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Tip: Alternate mounting options for the Vagabond Mini Lithium - Continued
VML Bracket

As the first (and only, as far as we know) third party accessory to be created and sold expressly for the purpose of attaching the Vagabond Mini Lithium to a lightstand, the VML Bracket rates a serious look. The brainchild of photographer Joe Jack is a precisely-machined steel carrier that fits the Paul C. Buff portable power pack like a glove. Screw holes within the back of the bracket line up exactly where they should, the base incorporates cutouts for the Vagabond Mini Lithium's ventilation ports as well as the battery release plus the bracket itself is a sturdy, solid piece.

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Supportive: Views of the VML Bracket. Click photos to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The Vagabond Mini Lithium can be mated to the VML Bracket three different ways:
  • With the included thumb screw and one of the two included velcro cinch straps (this configuration is shown in the photos above)
  • Just the thumb screw by itself
  • With the two included cinch straps and no thumb screw (the second strap routes through the unit's shoulder strap lugs)
The thumb screw alone will be more than sufficient for most applications. It holds the unit fairly tight against the VML Bracket, and the battery release button acts as an anchor of sorts at the base. This configuration also permits the quickest battery changes: loosen the thumb screw, pull the Vagabond Mini Lithium from the bracket and swap the battery. Adding in a cinch strap, and pulling it quite tight, eliminates the unit's slight front-to-back wiggling as the lightstand is moved around, but also slows down the battery changing process a little.

Ultimately, either the thumb screw or thumb screw + single cinch strap approaches are really good. We can't see any benefit, though, to ditching the thumb screw and going with only the two cinch straps. It's less secure, while at the same time it doesn't speed up installation or access to the battery. But, as mentioned, it's an option.

The VML Bracket has been designed to attach to a lightstand with the powerful and ubiquitous Manfrotto Super Clamp. The Super Clamp is first mated to the VML Bracket using three included hex bolts plus the Super Clamp's own socket bolt. With four bolts holding the two together, the attachment is as secure as it could be.

Then, the Super Clamp's jaws are tightened around the stand pole to complete the job. The combination of the solid steel VML Bracket and the Super Clamp add up to an exceptionally safe and reliable way to attach the Vagabond Mini Lithium to a light stand.

Setup: VML Bracket assembly (Video courtesy Joe Jack)

The VML Bracket is hard to beat when it's riding on the light stand. Take it off, though, and you'll run smack into its one notable drawback: since the VML Bracket is designed to keep the Super Clamp attached always, it doesn't store nearly as compactly for transport as most other mounting hardware. Less important, but always a factor, is cost. The quality of the VML Bracket and Super Clamp come at comparatively high price: together, they're about US$65 or so currently in the U.S., depending on who sells you the Super Clamp and whether you get it with or without a stud.

The VML Bracket comes with two 1in x 18in velcro cinch straps, 1/4-20 thumb screw, the hex bolts (and hex wrenches) needed to attach a Manfrotto Super Clamp (not included) as well as detailed assembly instructions. It's shipping now for US$39.95; after January 15, 2012, the price rises to US$44.95.

A gallery of photos and reams of information on the product are on a dedicated VML Bracket website.

VML Bracket strengths
  • Exceptionally secure light stand attachment method
  • VML Bracket is well-made and includes all necessary assembly hardware (other than the Super Clamp) and instructions
  • Super Clamp accommodates a wide range of stand diameters
  • Attaches and removes quickly from the light stand
VML Bracket weaknesses
  • Super Clamp is not readily removed from VML Bracket
  • VML Bracket and Super Clamp combo does not store compactly for transport
  • While not a weakness per se, it's worth noting that most Super Clamp alternatives or knockoffs will not be able to attach to the VML Bracket unless they share the same exact clamp width and the identical location of the clamp's threaded holes
Global Truss clamps

Rounding out our survey of alternate mounting options is a trio of clamps from Global Truss (which we first came across in this Flickr posting). Though meant to be used in the assembly of large lighting trusses, by swapping their mounting hardware with a 1/4-20 screw they morph into a rock-solid way of mounting the Vagabond Mini Lithium. The clamps hold the portable power pack securely, attach and remove easily from the stand and, when splayed open, sit fairly flush against the side of the unit, which allows them to be left in place for storage and transport.

Three different models of clamps are available, each intended for a different diameter of tube:
The clamp opening adjusts, which means the stand's diameter doesn't have to match the specified diameter exactly. That said, the diameter of the section you intend to clamp it to can't be much larger or smaller or it may not fit (this is just the nature of foldover clamps). You'll want to determine your stand's diameter carefully before settling on one of the three.

