The Butterfly Bean Bag version II
An improved design


The Butterfly Bean     
Bag version II     


     I often photograph birds from the window of my vehicle in situations like a wildlife refuge, when a bean bag in the window is all the support you need. I've made three double bean bags for this type of photography, all sewn from the pattern in an article by Scott Fairbairn. The first one I made was small, before I got my prime lenses. Later I made a second one about 50% larger (my "medium size bag") to use with my Canon 500mm lens. Then I made another one just 10% larger than the medium size bag, but with some improvements, which I call my Magic Bean Bag. While these basic double bean bags worked well for general use, I found that I sometimes needed an even larger (taller) bean bag to use on the door of my truck.

The version II Butterfly Bean Bag
in use with a super-telephoto on
the Flying Saucer Ball Head.
     Even in my full-sized truck, the camera and lens sat too low in the window to shoot comfortably. I had to slump down into the seat to see through the viewfinder. The bean bag needed more height. I tried stacking two bean bags, but they would slip apart. I didn't dare use the window to raise the bean bag, camera and lens. That much weight on the power window mechanism seemed a very bad idea. It was designed to raise a piece of glass, not 20 pounds of deadweight.


The tubular bottom
design improves
rigidity and cuts the
weight by 4 pounds.

 
The original
Butterfly Bean Bag
     I had looked at every bean bag I could find on the web, but none seemed to provide enough height above the window for comfortable shooting. The larger the bag, the heavier it was going to be because it would hold more and more beans. Some commercial bean bags weighed as much as 20 pounds. So, I resolved to create something better, and came up with the idea for my own taller, lighter bean bag, which I call the Butterfly Bean Bag because of the shape of its pattern. I used the basic back-to-back "double bean bag" construction technique from the bean bag on the Scott Fairbairn website, and combined it with the general "molar" shape of other large bean bags. The advantages of my design are:
    •  Weighs less for its size than other designs
    •  Stands far taller than any other design of same (or even similar) weight

How to make your own
version II
      To accomplish these improvements I made the top half (above the "V") taller than other designs, and added stitching to shape the sides and make them stand up stiffer. Otherwise the extra height would have been lost due to the sides bulging out and drooping like other bean bags. I also closed off a large portion of the bottom half so it didn't fill with unnecessary beans. This created four tubular colums, providing a firm base hanging over the vehicle door so the bag stands up taller and stiffer. Without this design feature, the extra height would have required an additional 4 pounds of beans to fill it. As designed, it gives greater height while retaining the bulk necessary to handle super-telephoto lenses. I don't pretend the material I used is as rugged, or that the stitching is on a par with commercial products. That part of the construction is up to the discretion and skill of the do-it-yourselfer who is making one. Mine is quite rugged enough for my use.
     If you would like to see and make the original design, the "how-to instructions" are here.

Update: Improved version II
      After several years using the original design, I came up with some minor improvements in the design, including a major 6 pound reduction in weight. The improvements are subtle for the most part, but they not only make it lighter, it's easier to fill (and easier to empty for travel), and strengthened as well. I incorporated some of what I learned while making my "Magic Bean Bag", including using the stronger and more waterproof Cordura fabric. (Cordura is the type of fabric used in backpacks and camera bags.) Also note that I have endeavored to make the instructions even easier to follow for this improved version.
     If you would like to make the improved version II Butterfly Bean Bag, continue on to the complete step-by-step instructions.

The following are some testamonials to how well this bean bag works.


User Emails and Comments on the bean bag project:
Proof it's not so hard to make - Malaysian nature photographer Dr. A. R. Radzian shows off his version of the Butterfly Bean Bag
--- Photo one (materials and printed pattern) ---- Photo Two (finished bean bag) --- link to full blog entry of June 2009 (scroll way down ) --- Dr. Radzian wrote: "I know a few of my friends also made the similar bean bag when I posted it at PhotoMalaysia.com."

Tested, reviewed and approved on safari - Gets highest rating - On the "Chobe Safari" website, for Chobe National Park in Botswana, author and photographer P. B. Eleazer tested 21 commercial and DIY bean bags and rated them in his web article ( http://www.chobesafari.com/photography-tips/finding-the-perfect-photo-bean-bag-for-safari.html ). I was pleased to find that my bean bag design received his highest rating along with two expensive commercial bean bags. In fact, he made two of my design for himself. Now that brought a smile to my face.

Here's another photographer's take on my Butterfly Beanbag. Roy Bertalotto posted his version of my beanbag design on his blog.

Butterfly Beanbag survives Hyena mauling ... some beans did not - Received this fun report from Mary Anne A. who made the Butterfly Beanbag for her Tanzania/Serengeti safari.