Commanders, a wargame digest



Nissin i40 flash unit

I am presently using a Sony camera and was looking for a small flash unit the would help with photographing both family situations in a domestic setting and the gaming table. In my local camera shop, I happened to fall upon a good condition second hand Nissin i40 flash.

What a little gem! I have tested this in a number of situations and am really pleased with its ability to cope with the two extremes of my gaming, that is throw ‘even light’ down a 6’ full table and not blowing out close ups. For the close up work, I use the heavy diffuser (Softbox) with the flash set to the automatic TTL setting and the manual EV setting dialled down to -1 EV.

It has tilt and swivel features and two diffused LED’s under the head for video lighting. Though I doubt I would use that, it is useful for emergency close up work, with its 9 levels of light adjustment, where lighting might need supplementing. The hot shoe is metal and there is a fast release button, all features that elevate this unit to just being something nice to use.

Tweezers for game counters

Tweezers For moving and shifting through stacks of counters in boardgames.

I have been looking for long legged tweezers with a fairly wide gait and an angular head, so that counters on crowded maps can be moved easily without banana fingers sending the counters flying all over the place and knocking over stacks. Nobody seemed to know what I was talking about in the beauty shops on the high street, but an E-Bay search came up with ‘London College Tweezers Serrated Tip Dental Surgical Instruments CE UK’.

Anyway after that bit of specialism posh, it turns out they can be yours for just £2 post included. I had to widen the arms a little just by gently prising them apart and now they seem to do the job just fine.

Primer for lead

For some time, I have been using Vallejo Acrylic-Polyurethene primer for all of my figures. Designed for airbrush application it is very thin, but makes for a useful hand brush primer as it does not smell and it flows nicely into all of the detail. However, I have found that while it secures itself well to plastics and the lead free pewter figures from Kallistra, it does less well on other metals and tends to come away on the highlights even with just gentle rubbing while handling during painting.

Anyway, I opened a thread at the Wargames Website, looking for help - LINK

Martin Stephenson gave some interesting comments and links and as a result I bought a special metal primer by Hammerite. This is very thin, so flows well, it has a low VCO, goes touch dry within 30 minutes and brushes can be washed in water. It is designed to adhere to smooth metals including chrome and stainless steel, so bodes well for my needs.

My tests so far are that it will scratch away if a determined effort is made, but that normal handling is fine. On some of the lead figures, I had to go in a second time to catch some highlights that appeared to have been covered too thinly on the first pass. The paint is a reddy brown and coverage with my Vallejo acrylics appears fine. I always mat varnish the final figure. I will aim at doing a full base of figures, varnish and then assessing the product, I will update this post when done.

Lighting for photography

(Updated March 2017) My table location is subject to variable lighting and is dependent on how bright the day is for a good supply of natural daylight and then as I lose that light, the household lights do not really illuminate the space well enough for photography and being overhead, the household light tends to blow out the shadows that were there when the light flooded from the side through the window, so that things can look a little flat, especially contours and hills which can be so blown out that they disappear altogether.

My camera flash unit is one of those small cube things, so it is good for close-up shots, but I get substantial light fall off as I photograph down the table and of course the flash is useless for doing video.

I am guessing that this situation is common to gamers, so this post is just to show the solution that I eventually arrived at - the main problem being that as with all photography that is a step above what the 'snapper' might want, it has the potential of becoming expensive. This updated article looks at two bits of LED lighting kit. My original solution of a Manfrotto Lumie (8 cell version) and my new addition of a NanGuang Luxpad43.

The Lumie

The Lumie is a small portable lighting unit that can sit on the camera via a cold shoe or be put onto a tripod to give a bit of side lighting. It comes in three versions, the 3 LED, 6 LED and 8 LED. Fixed at 5600 Kelvin, it gives a bright natural light that for White Balance purposes can be considered as being daylight.

It has 3 brightness settings and comes with three filters that includes a diffuser. The smaller 3 LED unit would be fine for things like doing e-bay for sale shots, but for using at the gaming table the bigger 8 LED is the better choice.  However, I was finding that even on just a 3' x 4' space, it was not throwing enough light out evenly to satisfy the video and I was getting spotting, with quite rapid fall off towards the edges of the lit area. This was not particularly obvious to the naked eye, but it was detectable on the video footage and was causing the camera to choose a higher ISO.

NanGuang Luxpad43

After some research and getting a hands on look at the kit in a camera shop, I picked up the NanGuang Luxpad43. Think of an oversized iPad with over 250 LEDs. This is pushing out 1412 Lumins and is plenty powerful enough for my table. In addition, I can still use my Manfrotto Lumie for side lighting or have it on the camera for when I go close in and do low level shooting and need to illuminate the front of figures from directly ahead rather than from overhead.

The NanGuang came with a mains adaptor and I bought a cheap lighting stand. It was tempting to get the next model down due to cost, but it only kicks out 619 Lumins and does not come with an adaptor (both models can take batteries), which you would want to buy and this then starts to make the smaller unit look less value for money versus the power needed for the job in hand.

