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Accessorize with Michael Bass Designs  
Thursday, January 18, 2007 | by Rob Galbraith
If you use Canon or Nikon shoe mount strobes off-camera, or need to trigger remote cameras with a PocketWizard, you owe it to yourself to check out the cool, useful accessories at Michael Bass Designs. Introduced to the world of flashes and PocketWizards by his photographer son late in 2005, Bass now makes and sells a broad and growing line of cables and other accessories, plus he will add a sync port to various (mostly-Canon) shoe mount strobes.
 
While we've made for ourselves several of the items that Bass now has on offer, there's a key difference between his stuff and ours: his stuff is better designed, better built and is more functional as a result.
 
Stuck on the Stick-On Trigger
 
Our excitement comes first and foremost from using his Stick-On Trigger to trip basketball backboard remotes (see gallery below for an example photo). Bass, a practicing dentist in Connecticut who studied mechanical engineering before dental school, cooked us up a deluxe version, with two trigger buttons, a coiled quick disconnect cable and small clips meant to keep the miniphone plugs from pulling prematurely from the PocketWizards.
 
The feel of the Stick-On Trigger's springy, short-throw buttons, the obvious quality of the twin, colour-coded 26 AWG tinsel wire cable, the size and sturdiness of the button assembly that mates to the camera body, the convenience of the quick disconnect cable, everything about the Stick-On trigger is right. And the buttons fit and stay nicely between the grip and lens mount of both Canon 1-series and Nikon D2H/X-series digital SLRs, with the help of an included adhesive velcro patch (an assortment come with the trigger).
 
Our fully-loaded Stick-On Trigger, like much of what Bass makes and sells direct, wasn't cheap. But it has been worth every penny.
 
But wait, there's more
 
Bass started his sideline business early in 2006, selling camera pre-trigger cables for use with PocketWizards. (A pre-trigger cable links the remote camera to the PocketWizard.) Since then, he has rapidly expanded the range of products he makes, including the Lens Mount Trigger (which we've also used, and which works well), several different flavours of pre-trigger cable for both Canon and Nikon cameras (including ones that combine a remote shutter release and pre-trigger cable into a single unit), plus off-camera flash cords modified to include additional sync ports, hot shoes and inline connectors to enable the use of a longer or shorter cable.
 
Rounding out his product lineup right now are metal safety cables for strobe and remote camera setups, and the Always Ready Flash & PW Stand/Bracket. Working mostly on a build-to-order basis means that Bass can offer a smorgasbord of customization options too.
 
He also will add a sync port to shoe-mount strobes that don't have one. To date, he has performed sync port grafts, in the form of a sub-mini jack near the base of the flash, on Canon Speedlites only: the 580EX, 550EX, 430EX, 420EX and 540EZ. Though, says Bass, "[I] am anxiously awaiting any other units Canon, Nikon or generic to examine and mod." He has also performed the modification on a replacement flash foot and shipped that to the customer, along with instructions on how to install the modified foot: "This was the method I just used for a photog in Australia, and it saved shipping charges and import taxes as well."
 
Bass is currently testing a possible new product, one that allows two Canon Speedlites to be connected via a single Off-Camera Shoe Cord 2 tether to the camera, with both flashes retaining full through-the-lens flash exposure functionality. This effectively enables the two to act as a single more powerful flash, or for the power to be turned down on each for faster recycling times. When asked what else he's working on, Bass' response is enthusiastic: "Anything you want! The requests and ideas can and do come from anywhere and everywhere. This isn't rocket science (although I have studied some of that also), it's just problem solving!"
 
Product gallery
 
The photos below show some of the items in Bass' lineup that we've used, including the Stick-On Trigger, Lens Mount Trigger, pre-trigger cable for Nikon featuring a press-fit 10-pin plug and mini inline switch, a Canon Off-Camera Shoe Cord 2 with sub-mini jacks added and the Always Ready Flash & PW Stand/Bracket. The basketball backboard remote photo leading off the gallery was captured by a Canon EOS 5D and tripped with a Stick-On Trigger stuck to a Canon EOS-1D Mark II N.
 
