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Tip: Alternate mounting options for the Vagabond Mini Lithium
Tuesday, November 15, 2011 | by Rob Galbraith
January 2, 2012: The article was updated to include information about the VML Bracket.

If you own and like the Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini Lithium portable power pack, but you've been in need of something heavier-duty than the included spring clamp to secure it to a light stand, we have a look at four alternate mounting methods.

Considerations

At about 3.5lb/1.6kg, the Vagabond Mini Lithium doesn't need an especially beefy clamp to hold it up. In fact, the spring clamp that comes with the unit does a reasonable job, assuming the light stand isn't being moved around a lot and the bottom of the unit can rest on some part of the stand itself, such as a section knuckle or the base.

We've said it before: give the included spring clamp a proper try before you spend time and money on something else, particularly if you use smaller diameter light stands. It attaches quickly to the Vagabond Mini Lithium's embedded 1/4-20 socket, holds the unit close to the stand and - as long as your lights spend most of their time standing still - does a serviceable job of keeping the pack from sliding down, or off.

You can also up the staying power of the Vagabond Mini Lithium and its spring clamp by snugging a Velcro One-Wrap, bungee or similar around the lower part of the unit. If your stand has a small base or section knuckles, or the movement of the stand as you carry it causes the Vagabond Mini Lithium to jump around in a way that's worrying, then the addition of a strap, as shown in the right picture below, will help keep it in place.

You can make one more useful modification as well. Adhering a thin, non-slip pad to the inside of the clamp will keep the unit from spinning around the stand. (This is the number one complaint we've heard about the spring clamp, though it hasn't actually been a reproducible problem here with two of the three models of stand we use most.)

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Spring Time: The clamp included with the Vagabond Mini Lithium, left, and with a 3/4-inch wide Velcro One-Wrap strap helping to keep the lower part of the unit snug to the stand, right. Click to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

If, however, the spring clamp just isn't cutting it, you have options. We present a few of them ahead. Whichever way you choose to attach the Vagabond Mini Lithium to the light stand, it's important to remember that the unit's 1/4-20 socket isn't made for unlimited twisting and shaking. While the socket itself is metal, and fastened internally with a hex nut, the housing to which the socket is fixed can be damaged if subjected to excessive force. Paul Buff, owner of the namesake company and the lead designer of the Vagabond Mini Lithium, says there's little risk of the socket breaking free of the unit altogether, but the ABS plastic shell around the socket can crack.

In practical terms, this means that any alternative mounting method ought to have a second point of contact, in addition to whatever is bolted to the 1/4-20 socket, to alleviate the stress on that socket and the shell that surrounds it. As you ponder alternatives to the spring clamp, you'll want to keep this in mind. (section added January 2, 2012)

This article is divided into the following sections:
Pedco UltraClamp

First up is the aluminum alloy Pedco UltraClamp. It's designed to be attached to car windows and other flat surfaces mainly, and doesn't look like it would be much good at all at clamping securely to the round tube of a light stand.

It turns out the UltraClamp's looks are deceiving. As long as the disc at the end of the clamping screw is tightened to the point where it's applying moderate pressure to the stand, the clamp will retain its grasp even when subjected to fairly jarring rotational movements. This is true whether the Vagabond Mini Lithium is oriented parallel with the stand, or angled so that the unit can rest on a section knuckle.

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Tight Grasp: The Pedco UltraClamp. Click to enlarge (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The UltraClamp's round-object gripping power is very good, and better than its appearance might suggest.

UltraClamp strengths
  • Very good grip
  • Adjustable clamp opening will handle any stand diameter up to about 1.5in/38mm
  • Allows for the Vagabond Mini Lithium to be oriented at an angle so that it can rest on even the smallest section knuckle
  • Black finish matches the Vagabond Mini Lithium
  • Attaches and removes quickly from the light stand as well as from the Vagabond Mini Lithium
UltraClamp weaknesses
  • Disc at the end of the clamping screw WILL fall off in your bag. While it's easy to reattach, this design flaw can be a constant irritant
  • Because the Ultraclamp doesn't wrap itself around the stand, the Vagabond Mini Lithium will not just slide down but fall off - and probably be damaged - if the clamp isn't tightened sufficiently
  • The clamp is a bit too deep to be left on the Vagabond Mini Lithium when stored, at least not without the two usually taking up more room in your kit than if they were stored separately
Custom clamp by photographer James Burke

Scour the Web and you'll find several photographer-developed mounting options that go beyond the typical slap-it-together DIY project. They range from the very useful to the very wacky; one that's definitely at the useful end of the range is a custom clamp devised by Marquette, Michigan-based photographer James Burke. It screws into the Vagabond Mini Lithium's 1/4-20 socket, but also inserts into the strap openings on each side of the portable power pack's case, thereby reducing the stress on the 1/4-20 connection point. This is a smart design that doesn't require the Vagabond Mini Lithium to also rest on a part of the stand.

Update, July 14, 2012: This custom clamp has been developed into a product you can buy .

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Self-improvement: Views of James Burke's custom clamp. The lower right picture shows the Vagabond Mini Lithium attached to Burke's "super location cart," a rolling stand and gear carrier that he also designed. The portable power pack is mounted between the wheels, opposite the backpack (Photos by James Burke)

Burke sent the following description of his custom clamp, one that notes the key supplies and measurements he used to create it, should you have the equipment and ability to make your own. Says Burke:

I was going to fabricate the actual 'clamping' par,t or use an electrical conduit clamp, when I noticed the clamp that came with my 16" fluorescent ringlight sitting unused. The ringlight has a flex arm that mounts directly to a 5/8" light stand stud, so the extra clamp was not needed.

I started with 1" x 1/16" aluminum flat stock available at most home centers (in my case, Menards). I used a large, sturdy bench vise to make the bends. I use an adjustable square to be sure the stock is square to the vise jaw before bending. The bracket won't fit properly if the bends are not square. The inside of the bracket is 3 7/8". With the strap removed, this size stock will slide right into the Vagabond Mini Lithium's strap openings, providing added stability. A good way to make the two legs exactly the right length is to make them longer than needed, then install, mark and shorten to proper length.

I drilled a hole directly over the Mini's threaded insert used to attach the stock bracket. Next I drilled two holes to secure the (ringlight's) stand bracket. I offset this bracket to allow access to the stock stand bracket screw. Inside the bracket I attached two layers of rubber gasket material (also from Menards) with a 3M ATG-model tape dispenser gun. I punched three holes in this material before installation: one to allow for the screw that secures the bracket to the Mini and the other two to provide clearance for the stand bracket screw heads.

My goal with all my adaptations is to improve, but work as much as possible with the unaltered existing product design. I think this bracket does both very well. In the field this bracket has provided a secure mount for the Vagabond Mini Lithium that does not move even with the bouncing around given by my 'super location cart.'

Burke custom clamp strengths
  • Clamp holds securely to the light stand
  • It's not necessary to rest the base of the Vagabond Mini Lithium on a part of the stand to reduce the load on the unit's 1/4-20 socket
  • Attaches and removes quickly from the stand, and fairly quickly from the Vagabond Mini Lithium
Burke custom clamp weaknesses
  • Either the entire bracket + clamp, or just the outer portion of the clamp, will usually need to be removed to store the Vagabond Mini Lithium space-efficiently in a gear bag
  • Basic metalworking tools and know-how are required to build it yourself

Continued on the next page...
Next Page: VML Bracket, Global Truss clamps, battery performance
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