Photography – Cameras, Gear, Tips and Resources

Since we began our full-time RV travels in 2007, photography has become a huge part of our lives. Photography is an ideal hobby for travelers, and it isn’t hard to learn. Our learning curve has played out on the pages of this website, and it is satisfying to see our improvement over the years. When we first started traveling, we each shot about 6,000 photos per year. Now we each shoot over 35,000 photos per year (a little under 100 per day).

Camera on a tripod - photography

Photography is a lot of fun, and it’s not hard to learn.

People have asked us what cameras and equipment we use, and how we improved our skills. This page presents all of our gear choices, from our camera bodies to our favorite lenses to our filters and tripods to the goodies we use to take our cameras out for a hike to the software we rely on for post-processing.

It also explains how we organize all our photos and lists all the books, eBooks and online tutorials we have studied to learn to take better photos. We are entirely self-taught, and the inspiring resources we reference here lay it all out in plain language.

We’ve invested in our camera equipment because photography is our passion and we do it all day long. What you’ll see here is good solid “value” gear that is above “entry level” but not “strictly for the pros” either.

For easy navigation, use these links:

The best time to buy camera gear is between Thanksgiving and Christmas during Black Friday week or when a manufacturer discontinues a camera model. An inexpensive but good quality DSLR that you can get for a steal is the Nikon D3300, discontinued in June 2016. In October 2016, a smoking deal includes the Nikon D3300, two lenses and a camera bag. Other Nikon D3300 kits are available too. This camera was replaced with the Nikon D3400 which is Nikon’s current (and terrific) entry level DSLR model

CAMERAS and LENSES

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Our Current Cameras and Lenses

As of 2016, we both shoot with Nikon D810 cameras. This is a professional level, truly awesome, full-frame 36 megapixel camera.

For three years prior to that, we both used Nikon D610 cameras. This is a full-frame, 24 megapixel camera. It is considered a “pro-sumer” camera, not quite professional quality but at the high end of the hobbyist ranks.

Although we have a big collection of lenses, we typically take no more than two apiece with us when we are out and about on foot. It’s just too much stuff to lug around!

I have a Nikon 28-300 mm lens on my camera which I use almost exclusively, simply because I love the flexibility of having both wide angle and zoom options with the twist of my wrist without having to change lenses.

Photographer with camera tripod in the water

When we got into photography, we jumped in with both feet.

Mark likes to pick a lens for the day and work within its limits. His favorites are prime (non-zooming) lenses, and he uses the Nikon 50 mm and Nikon 85mm lenses a lot. These are a lot less expensive than zoom lenses, and they are much faster lenses too (meaning they can be used in lower light). However, they do not have vibration resistance (also known as “image stabilization”), a technology that reduces the inherent wiggle caused by hand-holding a lens.

He also uses the Nikon 24-120 and the Sigma 24-105. These are very similar lenses, and we would have just one of them, but I used to use the Nikon 24-120 all the time before I got the Nikon 28-300, so he got the Sigma 24-105 to have one with a similar range. They’re both terrific lenses, so we can’t decide which one to keep and which one to sell!

We have a Nikon 70-200, which is a truly beautiful lens. For a long time neither of us used it much, but after I commented to that effect when I first published this post, Mark put it into his regular arsenal and uses it frequently now. It is a fabulous lens with excellent color rendition. Another advantage is that the zoom feature doesn’t lengthen or shorten the lens — it is always one length and all the zooming is physically done inside the lens. This means that dust doesn’t sneak into the lens when it is zoomed in and out the way it does with other lenses (like the 28-300, 24-120 and 24-105 mentioned above).

For wide angles, we have a Nikon 16-35 and a Nikon Nikon 18-35 so we can each shoot very wide angles simultaneously. Mark LOVES wide angle photography, and he uses these all the time. The 16-35 is more expensive, and was purchased as an upgrade from the 18-35, but he can’t seem to part with the 18-35 now, so I inherited it.

For super wide angles like at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona or for shooting stars at night (like the final image in this post or the first image in this post), we turn to the Rokinon 14 mm lens (with the Nikon focusing chip) or our very cool fisheye lens, the Rokinon 12 mm lens.

We have a Tamron 150-600 mm lens for shooting birds (like wild peach faced lovebirds here) and for wildlife — or even for stationary cacti at a faraway distance as in this image here. An alternative to this lens that is priced similarly is the Sigma 150-600 contemporary series lens. If it had been available, we probably would have purchased the Sigma 150-600 instead of the Tamron 150-600, but it wasn’t in production at the time. Another awesome option that has become available since our purchase is the Nikon 200-500 mm lens. That lens is on our wish list right now so we can each have a powerful zoom in situations where we want one.

What about those third party lenses?? Some are better than others, although Sigma’s Art Series lenses are really great these days (and expensive). When I was casting about for a “do it all” lens, we initially bought a Tamron 28-300 mm lens. It had terrible color rendition and didn’t focus for beans, so we returned it to buy the Nikon 28-300, which I totally love. I will be curious to see how the Tamron 150-600 stacks up against the Nikon 200-500 when we eventually buy it.

Our Past Cameras and Lenses

Do you need all this crazy stuff when you first get started? No!

When we began traveling, we purchased two Nikon D40 cameras, which were 6 megapixel crop-sensor cameras. Each came with a Nikon 18-55 mm lens, and we got a Nikon 55-200 mm lens for distance. This was a great camera model to learn on, and we published five magazine cover photos taken with it.

Coast to Coast Cover Spring 2012

Do you need to spend a bundle on a camera? No!
I took this photo with a Nikon D40 that you can buy today (used) for $100.

The Nikon D40 (and its modern day equivalent Nikon D3300) are “crop sensor” cameras (or “DX” in Nikon lingo). This means the sensor is smaller than on a “full frame” camera (like our current Nikon D610 cameras which are “FX” in Nikon lingo). This, in turn, means the image quality is slightly lower and if you blew up the image to poster size it won’t look quite as good up close.

The D40 was discontinued long ago, but can be found on Craigslist and eBay for $100 to $150 with two lenses. One that has been lightly used will work just as well now as it did years back.

How do you tell how “used” a used camera is??

If you have a Mac, an easy way to find out how many shutter clicks a camera has is to take a photo, download it to your computer, export it or locate it in the Finder, and open it in Preview by double clicking on it. Then click on Tools > Show Inspector, click the “i” button and then the “Exif” button. The Image Number is the number of shutter clicks the camera has on it. This works only for cameras that have a mechanical shutter, not for pocket cameras with an electronic shutter.

My only frustration with the Nikon D40 was that there was no built-in cleaning system for the camera sensor, so every time we changed lenses the sensor was vulnerable to picking up dust — and it did! We used the Nikon D40 cameras fro 2007 until 2011.

Today’s “equivalent” entry level DSLR is the Nikon D3300. It is a 24 megapixel camera that is far more sophisticated than the D40 and not “equivalent” in any way except the price point. If you want to get it in a kit with multiple lenses, filters, camera bag, tripod, etc., you can pick up a really nice the Nikon D3300 kits right here.

The Tamron 150-600 lens can be hand held

The Nikon D610 and Tamron 150-600 mm lens.
I’m in camo to keep from scaring the birds away.
Think it will work when I point this huge scary lens at them? Not!!

In 2011, we upgraded to the Nikon D5100, a 16 megapixel crop-sensor camera. Like the Nikon D40, this camera was also a “crop sensor” or “DX” camera.It came with a Nikon 18-55 mm lens. We got a Nikon 55-300 lens, and I ran all over Mexico with both of those lenses, switching back and forth all day long.

In hindsight, I should have gotten the Nikon 18-300 lens and spared myself the hassle of carrying a second lens and switching lenses all the time (I missed so many great shots because I was fumbling with the camera!). But I had read some iffy reviews of the first edition of that lens and decided against it (the current model is its 3rd generation and I’ve met people who LOVE this lens. Oh well!).

The best thing about that camera was the built-in sensor cleaner. Living in the salty and dusty environment of coastal Mexico, this was huge. The other fun thing about that camera was the flip-out display on the back. You could put the camera in Live View, then set it on the ground or hold it overhead and still see your composition on the back of the camera.

We used the Nikon D5100 cameras from 2011 to 2013. The Nikon D5100 has been discontinued. Today’s “equivalent” level DSLR is the Nikon D5300. It is a 24 megapixel camera that, again, is far more sophisticated than the predecessor that we had. This is an outstanding “intermediate” camera and can be purchased in a Nikon D5300 camera and lens bundle.

If you have a few more dollars to spend, the Nikon D7200 is even better. It is still a crop sensor camera, but it is very sophisticated. Like the others, if you are starting out, getting a Nikon D7200 Camera and Lens Kit is very cost effective.

Pocket Cameras

Sometimes carrying a big DSLR camera is inconvenient. We both like having a pocket camera for times when a DSLR is too big.

I use an Olympus Tough TG-4 camera when I ride my mountain bike. I used its predecessor when I snorkeled in Mexico too.

This camera is very rugged. The bruises it has given me on my backside are proof that it holds up a lot better than I do when I fall off my bike and land on it. I like it because the lens doesn’t move in and out when it zooms, and you can drop it and not worry about breaking it. Here are a bunch of photos it took: Bell Rock Pathway in Sedona Arizona.

Mark has a Nikon Coolpix A that he is nuts about because it is just like a mini DSLR. He doesn’t do crazy things like take photos while riding his bike one handed the way I do (and he’s less prone to falling off), so he doesn’t mind having a more delicate camera in his pocket. It is a 16 megapixel camera that has most of the features of a the Nikon D610, except it is a crop-sensor camera that has a fixed 28 mm lens that can’t be changed. It has been discontinued.

Prior to that, he had a Nikon Coolpix P330 (also discontinued). It could shoot in raw format, which was the reason he chose it, but it didn’t produce nearly the quality images of the Coolpix A.

Lots of folks use a smartphone for all their photo ops or as an alternative to their DSLR. We don’t have a smartphone, but we have used a lot of them at scenic overlooks when groups of people pass their cameras around to get pics of themselves. One thing we’ve noticed is that there is a big difference in dynamic range (the rendering of bright spots and shadows) between Androids and iPhones, with iPhones being much better. This is probably common knowledge and not news to you at all, and it may be partly due to which generation of smartphone a person hands us to get their portrait taken.

 

ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT and ACCESSORIES

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Batteries – We have two batteries for each of our Nikon D610’s, so we each always have a fully charged battery on hand besides the one in the camera. We’ve found the Watson batteries are a good alternative to the more expensive Nikon batteries. My Watson battery died shortly after the manufacturer’s warranty expired, and I was impressed that they honored it anyway and replaced it for me.

Memory Cards – We also have two memory cards in each camera (the Nikon D610 has two card slots in it). We use the SanDisk 95 MB/second SD cards. We like these fast SD cards because when we start shooting in a burst (holding the shutter down and letting the camera take pics as fast as it can — for instance, when a bison jumps over a fence in front of us), the faster the card can be written to, the faster the camera’s internal memory buffer will empty, and the longer the camera can keep shooting at top speed. Faster SD cards also download photos to the computer faster.

Every evening we download all our photos onto our laptops and reformat the memory cards in the camera. We’ve heard that this reduces the chance of the card failing and losing all our photos (which happened to me once long ago with a Kingston card – ugh!).

The Hoodman Loupe – A Game Changer! The Hoodman Loupe revolutionized our photography because we were suddenly able to see our photos clearly on the back of our cameras and then retake the photo if necessary. The loupe fits over the LCD screen, blocking the glare and magnifying the image. The lens is adjustable, so no matter how good or bad your eyes are, you can adjust it until you can see the image perfectly clearly. We have the original hard sided loupe. A new model collapses down so it can be stored more compactly. In a lot of the photos of me on this website, you can see my Hoodman loupe hanging around my neck!

Hoodman Loupe on a Nikon D610 Camera

The Hoodman Loupe lets you see the image on the back of the camera clearly, adjusted for your eyes, and without glare.

Battery Grip – Mark occasionally uses a Vello Battery Grip on his camera. This grip can hold extra batteries and also makes it possible to take portrait oriented shots (vertical images) while holding the camera as if it were upright rather than twisting your right arm over your head. Mark absolutely loves his. I use mine only occasionally because I can’t use it with my tripod L-bracket (see below).