Accessorize: A look at some of the products from Michael Bass Designs. Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
 
Observations
  • We mentioned it above, and we'll mention it again: everything can be customized: connectors, cable length, number of switches, you name it. Endless choice, however, mean it's a bit hard to decipher the options sections of the product pages on the Michael Bass Designs website. Fortunately, Bass expects and welcomes some back and forth through email to determine what precisely it is that you need.
  • The Nikon pre-trigger cables can be purchased with an original equipment camera connector (i.e. the actual connector used in Nikon-brand accessories) or a third-party connector. The Nikon pre-trigger cable we looked at had a third-party connector, which is meant to press tightly in place and lacks the screw-on locking mechanism of Nikon's own connector. Inserting the third-party connector into the 10-pin socket of a D2Xs here required a fair bit of pressure, more pressure than we'd be comfortable applying to the camera's remote socket on a regular basis.

    So, our recommendation would be to opt for the original equipment connector version, even though it's more expensive. Bass doesn't offer an original equipment connector for his Canon N3-type pre-trigger cable, and we haven't tried the third-party connector he uses, so we can't comment on it. (Update, January 19, 2007: Bass is now offering the option of a Canon N3-type original equipment connector as well.)
  • Pre-trigger cables for Canon and Nikon are also made by LPA Design, the PocketWizard folks, and are the ones we've used reliably for years. Bass' cables offer several benefits, however: the mini inline switch is smaller, the cable length can be customized and they're cheaper (even if you select the original equipment connector) for what is likely to be of comparable quality overall. 
  • If you opt for either a Stick-On Trigger or Lens Mount Trigger, consider selecting the quick-disconnect cable option. So configured, the short cable leading from the trigger, and the longer cable to the PocketWizard, each end in an RJ-11 connector, and they mate to each other through an RJ-11/RJ-45 coupler (this arrangement is pictured in the third row of photos above). Then, separating the triggering camera from the PocketWizard is a simple matter of uncoupling the coupler. It also means that longer cable runs are easy, simply by adding in another coupler and length of wire with the right connectors at each end. Both RJ-11 (North American phone plug) and RJ-45 (Ethernet) connectors will work, says Bass.
  • Before ordering a Lens Mount Trigger, you'll want to give some thought as to whether you'd like the button to land on the right side of the lens (for left hand finger triggering) or the left side of the lens (for left hand thumb triggering), as well as whether you'd prefer the cable to exit towards the front or rear of the lens, since these things impact how Bass will put the components together. Wrapped around a medium-size telephoto like a 70-200mm f/2.8, left hand finger triggering is comfortable, but when the lens is a 400mm f/2.8 or even a 300mm f/2.8, we quickly found that left hand thumb triggering was more practical.

    The photo of the Lens Mount Trigger wrapped around a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS in the gallery above shows our ideal configuration for a lens with a substantial barrel diameter: the trigger button is sitting on the left side of the lens, the cable is exiting to the rear of the lens and the silver attachment button is up top and out of the way. Note that for a dual-button Lens Mount Trigger this wouldn't necessarily be the way to go, since most of you have only one thumb on your left hand. In that case, a right-side button setup might be preferable. Or, even ditching a Lens Mount Trigger for a dual-button Stick-On Trigger.

    There are lots of ways to go about this, plus your gear and personal preferences are important factors. Your best bet is to sort out with Michael Bass what would work best for your particular needs before placing an order.
  • The sync port Bass adds to flashes and off-camera shoe cords is a sub-mini jack, which is smaller than the miniphone jack found on the PocketWizard, iPod and other electronic gizmos, so be sure to build up an appropriate stockpile of cables with sub-mini plugs at one end.

To see the complete list of products and modifications offered by Michael Bass, see his website.

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