 you can see how I’ve used two with a Parabolix 35D for a recent commercial shoot. And although I won’t be able to share any images for about two months it worked fantastically! 

UPDATE July 29 2017

I have written an article about how I achieved using the Xplor/Godox 600 and 200 strobes in HSS with my Pentax 645Z. You can read that article here.

UPDATE July 17 2017

I recently wrote an article about using all of my Xplor/Godox lights in one shoot including the eVOLV200s. You can view that post here.

UPDATE July 13 2017

Over the next two days I will be shooting with the eVOLV units and wanted to see just how robust the umbrella holder is before taking it to a shoot. I was very skeptical before trying it that it could support anything other than a small umbrella. So as a test I used an 86″ PCB PLM soft silver umbrella with the eVOLV umbrella holder. I will now say I am confident that I can use this device indoors any time I want to use an umbrella. The PCB 86 is NOT light and the umbrella holder held it fine. No it’s not as secure as a regular screw down umbrella stem unit, but it’s darn good enough for most uses.

My PLM 86″ soft silver is the most massive umbrella I’ve ever used and throw incredible light. I use it whenever I need a huge modifier and I would not hesitate to use the eVOLV unit in studio with the PLM 86.

UPDATE July 10 2017

My client has released their season brochure where I exclusively utilized Flashpoint Xplor and Evolv strobes to create their imagery. You can view those final images and a short BTS video here.

UPDATE: July 7 2017

I had asked if anyone knew how the upcoming Flashpoint eVOLV Twin Head bracket attaches the eVOLV 200’s to the unit. Adorama sent me a photo of the rear of the product to show how they attach to the bracket. I’m very excited to use these units. It just gives even more flexibility to an exciting and wonderful eco system of strobes.

UPDATE: June 14 2017

I was recently hired to do a shoot of backstage activities for one of my regular clients. I had taken one light to conduct a shot at the end of the performance onstage. While in the backstage area two subjects were just too tempting to light for an impromptu portrait. One of a young man dressed as the Music Man and the other was a dance troupe. So using one Evolv 200 and a PCB soft silver umbrella I created the portraits below. I should mention that I used the bare bulb head for both of these images.

UPDATE: May 29 2017

This update has nothing to do with the light produced by the Evolv 200 strobe. Nope. It has everything to do with its size. This Memorial Day weekend I was hired by my client to photograph a world class conductor, Jaap Van Zweden at the Dallas Symphony. It was to be a very quick trip, fly into town and arrive at 3:30 (scheduled, but due to weather it arrived an hour late) and fly out at noon the next day. Most non pros have this fantasy that us ‘pros’ have everything perfect for our shoots. HA! So what I had to anticipate was a possible late flight (which happened), long lines at the car rental counter (yes to that too), you name it. It’s frickin Memorial Day weekend! In the morning just before flying out I was scheduled to do some portraits so that meant I needed strobes and modifiers. In addition to all that I had to rent a Aquatech Sound Blimp for my noisy as hell 1DX Mark II. You see shooting from the back of the stage, covered in all black means that I cannot make ANY SOUND the Maestro will hear….NOTHING. Have you ever used a sound blimp? I didn’t think so. They are BIG, HEAVY AND DAMN HARD TO MANEUVER! Plus they take up a ton of storage space. I could not risk a tight time frame to/from the airport with a lot of luggage so my only choice was to pack as efficiently as possible….and the Evolv200’s fit that bill.

You can see the size of the sound blimp next to my 1DXII. It’s massive!

What the interior of this monster looks like. Remember it has to deaden the sound of a 1DX! As reference it makes a 5DMIII sound loud when in silent mode.

With both heads removed from the Evolv200 units I could fit both inside the sound blimp along with their Fresnel heads! EPIC!!!!

Since I was using one of the Evolvs as a rim light and the other as my key light I opted to store the bare bulb head in the blimp and carry the Fresnel head in my jacket pocket. The bare bulb was used in a GlowPop octa.

My vantage point from where I shot. Try standing for 45 minutes in the first movement and 1 hour for the second movement in a 2/3 foot space. Ah the glamorous pro life! All to get the ‘shots’.

I got the types of shots the client wanted of the Maestro.

So the fact that these little powerful units can pack so small is yet another reason I LOVE THEM!. And the portraits came out great….but NDAs mean I cannot show them right now.

UPDATE: April 26 2017

Today I ran into my first hiccup with these lights. It has to do with the barn doors. I love the build of the included barn doors but have noticed that the magnets which hold the gels onto the units are not all securely glued/fastened into the barn door unit. On both sets one or two of the magnets dislodged from the barn door assembly. Nothing a little glue can’t fix, but the manufacturer may want to do some QA on the units. Other than that though these strobes and their accessories are the bomb. I would never have imagined I would utilize the Fresnel head/barn doors as much as I have. Those two units allow me to NOT use cones for hair/rim lights.

Upon removing one of the gels this is how the magnets had attached themselves to the gel holder.

You can see the corresponding holes where the magnets had dislodged from the barn doors.

UPDATE: April 18 2017

Today I used the eVOLV 200 for a client’s publicity session where I am not bound by an NDA. I utilized the unit as a hair/rim light using the Fresnel head/barn doors/grid on a boom arm. My key light was an Xplor 600 shot through an Elinchrom Rotalux modifier all shot with my Pentax 645Z. I normally use an Xplor 600 attached to a Flashpoint extension coned head as a rim light/hair light, but found that using the eVOLV with the barn doors and grid is an excellent alternative. 

The eVOLV is truly remarkable and I would have never thought of using the Fresnel head, but it is perfect as a hair/rim light.

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