Camera Straps – We replaced the standard Nikon camera straps with the Optech Pro Strap. This strap is thick and cushy and is slightly curved to fit the curve of your shoulder. It also has quick release clasps so you can easily unclip it from the camera when you’re using a tripod.

 

LENS FILTERS

For a long time we preferred the B+W brand for all our filters, although we’ve used a lot of Hoya filters over the years too. We’ve also tried Tiffen filters, but find they are hit-and-miss. Often, if a “lens deal” includes a filter with the lens, it’s not a great one. Most recently, we have begun buying Nikon filters which seem to be the best quality all around. Just be sure you get the right size for your lens (52 mm or 77 mm, etc.).

Camera UV Filter, Polarizing Filter and Neutral Density Filter

UV filter (top), Polarizing filter (left) & neutral density filter (right)

UV Filters – We have UV filters for all our lenses to provide protection for them.

Polarizing Filters – We also have polarizing filters for all our lenses. A polarizer makes it possible to enhance the colors or reduce the glare in certain lighting situations. It is best around midday and has less effect at dawn and dusk. It is wonderful around bodies of water and for removing the dashboard glare on the windshield when taking photos from inside a car. A polarizer adds a lot of contrast to an image, however, so while it can enhance a landscape beautifully, I’ve found it makes street photography of people too contrasty.

Graduated Neutral Density Filters – We occasionally use a graduated neutral density filter when the sky is very pale and the scene we are shooting is dark. This kind of filter is half colored and half clear. By twisting it so the colored part lines up with the sky and the clear part lines up with the darker landscape, the sky and landscape come out more evenly exposed. They are also very helpful for sunrises and sunsets.

Neutral Density Filters – When shooting moving water, a neutral density filter darkens what the camera sees enough so the shutter speed can be increased to show silky movement in the water without it being blown out and all white. These filters are also helpful if you want to use a very big aperture (small “F number”) to blur out a background and the camera’s top shutter speed isn’t fast enough to get proper exposure. These filters come in different degrees of darkness. A 10-stop filter is good for shooting a waterfall in broad daylight while a 4-stop filter is good for the same scene at dawn or dusk. We had fun with moving water photography at Watkins Glen in Upstate New York, the Blue Ridge Parkway in N. Carolina, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in N. Carolina.

 

TRIPODS

It is really hard to invest in a tripod after blowing the bank account on a nice camera, a few lenses, spare batteries, memory cards and filters. And you can have loads of fun with photography without getting a tripod. But if you want to play with shooting (and showing) motion (i.e., a car going by, clouds streaking across the sky or water flowing) or you want to have perfect exposure in very low light (like a sunset) without a flash, or you want to do some timelapse videos (very cool at sunrise in a big canyon) then a tripod is a must.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Sunwayfoto XB52-DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and
Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Most people end up upgrading their tripod several times because they just can’t believe, at first, that they have to spend good hard earned money on a tripod, and they go through a bunch of cheap ones before they bite the bullet and get a decent one! We did that, and lots of our friends did too.

The biggest difference between tripods is how much weight they can hold solidly, how easy they are to set up and adjust, and whether things drift or droop a little after you tighten the buttons. I have a Benro carbon fiber tripod that I absolutely love. The legs slide in and out really smoothly, and the adjustments are easy.

Mark has Sunwayfoto tripod legs and ballhead that he loves. We reviewed them in depth at this link:

Choosing a Tripod – Sunwayfoto Tripod and Ballhead Review

We both have the SunWay Foto L-Bracket that attaches to the camera body and lets us set the camera in the tripod in either Landscape or Portrait orientation very easily. I keep my L-bracket on the camera all the time for simplicity in case I want to grab my tripod quickly, but it means I can’t use my Vello Battery Grip. Mark loves his battery grip, so he has to switch back and forth between the regular tripod bracket that fits on the camera along with the battery grip and the L-bracket that doesn’t.

 

FLASHLIGHT

We love doing night photography, photographing the milky way and the stars, and doing light painting on old buildings for ghostly effects. At Waterton Lakes National Park we did a timelapse video of the Milky Way.

When we are hiking on a remote trail in the middle of the night, or light painting a building to make it appear visible in a nighttime photo, we find that a good flashlight is essential.

We use the fabulous, super high powered LED flashlight from Lumintop, the Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen flashlight. It is like having a car’s headlight in your hand!

Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen tactical flashlight

Lumintop SD75 4000 lumen tactical flashlight next to a pocket Mag Light

Built with heavy duty aerospace aluminum, it has a military grade hard-anodized aluminum finish and is water resistant to 2 meters. Offering 3 power levels plus a strobe, there’s also an LED tail light that can be used as a night light when we’re setting up our camera gear in the dark. It also has threads on the bottom for mounting on a tripod.

The flashlight batteries are rechargeable and there is a battery level indicator. The flashlight ships with a wall charger and 12 volt car charging cords, and it comes in a suitcase! The batteries are so strong, it can be used to recharge other smaller devices like cell phones via 2 USB ports.

This is not a pocket flashlight, but it has slots in the end for a strap that makes it very easy to carry.

We love this flashlight and just wish we had had it when we cruised Mexico on our sailboat, as it is far more powerful than the emergency floodlight we had for rescuing a man overboard!

 

HAULING, STORING & MAINTAINING OUR CAMERA GEAR

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With all this camera stuff, it can be a challenge to figure out how to carry it to scenic spots and where to store it in the RV and truck when we’re not using it. Also, our camera gear takes a lot of abuse from dusty air out west, salty air on the coast, and sunscreen from our faces and hands. So it needs to be cleaned periodically. Here’s where we’re at with all this right now:

Hiking With Camera Equipment

When we go on a hike of a few miles, it is likely to take us four hours or more because we stop to take so many photos. So, we want to have water, snacks, our camera gear, tripods, and possibly a jacket with us. There are a lot of camera-specific backpacks and sling style camera bags on the market, but none we’ve seen is really designed for hiking.

After a lot of searching, we finally decided to use big Camelback hydration packs instead of bona-fide camera bags when we hike with all our photography stuff, and we’ve been really happy with this choice.

I have a Camelback H.A.W.G. and Mark has a Camelback Fourteener. Both can carry 100 ounces of water, and each has enough capacity for the Tamron 150-600 lens along with everything else if need be. (We never take more than two lenses with us — one on the camera and one in the pack).

Camelback H.A.W.G. camera bag

The Camelback H.A.W.G. can hold a big camera.

We generally hike with our cameras slung around our necks so we can take photos with them as we walk. I put the Camelback on first and then put the camera on afterwards so the camera straps aren’t trapped under the shoulder straps of the Camelback. There’s nothing like getting caught in the Tourist Tangle!

My main criteria for choosing a Camelback was that I wanted to be able to put my camera (with the 28-300 mm lens attached) inside the Camelback and then close that compartment so I could scramble over something gnarly that required two hands and not worry about the camera slipping out of the pack. And it had to do that with 100 ounces of water in the hydration pack.

My other criteria was that I wanted to be able to hang my tripod on one of the Camelback straps and hike without carrying it in my hand.

The straps on the sides of the H.A.W.G. aren’t designed to carry a tripod, and they may fatigue over time, but I’ve been really happy with how this Camelback has held up on the many hikes I’ve taken with it so far in two years of owning it.

The straps on the sides of the Fourteener are designed to hold ice picks and things like that, so they are probably a little more rugged. If I had known about the Fourteener before I bought my H.A.W.G., I probably would have bought that model instead. Mark has had it almost as long as I’ve had my H.A.W.G., and he is very happy with it as well.

Camelback H.A.W.G. with camera tripod

The tripod fits neatly on the side of the H.A.W.G., and the camera straps aren’t trapped under the Camelback straps.

One really nice feature of both of these Camelback models is that they have a waterproof rain sack that can be pulled out of a hidden pocket and slipped over the whole Camelback, keeping the contents dry if you’re caught in a downpour. This came in super handy at the Duggers Creek Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway!

One of the tricks with backpacks in general is that, if they have a waist belt, you can loosen the belt a little, slip your arms out of the arm straps and then swing the pack around so it is in front of you. This way you can get something out of it without taking it off and putting it on the ground. This is fantastic when you want to swap filters, grab a snack, or change batteries without taking the whole darn thing off.

Once we get to an area where we’re going to take a lot of photos, we take the tripods off the Camelbacks and we carry them around in our hands until we’re ready to hike out again.

We carry a plastic bag (a shopping bag is fine) in our packs in case it sprinkles and we want to cover our cameras for a short time. We also carry rain ponchos so we can cover ourselves and our Camelbacks in the event of unexpected rain.

Short Walks With Photography Gear

If we are going to spend the day roaming around but not hiking, or if we’re taking photos a short distance from the truck, we don’t take the big Camelbacks. I use a small fanny pack to carry a spare battery and possibly a second lens. Mark likes to wear a photographer’s vest that has lots of pockets for all his goodies. He likes the one he has, but has his eye on the Phototools Photovest 14!

Storing All This Stuff

In the trailer we have Ruggard camera cases and Ruggard backpacks to hold the cameras and lenses. We also have camera cases in the truck. We’ve found good homes for the tripods in the truck too, and they generally stay there so they are with us if we arrive somewhere and suddenly wish we had them with us.

Cleaning

A great way to get the dust off the camera and lenses is to blow it off with the Giotto Rocket Blaster (the largest size is best). The Nikon LensPen Lens Cleaner is good for brushing dust off too. For smudges and smears, we use the Eclipse Camera Cleaning Kit which comes with a cleanser and pads.

Giotto Rocket Blaster & Camera Cleaning Kit

Giotto Rocket Blaster & Camera Cleaning Kit

Sometimes the camera’s built-in sensor cleaning system doesn’t quite do the trick, and getting debris off the camera sensor can be really intimidating. Rather than paying for an expensive cleaning at a camera shop, we’ve discovered that the Sensor Gel Stick sold by Photography Life does a phenomenal job (don’t get the cheap Chinese imitation ones). Check out the video under the product description here to see how to do it. It’s easy and we have done it many times.

 

PHOTO ORGANIZATION and POST-PROCESSING TOOLS

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We each have a plain MacBook Pro (no retina display) with 16 GB RAM and a 1 TB internal drive and slots for CD, SD card, Thunderbolt, etc. (2012-style case). We also each have a 4 TB external hard drive with a Thunderbolt dock that allows multiple drives to be daisy-chained.

We use Adobe Lightroom for most of our post-processing. The easiest way to learn Lightroom is the Julianne Kost Lightroom Videos. Julianne is Adobe’s “Lightroom Evangelist” (what a great title and job!) and her presentations are clear and concise.

Organizing photos is never easy, and everyone has a different method. Lightroom lets only one person work on a catalog at a time, so we each have separate Lightroom catalogs. We make use of the Smart Previews in Lightroom to get access to each other’s photos without transferring all the original photo files between our laptops. All we have to transfer is the catalog, previews and smart previews. It’s clunky — I know they could do better — but it works.

We also have a separate Lightroom catalogs for each year. The older catalogs are stored on external hard drives and the current year catalogs are on our laptops. We try to make sure all our photos are in two places (laptop and external drive or on two external drives). Some of our older photos are in Apple’s Aperture and our oldest are in Apple’s iPhoto, the two post-processing programs we used prior to Lightroom.

I don’t want to have to plug in an external drive every time I go into Lightroom, which is why we keep our current year’s photos and catalogs local to our laptops. We have our previous year’s catalogs and smart previews on our laptops so we can see and work with our older photos. If we need the full image of an older photo, we plug in the appropriate external hard drive, and the catalog on the laptop reconnects with the original images.

We don’t store anything in the cloud.

We organize our photos by location but like to have an overall sense of the chronological order in which we visited places, since that is the way we remember our travels. So, we label our folders with 2 digits followed by the state to bring up the states in the order in which we visited them.

Inside of each state folder, we name every download with a 4-digit date (month/day) followed by the specific location. For photos that aren’t location specific (like photos of our trailer disc brake conversion or fifth wheel suspension failure, we move them after downloading to a MISC folder and name a subfolder within it more appropriately or add them to an existing folder.

