Tuesday, November 03, 2009

DIY vs. Paying for the Real Deal

I got sucked into a Model Mayhem thread recently that was about DIY gear (Do It Yourself) versus paying for manufactured equipment. I can't believe how easily I can be drawn into these things. As is usually the case with MM threads, it morphed and distorted and zig-zagged around the original subject but, at first, it remained relatively on topic.

The OP (Original Poster) was wondering if he should make/use DIY gear or should he save up and buy manufactured stuff.

I suggested he use whatever he could until he was able to purchase the real McCoys.

But since, as is often the case on MM, the thread got somewhat personal with a few people becoming asses assertive in their opinions, I might have occasionally raised my emotional level, just a hair, to make my points.

Please note these are my opinions on the subject. Some or many of you might disagree. That's the beauty of opinions: I can have mine and you can have yours and we all should still be able to peacefully co-exist, in the real world or the cyber world. I know. I know. How naive is that?


I have a fair amount of money invested in lighting and grip. I don't think I spent that money because I'm an idiot. (Altho me being an idiot is, at times, debatable.)

All lighting instruments are not created equal. Their qualities, other than simply producing photons, are varied: Power ranges, flash durations, recycling times, maintaining color temps throughout those power ranges, build quality and reliability, and more. If you want better performance, better quality, more versatility, you're gonna have to pay for it.

Example: Profotos versus shop lights from Home Depot? No brainer. Profotos versus crap from Hong Kong? Still no brainer if you're really serious about lighing and photography. (I don't mean to only pimp Profoto. There's plenty of great manufacturers of quality lighting instruments out there.)

All lighting modifiers are not created equal. Again, their qualities differ, sometimes immensely, sometimes in more subtle ways. The right tool for the job is key to modifying light. As an example, I don't own a Mola beauty dish because I'm too dense or narrow-minded to believe a big, modified, DIY'd salad bowl will get the job done equally well.

I don't own Chimera and Photoflex softboxes because I'm an elitist and stick my nose up at cheap-oh shit from Hong Kong, offered on Ebay, even though it's built to the same standards. (Yeah, right.)

All grip gear is not created equal. I don't use stands and arms and clamps from companies like Matthews, American Grip, Norms and others because I'm blind to the fact that wobbly, questionably constructed, cheap-ass, unreliable grip gear--stuff that can be bought for very little--is just as good as the pro gear or because I'm a gear-snob or because I don't know I can find things at Home Depot that might suffice.

Do I sometimes buy shit from Home Depot to use in my photography? Sure. Do I occasionally cobble stuff together to modify or control light? Absolutely. Do I think, because I can cobble or head over to Home Depot, manufactured gear is a waste of money?

Photographers, please.

The pretty girl pics at the top are a couple of more snaps from last week's shoot with Lupe. Three light sources: Two medium umbrellas, either side, from the front, and a shoot-thru, boomed high and from the side/behind, on the left. Canon 5D, 70-200 f/4 L, ISO 100, f/8 at 160th. Lighting is fairly flat across for my personal tastes but that's what the client wanted so who am I to disagree?


Ed Verosky said...

I'm so with you on this. Use what you can afford. Use what works at the time. Sometimes, use what the client expects, as long as it works for you. Use what you want. It's all good.

I really think that "discussions" on some of these sites/forums are really excuses for the bitter and frustrated to avoid work. Let's get into an argument. Yeah, that's productive.

Avoid the trolls and vampires. We have pictures to take, and constructive words to write.

Erozier2 said...

Thanks for the great post! I'm a bit (morbidly) curious as to how the discussion on MM went, and how on earth they decided quality gear isn't quality.

Photographic gear has really been my first exposure to high grade consumer products. Yeah I've bought expensive products before (car, laptop), but not high priced for the item range. My Nikon D90 and Manfrotto head and tripod have blown me away. They're customizable, solid, and sturdy to a degree that I wouldn't have imagined. They lack the cheap feel of previous gear I've had. This is especially true for my tripod. I went through two cheap-o Ritz Camera style tripods before manning up (it is true, you either pay $200 for a tripod, or you end up paying more...), both broke during normal use. One just had a few cranks pop off and break, the other broke a strut after I tripped and fell.

DIY gear is great when the cash is low, but I've found you can't beat the quality of nice, *really nice* gear.

Anonymous said...

