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Magnetic lighting stage for Bratcam
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Chris S.
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Joined: 05 Apr 2009
Posts: 3201
Location: Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Sun Dec 05, 2010 10:45 pm    Post subject: Magnetic lighting stage for Bratcam Reply with quote

When others have posted their lighting rigs, it's been a help to me. While there are a few things I want to do yet on mine, issues raised in some posts make me think it might be useful to show what I'm using. So here is the Bratcam's magnetic lighting stage. The goal was to have a system allowing quick setup and adjustment of widely varied lighting styles for a broad range of magnifications. I wanted light control similar to that of a good portrait studio—key lights, fill lights, backlights, background lights, reflectors, gobos, etc. And I wanted to be able to go from one setup to another with minimal fuss.

Don Wilson, my fabricator, made me a U-shaped piece of steel to place around the back and sides of the Bratcam. We left a bit of room between this steel lighting stage and the Bratcam's base, so that repositioning lights wouldn't have any opportunity to affect the camera or subject. I of course had the lighting stage powder coated. (The steel came from Don’s scrap box, and it took him rather little time to cut it and round off the edges, so this didn’t cost very much. Neither did the powder coating--$20, which included powder coating another small part.)

The light stands are Noga gauge stands with magnetic bases. While the arms and magnetic bases can be purchased a la carte, I found it most convenient to order them set up for machinists, from Travers Tool Company. I purchased them in two sizes: The big ones are MA61003 Big Boy Magnetic Base (about $200 each). I also have the number 001-154 associated with them—not sure if that is a Travers or Noga part number. The small ones are MG61003 Dial Gage Holder (about $80 each). The other associated number for these is 99-001-018.

What’s great about the Noga stands is how quickly they can be rearranged, and how authoritatively they stay in place once clamped. The “one knob to rule them all" (a phrase I'm stealing from AndrewC) midway up the stand locks or unlocks everything other than the magnetic base itself, which sticks and unsticks from the steel stage at the turn of the dial on the base. With these stands, I hold the light (or other object) in my left hand, loosen the knob with my right, place the light exactly where I want it, and tighten the knob. There--and precisely there--the light stays as if suspended by incantation. The cost of these stands is not small--my collection of them is the single largest expense of my macro system--but has proven to be worth it. I'm not rich enough to buy things twice, and did a lot of looking around. After serious thought, I decided to bite the bullet. Glad I did--it's like purchasing a really good tripod and ball head--hurts when you write the check, and feels good forever after. These stands sell on eBay for only a little less than the new price (I had a discount code--now expired--so got 20 percent off on some)--I've noticed this is true about top quality ball heads as well, and I think there is a parallel. This fact gave me heart--a world of bidders is probably not wrong, and these stands are obviously not depreciating like, say, my cameras. Anyway, I don't regret the purchase one bit.

In the setup below, two of them are holding hot shoe flashes, two hold a diffuser (using chip clip clamps), one is holding a background, and one is holding a reflector. The chip clips with rubber bands to hold them is a cheesy temporary measure, but works surprisingly well. I’ll address this in another post. This post showcases only a few of the lighting setups that can be arranged with this rig, but gives the general idea. For amusement, I set a rule for myself sharply limiting setup time between shots.

On the dangling wires are inexpensive eBay wireless flash triggers, attached to the Nikon Speedlights with FlashZebra cords.




After taking the above picture, I tried to see if I could move to ping pong ball illumination in under two minutes. Piece of cake.




Not sure who said it first: "If you want an image to be interesting, don't light all of it." Only one flash firing below. Oh, there is some mildly interesting mold on the lens-facing side of that leaf.




The next setup change--to "Krebsian illumination”--took under a minute, though I needed another half-minute to exchange the microscope objective for an enlarger lens. Since these plastic balls have been referred to as “elusive,” I’ve been meaning to post details of my purchase of them about two years ago. Toys R Us had a package of five for $3.00. The label says “Sizzlin’ Cool 5 Pack Softballs.” Sizzlin’ Cool is a trademark of Geoffrey, Inc., a subsidiary of Toys R Us. The SKU is #29130, but when last I checked, I couldn’t find it on the store’s Web site. I don’t call them Wiffle Balls® because this term refers to a particular brand of plastic ball, and when I was a kid, we only used that term if the white plastic ball had elongate holes in it. My guess is that if your local Toys R Us store doesn't have them now, stop in next May or June, when people are thinking about baseball and T-Ball. These balls might be called something else by then, but are probably perennial.