Lightroom Folder Organization

2 digits to order the states chronologically, then 4-digit dates on subfolders with the specific location.

Photomatix Pro is an excellent program for creating HDR (high dynamic range) effects from several identical photos taken at different exposures, and Topaz Adjust and Topaz Detail in the Topaz Suite of software are great for getting a little wild with crazy effects at the click of a button.

For panoramas, we use Panorama Maker to stitch together a series of photos.

We use the X-Rite Color Checker Passport to create custom color profiles calibrated to specific camera and lens combinations. It also comes with a gray card that we sometimes use to set a custom white balance for particular light conditions.

 

RESOURCES FOR LEARNING PHOTOGRAPHY

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Photography is something you can spend the rest of your life learning. We’ve been reading and studying photography books and blogs for a few years now, and we have found the following printed books and ebooks and online resources to be really helpful in conquering both the technical aspects of understanding what all those buttons on our cameras do and the artistic aspects of how to capture the essence of what we’re seeing.

Photography Books

Some of our Favorite Photography Books

BOOKS ON PHOTOGRAPHY

 

eBOOKS ON PHOTOGRAPHY

 

ONLINE TUTORIALS

The website that has taught us the most is Photography Life written by Nasim Mansurov and his very talented team. He has super detailed gear reviews and his site is read by many of the top professionals in the photography world. His tutorials are excellent, and he has two pages with links to them all:

We were very fortunate to meet Nasim at his 2012 fall foliage photography workshop in Ridgway Colorado. Those extraordinary three days were a real turning point for our photography.

 

BLOGS, TIPS and GEAR REVIEWS

The photography blogs we read regularly are these:

  • Nikon Rumors – The latest info about everything related to Nikon cameras: future products, recalls, Nikon deals and specials
  • Photography Life – The most comprehensive camera/lens reviews anywhere and a top team of writers producing tutorials
  • Ken Rockwell – The first online photography resources we found. We’ve been following ever since
  • Ming Thein – Excellent and detailed camera reviews and truly inspiring photographs
  • DigitalRev TV – Hilarious (and very informative) videos on all kinds of photography topics.
  • Thom Hogan – Interesting photography-related essays as well as gear reviews
  • Dreamscapes – Phenomenal, jaw-dropping photography that makes us want to keep learning, plus tutorials & eBooks
  • Michael Frye Photography – Creative tips and ideas for taking beautiful landscape photos
  • DxO Mark – A laboratory that uses industrial testing equipment to do comparative camera, sensor and lens ratings

 

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Kuat NV Bike Rack Review

Roads Less Traveled

This page is a review of the Küwat NV Bike Rack, a high quality and easy-to-use bike rack that mounts in a hitch receiver.

Nifty new Küwat NV Bike Rack.

This page is a review of the Kuat NV bike rack

The bike rack folds flat against the back of the truck.

A nifty new bike rack from Kuat is easy to use.

The bike rack is folded down and ready for bikes to be mounted.

Kuat

A strap is cinched over the rear

wheel to hold the bike in place on

the rack.

Strap cinching system for Kuat bike rack Kuat rack strap system

A lever arm folds up and down to hold each bike in place.

Lever arm hold bikes in place on Kuat bike rack

The lever arm can extend and

retract with the press of a button.

The lever arm holds the bike in

place on the rack.

Mounted and ready to go.

There is a built-in, retractable bike lock.

The two ends pull out and can be

snaked through the bike(s) to lock them

to the rack.

This image shows the locked lock without a bike.

The Kuat NV bike rack features a built-in bike lock.

One end of the lock inserts into the other.

Bike is mounted and locked to the rack.

The bikes are mounted and run no risk of dragging on the ground if the trailer bottoms out.

Two bikes mounted and locked.

An clever feature is the bike stand.

Insert the stand into this quick release

fitting...

A terrific feature of the Kuat NV bike rack is the built-in bike stand.

The bike rack is folded flush to the back

ot he truck/trailer, the bike stand is

inserted into it and clamped down with a

quick release.

A bike is mounted on the Kuat NV bike stand, ready for bike mechanic work.

Magic!!  A bike stand!!  The bike's wheels and

pedals are free to spin and you can do

whatever bike mechanic work you need to do.

We highly recommend the Kuat bike rack

Two bottoming-out episodes and the round

knob was beginning to look square.

The Kuat NV bike rack is awesome

Jack of JM Welding comes to our rescue.

We get a custom-designed hitch extension made to raise the bikes another 8

He draws the design on the floor using parts he had

available that day.

Designing an extension for the Kuat rack

The pieces are laid out.

We fabricated an extension for our Kuat rack

The hitch extension is welded

and has gussets for added

strength.

Jack powder coats the whole thing.

"I think it's gonna work!"

Awesome hitch extension for the Kuat bike rack

Perfect - the bike rack is raised 8" or so off the

ground.

We lock the bike rack to the hitch

extension.  An internal bolt/nut

attaches the hitch extension to

the hitch receiver and would be

very difficult to undo.

With hitch extension on Kuat NV bike rack bike is well of the ground

Ahhh… the bike is well off the ground.

The bikes are up well off the ground and we are ready to roll!!

Two bikes mounted and ready for their next adventure.

Kuat 2 Bike NV Rack

This is a review of the Kuat NV Bike Rack, a high quality, extremely

easy-to-use bike rack that mounts on a trailer hitch.

For several years we lugged our bikes around on the back of our

trailer using a cheap Swagman bike rack that held 3 bikes.  It held the

bikes by gripping the top tubes in metal jaws.  To mount a bike on the

rack or to dismount it you had to screw or unscrew two long screws

that cinched the rack's jaws closed around the top tube.  There were

several frustrating problems with this rack:

• It was time consuming to mount and dismount the bikes

• The rack's gripping jaws gouged the bikes' top tubes and

chipped off the paint

• The whole rack jiggled wildly in the hitch receiver as we drove,

especially on rough roads

• If the trailer bottomed out in a ditch, the bikes' tires dragged on the ground

• There was no way to lock the bikes onto the rack

• We had to use bungee cords to keep the wheels from spinning as we drove

At the 2011 Interbike bicycle trade show in Las Vegas Mark checked out every bike rack manufacturer for a better solution.  He

finally settled on one made by Küwat, a small company out of Missouri.  This is a slick bike rack.  It is simple, easy to use and

solves almost all the problems we had with the Swagman (see note below).

RACK IS HELD TIGHT IN THE HITCH RECEIVER

The rack cinches into the trailer hitch using a clever expansion

mechanism you control with a round plastic knob at the back of the

rack.  Set the rack into the hitch receiver, tighten the knob until very

tight (or use an allen wrench to get it super tight), and the inner

expansion mechanism holds the rack rock solid in the hitch receiver.

The rack doesn't move at all.

The rack can be folded flush against the back of the trailer (or car/

truck) when not in use.

Then fold it down when you are ready to load some bikes onto it.

EASY MOUNT / DISMOUNT

The rack holds two bikes that face in opposite

directions.  Each bike's wheels rest on a tray.  The front

wheel goes into a rounded tray that keeps it from

rolling.  An adjustable strap loops over the rear wheel to

hold it in place.  Then an adjustable lever-arm is

tightened onto the front wheel next to the fork to keep

the whole bike in place.

So to mount a bike there are three quick steps:

1.  Place the bike's wheels on the rack's tray

2.  Tighten the rear strap around the rear wheel.

3.  Move the lever arm into place on the front tire in front

of the fork and apply pressure to cinch it down.

The bike(s) can be locked using

retractable built-in plastic shielded

cable wires.  One wire comes out of

each end of the rack.  Snake the two

wires through the wheels and frame(s)

of the bike(s), and insert one

connector into the other to lock the

bikes to the rack.  Easy!

To dismount the bikes simply release the rear wheel strap,

press the thumb button on the front wheel lever arm to extend

it and lower it, and lift the bike off the rack.

KUAT NV BIKE RACK BECOMES A BIKE STAND!

As a bonus, the rack includes a built-in bike stand for working

on your bikes.

Simply fold the bike rack up so it is flush with the trailer (or

back of your car/truck).  Insert the bike stand unit using a

quick release lever.

Mount the bike into the stand by its top tube using the quick

release clamps.

Now the pedals and wheels can spin freely and you can do

whatever maintenance your bike needs, from lubing the

chain to replacing the bottom bracket.

ONE PROBLEM - AND A GREAT FIX

Side note: Kuwat does not recommend putting their bike

racks on the backs of trailers due to the long distance

between the rack and the rear wheels of the trailer.  That long

distance puts extra force on the bike rack as the trailer goes

over bumps in the road and makes it possible for the rack to

hit the ground when the trailer bottoms out going through dips

in the road.

The only problem we had with this rack -- one that was

easily remedied -- is that the rack sat quite low to the

ground because the hitch receiver on the back of our

fifth wheel is fairly low, and the rack sticks out quick far

from the back of the trailer.  When the trailer bottomed

our (for instance, entering/exiting some gas stations),

the outer end of the rack dragged on the ground.  We

had two episodes like this, one going in and out of a gas

station and the other doing a u-turn at a National Park

parking lot.  These mishaps scraped the rubber right off

the rack's expansion knob in two places.

While driving through Blanding, Utah, we asked at the

Visitors Center if there was a good welder/fabricator in

town.  We were sent to see Jack Montella of JM

Welding, and in a few hours he created the

perfect solution.

He built an S (or Z) shaped hitch extension that

fits into our trailer hitch receiver and provides a

new higher receiver for the bike rack.

Things like this are available commercially, but when we

priced it out, the cost would have been similar and would

have required waiting for the part to be shipped.  So Jack

made a custom one for us on the spot.

After drawing a picture of the hitch extension on the floor, he quickly cut the

pieces and welded it together.  He put two gussets in the corners to provide

extra strength and powder coated it.  Our only concern with the design was

that this new extension wouldn't fit tightly in the trailer's hitch receiver,

making both the rack and bikes jiggle as we drove.

Jack had a perfect

solution.  He welded a

nut into the inside of the

new hitch extension

where the hitch pin goes through the hitch receiver and the

hitch extension.  Then he fabricated a long bolt that would go

through both the trailer's hitch receiver and the hitch

extension.  As the bolt was screwed into the nut on the inside

of the hitch extension, the hitch extension was cinched up

tightly against the inside of the trailer's hitch receiver.  This

made a rock solid connection.

At the other end of the hitch extension, our bike rack fits into the hitch

extension receiver just as it did into the original trailer hitch receiver,

using Küwat's expansion mechanism inside its tubes.

This has raised the bike rack 8" further off the ground.  Now when we

go through a deep dip in the road, the hitch cable rings (a part of the

hitch receive we don't use or care about) drag on the ground rather

than the bottom of the bike rack.

After we installed the bike rack on the new hitch extension I walked behind the trailer

as Mark drove it over a very rough dirt road.  The rack and the bikes followed the motion of the trailer and nothing more

-- no jiggling whatsoever.

You can purchase the Kuat NV Bike Rack here.

If you have more than two bikes and are mounting the rack on a car or truck (not recommended for an RV),

you can purchase the Kuat NV bike rack extension here.

After a few years wiggles crept in and we started using Hitch Tighteners to make the rack even more stable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kuat NV Bike Rack is available at Amazon (left ad), and if you are putting this rack on a car (not an RV), you can add the extension (right ad).

We receive a 4-6% commission from Amazon (at no cost to you) if you make purchases through our links. This helps us cover our out-of-pocket costs for this site, but doesn’t pay us for our time writing reviews like this.

If you make an Amazon purchase here, please drop us a line to let us know so we can say thank you!

 

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Lumintop SD75 Flashlight Review – A Car Headlight In Your Hand!

We’ve been doing a lot of night photography lately, catching the Milky Way at Waterton Lakes National Park in the Canadian Rockies and hiking in the dark out onto a rocky point to catch sunrise at Deadhorse Point State Park in Utah. We even hiked the Fairyland Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park after midnight.

Stars at Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Night Sky

The Lumintop SD75 flashlight brightens the rock formations at Fairyland Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

We’ve also played with creating ghostly images by doing Light Painting in old buildings in Ouray Colorado.