Wait until you spend $5K on a camera stand. Then it is really hard to go back to a tripod.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the problems of this ready now culture is that people only want to use plastic money or go DIY instead of waiting and saving money until they can buy something, DIY isn´t a bad solution for some things (like scrims or the such) but it shouldn´t be a method to replace having a good saving money habit, it is true that a photographer shouldn´t be defined by the brand of gear he/she uses, however a photographer´s work becomes much easier when the gear you use is reliable and consistent.

In the end there´s not only the reliability factor, there´s also the safety of the people that work with you, some time ago in a forum I watched how people where debating how to do a DIY boom arm... they weren´t too happy when I told them that when a monolight with a modifier cracked the skull of someone because the DIY boom failed it would show that it wasn´t worth to not spend the money in a really good boom arm...

If you invest your cash intelligently in reliable gear you will spend money only once. Which BTW doesn´t means that people should run to buy a Pro8 air, because there are good brands that offer nice gear for not that much money: Zeus, Dynalite, Speedotron, etc.

My best wishes!

Von R Buzard said...

Amen Brother
I bought that HK crap in the past and paid dearly getting pissed off everytime stuff didn't work right

Save the headaches and spend the money. Every business has expenses and equipment is one of them for us.

jmxphoto said...

I got in that debate too :-) I'm mostly on your side. Thinking about it on the grip side a -LOT- of it is a cost benefit ratio. Take a super clamp, the pin snaps in and is locked in place with a set screw. Why? What if your light falls over and hits your client or falls from the rafters during a pro basketball game and hits a player. Maaaaaan, you are screwed! That's why for some of those instances people will use a a safety wire to attach the light/modifiers to a pipe just in case all else fails. Jimmy, you might be in the catagory were the talent you shoot is more expensive than the talent you provide. Thus if anything goes wrong ad harms your subject, not only is your current job fuct, so might your future jobs. That's why Balcar has a protective pyrex shell around the flash tube and modeling light. If something goes horribly wrong and glass goes ballistic, it's contained. With AB's it goes flying towards your subject. Eek!

I agree that my HK Amvona $75 7' Octo doesn't have the quality of a Elinchrom Deep throw, but the strip light? Eh, close enough for me.

Now I am about to build my own Armatar style light. Reason being is that you can no longer get them and they're insanely useful for location work. Everyone's priorities are different, but I'd put my Suavissimo up agains a piece of styrafoam ringflash any day! ;-)

Mark said...

I like MM for casting calls and getting to know models, but I find the forums there to be less than useful. I generally hang out at Photography-on-the-Net for the forums and the useful information that can be found there. The Small Flash and Studio Lighting Forum is good not only for Do It Yourself projects, but for good advice on quality equipment.

Unfortunately, there are purists on all forums and fanboys of all stripes that simply can't tolerate any opinions other than their own.

I find myself in agreement with you regarding equipment. My personal philosophy is to use the best quality equipment I can afford, but I'm not adverse to cobbling together devices to meet an immediate need. In fact, I find foam-core to be a great flags and reflectors for a good price.

jimmyd said...


Foam core is a must-have expendable for everyone's grip and lighting packages: From gaffers on $100M movie sets to hobbyists shooting with shop lights.

David Griffin said...

The Prince of Cheap of www.studiolighting.net.... man thank you! I've been saying this for a minute now! I feel your totally on the money! If you cant buy tha horse... ride your cow! Jimmy... they needed to hear that!

Bill Giles said...

I have made gear for years and most of the time it is worth doing. I can weld and do machine work, so I am capable of producing high quality DIY gear. That being said, I now have several Avenger C-stands with arms & grip heads and would never consider trying to make my own. These are so well built that I won't waste my time. The only thing that I need now is a 25 foot extension for a C-stand so that I can get a strobe on the outside of a third story window.

jimmyd said...

@Bill Giles,

I'd want something more stable, something with a larger base than a C-Stand, if I'm going up that high.

Bill Giles said...

I understand the desire for a wider base at 25'. I probable won't be doing this, so it becomes academic. If I did, I would probably make an auxiliary base out of something else and weight it down with concrete blocks. I have a bunch of aluminum conduit and Kee Klamps that I could use. I probably wouldn't even try it if the wind was up.

Anonymous said...

Easier to just clamp something on from the next window or the window you want the light to come in from.