The VLX Bracket Is Here – Photo Assistants Rejoice!
Somewhere, there’s a photo assistant cursing their photographer for making them deal with using the Vagabond Mini Lithium or Vagabond Lithium Extreme battery pack. It’s not the battery pack (they’re awesome)…it’s the mounting clamp that comes with it. It just…sucks. The battery pack is either falling off the light stand when they try and use the supplied clamp, slamming into the light stand every time they move it (having resorted to hanging it by the strap on a knob of the light stand), or they’ve had to fashion some make shift mount in order to get the battery pack to stay put which is turning out to be more of a hassle than a help! Well, dear photo assistants…REJOICE! Joe Jack of Joe Jack Photography has just developed the second mounting bracket for the Vagabond battery packs that is sure to make you smile…it’s called, the VLX Bracket!
The Short Of It
After the announcement of the Vagabond Lithium Extreme battery pack in back in April (2014), I decided to develop a better mounting system for it like I had done for the Vagabond Mini Lithium back in 2011 (the VML Bracket). After months of design work and testing prototypes, it is finally ready and available to photographers worldwide. For all the details, and to place your order, check out the VLX Bracket page.
The Long Of It
As most of you know, I have always been a fan of Paul C. Buff products. Particularly, their strobes and battery packs. They’re cheap, reliable, and extremely consistent. To make things even better, Paul C. Buff offers some of the best customer service in the industry. But while Paul C. Buff offers impeccable customer service, and has created arguably the most widely used strobe on the planet, their battery packs have always left something to be desired. Not in terms of performance (you can’t beat them), but in how they attach to a light stand.
Several years ago I bought my first Vagabond Mini Lithium battery pack from Paul C. Buff, and have since bought many more over the years. Simply put, they’re awesome! Small, light, portable, reliable, consistent…it really doesn’t get much better for an on-the-go portrait shooter like myself. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that the mounting clamp which comes with the VML is in all honesty…completely useless. To make a long story short, after losing a few VML’s to falls from light stands because there wasn’t a secure way to attach it, I decided to invent my own mounting system for the VML and brought the VML Bracket to market in 2011. Since then, I have sold VML Brackets to photographers in over 16 countries around the world and to this day it continues to be the industry standard for securely attaching your VML to any light stand.
Spring forward to April of 2014, and Paul C. Buff announced the release of their new Vagabond Lithium Extreme battery pack. As I do with most new products that come to market, I wanted to wait and see what others had to say about the VLX before I ordered one for myself. The specs looked great, and Paul C. Buff has always had a great reputation for making incredible gear. So, I waited. It wasn’t long before I was contacted by Bud over at SOPHA, who is a great guy and has always been a long time supporter of my VML Bracket. Bud wasted no time in letting me know that while the VLX was an impressive battery pack, the mounting system that comes with it “blows“. Leave it to Bud to tell it like it is. 🙂
Not being a fan of the turquoise and purple colors on the first release of the VLX, I elected to wait for the black and gray color scheme to come out before I ordered one for myself (still not sure why PCB thought people would like the turquoise and purple color scheme). As soon as it arrived, I quickly looked it over and gave the mounting clamp a thorough testing. While the idea of the new design seemed like it would be a step up from the older version on the VML (at least this new design was partly metal), it quickly proved to have several design flaws which led me to believe that once again the mounting system was more of an afterthought than an integral part of the overall design of the VLX.
The overall design of the mounting clamp on the VLX looks good. It’s sleek, has an attractive cutout for the fan exhaust, is secured by four screws, is coated with a rubberized coating, and appears to be made of metal (except for the plastic paddlewheel used to tighten the clamp). All good things…until you start to actually mount it to a light stand.
To secure the VLX to a light stand, you simply open the clamp (using the plastic paddlewheel) wide enough to fit the diameter of the light stand you’re using, and then simply tighten the clamp. Boom. Easy. When you get the clamp as tight as you think you need it, however, you’ll quickly find that it’s not tight enough as the VLX will start to slide down your light stand. I tried this on all six of my light stands with the same results on each one. In order to tighten the clamp with enough force to get the VLX to stay in place, you’re going to need to brace yourself for a little pain. The edges of the paddlewheel are SHARP, and you’ll soon find your fingers begging for mercy as you strain to apply enough pressure to the paddlewheel to get the VLX to stay where you want it. So, the first major design flaw was revealed…the paddlewheel used to tighten the clamp to a light stand is simply not sufficient enough to do the job. It’s too small and has sharp edges that make applying enough pressure a tedious and painful endeavor. If you shoot with an assistant, and want to test their resolve, have them tighten the clamp a few times and see what happens. If they don’t squeal in pain, they’re a keeper!