Ghostly image in a ghost town

Mark gets a selfie of his own ghost.

A key piece of gear we have relied on for all of this is a Lumintop SD75 4,000 Lumen flashlight.

In the past we used Maglites and smaller LED flashlights to find our way in the dark and to cast light on the surroundings during a long exposure of the night sky. However, even the best of these flashlights was hopelessly dim.

Lumintop SD75 LED flashlight

Our Lumintop SD75 flashlight next to our Maglite.

Mark is a huge flashlight junkie, and he searched for a long time for a big and powerful flashlight to use for our nighttime photography excursions and to use when we roam around our boondocking spots at night.

He decided on the Lumintop SD75 flashlight.

This is a “search” flashlight similar to the ones used by law enforcement.

There are three power levels, and at max power it is a whopping 4,000 lumens.

The light it throws at max power is astonishing — it goes 0.4 miles!!

Walking in the dark with this flashlight is like holding a car’s headlight in your hand!

Lumintop SD75 flashlight low power

Low power.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight medium power

Mid Power.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight high power

High Power.

  • At low power, it can run for 50 hours
  • At mid power, it can run for 8.33 hours
  • At max power (4,000 lumens), it can run for 2.68 hours

Fairyland Point Bryce Canyon National Park Night Sky

Light painting the rock pinnacles at Fairyland Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

There is a strobe mode as well, and at max power strobe, it can run for 50 hours!

The Lumintop SD75 is made of heavy duty aerospace aluminum and has a hard-anodized anti-scratching HAIII military grade finish. The LED bulbs are the latest CREE XHP70 LED technology.

This is a serious piece of gear that comes in an equally serious suitcase!

Lumintop SD75 flashlight suitcase

The flashlight has its own suitcase. Don’t worry, it’s about the size of a very very big lunch box.

This aluminum suitcase has foam cutouts inside for all the goodies that come with it.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight suitcase open

Foam cutouts for all the extras.

The flashlight comes with four lithium-ion batteries that are rechargeable. It also comes with a wall charger as well as a 12 volt car charger.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight parts

The flashlight packs into the suitcase in two halves. The battery pack is shown in the middle.

So, we can charge the flashlight batteries either in our RV or in our truck, whichever is more convenient.

Lumintop SD75 flashlight charger

Wall charger and 12 volt charger.

There is a battery charge indicator light on the back end of the battery, so we know exactly how well charged the batteries are.

There are also two USB connectors for charging cell phones or other devices FROM the flashlight battery! That’s how much charge these batteries can hold!

Lumintop SD75 tactical flashlight back end

Cap off: Battery indicator light, 2 USB ports + slots for a strap.

There are also two slots on the cap that covers the back end of the flashlight that can be used to attach a carry strap or piece of line.

One very handy feature for when we are setting up our tripods and camera gear in the dark is an LED taillight that attaches to the back end.

Standing the flashlight on end, this taillight illuminates the area all around the flashlight. This would be ideal in a tent or doing emergency truck or RV repair work in the dark too!

Lumintop SD75 Flashlight with LED taillight

LED taillight
Handy in a tent, setting up photo gear or working on the RV.

There is a quarter inch tripod socket on the side of the flashlight so it can be mounted on a camera tripod as well.

Lumintop SD75 tactical Flashlight tripod mount

Unscrew this cap to access the standard 1/4″ tripod mount.

One feature we haven’t taken advantage of — because we haven’t been caught out in the rain or gone swimming with this flashlight just yet — is that it is water resistant to 2 meters!! It comes with extra O-rings to help keep it watertight as well.

Overlook night stars North Rim Grand Canyon

My camera aims at the stars at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

I wish we had had this flashlight when we cruised Mexico with our sailboat. We had a 12 volt “4 million candlepower” spot light that we kept on deck during every overnight passage just in case one of us slipped overboard.

Of course, we wore harnesses and clipped ourselves to the boat at sunset and stayed clipped in until sunrise as long as we were outside the cabin. But there was always the chance that the quick release mechanism on the harness might accidentally undo itself or some other catastrophe might happen that would send one of us into the drink.

Milky WayLodge at North Rim of the Grand Canyon starry night and fifth wheel trailer RV

The Lodge at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Frankly, there is no way in any conditions but the calmest seas that our spot light would have been bright enough to illuminate a bobbing head in the water.

This flashlight is so much more powerful, we both would have felt a lot more comfortable it we’d had it aboard with us!

Milky Way and fifth wheel trailer RV

The Lumintop SD75 flashlight brightens up our buggy.

If you are looking for a high quality flashlight for walking around your RV campsite at night, or for hiking in the dark, or for light painting old ghostly buildings in the wee hours of the morning, the Lumintop SD75 is a terrific choice.

It’s also a neat gift idea for that sweet hubby who loves gadgets and is so hard to buy for!!

If you purchase the Lumintop SD 75 flashlight at Amazon through this link here, you can get a 20% discount if you enter this code at checkout: DY7LBH7G.

Added Later: We have also begun using the Lumintop EDC 25 flashlight, a pocket flashlight that packs a whopping 1,000 lumens into a tiny package. We will have a review of this flashlight soon. But for now, we want you to know that this flashlight is just as amazing the class of pocket flashlights as its big brother is in the class of full-size flashlights.

You can buy the Lumintop EDC 25 1,000 Lumen Pocket Flashlight HERE. For a 20% discount, enter this code at checkout: 62Q8JKKA

And thank you for using any of our Amazon links immediately before loading up your shopping cart, because we then receive a small referral fee for every item you buy at no cost to you!!

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Choosing a Tripod – Sunwayfoto Tripod & Ball Head Review

Selfie mania has taken the world by storm, and in our travels we are no exception.

Selfie photo taken with a bear

Mark gets a selfie with a bear. Wow!

And selfie sticks are all the rage at every scenic overlook we go to.

Selfie sticks and camera tripod

The gear of choice in the National Parks is the selfie stick!

But there is a better way to hold a camera still, especially a big DSLR: a good quality tripod and ball head!

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with XB-52DL ballhead and PNL-D810R bracket

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod and XB-52 Ballhead

Photography has become a major part of our lives and travels, and as our skills have improved, we have upgraded our camera equipment as well. In the following link we outline all of the gear we use, from cameras and lenses to accessories like flashes and tripods to software for post-processing (as well as explaining how we organize our photos), and we also provide links to all the resources we’ve used to learn how to take photos:

Photography Gear, Tips and Resources

Tripods – Cheap vs. Expensive

It is said that as a photographer improves, his or her biggest equipment concern goes from getting the right camera body to buying the most appropriate lenses to finding the best tripod. We are working our way along this progression, and soon after Mark purchased his Nikon D810 camera a few months ago, he began casting about to find a suitable tripod for it.

Mark’s old tripod / ball head combo was too flimsy to support the D810 properly, and it wasn’t all that easy to use. He decided on the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head sitting on the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod legs with an optional DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp.

Because we have a lot of readers who are seeking to improve their photography as they travel, just like we are, we wanted to share our experiences with this new tripod kit.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp atop an XB-52 Ballhead
all sitting on a Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod

When we first became interested in photography, we couldn’t understand why tripods could be as cheap as $29 or as much as $1,500. But we have learned since then that the price/performance trade-off is very simple, and it all boils down to three things:

  • Sturdiness
  • Overall weight
  • Ease of use

Cheap tripods take precious time to set up, can be difficult to position the camera correctly to get the image you want, don’t necessarily hold the camera perfectly still (and sometimes even let it droop a little after you’ve got everything in place), and are often too short to put the camera at eye level. Expensive tripods do all those things with ease, and they are lightweight enough to carry comfortably.

When is a tripod handy to use? Whenever the shutter speed is so slow that hand-holding the camera will make the whole image blurry because your hand moves while taking the photo.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head T2C240C Tripod PNL-810R L-Bracket Review-2

With a tripod, flowing water can be made to look silky smooth.

We use ours all the time for low light photography (sunrise and sunset), for night photography (shooting starry nights and the Milky Way), for long shutter speeds to reveal movement, like the flow of waterfalls, and for time-lapse sequences that show movement in a video format, like fast moving clouds and changing light.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with DDC-60 Quick Release Clamp

The Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head is rated to support a whopping 132 lbs., far more than other comparable tripod ball heads.

Like most budding photographers, we’ve frittered away lots of good money on cheap tripods as we’ve learned these lessons. After all, when you’ve broken the bank buying a camera and lenses, who wants to dig deeper in their pockets to get a decent tripod?

As is his way, Mark did an exhaustive search with a few criteria in mind for what he wanted in his new tripod. It had to be:

  • Stable enough to hold the camera with our longest lens, which is a Tamron 150-600mm 
  • The ball head had to be strong enough that the camera wouldn’t droop after it was tightened 
  • The tripod legs had to be carbon fiber (i.e., strong and lightweight)
  • He didn’t want it to spend all our savings on it
Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead with T2C40C Tripod and DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

An excellent value.

In the end he settled on the Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head. This is a Chinese brand that is not particularly well known in the US yet, and is competing against the much more expensive brands like Gitzo.

Sunwayfoto – Quality Camera Gear at a Good Price

Mark began looking into the Sunwayfoto brand because we both used their L-Brackets on our Nikon D610 cameras and Mark now uses the Sunwafoto PNL-D810R L-Bracket on his new Nikon D810. We liked the craftsmanship of our L-brackets, and when we discovered Sunwayfoto makes tripods and ball heads, their tripod kits seemed worthy of a closer look.

Side note: an L-Bracket is a handy piece of gear that mounts on the camera so the camera can be slipped onto the tripod easily. Because the bracket is an L-shape, the camera can be switched from a landscape orientation to a portrait orientation quickly and easily.

PNL-D810R Bracket for Nikon D810 camera

The Sunwafoto PNL-D810R L-bracket mounts on the camera to simplify the use of a tripod.

Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R mounted on Nikon D810 camera

Nikon D810 camera with Sunwafoto L-bracket attached.

Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R mounted on Nikon D810 camera

The L-bracket gets screwed into the bottom of the camera.

What’s neat about the Sunwayfoto L-brackets is that they fit the camera body perfectly, even when the plastic cover protecting the camera’s LCD display is in place. L-brackets made by other manufacturers don’t always fit properly when the plastic LCD protector is on. The Sunwayfoto L-brackets also provide lots of room to plug optional cables (like an external microphone) into the left side of the camera.

Sunwayfoto XB-52 “Low Profile” Ball Head

Getting a good, solid and easy to use ball head was the most important criteria for Mark’s new tripod. The Sunwayfoto XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head is the biggest of Sunwayfoto’s ball head offerings, and it is truly unbelievable in craftsmanship and strength. It is beautifully machined and anodized from a solid piece of aluminum. It also has a geared locking mechanism that claims a Max Load of 132 lbs (60 kg)! That is 82 more pounds than top-of-the-line Really Right Stuff’s largest ball head.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead for camera tripod

Sunwayfot XB-52DL Ballhead

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL camera ballhead

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead

When locked down, the camera does not budge on this ball head. Even when carrying the tripod on his shoulder, Mark has found the camera doesn’t droop like it did with his old tripod setup.

Carrying Sunway T2C40C Tripod with XB52-DL and Nikon D610 camera

The ballhead holds the camera securely when walking around with the tripod on your shoulder.

The large locking knob on this ball head is made from solid metal and has an excellent feel to it. There is no rubber to wear out or come loose.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead Adjustment Knob

There are two adjustment knobs for the ball,
a large outer knob and a smaller inner dial.

There are two knobs for adjusting the position of the camera, a larger knob for gross adjustments and a fine tuning dial within that knob that lets you set precisely how easily (loosely) the camera swivels on the ball head.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead Fine Tuning Knob

The smaller knob fine-tunes how easily the camera flops around on the ball when it is loose. The larger one tightens it down.

There are also two notches on the ball head body to allow the camera either to be dropped extra far forward (for images aimed towards the ground) or to be tilted sideways (for portrait oriented images).

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ballhead notches

There are two notches that allow the camera to be dropped down, rather than just a single one like many ball heads.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead notches for camera angles

The notches in the ballhead allow the camera to be faced down.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead notch points camera down

.

