22 Jan The Smaller, Lighter Vagabond Mini
Conducting a lot of my work on-location, I need to pack my lighting gear around to some very random, very remote locations. I also shoot the majority of my work with larger studio strobes (I use AlienBees), rather than the smaller hot shoe lights. As much as I’d like to utilize my set of speedlites more often, especially on shoots where I’m left packing gear over a long distance, they just don’t pack the power I’m usually demanding from my lights. You might be thinking, “hey, if you have both sets of gear and have the choice, well… that’s easy, go with the AlienBees.” Contrary to AA battery-powered, convenient, lighter, fit-in-your-bag speedlites, packing and deploying AlienBee lights on a location shoot can quickly become a pain in the ass. With speedlites, you have the small light, a stand, and maybe a light modifier. With Alienbees (and all studio strobes for that matter), you’ve got power cables, reflector dishes, carrying cases, larger/heavier light modifiers, and power packs (to power the lights). By default, AlienBees want wall power to keep them happy and firing. If you want to take these things out in the middle of nowhere you gotta bring big power with ya.
For years, the solution for powering AlienBees on-location was the Vagabond II. A 20-pound power rig, consisting of a power inverter and a large, very heavy battery to feed the lights. Picking the thing up and knowing you had to pack it into a remote location, along with another 150lbs of gear, was enough to make you second guess your lighting approach. “Hmmm, maybe those speedlites aren’t such a bad idea after all, besides… who needs F/16 from the light, I can settle for F/5.6, right?” It sucked. Just one more thing to pack, and it wasn’t going to great lengths to make my walk any easier either. I always felt bad asking someone to grab it and even pack it ten feet. “Hey, can you bring that cinderblock-of-a-battery over here,” as I watch their eyes grow wide as they pick it up. It didn’t make on-location work with strobes very fun. The only “plus” using the Vagabond II is having the ability to call your photo shoot a workout as well.
The summer of 2011 brought good news. Lighter, smaller, and almost just as powerful news, to be more specific. The Vagabond Mini was released. Compared to it’s 20-pound older brother, this thing promised almost just as many light pops, but came in a lithium battery form and weighed just over 3 pounds. The old Vagabond II provides up to 575 shots with a 640Ws light, while the new Mini gave 500 pops. That was good news for all of the AlienBee shooters out there doing location work. It weighed almost as little as some of my lenses! After discovering it’s release, I snatched-up a Mini. My power pack solution went from a complete pain to just another thing to toss in my miscellaneous gear bag. The Mini can handle up to 4 lights, while the original Vagabond can dish out power to up to 8 lights.
For smaller shoots (senior, family-style shoots), the Vagabond Mini is all I need to power my Bees. For commercial work, I still lug both my Vagabond Mini and II to shoots, as I’m using 4+ lights and they are often spread far apart. Having multiple power packs means faster recycle times and less extension cords running around. One thing the older model has over it’s newer, smaller sibling is faster recycle times. But… that’s something I can sacrifice when I’m asked to photograph someone a half mile in the woods.
Quickly after the introduction of the mini, the manufacturers announced the discontinuation of the Vagabond II, only making the Mini there on out. At the time of writing this article, you can special order the original, and even then it’s “while supplies last.”
Additional flexibility is added to the Mini with the ability to swap-out the battery pack on the unit. It’s lithium power source can be popped right off, allowing you to pop another fresh battery on the power inverter. This is great for those days where you will be pumping out a lot of pops, and don’t want to be caught out on-location with a dead battery and more pictures to take.
An amazingly simple, yet huge addition to the mini is the stand clip built into the body. This allows you to clip the battery right to the light stand, making light moves a lot easier. I’ve always hated having to double my movements with the old battery – move the stand as far as the light power cable will allow, walk back and grab battery, move it to under the stand. Now I can just pickup my light and move, battery clipped to stand and along for the ride. I attach the battery low on my light stand, effectively making it a power source and a 3-pound sandbag. This balances my light rig a bit more, making it less top-heavy.
We still live in a time where you have to make a decision that is a pretty substantial compromise – light with powerful, heavy strobes, or light with small, convenient, not nearly as powerful hot shoes. One thing is for sure, the gap on the decision making is closing. The Vagabond Mini definitely gets us one step closer to making the decision to go with big powerful lights that much easier.
Below is a couple shots of the two power packs. The mini is attached to the bottom of a light stand, with the older big boy where it belongs, on the ground.