Shirley R. Klein Kleppe- Inventor
Lense On! ™ like most inventions arose from need. When my husband and I started going to Africa, we were ill prepared to take sharp, interesting photos. This was the time BD, Before Digital. We found it very difficult to balance the camera and lens without a tripod or monopod. There is not room in most safari trucks for a tripod, so we invested in monopods. Lense On! ™ is a photography platform bag to stabilize a camera and lens whether one is in a safari truck or a sports photographer; wherever there is extremely limited working space requiring a fast set up and take down.
Photographers are familiar with regular beanbags, but they only work if there is something to put them on! Most safari trucks are with no sides to put a beanbag on unless you are in the front seat! After one such safari trip, I was determined to find the product that filled my needs. I searched the Internet; bought several kinds of bags, but none of them was the solution. One Internet product person listened to what I needed and told me there was not anything like it anywhere. When I asked if he had a piece of metal that he could put the two sizes of mounting threads into he agreed to make one out of aluminum for $50.00. After I received it I had to figure out how to attach a bag. At that time, The Pod, a camera bag product that screwed into the bottom of a camera, was being marketed. I bought one. I screwed it into one of the screw holes on the top and used the other hole to attach the monopod to the bottom. I field-tested the product, but the bag was not big enough and the aluminum plate was too heavy and too small. I was now determined to find or design the new base. Searching for a machine shop close to me, I eventually found a man with a shop in his garage! He said that he could machine a piece of heavy plastic for me. He made four plastic pieces and four thin metal pieces, eight inches in diameter. With trial and error I figured out how to attach a bag by sandwiching it in between the two base pieces. We made the inner bag insert thinner than the outside bottom piece. The two were held together with bolts and lock nuts. I experimented with bag designs and fabrics. I finally came up with four prototypes to take on our next safari. The bases were of white cutting board material with two metal screw mounting holes, screwed together through four bolt openings in the bases, with tan mushroom-shaped synthetic suede bags on top with a side zipper. They could be filled at camp with beans or rice.
The bags were ready for field-testing.
On our trip to Botswana, we gave them a real work over. We found that the screw holes fatigued and pulled out of the plastic. We put the monopods in both holes as they sequentially failed. The synthetic suede was soft and attractive, but not durable enough. The thorn trees ripped them apart. Thank God for duct tape! The “taped” bags worked perfectly to stabilize our cameras and lenses for sharp, well-composed photos. Ta Da! We were on the right track!
We knew this was a huge breakthrough. A friend suggested that we make the bottoms in aluminum with stainless steel pem nuts for the mounting screw holes. A real tool and die place could do the prototypes for us! We even set up a press to stamp the name of the product on the bottom. Eventually another manufacturer anodized the pieces.
But what fabric would work?
I made dozens of patterns and sewed bags made of every kind of material. After months of experimentation I finally settled on one design for each size: 6 inch and 7 ½” diameter bases. A friend referred me to a man who had a manufacturing business doing machine embroidery, appliqués, screen-printing, laser cutting of material, and bag assembly. He was able to take my patterns and laser cut the pieces in the colors and sizes I wanted. His graphic designer worked with me to make a new logo for my Lense On! ™ product. I went back to my studio to perfect the bag, making adjustments in the pattern to accommodate the inseam binding. I found a wholesale manufacturer who would supply 1000 denier nylon for the bags. My manufacturer knew a woven bag tag manufacturer to add the logo and website and he also gave me the name of a zipper manufacturer and zipper pull-tabs.
As a female fine artist, I was not prepared for the difficulties of manufacturing! My eyeballs started to spin to the back of my head. By this time I contacted my trademark attorney to register the Lense On! ™ name. The Lense On! ™ is now registered and I have applied for registration of the logo itself. As of July 1, 2009, I have applied for a non-provisional patent of Lense On! ™ This whole process was new to me but I’ve never been afraid to ask questions.
Two months before our African Safari in March, 2009, I wanted several prototypes to take with me to drop with certain camps for them to field-test. The anodized surfaces were very sensitive to being scratched. I found a man who did Amour (should this be Armour?) Glaze Coat for automobiles to prevent scratches in the paint. It was guaranteed for five years and looked beautiful! He did several for me to test. It was just another piece to the puzzle.
To finish the product before the trip, I wanted to find suitable filler for the Lense On! ™ My fabric cutter manufacturer suggested ground up tires used in synthetic grass! It was the best filler I had ever seen! The ground up tires pieces were clean as a whistle, the size of ground pepper, would clump together to hold a form, and lightweight. A fifty-pound bag was $15.00, just my price! We soon found that the small tire pieces would seep out from the zipper. I made a separate bag insert, that was filled and sewn closed. That worked perfectly. Lense On! ™ is not only made in America; it’s Green!
During our safari, we faced many challenges. The most difficult was photographing the Uganda Mountain Gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The trek through the dense forest jungle was extremely difficult even with porters pulling us and our equipment up the side of the mountain! When we reached the group of gorillas, we set up our cameras and monopods with Lense On! ™ With cameras in one hand and Lense On! ™ monopod in the other, this left us with no more hands to balance ourselves hanging off the side of the mountain! I turned the Lense On! ™ monopod upside down and voila! I had the perfect walking stick! We got some great photos!
Since the trip, I have gotten serious about manufacturing. We have gotten quotes on the cost of manufacturing the Lense On! ™ bags. The tool and die manufacturer is now making the die for the aluminum bases with the special punched out interior inserts.
If the product had not performed so well in initial trials I would have given up on it years ago. The doors have, somehow, opened up for me. There are no products available anywhere that allow photographers to set up and take down the camera and lens so rapidly. My goal is to put a Lense On! ™ into the hands of everyone that goes to Africa on photo safari, sports photographers, and soccer parents getting that great photo of their child ‘making the play!’
Lense On! ™ has no moving parts except for a zipper with minimal instructions: ‘Put your camera on the bag and shoot!’