The notches for setting up a portrait orientation are handy if you don’t want to use an L-bracket.

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ballhead PNL-D810R bracket and T2C40C Tripod

The notches allow the camera to be flopped on its side for a portrait shot.

We prefer using an L-bracket and not using the ball head notches for portrait shots because of the inherent stability of placing the camera on the top of the tripod for portrait orientations instead of having it hang off the side.

Nikon D810 camera landscape mode on Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R and XB-52DL ballhead

Using an L-bracket gives the option of either a
landscape orientation…

Nikon D810 camera portrait mode on Sunwayfoto PNL-D810R and XB-52DL ballhead

…or portrait orientation
Here the camera is on top of the tripod and not flopped to the side in one of the notches, a more balanced and secure setup.

For the weight conscious, the Sunwayfoto XB-44 ball head is slightly smaller and lighter than the XB-52 but can still support a whopping 88 lbs. It weighs just 483 grams as compared to the 685 grams of the bigger ballhead, a difference of over 7 ounces (nearly half a pound), which some folks would find makes a difference on a long hike.

“Quick Release” or “Lever Release” Clamps

One of the best things about the XB-52DL “Low Profile” Ball Head is the fast action of the quick release. Simply flip the quick release lever open and slip the camera into the Arca Swiss compatible slot and then close the lever, and you are ready to go.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

The Sunwayfoto quick release clamp makes it super easy to lock the camera in position.

Note that the Sunwayfoto XB-52 ball head without the “DL” suffix does not have a quick release clamp.

I was so impressed by Mark’s new tripod ball head, and especially the quick release mechanism, that I got one too. It replaced the Benro V2 ball head that had come with my Benro Travel Angel II tripod. The Benro ball head had a knob that had to be unscrewed and screwed back in each time the camera was mounted or dismounted on the tripod, something that got to be a real pain when I wanted to switch between portrait and landscape orientations quickly. It is also not nearly as finely crafted.

Like Mark, I absolutely LOVE the XB-52DL ball head. Even though it is almost 13 ounces heavier than my old Benro ball head, I find it is fast and easy and precise and worth the few extra ounces of carrying weight on a long hike. My tripod can still be strapped onto my Camelback H.A.W.G. hydration pack for those long days of hiking where I want 100 ounces of water along with a second lens, assorted filters, spare battery and SD cards.

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head on Benro Travel Angel II Tripod Legs carried on a Camelback H.A.W.G

The ultlra strong Sunwayfoto XB-52DL ball head fits comfortably on my Benro tripod legs and can be carried easily with my Camelbak H.A.W.G. hydration pack.

The quick release clamp locking lever has three positions: Open (right), Center, and Closed (left). There is a slide-lock on the lever so you can’t accidentally bump it and risk having your camera fall off the tripod.

The knob opposite the quick release clamp is used to fine-tune the tension, or grip, on the clamp holding the camera’s L-bracket in place. This is an important knob if you have more than one camera body and L-bracket (or other Arca Swiss style plate), because the widths vary ever so slightly.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

In the “open” position, the camera slips onto the plate.
The knob (top) adjusts the grip on the camera’s L-bracket or plate

When the lever is in the Center position, the locking mechanism is half open and allows the camera to slide from left to right within the range of the stops on the L-Bracket, but is still secure so the camera won’t slide out and fall to the ground.

Sunwayfoto DLC60 Quick Release Lever Clamp

In the “center” position the camera can be slid from side to side on the plate without falling off.

Nikon D810 on Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with XB-52DL ballhead and PNL-D810R bracket

The camera can be slid about an inch to the left and right while everything else remains in place on the tripod.

When the lever is opened all the way, the camera can be removed for handheld shooting or for switching to the other orientation (portrait or landscape) quickly.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp

Mark likes to do panorama shots, so he opted to replace the quick release clamp (or “Lever Release”) plate that comes with the XB-52DL ball head with the DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp instead, because it has a bubble level that indicates whether the series of shots are going to be level with the horizon or are going so go sailing off on some kind of crazy diagonal, ruining the final, stitched image.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Lever Release clamp bubble level and tension knob

The optional DDC-60LR lever release has a bubble level which helps with stitching multiple images into one panorama shot.

This is another finely made product that not only makes mounting the camera on the tripod a snap and makes switching from landscape to portrait (with an L-bracket) an absolute breeze, but provides a mechanism for leveling as well.

The primary difference between this quick release clamp and the one that comes with the XB-52DL ball head is that the knob opposite the quick release clamp that is used to adjust the grip tension on the camera’s L-bracket (or other Arca Swiss style plate) is no longer there. It has been replaced by the bubble level. In the absence of this knob, there is a small dial on the plate for adjusting the grip tension instead.

Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Lever Release clamp bubble level and tension knob

The fine tuning grip tension knob is now a dial on the plate itself.

There is a spring that sits against the dial to hold it in place once you set it to your liking. Mark found the spring was a bit loose and the dial would turn a little on its own until he put a drop of Blue Loctite on the threads. In hindsight, he’s found that this has made it difficult to adjust the tension.

Another subtle difference between the Sunwayfoto DDC-60LR Quick Lever Release Clamp and the one that comes with the XB-52DL ball head is that the open/closed positions of the quick release lever can be reversed (for left handed people). Simply place the lever in the center position, pull it out slightly, and rotate it. Then the open and closed positions will be in the opposite directions (left to open and right to close).

Our overall impression is that the quick release clamp that comes with the Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head is easier to work with than the DDC-60LR Quick Release Clamp because the grip tension adjustment is done with a knob rather than a tiny dial. However, it also has a minor limitation, for those who want to stitch together lots of images for panoramas, that it doesn’t have a bubble level.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod

The tripod legs Mark chose are the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod legs. This tripod is a thing of beauty, with 8 layers of woven carbon fiber and a one piece CNC machined main structure.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod legs

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod has carbon fiber legs.

The leg joints on this tripod have longer (40mm) friction tubes in them than are found on most comparable tripods, which makes a sturdier connection between the leg joints when they are extended. The tripod is rated at a max load of 12KG or 26.5 lbs. which isn’t the beefiest tripod out there, but the legs seem solid enough for the Nikon D810 and big Tamron 150-600 lens.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod leg joints

The legs extend and retract by rotating a knob at each joint.

The only drawback is that the tripod is only 52.5” tall (without the center column extended). Once the XB-52 ball head is attached, it stands 56” high, which is a few inches taller than Mark’s older tripod setup and is almost at eye level for him (he would love for it to be just a few inches taller!).

Another improvement would be to have some foam on at least one of the legs for carrying in cold weather, although foam might start to deteriorate over time, and this tripod looks like it will last a long time.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with Nikon D810 camera

The tripod is just about at eye level for Mark, but not quite.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod also has a very innovative (patented) leg pivot mechanism. Instead of the typical hex head screw attachment to connect the legs, there is a connector which has a special anti-twisting boss design on one screw head while the other side screws into it with a torx type connecting screw (the Torx wrench is included with the tripod). This prevents the screws from twisting and loosening up inside the leg attachment as the legs are pivoted and moved back and forth to set up. Most Tripods legs need to be tightened frequently with two hex style wrenches.

Mark found that after using this tripod for about a month he actually needed to tighten those screws a bit. He removed the screws and put a drop of Blue Loctite on the threads which helped.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod and XB-52DL ballhead

There are torx screws to keep the leg joints at the top stiff.

One neat feature of the Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod is that the rubber feet on the bottoms of the legs can be unscrewed and removed to expose corrosion resistant Titanium spikes. These spikes plant the tripod firmly in loose conditions. Some of the other hardware used in this tripod is also made of Titanium, which very impressive indeed!

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod titanium feet covers

The rubber feet at the bottom of the tripod legs can be unscrewed.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod titanium feet

Underneath the rubber protection booties, the tripod has titanium points for gripping loose soil.

The center column of the tripod can be removed and replaced with the included short column so you can splay the legs out all the way out for close-to-the-ground macro photography.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod without center column for macro photography

The center column is removable to allow for close-up photography
that is low to the ground.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod also comes with a spring hook that can be put on the bottom of either the long or short center column tube to help weight it down in windy conditions. Mark likes to hang his gear bag on it to keep his pack off of the ground and help steady the tripod.

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod with gear bag suspended

You can hang your gear bag on the center hook to weight the tripod down.

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod comes packed in a high quality padded carry bag that has carry straps that can be attached to it for hiking. The kit even includes a nice lens cleaning cloth (a cleaning cloth is also provided with the Sunwayfoto XB ball heads).

Sunwayfoto T2C40C Tripod in padded carrying case

The Sunwayfoto T2C40C tripod comes with a good quality
padded carrying case.

Sunwayfoto T2C240C Tripod Review

The tripod carrying case has both a shoulder strap and a carrying handle as well as several pockets for small items like spare memory cards and battery.

Sunwayfoto is continuing to perfect their design of this tripod. When it was first introduced, it had only one anti-twist slot or groove in each of the legs, which made it prone to rotating and breaking. This resulted in some unfavorable online reviews of the tripod. The design has been upgraded and now has 2 slots in each leg. 

If you are in the market for a quality tripod kit, the Sunwayfoto ball heads, quick release clamps, L-brackets and tripod legs are a good bang for the buck. All of these are mix-and-match, so if you already have tripod legs you like, as I did, you can simply upgrade the ball head and/or the quick release clamp. Or, go all out like Mark did, and get the whole darn kit!

Sunwayfoto XB-52DL Ball Head T2C240C Tripod PNL-810R L-Bracket Review

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Happy shooting!!

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Porta-bote Review

This page is a review of the 10′ Porta-bote operated with a 6 hp Suzuki 4-stroke outboard. The Porta-bote’s overall design is terrific, and it worked very well for us as a cruising dinghy during our nearly 4 year cruise of Mexico’s Pacific coast aboard our Hunter 44DS sailboat named Groovy.

We initially posted this review in 2012 after we had owned and used the Porta-bote for a year.

10' Porta-bote with 6 hp Suzuki outboard.

10′ Porta-bote with 6 hp outboard.

Since that time, the Porta-bote design has been completely overhauled and revamped.

The new Alpha series models being sold today are much improved over the older models. Many of the problems we had with our Porta-Bote have been eliminated by the new design.

In the end, we used the Porta-bote as our cruising dinghy for nearly four years and we were very happy with it. This review has been updated to indicate the areas in which the new Alpha series Porta-botes outshine the older models like ours.

The most notable improvements are:

  • The transom is an integral part of the hull and not a separate component
  • The seats have been completely redesigned
  • The plastic the seats are made of does not get super hot in the sun
  • The plastic the rub-rail is made of does not leave marks on white fiberglass motherships
The Porta-bote rows beautifully

The Porta-bote rows beautifully

We learned, after the fact, that the design engineers read and used this Porta-bote review to pinpoint aspects of the design that needed improvement when they did the Alpha redesign. I am really thrilled that our notes proved useful to them and gave them some good ideas.

The things we loved most about the Porta-bote were:

  • Easy and swift movement, whether rowing or motoring
  • Enormous capacity for carrying groceries, laundry, scuba gear and propane tanks to and from shore in the cruising lifestyle
  • Incredible ruggedness when dragging it up on shore or tying it to a pier covered with barnacles
  • Imperviousness to tropical UV rays, even when left in the sun for years on end
  • Excellent tracking in the water when towed behind a large cruising sailboat

We made a wonderful system for carrying the Porta-bote along our lifelines while on passage, and we found that the Porta-bote fit perfectly into our sailboat’s swim step.

We created a lightweight davit system to hoist it up out of the water every night.

The Porta-bote was light enough, even with the engine mounted on the transom, that I (an able bodied woman) could hoist it by hand to put it on our swimstep for the night without needing to winch it.

The notes below are offered for anyone considering using a Porta-bote as a cruising dinghy. It details how we used the boat and the custom modifications we made. Any criticisms we had of the boat that have been fixed in the new Alpha series are clearly noted in the review.

Would we consider a Porta-bote for a future tropical cruise? Absolutely!!

