Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Purple Martins in High Park

 Purple Martins have returned to High Park here in Toronto after an eight year absence. The largest of the swallow species are obligate aerial insectivores, which means they eat only flying insects, and they take them only on the wing, not off the ground. The local population suffered from starvation during a cold spell back in 2002 which killed off their food source.

 Their old High Park residence had become overrun with house sparrows and had been closed in by the surrounding trees, these birds like an open space around their home.  In 2007 the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority erected a new house located on the south shore of grenadier pond, part of a shoreline restoration project. It took them 3 years but this May two nesting pairs have returned to the park. Lets hope they are successful at breeding here, Martins develop a strong loyalty for a nest site which they successfully breed and will return year after year.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lumiquest Softbox II -vs- Aurora Mini/Max

  I have a Lastolite EzyBox 24" square softbox that can be use for location portrait work using a light stand and it works perfectly. But I wanted to add a small softbox for when the flash is attached directly to the camera or on a flash bracket, mainly for macro work. I looked at two similar products Lumiquest's Softbox II and Aurora's Mini/Max. Both are roughly 6"x8" in size, fold flat for storage, and are meant to attach directly to the front of the Speedlite head.  Both units use roughly the same design, triangle shaped walls which fold out are use to separate the front diffuser from the speedlight head by a few inches, and both use some sort of velcro method of attachment. And here lies the problem with one of these.

  The Lumiquest SoftboxII when unfolded is made up of the the main diffuser screen and four hinged walls which have a small narrow strip of velcro at each end. Four 1" pieces of velcro tape are provided and are meant to be stuck to the sides of your speedlight to accept the softbox walls. However the walls when folded in to create the pyramid like softbox shape, they do not match the shape of the Speedlight head. The shape appears almost square, instead of rectangular which would match the flash head shape. The hinged walls flopped around as I tried to form a shape that would accept the flash and frustration soon hit. I reviewed the instructions provided on the box, and a very vague reference is made that you should trim the flaps to match your flash, I had to ask myself which flap? I soon concluded that the frustration level of this product wasn't worth the money.

  Option two was the Mini/Max by Aurora, the same physical size as the previous model but a much better design. The pyramid type shape is again created by walls which this time were sewn together down to a small rectangular shaped opening to accept the Speedlight head. Velcro is used again here for attaching the head but the strip on the softbox is wider and therefore makes attachment easier. A removable cinch strap which wraps around the flash head replaces the velcro tape, so there is no permanent attachment of velcro to your flash. The installation of the Mini/Max to my 580ex II was simple and straightforward no instructions required. And unlike the Lumiquest, the design looked as if it was purposely built for a standard size speedlite/speedlight unit no trimming of flap A or slot B.
The Mini/Max also has two small diffuser like portals on the wider two walls which can be opened to provide more light to say bounce off a ceiling or near by wall.

 I didn't compare the actual output of each box against one another as I was never able to install the Lumiquest on my flash. I soon realized that this unit wasn't worth the money for the frustration it would cause in the field and I returned it. The price for the Lumiquest was close to $20 more than the Aurora at a local provider of both units so this was a no brainer, easier to use and less money too. I went with the Aurora and was pleased with my results the 1st time out.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

DIY Wimberley Macro Flash Bracket

 After buying a Wimberley F2 macro flash bracket I discovered a company that sells mounting parts for GPS devices that look like those used on the Wimberley M4 module. In fact the ball joints used in the M4 articulating arm are stamped with "RAM" the same company who manufactures the GPS bracket pieces.

The "RAM" raw stock parts do not look as polished as the Wimberley components and you would have to create a homemade mounting plate to replace the M1 module but a simple piece of flat aluminum bar stock and a few 1/4" screws & nuts could easily be used as a replacement piece.

The Wimberley F2 macro bracket is made up of two modules in their Shapeshifter product line:

1) Module 1: M1 Quick-Release Arm, which is used to connect the bracket to your camera or to a lens collar. The connection requires the use of an arca-swiss dovetail style plate, so if you do not already own one you'll have to purchase one.

2) Module 4: M4 Macro Arm, is the articulating arm where you attach your flash.

Most of the components which make up the M4 module can be recreated using the parts available from RAM. They are not identical but are close enough to work with some customization. RAM also offers other components which can be ordered if you want to custom build a macro bracket of your own design.

Components that appear to match closely with those of the M4 module are:

RAM-B-237 (x2):

RAM-B-230 :

RAM-B-201 (x2):

 The cost of the individual parts available through a local supplier (GPSmart) when added up would be slightly cheaper than buying the M4 module from a local Camera store. If you didn't already own an Arca-Swiss style plate and replaced the M1 module with a home made mounting plate/bracket the cost savings would be well worth experimenting with this homemade solution. 

Cost of the Ram parts to replace the M4 module:
RAM-B-230 : $19.95
RAM-B-237 (x2 @ $9.95):  $19.90
RAM-B-201 (x2 @ $19.95): $39.90
Total:  $79.75

The cost to buy just the M4 bracket in a local Camera store is approx $100, if you can find one sold separately. I couldn't find one here in Toronto, so i deducted the price for a M1 module that is offered, from the price of an F2 package price. The local SRP of an F2 bracket is $180. Again if you do not already own an Arca-Swiss style plate you'll need to buy one (apprx: $60) to use the Wimberley F2. So with that addition cost you have a huge budget for supplies to build a home made M1 like mounting plate to replace Wimberley's version. Might not have a quick release option, but it should only cost a few bucks to cobble together compared with at least a $100 for the commercial version.

 The Wimberley F2 macro bracket is very flexible and sturdy once you have tightened the ball joints the flash head isn't going anywhere. I've heard complaints that some of the competitor brackets suffer from slip or drift if you mount a heavy flash like a 580ex or SB900. I'm using an 580ex II and have had no problems so far nor do I foresee any, the F2 is a rock solid solution. I have a P40 like plate mounted to the bottom of the camera and find I can place the flash head anywhere I want it, even when using extension tubes. The F2 also provides a nice handle if you mount it on the left hand side of the camera. I want to add a small softbox to soften the light from the flash, and do not expect any issues with the F2.