After bandaging my fingers at the expense of getting the clamp tight enough to eliminate the VLX from sliding down the light stand, I noticed something odd. There was an extreme amount of flex in the side of the mounting bracket that contained the screw and paddlewheel. I had applied enough force on the paddlewheel to keep the VLX from sliding on the light stand, but had actually caused the mounting bracket to bend in the process! Simply put, the mounting bracket didn’t appear to be made out of thick enough metal to keep it from flexing when tightened enough to keep the VLX in place. Design flaw number two revealed. *sigh*
So, after a little pain and some disappointment in realizing the paddlewheel had to be tightened enough to actually bend the mounting bracket itself, I wanted to see how secure the VLX actually was on the light stand. I simply moved the light stand from place to place around the studio as I would during a session. Much to my surprise, the VLX started to slide down the light stand with each successive move around the studio! To make matters worse, when I tried to simply slide the VLX back up the light stand it completely came off! A simple slide of the VLX and it came completely off of the light stand! I have no doubt that had I continued to move the stand around the studio a few more times, the VLX would have hit the floor. Design flaw number three revealed…the rubberized coating on the mounting bracket is simply too slick to make it effective in maintaining a solid grip on a light stand for which it was intended.
It was starting to become obvious to me at this point that the mounting bracket for the new VLX wasn’t going to cut it. Like the plastic mounting clamp that came with the VML, there just wasn’t any way that I could trust it to safely and securely mount the VLX to a light stand. So, after several weeks of going back and forth, I made the decision to start designing a new mounting bracket for the VLX.
At first, I thought I could design something similar to what came with the VLX but just make it more robust (and more comfortable to tighten). But I noticed what I considered to be a few more design flaws with the placement of the mounting bracket and how it was attached to the VLX itself. First, the mounting bracket is attached to the VLX with four screws that are screwed into PLASTIC! They don’t screw into metal on the inside of the case. This might not be a problem if the VLX didn’t weigh as much as it does. Which leads to another issue…the mounting bracket is on the light side of the battery pack! All of the weight of the VLX is in the battery itself, and so when the pack is mounted to a light stand there is quite a bit of strain on the mounting clamp to hold the weight of the battery on the opposite side. This could easily explain why the VLX was sliding down the light stand when I moved it around the studio, and consequently why the VLX can so easily come off of a light stand! The VLX is simply too big and heavy for this kind of mounting bracket!
Because of the materials used in the design of the mounting bracket, and the placement of it on the VLX, it becomes painfully obvious that there are multiple points of failure in the overall design. While it is indeed a step up from the older plastic clamp that came with the Vagabond Mini Lithium, it’s still a miserable failure in terms of functionality and the ability to safely and securely attach the VLX to a light stand.
So, it was back to the drawing board for me to come up with a new mounting system for the VLX like I had done for the VML several years ago. Over the course of several months I was able to finalize the design of the new VLX mounting system, and am happy to report that it is finally ready to start shipping next week! The overall design is similar to the VML Bracket, and will still utilize a Manfrotto Super Clamp for attaching the VLX Bracket to a light stand. Some people have complained that a Super Clamp is overkill. But, as I’ve always said, $400 for a battery pack isn’t cheap so I’d rather be safe than sorry!
I believe that, like the VML Bracket for the Vagabond Mini Lihtium, the VLX Bracket will allow photographers (and their assistants) to more safely and reliably attach their Vagabond Lithium Extreme to any light stand without worrying that it’s going to somehow fall off. Any day that you can save money by not having your equipment damaged is a good day in my book! 😉
As always, I’d like to thank those of you who have supported me and the development of the VML & VLX Brackets by offering your advice and suggestions, sharing the benefits of using these Brackets with others, and dedicating your time and energy into writing reviews and blog/FB posts about the VML & VLX Brackets. Your endorsement and support is valued more than you know.