The official Porta-bote website is

www.porta-bote.com

PORTA-BOTE SPECIFICATIONS

The Porta-bote has lots of interior space

The Porta-bote has lots of interior space

Length: 10′
Beam: 5′
Weight: ~80 lbs (w/ seats but w/o outboard)
Weight: ~135 lbs (w/ seats & w/ outboard)

Component Parts:

1 Hull
3 Seats
1 Transom (transom is integral to the Alpha series hull)
3 pairs eyebolts/washers for seats
2 pairs wingnuts/washers for transom
1 pair aluminum collapsible oars

10' porta-bote has lots of interior space

There’s enough room to take a snooze!

Following is a summary of what we have found to be Porta-bote’s best and worst qualities when used as a cruising dinghy:

Porta-bote Strengths

  • Lightweight enough to hoist in davits effortlessly, even with the outboard
  • Lightweight enough to drag high onto the beach without dinghy wheels
  • Tows easily, with or without the outboard mounted (best without)
  • Rows beautifully — truly a pleasure to row
  • Planes quickly with a 55 lb. 6 hp outboard and two adults
  • Huge interior volume for hauling stuff
  • No worries about running it up on rocks
  • No need for a sunbrella cover to protect the hull from UV rays
  • Half the price of a comparable RIB dinghy

Porta-bote Weaknesses

  • No built-in system to attach a bridle for lifting the boat in davits
  • No “drain hole” in the hull to drain water when boat is out of the water **
  • Seats take up storage space and the long middle & rear seats can be awkward to carry

** We did not know this at the time, but if you want a drain plug, Porta-bote recommends installing a Ronstan RF294 Drain Plug on the side of the boat just in front of the transom and above the black tube.

Issues with OLDER MODEL Porta-botes (NOT applicable to the new Alpha series)

  • Some of the construction materials are not appropriate for tropical, salt water use
  • Transom is heavy, awkward to carry and takes up a lot of storage space
  • The flotation foam disintegrates in the sun and leaves black flecks on the floor
  • Black plastic seats get untouchably hot in the tropical sun
  • Black plastic seams along the length of the hull leave scuff marks on Groovy’s white gelcoat

Our overall assessment after nearly four years of using the Porta-bote in anchorages from San Diego to Zihuatanejo, Mexico is that it is a great little cruising dinghy, especially once a few modifications have been made.

Here are some details about its strengths and weaknesses along with descriptions of the upgrades we did to make it work better.

PORTA-BOTE STOWAGE LOCATIONS on a CRUISING SAILBOAT

The Porta-bote is not as compact a boat as you might think because it is not just a folding hull. It is a hull, three large seats and a big transom Note: in the Alpha series the transom is not a separate component as it was in the older Porta-botes.

The 8′ version is a hull, two seats and a transom, and is reportedly “just as difficult to set up” according to a singlehanding friend of ours who has cruised 10,000 miles, first with a 10′ Porta-bote and then, after he lost it, with an 8 footer. “I liked my 10 footer better,” he claimed. “Smaller doesn’t mean easier, and you lose all that interior space with the 8′ model.”

The Porta-bote planes easily with two adults on board

The Porta-bote planes easily with two adults on board

All the pieces of the Porta-bote are big and awkward to carry. For longer passages we disassemble the Porta-bote and store the hull in kayak-style racks outboard of Groovy’s starboard deck, so it is tucked out of the way without having to hang in davits off the back or lie upside down on the foredeck as most cruising dinghies do. Because of their length, we store the longest seat and the transom in the master stateroom (ugh!). We store the other two seats in our big cockpit locker, standing on end for easy retrieval.

For overnights at anchor we lift the dinghy in retractable davits that are built into our solar panel support arch. The Porta-bote fits perfectly into our sugar-scoop transom, resting neatly on the swim platform and held in place by the shape of Groovy’s hull.

We leave the outboard mounted on the Porta-bote. The boat and outboard are light enough that each of us can hoist the dinghy unassisted (our davit system has a simple 4-to-1 purchase and no winches). Splashing the boat in the morning is just a matter of lowering it a foot or so back into the water, which each of us can also do unassisted.

PORTA-BOTE SEATS and SEAT STOWAGE

The seats on the new Alpha series Porta-botes have been completely redesigned, and the transom is integral to the hull and not a separate component, so the following notes pertain strictly to older Porta-botes.

Porta-bote hull mounted on the lifelines of a sailboat

Porta-bote hull mounted on the lifelines of our sailboat

The three seats and transom are all large, heavy components made of plastic and metal. Each one has some swinging legs that hang off of it, making each piece quite a challenge to carry on a pitching boat. Each of the three seats has two (or three) metal U-shaped rods attached underneath that flip out and become the seat legs once the seat is installed in the Porta-bote. These metal loops are only loosely attached to the seats, relying on spring tension to keep them in place.

The first time I carried a seat forward on Groovy’s deck, one of the metal pieces detached itself from the seat and vanished over the side, never to be seen again. Fortunately Porta-bote replaced the piece free of charge. We now use duct tape to keep tension on the open part of the U-shaped rods so these crazy loops don’t fall off when we carry the seats to and from the foredeck. The metal loops fold back against the bottom of the seats.

Porta-bote rests on foredeck of a 44' Hunter 44DS sailboat

Porta-bote rests on foredeck of our 44′ Hunter 44DS sailboat

Actually, they swing freely and independently of each other, flopping all over the place. However, with some coordination they can be held against the seat while carrying it, still leaving a hand free “for the boat.” Unfortunately the loops don’t fold flat to the seat and there are no clips to hold them in place, so they flop around until you get a grip on them as you carry the seat. Also, when folded, at least one of the loops on each seat sticks out an inch or two beyond the end of the seat. So in the stored position the seat becomes even longer due to this metal bracket sticking out the end.

The design of the seats and legs could be infinitely improved. The seats could be designed to fold in half, shortening them considerably for stowage. The legs could fold into the seats and clip into place so they don’t flop around.

There is a myriad of possibilities for designing solid functional seats that are easy to carry and store. However, the current seats are very awkward, and the black plastic will singe your hand when you touch it after the boat has been sitting in the tropical sun for a few minutes. Simply making the seats of white plastic would be an immeasurable improvement.

We use towels to cover the seats, or in very hot places rely on flotation cushions (which slide around under you). We have heard of cruisers making sunbrella seat covers for the seats too. In the hottest places a towel is not sufficient and you will still burn your backside while sitting on the seats.

The biggest problem with the seats, besides being so difficult to lug around on a rolling boat, is that they are too big to stow easily. Some cruisers lash them on deck, but we have neither found a good place on deck for them nor come up with a quick way to tie them down securely. Many cruisers simply tow their Porta-bote instead of hassling with assembly and disassembly.

2008 Hunter 44DS Sailboat Groovy in Tangolunda Bay Huatulco Mexico

Groovy in Tangolunda Bay (Huatulco, Mexico)
The porta-bote is snug in its perch on the starboard side.

We met a couple that towed theirs thousands of miles up and down the Mexican coast. I consider this risky if the seas get out of hand, and it also seems to defeat the purpose of the folding “portable” nature of the boat.

On our boat the transom and middle seat are too long to fit in a cockpit locker in a way that is easily accessible, so we store them alongside our bed.

The other two seats fit in our large aft cockpit locker standing on end. In order to get a grip on these big floppy seats, we use several large Navy-issue canvas bags, storing two seats to a bag and putting a second bag over the other end so the whole seat is covered (they are salty and dirty when removed from the boat, and who wants that next to their bed?).

A tidier solution would be to have custom canvas bags made to fit the seats with a large rugged handle on the side. It would be awesome if these bags came with the Porta-bote right from the factory!

PORTA-BOTE TRANSOM and TRANSOM STOWAGE

The transom on the new Alpha series Porta-botes has been completely redesigned and is integral to the hull rather than being a separate component

The transom is not only long, wide and heavy, it has a big flopping plastic piece that folds over the hull when the transom is installed in the Porta-bote to provide a support for the outboard to clamp onto. This heavy piece is held to the transom by a thin piece of plastic that acts as a hinge and looks very prone to tearing.

Porta-bote transom on foredeck of sailboat

Transom lies on the foredeck

When we tow the Porta-bote, we remove the outboard, and then the plastic outboard support piece flaps as the Porta-bote goes over the waves, threatening to rip the hinge piece. To stop the flapping and wear and tear on that thin hinge, we use a large clamp to clamp the outboard support piece to the Porta-bote’s hull.

The transom also has two long metal L-brackets along each side. These are the supports that hold the transom in place: two pairs of wing nuts and washers secure the metal L-bracket to the side of the hull. These L-brackets are major ankle-biters and interior cabin wood-gougers when carrying the transom around.

Therefore, we load the transom and the longest seat into a canvas bag before lugging them anywhere — the flopping legs on the seat are held in place, the flopping outboard engine mounting piece is held in place, and the sharp metal edges of the L-brackets are somewhat protected by the heavy canvas.

Some clever engineers at Porta-bote could surely devise a way to secure the transom without requiring large metal L-brackets (or tiny wing nuts and washers, for that matter), and the outboard engine mount could definitely be designed to fold into the transom so it lies flush and is held in place with a clip system that keeps it from flopping around.

Please note that the new Alpha series Porta-botes have the transom integrated into the hull which eliminates the problems associated with carrying the transom around and attaching it to the hull!

PORTA-BOTE ASSEMBLY

Porta-bote assembly on the deck of a sailboat

Step 1: The hull is opened

We have tried several methods of assembling the Porta-bote on Groovy’s deck, and the best system we have found is described below. It takes us about 15 minutes, including retrieving the many parts from the cabin and the cockpit locker.

When the hull is in its stowed position, it is folded lengthwise twice: first the sides fold into the middle, then the (new) sides are folded in towards each other.

The end result looks like a small surfboard, 10′ long and about 4″ wide. Our first task is to remove the hull from its stowed position outboard of Groovy’s starboard side deck. Then:

    Center seat of porta-bote is installed

    Center seat is installed

    1. Carry the hull to the foredeck and open it up. The plastic is rigid and you have to use a lot of force to get the sides to open.

    Porta-bote provides a specially cut board to assist with this: you stand on one side of the hull and push against the other, wedging the board between the two. Eventually the board is positioned to hold the hull open.

    2. Insert the middle seat. The ends of the seats are inserted into metal supports that are riveted on either side of the interior of the hull.

    The seats don’t fit in the supports all that well. There is some wiggle room up and down and the angle of the supports is perpendicular to the hull, which is not ultimately in line with the seat’s horizontal orientation, because the hulls’ sides flair outward.

    Note: The seats have been totally redesigned in the Alpha series!

    Eyebolt / wingnut / washer combo for attaching the seats to the Porta-bote hull

    Eyebolt / wingnut / washer combo for attaching the seats to the Porta-bote hull

    3. Secure the middle seat with wing nuts and washers. The Porta-bote ships with long thin cotter pins that are tied to the seats with thin string so they don’t get lost.

    The cotter pins are intended to hold the seats in place against the metal hull supports, however they fly all over the place when you are carrying the seats, and they don’t hold the seats securely.

    Bolt-wingnut-washer combo for attaching the Porta-bote transom to the hull

    Bolt-wingnut-washer combo for attaching the transom to the hull

    Therefore, we replaced the cotter pins with long stainless steel eyebolts held in place with large stainless steel washers, both above and below the seat, and with a stainless steel lock washer underneath to keep everything tight despite the jiggling and jostling of the hull when the Porta-bote is driven over the waves.

    The eyebolt is slid through a hole in the upper part of the metal support, then through a hole in the seat and then through a hole in the lower part of the metal support, and a wingnut is screwed on from underneath.

    Note: The mechanism for attaching the seats to the hull has been upgraded in the Alpha series of Porta-botes, however we found the eyebolts useful…

    Bolt/wingnut attaching Porta-bote transom's L-bracket to the hull

    Bolt/wingnut attaching transom’s L-bracket to the hull

    The eyebolts also come in very handy for holding the dink in place behind Groovy’s swim platform. We have two lines rigged on either side of the swim platform with clips on the ends that clip into the Porta-bote’s eyebolts on the forward and aft seats. This keeps the Porta- bote parallel to Groovy’s transom and keeps it snug to the swim platform for easy boarding.

    4. Install the transom. The outboard mounting flap goes over the hull, and the metal L-brackets are attached to holes in the hull using bolts, wing nuts and washers.