For example, we have both the medium-size Jr Clamp and the small-size Mini 360-F14 clamp. The former is a spot-on match for the lowest section of a Manfrotto 1004BAC, which has a diameter of about 1.38in/35mm, while the latter is just right for the second-lowest section of the Manfrotto 5001B, which is 0.87in/22mm. So, neither stand is the exact diameter these clamps were designed for, but both are close enough to fit.

How near in diameter your stands need to be is hard to predict, and for smaller diameter stands it may be necessary to try a couple of the three sizes to see which will work best. Fortunately, the clamps are cheap enough that you can affordably experiment to find the right one.

The pictures below show the Jr Clamp holding the Vagabond Mini Lithium to a Manfrotto 1004BAC. The base of the unit is resting on the base of the stand, giving the recommended second point of contact. In the bottom picture, one of Think Tank Photo's waistbelt pouches, oriented on its side and holding a spare battery, is sitting opposite the Vagabond Mini Lithium. The Jr Clamp gives just enough clearance between the stand and the portable power pack to wiggle the bag's belt attachment around the pole. This has turned out to be a really convenient and functional setup (as long as I remember to position the bag so that the zipper, when closed, is on top, and not on the bottom as shown!)

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Trussed Up: Views of the Global Truss Jr Clamp with the Manfrotto 1004BAC stand and Think Tank Photo waistbelt pouch. Click to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

If you choose to try out a Global Truss clamp, here are some additional thoughts and tips:
  • The clamps themselves are under US$10 each generally; if you order them from afar, don't be surprised if you pay more in shipping costs than for the clamps themselves, even if you choose a slow shipping option. All three Global Truss clamps are available from theatrical lighting suppliers and various eBay merchants, in both silver and black, plus B&H Photo carries the two larger sizes, the Jr Clamp and the Mini 360, in silver.

  • It was necessary to replace the bolt, wingnut and washers that came with the Mini 360-F14 and Jr Clamp with separately-purchased machine screws and washers. For the Mini 360-F14, we went with a 1/4-20 x 1/2in screw. For the Jr Clamp, a 1/4-20 x 5/8in screw. A suitable-size locking washer was fitted between the head of the screw and the clamp, as you can see in a couple of the pictures. These parts can be found at any well-stocked hardware store.

  • To keep the clamp from rotating around the Vagabond Mini Lithium's 1/4-20 socket, two double-sided adhesive strips were put between the clamp and the unit, just above and below the socket. You can probably find adhesive strips at the same hardware store as the screws and washers.
Global Truss clamp strengths
  • Clamps holds securely to the stand
  • The Mini 360-F14 and Jr Clamp, and possibly the Mini 360 too, keep the Vagabond Mini Lithium close enough to the light stand to allow it to rest on the stand's base or a larger section knuckle
  • The all-metal clamps will not break even if subjected to violent shaking
  • The clamps attach and remove quickly from the light stand
  • The Vagabond Mini Lithium can be stored in a gear bag with either the Mini 360-F14 or the Jr Clamp still attached (the depth of the Mini 360 might start to be pushing it in this regard)
  • All three clamp models are inexpensive
Global Truss clamp weaknesses
  • Adjustable clamps will accommodate stand diameters only within a somewhat narrow range around their specified diameter; if you typically work with the same stand, or same diameter of stand, then this won't be a problem, but if you need to attach your Vagabond Mini Lithium to poles of many sizes then a Global Truss clamp is probably not the mounting solution for you
  • While not a weakness exactly, it's worth emphasizing that screws and washers to attach the clamps to the Vagabond Mini Lithium must be purchased separately, and to keep the clamp from shifting position around the 1/4-20 socket, it's necessary to put adhesive strips between the clamp and the unit's shell

Not recommended: clamp and stud (or clamp and ballhead)

If you've been a photographer for awhile, you've probably accumulated more than a few Manfrotto Super Clamps. Free one up, couple it with a short 1/4-20 stud, and presto: you have a way to mount the Vagabond Mini Lithium to a stand. Similarly, you could use a Manfrotto Nano Clamp 386B and 3/8in-to-1/4in adapter, or this same clamp plus a 3/8in-to-3/8in adapter plus a small ballhead such as the Manfrotto Micro Ball Head 492. All will work.

