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Review | Calumet On-Site Portable Background System

by ryan on July 5, 2010


Sometimes you need a backdrop that’s ultra-portable and sets up and tears down in an instant. Especially when doing corporate type shooting where time is limited. And while setting up two stands and threading a crossbar through a muslin doesn’t take all that long, faster alternatives exist.

One of those alternatives is Calumet Photographic’s On-Site Portable Background System. It’s designed to set up quickly and pack up small for easy travel. Fully assembled it measures 8 x 8′ and requires a single stand. Using an X-frame fitted into reinforced, double-stitched pockets at each corner of the muslin, the On-Site does indeed set up quickly, even with one person.

The overall quality of the entire system is very good. The stand, like the rest of Calumet’s stands, is good quality—strong and light weight.

The X-frame, which keeps the background taut, is made up of eight slip-in sections and is easily assembled. Each leg of the X is comprised of two pieces that easily slip together.

At the center of the X is a round hub where each leg is inserted. If anything gave me pause, it was this piece. But after using it I learned to trust its adjustable screws on either side to stabilize the unit on the stand. The muslins are also decent quality, but bear in mind that all 10 of the available patterns do not darken near the edges as many other professional muslins.

Available muslins for the On-Site come in 10 different colors, all of which are sold separately at calumetphoto.com.

Setting it Up
You’ll need plenty of room to set this system up—a cramped conference room won’t cut it. You’ll need at least 8 x 8′ of floor space since you have to put it together on the floor, according to the instructions.

Assembling it on the floor doesn’t make it ideal for all situations, like if you’re shooting in a warehouse or other dirty location, but if you have the space to lay it down, it’s simple. Just spread the muslin out (face down), assemble the X-frame, insert each arrow end into the reinforced pockets, then slip the opposite end of each leg into the hub. The X-frame will bow up as pressure is added making it taut.

Then, simply lift the whole thing and drop the hub onto the stand. Finally, adjust the stand’s height to make sure the bottom corners of the background are resting on the ground. That’s it. Seriously simple.

Pros

  • Set-up is quick and simple with one person.
  • 8 x 8′ is plenty big enough for small groups of lawyers, doctors or other professional groups.
  • Entire package is lightweight (12.8 lbs.) compared to typical two-stand background sets.
  • Great for wedding formals, corporate events or formal dances.

Cons

  • Wrinkled muslin (typical of all muslins). You’ve got a few options: roll your muslin into a ball so the wrinkles are consistent throughout; steam the wrinkles out; move your subject(s) farther away from the On-Site. That last one may require an extra light for the background, especially if your’e only planning on working with a key and fill.
  • Not ideal for tight places—8′ ceilings won’t cut it to set this rig up.
  • Limited to background only, meaning you can’t drape this thing down on the ground like a regular muslin. Which is fine for most formal type headshots and portraits anyway.
  • Setting it up requires lying the muslin facedown on the ground (if you want to do it the easy way). If you’re shooting in a dirty, dusty or grimy area, good luck.

For what it is, the On-Site is great. Not ideal for all situations, but nothing really is. If your goal is light weight and quick setup (and you have more than 8 vertical feet to work with), the Calumet On-Site Portable Background System is what you’re looking for.

*Photos courtesy Calumet Photographic

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Foreman July 20, 2010 at 7:41 pm

In some ways (height, setup space required) this seems a little cumbersome for a portable system. But it beats poster board and masking tape. ;) We’re still rookies, so these reviews are great.

Ro March 19, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Ryan,

I was waiting on one of these systems that was on back-order when the word got out that Calumet was declaring bankruptcy. Any idea where I can pick one of these systems up? Or does anyone have one they’d like to sell??

Really disappointed and anxious to obtain one in Maryland!

Ro

ryan March 19, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Hi Ro,
Yes, I heard about the upsetting news. I used to work there many years ago, so I know several friends who lost their jobs. Quite sad.
No clue where you can get one of these setups off hand. However, if I decide to sell mine, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Tammy Warner April 15, 2014 at 8:17 pm

I have one of these, have had it for a couple years. Set it up once after I got it but never used it. May have a use for it soon, but do not have the directions on how to set it up, so thank you for your post here. I have a question though, the center piece that holds the ‘X’.. does it just sit on the threaded part of the stand, or should it go down further. Mine seems to only want to sit on the threaded part, which doesn’t feel very stable at all.
Thanks!
And Ryan, if I don’t use mine in the next month I will be selling it. Great muslin!

Tammy Warner April 15, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Oops, sorry, I meant Ro.. I may have one to sell.

ryan April 15, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Hi Tammy. I just used mine the other day for school portraits. It’s a nice setup for when you have limited time to set up. As for the the X, yes, it slips over the threaded portion of the stand. You can push it down as far as it goes, but don’t forget, the stand is not supposed to hold the background suspended in the air. The bottom of the background will actually rest on the ground (most, if not all the weight is on the corners). I hope that makes sense.

Montez April 25, 2014 at 5:11 am

Hi,

Ryan, Tammy or anybody else that considers selling their portable background system please let me know, I am also in the market for one of these. I know that Calumet did not manufacture these so they bought them from somebody and put their name on them, it’s just a matter of figuring out who the true manufacturer is, if I find that information I will come back and post it here.

If anybody wants to contact me regarding the sale of theirs then please contact me by email: mbond0027@msn.com

Leon H. Ritchie August 2, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Best money spent.
Store backdrops in plastic case they came in, when set up all crease come out of back drop while
In use, break it down when done, pack up and go. Can’t beat it.

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