    The Porta-bote ships with non-stainless bolts, nuts and washers, which are probably fine for the once-in-a-while lake fishing that the Porta-bote is built for. We replaced all these little pieces with stainless steel bolts, nuts and washers and added a lock washer to the set.

    The sizes of these pieces that Porta-bote ships are non-standard (I searched high and low for stainless components that would match the originals). Instead, we simply used replacement bolts, washers and nuts that would fit the holes rather than trying to match the thread pitch, bolt length and width of the ones from the factory.

    Attaching the Porta-bote transom to the hull with wingnuts

    Attaching the transom to the hull with wingnuts

    The lower wing nut / washer set on each side of the transom includes a rubber washer to keep that part of the boat watertight since that part sits below the waterline. The rubber washers last about 6 months in the salt water environment.

    We keep several spare rubber washers to use as replacements each time they wear out. In addition, we have a complete duplicate set of all the eyebolts, straight bolts, wing nuts and washers that we use for the Porta-bote, as it is all too easy to drop one of these tiny pieces overboard while assembling or disassembling the Porta-bote on deck.

    Porta-bote is hoisted on spare halyard

    Porta-bote is hoisted on spare halyard

    The worst aspect of the Porta-bote design for use as a cruising dinghy prior to the new Alpha series, is that you are fumbling with the very large pieces of a 10′ long hull, several wide seats that don’t fit into their supports very well, and a big heavy transom, all while screwing the whole thing together with tiny wing nuts.

    The bottom of the boat is a black plastic “hinge” that acts as something of a keel, so the boat doesn’t sit flat on deck but pivots about on this round tube of plastic.

    So when Groovy rolls in the swell, the porta-bote pivots on its keel, and you are hanging onto the boat in one hand with a fist full of wing nuts and washers in the other, all while trying to mate the threads of the wing nuts to the bolts.

    Porta-bote is lowered into the water

    Porta-bote is lowered into the water

    5. Raise the Porta-bote up and over the lifelines and lower it into the water using the spare halyard.

    We have an electric halyard winch that works really well but also works quite hard during this process (of course it would be a great upper body workout to winch it by hand).

    When the boat rises up in the air, the outboard mounting bracket flops down unless we clip it in place with a large clip before raising the boat. Note: This has been remedied in the new Alpha transom design.

    This part of the process can be tricky in a large swell or in high winds, as the boat is difficult for the guy on deck (Mark!) to control as it swings around on the halyard.

     

    6. Move the boat to the swim platform, clip middle and rear seats’ eyebolts to two lines on Groovy’s transom to keep the Porta-bote parallel to Groovy’s swim platform for easy access, and install the other two seats.

    7. Lower the outboard engine onto the mountain bracket on the transom (using one of the dinghy davits) and secure it in place.

Porta-bote is brought back to sailboat swim platform for the rest of the assembly

Porta-bote is brought back to the swim platform
for the rest of the assembly

Porta-bote front seat is installed

Front seat is installed

Porta-bote rear seat is ready for installation.

Rear seat is ready for installation.
Note the 3 u-shaped metal legs.

Porta-bote rear seat is attached using eyebolts and  washers.

Porta-bote is clipped to swim platform
to keep it parallel to Groovy.

Porta-bote Suzuki outboard is installed on transom

Outboard is installed on transom

TOWING the PORTA-BOTE

Porta-bote being towed by sailboat

Painter is tied at two points on Groovy’s transom to create a 3-point bridle. A second line is tied to Groovy’s transom “just in case.”

The Porta-bote tows beautifully, and we have towed it (without the engine mounted), for hundreds of miles, a few times in some rather large and lumpy seas.

We have towed it with the outboard mounted too, and that works just fine, but we wouldn’t want to go more than a few very sheltered miles towing it that way.

We tie the Porta-bote’s painter to two points on Groovy’s transom, making a bridle. We usually tie a second line to Groovy as well, just in case. There’s nothing like trying to find and retrieve a lost dinghy in big seas (been there, done that!).

We have tried towing the Porta-bote far behind Groovy, but have found it behaves much better when it is snugged up close behind.

We keep it about a foot or so off of Groovy’s transom. Sometimes when we are sailing slowly in lumpy, following seas it has a tendency to run into the back of Groovy.

HOISTING the PORTA-BOTE in DAVITS

We had a custom made stainless steel arch extension built for our boat to support our 555 watts of solar panels and to provide telescoping davits to hoist the Porta-bote.

We drilled two holes on the stern end of the Porta-bote just forward of the transom, one on each side of the hull. We had four stainless steel plates made to reinforce these holes, and those are bolted in place (with stainless bolts), one plate on the inside and one on the outside of each hole, sandwiching the plastic hull in between. To create a davit bridle, we simply run a line between those two holes in the hull’s stern and run another line between the two factory-installed holes in the bow of the boat to make a two-point hoisting system for our davits.

Because the lifting points are at the top of the hull, it is not possible to snug the Porta-bote tightly into the davits. Instead, it always swings a little, no matter how high you hoist it. If the lifting points were in the bottom of the boat, the top edges of the hull could be pulled flush to the davit arms. However, I am not sure how to install lifting points in the boat’s floor. So we don’t travel with the Porta-bote in the davit system.

Porta-bote sits on sailboat swim platform

We raise the Porta-bote out of the water onto the swim platform at night.

The davits are ideal for getting the boat out of the water at night when we are at anchor, as the Porta-bote sits snugly on the swim platform and we secure it with lines tied to the seats’ eyebolts to keep it perfectly still.

Porta-bote in Mexico

Also, if it rains (which it doesn’t do in Mexico’s winter cruising season) or if there is a lot of dew, the boat doesn’t have a drain hole to release the water. Water also collects in the bottom of the boat when we drive it hard, as waves splash in and water jumps over the transom. So there is occasional light bailing to be done, but not more than a sponge or towel can handle.

One thing we discovered is that the Porta-bote’s black plastic seam tubes that run along the length of the hull are made of a plastic that leaves scuff marks on Groovy’s white fiberglass gelcoat.

When we hoist the dinghy in the davits, it invariably bumps along Groovy’s transom a bit, and over time it leaves a lot of marks. They come off with a little elbow grease and polish, but there are plastics out there that are non-marking, and if Porta-bote used that kind of plastic it would be a huge improvement.

Note: The black plastic seam tubes in the new Alpha series does not leave scuff marks

FLOTATION

Just beneath the black plastic lip at the top of the Porta-bote hull there is a strip of foam rivited to the hull. This provides enough flotation to keep the boat afloat if it fills with water — as long as there is no outboard engine mounted on the boat. The foam material deteriorates in the sun and flakes off, constantly leaving little black flecks all over the Porta-bote’s floor. I have heard of cruisers covering this foam with Sunbrella to keep it intact and prevent its total disintegration. I haven’t gotten to that project yet… This foam provides a little flotation, but the Porta-bote will definitely sink if it is swamped while an outboard engine is mounted on its transom.

Note: The flotation material in the new Alpha series Porta-botes does not disintegrate in the sun

USING the PORTA-BOTE

A lot of this description so far includes many negatives and short-comings of the Porta-bote, simply because [the older models were] not designed to be a cruising dinghy and is rather carelessly engineered and cheaply manufactured. However, the great qualities of this dinghy show up once it has been assembled and is out on the water. We have found ways to work around its portability limitations, and feel that because of its good traits on the water it is an excellent choice as a cruising dinghy. We would buy it again, and here’s why:

Porta-bote beach Manzanillo Mexico

Our Porta-bote lines up with inflatable dinghies on wheels
in Santiago Bay, Manzanillo, Mexico

The interior volume is enormous. We have packed it with a month’s worth of groceries (at the supermarket the provisions were mounded way above the top of the shopping cart) along with three weeks worth of laundry (in two huge laundry bags), plus ourselves, and we still had space leftover.

We have also loaded it with five adults and putted along at a good clip. I think six adults would be pushing it. There is plenty of space on the seats for six adults, but the boat would sink too low in the water. It is a fast boat that planes easily with both of us aboard using just a lightweight 6 hp 4-stroke outboard. We raced a traditional RIB dinghy driven by a 15 hp outboard and carrying two adults. They barely pulled away from us as we reached about the quarter mile mark.

The Porta-bote is lots of fun.

The Porta-bote is lots of fun.

I love rowing, and the Porta-bote is a lot of fun to row. It tracks well and moves nicely through the water. For the passionate rower the oars are totally inadequate and should be replaced.

The oarlocks in the hull also seem a little flimsy to me and I wonder how long they will hold up, as they flex ominously with every pull on the oars. The oars themselves are made for very light, occasional use. They are aluminum and they split into two halves for stowage, the handle half and the paddle half. The two halves are joined with a plastic pin-through-a-hole system, but the pin doesn’t actually go through the hole very well because the plastic spring mechanism is flimsy and weak.

So, the oars are prone to coming apart if you don’t keep an eye on them. Each oar has an aluminum pin that fits into the hole in the Porta-bote’s oarlock. The pin is held in place on the oar with a sleeve around the oar that is fastened with an aluminum bolt and wing nut.

On our fifth time out rowing, the bolt on one of our oars crumbled mid-stroke. We replaced the bolts and wing nuts on both oars with stainless steel, and they have been fine ever since. Over our four year cruise, we did not end up rowing the Porta-bote but used the outboard all the time instead.

Whether rowing or motoring, it takes a while to get used to the Porta-bote’s flexible floor. You can feel every wave and bump under your feet, and it is a very moveable platform, nothing like a hard dinghy or a RIB. However, the movement is just part of the package, and once you are accustomed to it, it’s kinda neat.

Porta-bote motoring away from sailboat

The Porta-bote is a great cruising dinghy.

All-in-all we are very happy with the Porta-bote. No cruising dinghy is ideal, each type being a pain in the neck in at least a few ways. We like the lightweight nature of the Porta-bote and being able to get most of it off the deck and out of the davits and out of the way while on a long passage.

We like its good manners while towing, its speed under power and its voluminous interior space for provisioning runs. The compromises and required upgrades are okay with us in return for its many good qualities. If Porta-bote ever went back to the drawing board and studied its plans and re-engineered the boat for use as a cruising dinghy, they could create a truly superior dink that surpassed everything else on the market.

As noted above, Porta-bote did just that, and the result is the new Alpha series!

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FURTHER READING:

Check out our review of the Hobie i14t Tandem Inflatable Kayak and our Cruising Tips for Mexico.

Here is a summary of our cruise with links to all our sailing blog posts, as well as some anecdotes from the ex-pat cruising life, and a list of guide books we used for our cruise.

We sailed on a 2008 Hunter 44DS sailboat (more pics here) with a 60 gallon/hour watermaker and 555 watts of solar power.

For cruisers heading to Pacific Mexico, we’ve created a VIDEO SERIES.

Below are some of our most POPULAR POSTS (also in the MENUS above)

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Hobie Mirage i14t Tandem Inflatable Kayak Review

This is a review of the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak after 3 years of use on rivers, lakes, Mexico's Pacific coast and the Sea of Cortez.

Enjoying our kayak at St. George State Park, Florida.

Mark demonstrates using the Mirage drive pedals for Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

Mirage-drive pedal/fipper

system.

Our Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak in Puerto Balandra, Mexico

Puerto Balandra, Sea of Cortez, Mexico.

Our Hobie i14t kayak on a beach in the Sea of Cortez

Puerto Balandra, Sea of Cortez, Mexico.

Lake Havasu, Arizona - perfect for kayaking with a Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

Lake Havasu, Arizona.

Our Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak at Redfish Lake, Idaho

Redfish Lake outside Stanley, Idaho.

The Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak in its folded and stored postion stands taller than expected.

The kayak in its rolling case.

Extra equipment needed for the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak: seats, paddles, pedals, pump, lifejackets

The other pieces that don't fit in the case: seats,

paddles, pedal/flippers, lifejackets.

Deflated Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak Pumping up a Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak Inflating a Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak Pedaling around San Diego Bay on a Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

Playa Cove, San Diego, California

Sea of Cortez (Bahia Falsa) with our Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

Bahía Falsa, Sea of Cortez, Mexico.

The storgage back for the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

It's all gotta fit in this bag...