As I purchased them, the Noga gauge stands each came with a tip designed for holding a gauge used by machinists but of little use in my application. However, unscrewing this tip revealed a hole with M6 threads. Inserting an M6 to 1/4-20" thread adapter gave me a standard threaded screw end compatible with common photography equipment. Here is a Thorlabs AP25E6M thread adapter ($1.70) screwed into the M6 hole. I may switch to the Edmund Optics NT58-988 thread adapter ($5.50). The Thorlabs thread adapters work well, but do not have a barrier to act as a positive stop between the thread sizes, which would make using them more convenient. The ones from Edmund do. [Later note: I did, after writing this post, try the Edmund Optics NT58-988 thread adapters, but found that they are not long enough to reach the Noga threads--so I don't recommend them for this application. So far as I currently know, the Thorlabs AP25E6M thread adapter is still the best bet.]




A Stroboframe Shoe 300-405 ($9.50) screws onto the ¼-20” thread. I like this model shoe because tightening the red knob clamps the flash’s hot shoe very firmly. Also note how well it stays out of the way of the flash’s contacts.



Still on the “to do” list: Replace the chip clips, make clamps to hold fiber optic light guides on the Noga arms, and make rotatable holders for polarizing film for flashes and light guides (to use in cross-polarization). Hope this is of use to somebody; praise or scorn, suggestions for improvement, biting ridicule--all welcome!

Cheers,

--Chris
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Last edited by Chris S. on Wed Apr 02, 2014 9:51 pm; edited 7 times in total
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Craig Gerard



Joined: 01 May 2010
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Location: Australia

PostPosted: Sun Dec 05, 2010 11:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chris,

That's just gorgeous! Cool


Craig
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Chris S.
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Joined: 05 Apr 2009
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Location: Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 12:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Craig! A compliment from one who knows as much as you do is praise indeed.
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rjlittlefield
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Joined: 01 Aug 2006
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Location: Richland, Washington State, USA

PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 12:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Beautiful -- I'll be studying this one for a while...

--Rik
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Chris S.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 12:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Rik. Anything that gets you to find worth it studying it for a while. . .well, that's very like unto a superlative. Your comment is very much appreciated.

--Chris
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AndrewC



Joined: 14 Feb 2008
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Location: Belgium

PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 12:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Evidently those arms deserve the price they command Smile
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rjlittlefield
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Location: Richland, Washington State, USA

PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 1:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I recently purchased one of the Manfrotto arms of similar design but with only a screw base and costing considerably more. Based on how well it works, I thought the money was well spent. It's nice to see that one can do even better!

--Rik
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Chris S.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 1:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

AndrewC wrote:
Evidently those arms deserve the price they command Smile

I think so, Andrew. Makes me think of an old cliche: "You get what you pay for--if you're lucky." In this case, I think you do.

As I recall, you were considering purchasing some yourself, and found that you could purchase them in your country without a usurious markup beyond the already substantial cost. Apparently you haven't bitten yet. Still considering it?

--Chris
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AndrewC



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 5:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chris S. wrote:
... Still considering it?

--Chris


Resource allocation Smile

Mind you, I think collectively we are evolving a monster - I'm waiting for the first view of a stage made out of a 600lb granite slab, suspended from bungee cords, installed in a room carved out of living rock, overhung with an 8 legged multi-jointed lighting "Shelob", hooked to a 20 petaflop computer to enable real time instantaneous stacking, camera moving on a maglev table with laser positioning and all based on a $20 lens picked up on eBay .....

Until then these style of arms are clearly the cat's pajamas for reaching in and positioning accessories no matter what the weight.
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Joaquim F.