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Not Recommended: Mounting the Vagabond Mini Lithium with a clamp and no second point of contact. Click photos to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

We experimented with all three variations of this mounting method early on, but stopped on the advice of Paul Buff. He cautioned that with the Vagabond Mini Lithium hanging out in mid-air, its full weight supported solely by the unit's 1/4-20 socket, the risk of cracking the ABS shell around the socket increases, a lot, as the Vagabond Mini Lithium bounces around during light stand repositioning.

As we've emphasized already, a second support point that takes some of the load off the 1/4-20 socket is critical. With the two configurations pictured, as well as a clamp + adapter + ballhead, it's difficult or impossible to rest the base of the unit on some part of the stand, either at all or in a way that truly provides the needed extra support.

(A Nano Clamp configuration that might keep the unit close enough to the pole to allow its base to rest on a part of the stand is shown on the B&H website. But, with several other mounting solutions that are superior, this is not an configuration we'd consider.)

Conclusion

None of the mounting options described in this article is perfect, but there are three that stand apart from the rest, starting with the custom clamp developed by James Burke. Given the metalworking tools and skills required we'd probably make it, or a variation with a smaller clamp part, for ourselves. With limited DIY skills, though, that's not going to happen.

The real contenders, then, are the VML Bracket and Global Truss clamps. The VML Bracket and Super Clamp make a great team, providing superb mounting strength and the flexibility to attach to a broad range of light stand pole diameters. Together, however, they are bulky and cumbersome to store in a gear bag.

Conversely, the Global Truss clamps add comparatively little storage size to the Vagabond Mini Lithium. They're also inexpensive. But they require a second point of contact at the stand's base to ensure safe light stand mounting, and each of the three Global Truss models can fit only stands with poles that are fairly close to the clamp's specified diameter.

We have over a dozen Manfrotto 1004BAC and 307B light stands. The combination of these stands, the Vagabond Mini Lithium and the Global Truss Jr Clamp is superb, holding the unit securely at the base of the stand, right where we want it.

Because we use only these stands most of the time, and because the Global Truss clamps work so well with them, the VML Bracket's strength and mounting advantages are largely neutralized. That leaves only a comparison of how the two pack up for travel from location to location, and in that regard the much-smaller Global Truss clamps (the Jr Clamp and Mini 360-F14 especially) are the easy winners.

If, however, you need to attach the Vagabond Mini Lithium to poles of varying diameters, you don't want to fuss with a second point of contact on the stand, and your lighting kit has the room, then the victor will be the VML Bracket.

Battery performance after about seven months

Before leaving the subject of Paul C. Buff's portable power pack, read on for a brief look at the longer-term performance of the unit's Lithium battery.

Back in September, the opportunity presented itself to check the service life of the two Vagabond Mini Lithium battery packs we'd gotten earlier in 2011. To that time, one inverter + battery combo had been used regularly as a power supply for Einstein 640 monolights and various other electronics such as computer displays and routers. A log of the number of charge cycles had been kept as well. The other set was depleted and charged somewhat less, and its precise usage had not been tracked, but it had spent the better part of six weeks suffering through the hot summer weather of southern Texas. When that set returned here to Calgary, Canada in the middle of September, we put both sets through the same battery capacity test that formed part of our Vagabond Mini Lithium review in March 2011. The outcome is below.

The table below lists the number of full power pops an Einstein 640 managed from a single Vagabond Mini Lithium battery charge, firing every 10 seconds until the battery was spent. Vagabond Mini Lithium A is the inverter + battery set that stayed in Canada, was put through 135 charge cycles (this count represent the number of times it was depleted to 50% or lower and then topped up again) and was driven both hard (powering one or two Einsteins firing at full power repeatedly) and easy (keeping a wireless router on the air). Vagabond Mini Lithium B had maybe 75 charge cycles on it when tested (this count is a very rough estimate), but it had also been exposed to searing temperatures, both in operation and while stored.

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The results show that the Lithium batteries in both sets were beginning to lose capacity, as all batteries do, and that the tough summer experienced by Vagabond Mini Lithium B has perhaps slightly accelerated its battery's wear. Overall, though, what this quick test seems to indicate is that the batteries are shedding capacity at about the rate expected for their LiCoxNiyMnzO2 formulation. More importantly, it suggests that it will be some time yet before the drop in capacity is noticeable in everyday use, and longer still until it will be necessary to replace the battery modules with new ones.

Revision History
January 2, 2012: Added VML Bracket section, revised conclusion (to incorporate VML Bracket) and more strongly emphasized certain not-recommended mounting options

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