The dawn of the "photovan"

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Desmond, Nov 2, 2007.

  1. This is my new project . I decided not to buy a D300 , instead for the same price I got a D40 and this van .


    It is going to be my 'photography van' for events and general holiday purposes . To start with I cleaned off the old wooden floor and installed some lino ....


    Tomorrow I will buy a diy computer desk and bolt it in up against back of the seats . Then I will mount the large truck battery [ I'm an auto electrician ] and 600W inverter to feed my laptop and chargers . I will also bolt a large toolbox at the back for camera bags to hide in . I might just install a compressor and air tank along with a truck air-horn on the roof :cool:
    Feel free to add suggestions .

    Edit : Photovan journeys so far .

    Stony Bay - Coromandel East tip
    Coromandel- West tip
    Port Waikato
    Surfing "upgrade'
    East Coast
    Snowy Tongariro
    snowy northern circuit
    photovan revisits stony bay
    The photovan's blog
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2017
  2. tomtodeath


    Jan 11, 2007
    new jersey
    Dual sliding doors, nice!
  3. A blessing or a curse ? I like having them but it does restrict where and how I will place storage and the desk . If it wasn't there I could have one side fully taken up but with the option of two doors I will end up designing the more limited space around the second door .
  4. Well I don't know what the climate is like in NZ, but if it were my van I'd invest in some sort of camoflage for your computer, inverter, etc. Depending on where you drove it in the USA, if everything were in plain view all the time that might prove to be too tempting a target (especially with all those windows so you could get a good look before breaking in).

    Out of sight, out of mind, and all that. :)

    Continuing on with the camoflage idea, might want to have that printed on one of those giant magnetic stickers you can quickly slap on / remove on the cab doors. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right?
  5. The bad thing about South Africa is that You, the van and the contents will be hijacked and if you are lucky your life will be spared...

    Ahhh Africa....:Depressed


    PS we have a small crime problem here in SA...
  6. Cool idea. Now place some wood on the roof rack and you can use it as a shooting platform.
  7. Johnny Yuma

    Johnny Yuma

    Jun 27, 2007
    SE MI
    Thats for faster entering and exiting. Especially with the lino floor! :eek:
  8. Put a hatch in the roof (like a sunroof) and a stepladder directly below it. That way you can open the hatch, climb the ladder, and get some serious elevation for shooting over the top of crowds, or other autos.:biggrin:
  9. Nice van! Cool project. Look at the second door as a blessing. Suggestion: make the computer desk swivel around, put it just inside one door, and then you can access it from outside the door as well as swivel it around to be used inside. Just a thought. Maybe useful for showing pics to others without having them crawl inside the auto.
  10. Add an Epson 2400 and you've got a mobile printing lab...
  11. That was going to be my suggestion. A shooting platform gives you a whole different perspective on shots.

    Personally, I'd close off the passenger side sliding door to give you more options on the internal space usage. A small rooftop skylight/vent would give you some heat-escape while parked because if it's full of gear, no windows can be left open.

    Also, since you're an auto electrician, stick in an alarm system with a VERY loud horn on top.
    Do you think one electrical inverter is going to be enough. I sometimes have three different outlets being used while I'm on the road, with two items per outlet. Gadgets require a lot of juice!
  12. Lots of useful suggestions here . First off I am originally from South Africa [ 6 years ago] and am still paranoid about security so I will wire up my own design immobiliser that makes the engine cut out as soon as the alternator starts charging if you don't hold the brake down before starting . It makes it look like a fuel problem and not an allarm . I will also install a door switch system that sets off a siren when a door is opened but goes off when closed again [ can't have a siren going off continually at a dressage event ].
    The magnetic stick on signs sounds like a good idea .
    I removed the roof racks because of the howling noise they generate , my 130kg photography buddy suggested the wooden platform as well but I might just rather get a set of smaller roof racks and a plank that can be bolted on only when needed .
    Maybe I should have left the plumbing and drainage signwriting on it as "camoflauge" but since I took it off and just left the scenery behind I will definitely be putting at least a cheap tarpaulin over the desk to hide it .
    One thing I do with my work van is store my camera gear in a black plastic garbage bag , nobody thinks of taking one of those ;) .
    The last time I tried it I had the 600W inverter connected to a UPS all off a smallish battery and got about 4 hours so will use bigger batteries or maybe get a 4 stroke generator for events . The 600W did fine with two laptops and an extra 19" lcd screen . I think most laptops are around 70W so that should be enough for 2 laptops , the screen and a few battery chargers but one of our suppliers is having a special on 1000W inverters which may be a good opportunity to upgrade .
    The idea of a swivel desk is good , a local company is selling "pivoting 'L' shaped desks" where the "L" part swings out . I will get one with a few drawers and make it clamp down behind my seat for safety [ 6 months ago I smashed my work van into a bus and half a ton of stuff flew out the back and landed behind my head ] , but it will be able to be moved if needed .

