Frankenstein (Sunpak 120j)

I try not to be a gear freak. I live and work by the belief that you can do amazing work with minimal gear and tools. I try not to fall into the trap of marketing: you are only as good as the latest camera or gadget. This simply isn't true, but judging by how fast new camera bodies are released and how much money and sales digital SLR cameras are generating, I'm in the minority when it comes to this belief.

While unpacking some of my gear today, I was reminded of how much I love a piece of lighting equipment that is years and years old, no longer produced, but is simply a well made piece of lighting equipment: my Sunpak 120j, or as I like to affectionately call him: Frankenstein.

Frankenstein is a little larger than current speedlights. It features a flash tube that can put out a little more power than typical speedlight flashes. (although the current models might even surpass the 120j). It features a removable parabolic reflector, and the head can tilt straight up towards the sky, or at a 90 degree angle towards your subject. Its large, bulky, and manually powered. I love this thing because I have literally beaten the crap out of it, and it still fires right up.

120j's became discontinued some years back; right before "strobist" photography exploded. Resale values for 120j's have gone through the roof, thus making it difficult to obtain one of these great flashes.

I'm not sure the history of my 120j prior to me finding it. I picked it up used on eBay a while back. It was broken in half. It had wires falling out of it and it just looked horrible. I put a bid on this poor, broken, sad looking flash, and was excited when I was the only bidder, and my very low bid brought him to my home. Frankenstein was a mess when he arrived.

I brought it over to my buddy Dave's house where we fitted it with some pieces of balsa wood, some rubber cement and Dave soldered up the wires inside it again.

It fired right up.

Because it was broken the way it was, the head doesn't aim straight up any longer. Its glued in its 90 degree position, which is how I use it anyway for portraits. I'm very impressed with the amount of torture it has sustained since I've owned it. I've dropped it numerous times. The wind has blown it over on three separate occasions while it was on a light stand. The base of the unit has broken off twice and both times I've glued it back together with J.B. Weld and metal washers. The top is held together with gorilla glue, gaffers tape and the Holy Spirit. Its cracked, chipped and scratched. Yet amid all of this, it has never stopped lighting my subjects.

More importantly though, is that I know this light like the back of my hand. I can use this flash with my eyes closed if I needed too. When everyone else is constantly purchasing newer and newer gear and not having the time to learn how to use it, I've got Frankenstein all juiced up and ready to go. He doesn't need all the fancy bells and whistles, because he has just one function - to light my subject consistently. He does that perfectly.

Don't succumb to the obsession of needing the newest piece of gear or newest camera. New gear won't make your work better. It won't make the visions in your head better - it just prolongs your ability to rise above the technical and get to the real meat and potatoes of art: your creative voice and your artistic vision.

Take what equipment you have right now, learn it inside out, and then go rock the world with your work. Don't become a slave to technology. You'll never attain progress in your work if you are constantly upgrading and learning new equipment.

More megapixels won't make you a better shooter. More bells and whistles won't make you a better shooter. Save your cash, use your head, and go make killer work.

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