The NanGuang has a brightness controller and also a light temperature controller (5600K - 3200K)  - though I prefer to keep mine at full brightness and at the daylight equivalent. I am advised that professional users might have three of these lamps to illuminate their subjects from different positions, but for my needs, the one lamp will do. Anyway if you are having some lighting issues with video, these two items should be on your research list.

Using flow agents

The Windsor & Newton Flow Improver is a good quality product designed for tubed artist quality acrylic paint and I use it to keep my modelling acrylic paints slick. The small dropper bottle on the right contains a mix of 2 parts water to 1 part flow improver. This can be added to the paint on the paint on the palette (rather than just water) when paint needs to be loosened up, but it is VERY effective, so just dip the tip of the brush into a droplet to see how it works best for your needs. 

I also use it after using a Games Workshop paint pot, by adding two drops from the dropper bottle and then give the paint a shake. Occasionally I will open up a Vallejo dropper bottle and do the same.

Airbrush system

I bought the following kit to get into airbrushing and to have something that suited a newbie while being capable enough to grow into as experience improved. Airbrush - the Neo for iwata, is a gravity-feed, dual-action airbrush. There are plenty of YouTube videos on it. It comes with two sizes of cups and the machining feels like it has a quality to it. The impression I get is that for its money, it punches above its weight.

EDIT - 18 months in and with fairly limited use, one of the internal parts on the airbrush has broken. I did not keep the original paperwork, so cannot use the guarantee. I have returned to the model shop and bought a cheaper ‘Chinese copy’ instead. I don’t use one for anything more than base coating primers, inks and varnish, so I may as well go with basic. I bought a thing with the generic name of BD-130 Model, which according to the internet, is one of the better ones ..... so fingers crossed! I paid just under £30 but have seen it cheaper on the net, but helping to keep a model shop open has a value of its own. I will keep the needle and ‘O’ rings from the broken one as spares.

Compressor - A generic airbrush compressor, piston type and oil-less. Described as Model AS186 (this is searchable on google with some good videos available). This has a water trap and adjustable pressure. It also has a reservoir air tank to ensure a constant uninterrupted flow of air. The first thing I noticed was that it was quieter than I anticipated and it has a carry handle, which helps as it is quite heavy (5.2 Kg). Hose - A two metre hose to connect the airbrush and compressor. A three metre hose was also available if required. Cleaning Station - The iwata tabletop jar is of a nice quality, the airbrush is inserted into it and the all unused paint and any cleaning solution (including good old water) can be blown into the receptacle, so that everything is captured and then easily cleaned up afterwards.

The instructions for everything is only just about good enough to get you going, so I would suggest looking at several YouTube videos to help getting through the learning curve. Appreciating properly how to thin paint and how to strip and clean the airbrush after use seem essential ingredients to successful and enjoyable use. There are plenty of Internet videos that explain how to do this. Also have regard for good ventilation. I am using Vallejo Air paints, plus their thinner and airbrush cleaner. I have also taken to having a tub of water at my side, which I regularly dip the front end of the brush into to fill the cup and then spray the cup empty, just to keep it running clean. I mask up now whenever using any kind of aerosol delivered paint.

Painting sticks

This is an idea that I took from Ringo Simpkin's YouTube channel on one of his regular 'Monday Musings' (thank you).

Basically it allows for easy individual handling of figures for painting.  I made the block take 18 figures so that I am encouraged to paint a whole unit at a time.

The two rows are slightly off-set from each other as this maximises space and ensures that figures with wide bases (such as Bolt Action figures) will not contact another figure. The dowels are all three and a half inches long and 12mm thick. My largest drill bit is also 12mm, so the sockets were too tight and when I went in to re-bore the holes,I lost all sense of accuracy, hence the dowels are tilting all over the place.

So it ain't pretty, but it does it's job!  I am using Copydex glue to attach the figure, which gives a really firm grip, but will detach without risk of damage one the job is done.

Convenient folding tables

Bob Cordery at his blog, has flagged up 3 fold down light weight tables for sale at Lidl Store (UK) for £40.

Each table is around 100cm x 60cm, so two can be placed sie by side to give a playing area that is 3'3" x 4' (sorry for the mix of imperial and metric).  The significant thing is that they have adjustable heights, so you can get the table surface as high as 37", which will help those with a bad back (less leaning into the table). 

For more inforation, go to Bob's blog at LINK -

Basing tool

Artist shops sell palette knives of various shapes and styles.  This one has a long and particularly thin blade, making it the ideal tool for taking base filler deep into a figure base and placing it around the feet, hooves and wheels of whatever is being based, with some precision.

Even getting right under artillery carriages etc is easy. It has a useful pointed tip for getting between the feet of smaller figures (example here are 12mm on a 40mm x 20mm base) and the handle is long enough so that your hand does not get in the way of the model or the light source.