Inflation/deflation valve for Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak

Valve for inflating/deflating.

Putting away the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - First fold the bow in on itself Putting away the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - fold it in thirds Putting away the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - fold the stern over everything Putting away the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - tighten the webbing straps. Putting away the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - finished package. Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak can be rolled around (if you're careful) Hauling the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak Carrying the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak with a shoulder strap. Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak  - seats Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - lifejackets pedals/fins Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - paddles The Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak fits into a fifth wheel basement

Tight squeeze going into the fiver basement.

Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak takes up most of the space in a fifth wheel basement

Once there it takes up a lot of space.

The kayak makes a good platform for waxing the hull. Hauling the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak up into the Garhauer racks

Getting ready to hoist the kayak.

Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak at rest in the Garhauer racks

In the Garhauer racks with the

bridle/halyard attached.

A butt saver for the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak - self-inflating seat.

A thermorest butt-saver cushion.

Our commuter vehicles.

Kayak moulds at the Hobie Cat factory in Oceanside, California

Hobie kayak mold rocks back and forth to distribute

the molten plastic inside the mold.

Kayak factory at Hobie Cat in Oceanside, Caliornia.

Hobie Cat factory, Oceanside, California.

New kayaks lined up ready to sell

New kayaks ready to go.

Pedaling the Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak in Redfish Lake, Idaho.

Pedaling into the mountains at Redfish Lake, Idaho.

Hobie i14t inflatable tandem kayak at Lake Havasu, Arizona

Lake Havasu, Arizona.

Hobie i14t Tandem Inflatable Kayak Review

One of the best additions to our RV and boat has been our Hobie

i14t inflatable kayak (manufacturer: http://www.hobiecat.com/

kayaks/mirage/i14t).  It is easy to launch and is a very stable

platform with three inflatable chambers: two pontoons and a floor.

We've tried Hobie's identical hard-shell tandem kayak and found it

to be a lot more tippy.  We can stand up in the inflatable kayak and

not lose our balance.

The kayak can be driven either by

traditional paddles or by Hobie's

Mirage Drive pedal system.  These

are removable pedals/flippers where

with each pedal stroke the flippers flip

back and forth.  Apparently the idea

for this system came to its inventor

one day while watching marine mammals on Discovery channel, and they are wonderfully

effective.  The best part is that it makes kayaking a hands-free affair.  The kayak is steered by the

person in the rear who has a small dial control connected to a rudder.

We now take only one paddle with us and

we use it only for quick steering situations

(the kayak has a very wide turning radius

otherwise).  Being hands-free we can take

photos and use the binoculars with ease.

There are two kinds of pedals, the

standard ones which are slightly shorter,

and longer ones that

are harder to push

but make the boat

go faster.  We have

the standard pedals.

There is also a sail

kit which we don't

have.

This kayak does not fold

up to a small size.  Once

packed away in its case it

stands almost chest high.

It is also about the same weight

as the comparable hard-shell

kayak.  However it can be

packed away in a truck bed or in

the basement of a fifth wheel

trailer, unlike a hard-shell which

must be carried in some kind of

roof rack.

There are quite a few extra

pieces besides the hull:  the two

Mirage pedal systems, two

seats, two break-apart paddles,

the pump and two life jackets

(purchased separately).

Assembly takes about 15 minutes and is very straight-

forward.  First the kayak hull is laid out on the ground.  Then

the three chambers are each inflated independently via

three valves at the back end of the kayak.  They can be

inflated in any order, and its just a minute or so of easy hand

pumping for each chamber.

Then the seats are set in place

using clips and webbing straps.

The paddles are assembled

and stored in place on the sides

of the kayak.  The life jackets

are slipped under the bungee

cord storage area in the back.

And off we go.

Putting the kayak

away is a little trickier, as it needs to fit back into its case.  We lay the

case out on the ground and put the kayak on top of it with the stern

end at the cover-flap end of the case, and then we deflate the three

chambers.

The kayak is folded up by first curling the bow in on itself and then

folding the boat in thirds.  The bow section folds towards the pedal

opening in the stern of the kayak.  Then the stern of the kayak is

folded up and over the top.

At this point we pull the sides of the case up

and around the kayak and pull the webbing

straps tight.

Then we fish out the top flap of the case from

underneath and fold it over the whole thing and

pull its webbing straps tight.

Now the case is ready to be rolled around.  There is also a shoulder strap that can be attached so you can lug the kayak with

you as you walk.

Neither rolling nor carrying the case is easy.  The kayak is quite heavy and it's a big awkward package.  I have read of people

finding the case so flimsy that it ripped and had other problems when traveling as checked baggage.  If I were to travel with it

that way a lot I would have a strong canvas carrier made for it.  The wheel system is also rather delicate.  On ours the axel bent

from the weight of the kayak and then the bag dragged on the ground.  It could be bent back into shape, but it is a weak system

and not for long distance use (like through endless airport walkways).  Rolling it a few steps from our disassembly spot in our

campsite to the trailer, or from a boat ramp to the truck is not a problem.

The big heavy kayak hull and its bag are just part of the total package.  There are also those pesky seats, pedals, paddles,

pump and life jackets to contend with.  All this is easy in a truck or trailer, but carrying all this on public transport by airplane or

bus would be a challenge.

The kayak neatly fits into our fifth wheel basement, but once it is in there it is just about all that

will fit.  All the other favorite basement goodies like camp chairs, barbecue, buckets, tools and

generator, not to mention the seats, pedals, paddles and lifejackets etc. all have to fit around

this beast.  However, the days on the lakes and rivers are well worth the hassle.

The kayak has brought us lots of fun times

on the boat.  It has been useful as a

platform for waxing the hull, but far more

important, it has given us a little exercise

and a nice slow pace for exploring the

anchorages we have stayed in.

We always keep it inflated on the

boat and we use Garhauer kayak

racks to store it outside the

lifelines in when its not in use.  We

rigged a simple bridle system

using the two pedal holes to hoist

it into the kayak racks using the spare

halyard.  Once up, we leave the seats

in it and store the pedals, paddles and

life jackets in the cockpit lockers on the

boat.  It takes less than five minutes to

rig up the bridle and either hoist or

lower the kayak.

We also bought two self-inflating thermarest seat

cushions.  We slip these under the seats and it

really helps with overall butt fatigue and the

inevitable numb foot problem that creeps up if we

are out in the kayak for a long ride.  The seats on

the hard-shell kayak are a little more comfortable

and less inclined to put your feet to sleep.

We visited the Hobie Cat factory in Oceanside California where the hard-shell kayaks are

made (the inflatables are made at another plant).  Molten plastic is poured into moulds and

then swished around for a few hours to completely fill the mould.  Then when the plastic

has cooled the mold is opened up and out pops a new kayak hull.

It was a lot of fun to see all the new gleaming kayaks lined up.

The inflatable kayak is definitely more delicate than its hard-shell sister, and most cruisers with Hobie Mirage tandem kayaks

carry a hard-shell instead of an inflatable.  We have had to fix several leaks in the bow chamber and reattach many small pieces

to the hull using JB Weld (i.e., the anchors for the seats and for the bungie cord in the back).  They fell off due to the relentless

heat in Mexico.  I also sewed a Sunbrella kayak cover to protect it from the UV rays.  For tropical cruisers spending more than

one season in the tropics, I would recommend taking a long look at a hard shell tandem Hobie rather then the inflatable.

However, it is such a fun little boat -- stable

and easy to clamber in and out of for snorkeling -- that we are happy with our choice, even if it means babying our baby a little

extra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Mobile RV Service Directory – in a Free App!

Go Mechanic Home Page

Go Mechanic app home page

You just never know what will happen when you go to a bar. The other day Mark and I joined our friend Ron at a local favorite hangout for a beer, and suddenly the guy next to Ron said, “Hey, check out this app!”

We all leaned over to look at his smartphone. As he passed it around, he went on to explain: “It’s a mobile service app for cars, RVs and boats. If you need work done on your vehicle, or an oil change or detailing, or even new tires, you can get a mobile service guy to come out to you, wherever you are, with just one click.”

Wow. What a cool idea! It’s a speed dial directory for mobile service providers.

It turned out that this app is called Go Mechanic, and the guy showing it to us was Brent Stanphill, the visionary behind it.

Go Mechanic RV Mechanic

Find an RV Mechanic within 50 miles
based on either your phone’s GPS
or a zip code you enter.

He told us you can download the app for free at both Google Play and the iTunes Store, and before we knew it, everyone at the bar was downloading it!

The bartender was saying, “Man, I could have used this two weeks ago when my car died.”

A woman near me was asking Brent, “Can I really get someone to come to my office and do an oil change while I’m at work?”

Brent grinned, “Yes!”

Go Mechanic Select a Mobile RV Service Provider

RV Mechanic listing on speed dial!

The app locates all the mobile service providers within a 50 mile radius of either the GPS location of your phone or a zip code you enter.

This way, if you aren’t sure where you are, it doesn’t matter. However, if you need service and you aren’t standing next to your RV, you can simply enter the zip code of where the RV is located.

Mobile services are a growing trend, and this cool app is making it easy for service providers and customers to get together.

A few months ago I wrote an article about a couple of full-time RVers who have been providing mobile RV repair services for decades, and I was floored at the high level of professionalism in their business.

One look inside Phil’s mobile workshop proved that he was a skilled mechanic who had all the tools and spare parts necessary to tackle any RV repair job, from a broken awning to a finicky slide mechanism, to installing a complete solar power system on the roof of an RV.

Mobile RV Repair provider's mobile workshop

Phil & Ann Botnick have a fully stocked RV repair workshop on wheels.

Brent told us that many of the providers in his directory work from converted trucks (like Phil’s) that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to construct.

Whether they are oil change providers, vehicle detailers, RV repair specialists or tire providers, these are serious businesses, not fly-by-night hacks.

Across the country, a growing group of quality mechanics is recognizing the need we all have in our busy lives to find service people who can bring their skills to us. They have set up their mobile workshops with everything they need to do excellent work.

Interior of a mobile oil change van

Inside the van of a mobile oil change provider

And as serious businessmen, they see the value in this app.

Rather than paying for old fashioned advertising in the Yellow Pages, they pay a nominal fee for a premium listing in the Go Mechanic directory that comes complete with a link to their web page and reviews from customers.

And that’s how Go Mechanic makes it possible for customers to download this app for free. How clever!

I instantly wanted to help Brent get the word out to the RVing community. This could be a real game changer for us!

Instead of hunting down an RV service repair shop and figuring out where to stay while your RV is in for repair, why not have the mechanics and detailers come to you?!

What could be better than having your rolling home detailed while you’re out sightseeing? Or getting that niggling problem with the generator fixed or the oil changed without having to drive the big beast to an RV repair shop somewhere?

Interior of a mobile mechanic van providing tire replacement service

Mobile tire service and sales (including balancing!) is a growing trend!

Besides the convenience of not having to take your RV in to the shop, it would be awesome to have this directory at your fingertips if you had a major problem that left you stranded on the side of the road.

As we chatted more about Go Mechanic, Brent told me that it is one of handful of companies selected to participate in the new LaunchPoint incubator program at Arizona State University for innovative technology startups.

Major media outlets have also taken notice, and the folks at Fox12 News in Phoenix Arizona jumped on the chance to do a segment about the app.

Watch this fun Fox12 News video clip here!

As one of the guys on Fox12 News said, “Brilliant!”

Mobile oil change repair service

Have your oil changed without sitting around in a waiting room!

I asked Brent how he got the idea for the Go Mechanic app.

He told me that a few years ago his parents were planning to drive across country in a used car they had just bought at auction.

Being a very good and concerned son, he assembled a list of all the mobile mechanics he could find along their route.

As he handed them the list, he suddenly realized what a valuable resource it was, not just to his parents but to anyone out on the road.

His ingenious idea has flourished since then, and the Go Mechanic app is being rolled out nationwide with special focus on the RV hot spots of Arizona, Florida and California.

Go Mechanic Mobile vehicle service provider app

A clever new app!

If you have a smartphone or a tablet, download it and check it out.  If you’ve never enjoyed the convenience of mobile service, give it a try!

For more information, visit these links:

 

 

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