Joined: 28 Apr 2010
Posts: 188
Location: Tarragona, Spain

PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 5:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Shocked Is an really awesome illumination assembly, reminds me the robots in a factory car line!
I imagine it with an automatic control of arm movement with preset positions, in combination with automatic stacking movement would be incredible!
Share a part of the lighting assembly, I also have 2 Nikon SB-26, the second I got recently and I am still trying to mount them in a convenient rig, you got a very clever setup with those articulated arms.
I have the flash connected by Nikon ttl cables to camera and mounted in mini-tripod with ballheads, in another "experiment" I try to mount in the extreme of a extra Nikon rail with a PG-1 stage at the end and a flat aluminium bar with mini ballheads attached. Do not think the extra triggers are required so the sb-26 have their own slave cell who can shoot with the built-in camera flash unless you use a shooting technique that includes a delay ...
I just can shot around 21X at maximun and using the shortest flash partial powers i don't detect vibration problems, may be at more magnification is best another shooting technique?

greetings

Joaquim
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Mitch640



Joined: 15 Aug 2010
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 5:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just love Yankee Ingenuity at work. I would like to see the result of the flowering moss shots though. Wink
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g4lab



Joined: 23 May 2008
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 7:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is a Swiss company Fisso that makes locking arms similar to the Nogas
http://www.fisso.com/en/home.html

There is also the FOBA product line:
http://www.foba.ch/pdf/FOBA_articulatedarms_en.pdf

There is a German one too which I will see if I can dig up.

I wish I had one of these:
http://www.lighttoolsupply.com/catalog/Product/Tom-Thumb--Flexible-Indicator-Holder?productID=17

The first time I saw one similar to the above my auto mechanic loaned me an outfit with a dial indicator so that I could clamp the indicator to a single cylinder engine. I was trying to reassemble it and determine top dead center. The operation was a success. The mechanics was from Mitutoyo and the outfit had been expensive. For a while Harbor Freight had similar items but I haven't seen them for a while and failed to jump at the chance when they did. Rolling Eyes

http://www.lighttoolsupply.com/catalog/Product/Nogaflex-Holder?productID=3725
http://www.lighttoolsupply.com/catalog/Product/Precise-Vacuum-Base-Indicator-Holder?productID=4587

http://www.lighttoolsupply.com/catalog/Product/VACUUM-BASE-INDICATOR-HOLDER-WITH-FINE-ADJUSTMENT?productID=6483
Harbor Freight had a vacuum suction base similar to the above which I posted but did not have the spare change to buy a couple of. They were like 20-30 dollars. Here is a very similar item WITH a NogaClone for $30!

Finally I don't recall seeing Climpex products mentioned here:
http://www.climpex.co.uk/climpexhome2.htm

Beautiful Set Up! Smile
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Bob^3



Joined: 17 Jan 2010
Posts: 287
Location: Orange County, California

PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 7:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You know Chris those arms and magnetic bases look like the exact solution to my lighting issues. This is the clearest post I’ve seen using such arms and by far the most adaptable configuration I’ve seen---very inspiring!

AndrewC wrote:
Mind you, I think collectively we are evolving a monster - I'm waiting for the first view of a stage made out of a 600lb granite slab, suspended from bungee cords, installed in a room carved out of living rock, overhung with an 8 legged multi-jointed lighting "Shelob", hooked to a 20 petaflop computer to enable real time instantaneous stacking, camera moving on a maglev table with laser positioning and all based on a $20 lens picked up on eBay .....

Hey, I’ll have you know that I resent your describing my system in that flippant manner! If you had a dump truck driven by a guy called “Mr. Murphy” making runs down the alley behind your house at interval precisely timed to make the cement under your feet literally bounce while you’re trying to capture macro images, you might not be so glib! Rolling Eyes (Not to mention living adjacent to one of the most active earthquake faults in the world…apparently also “driven” by “Mr. Murphy”) Smile

AndrewC wrote:
and all based on a $20 lens picked up on eBay

Actually, that would be a $10 eBay lens (JML 21mm/3.5)! Wink
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Craig Gerard



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 8:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gene,

Excellent links! They will be helpful for many members Smile

Craig
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Bob^3



Joined: 17 Jan 2010
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 8:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

g4lab wrote:
I wish I had one of these:
http://www.lighttoolsupply.com/catalog/Product/Tom-Thumb--Flexible-Indicator-Holder?productID=17

Now that looks like a really useful arm. And the price is not bad either!
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