  13. barry lloyd

    barry lloyd

    Jun 12, 2007
    Maybe window pull down blackout blinds may help with screen viewing and safety at little cost.

    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2007
  14. This is cool!

    • Why Not contact Nikon and offer them that you will paint the Van in Nikon Colors and Logo, and they can pay you for rolling advertising for them?
    • Put a roof rack with a swivel chair and tripod mount so you can sit high and offer photogrpahy from above, great for events and safaris (Yes I know where you are, there has to be some animals (or landscapes?)that people want to see and photograph in NZ (?)
  15. Interestingly, what you're doing is quite close to my own plans. I've recently acquired a Ford Windstar at a good price, and am setting it up for photography/camping. The goal is (ultimately - a few years from now) to spend an extended time cruising North America, taking pictures and writing articles. (Selling the articles is a completely different task).

    I enjoy using a GPS system for navigation. I've used the Microsoft Streets and trips package with its enclosed, plug in GPS sensor; the biggest problem is that a laptop computer on the seat beside you is actually quite dangerous to use, and the volume of the speakers is no where near adequate to overcome road and vehicle noise.

    (For my review of streets and trips, check this link:

    Anyway, I'm building a dedicated, on board computer system. The display will likely be this Thermaltake 7" retractable touch screen:

    while intended to fit into a computer bay rather than a standard DIN auto radio bay, a little manufacturing of brackets and faceplates should result in a good fit. If you want a unit that will fit perfectly, Dual makes a number of pop out DVD players; these units have auxilliary video inputs, but it's composite video - not VGA computer graphics. You'll need a video card that puts out composite video, and the screen sharpness will be compromised.

    The computer will play DVDs, MP3s, provide GPS navigation and even allow for VOIP based phone conversation, provided a wifi connection is available. In general, I'll have all the capability associated with a good home computer, including full photoshop editing capabilities. I'm also going to add a TV/FM radio tuner card, so that I'll be able to watch broadcast TV or listen to the radio at night. For AM reception, I have a GE Superadio that works quite well with an external antenna.

    One caution for those who choose to do this themselves: use a ruggedized hard drive intended for use in a vehicle. Regular hard drives will be destroyed due to vehicle movement and vibration.

    I decided that I wanted goodly amounts of quality AC power; I've chosen a 3,000 watt true sinewave inverter from GoPower. This will run everything I throw at it without hassle. The reason for the high load rating is that I want to be able to run a fry pan and perhaps a microwave at the same time. Of course, you need some serious battery capacity to do this; I'm using 4 12V batteries, based on my best guess as to how much power I'll use. I could be wrong.

    To charge the batteries... haven't decided. might go with a high output alternator, or solar panels on the roof, or both.

    For sleeping, I've decided on an air mattress resting on a 1 foot high pedestal; the pedestal has pull out trays for storing stuff.

    Having a quick source of really hot water can be useful; I'm going to rig up a heat transfer mechanism to transfer some 190 degree coolant temperature to a container of water (probably an old 5 reel stainless steel film processing tank or two, modified with necessary fittings). The idea is to have a reservoir of cold water and a 12V pump; when the hot water is accessed, the pressure drop starts the pump and refills the stainless steel tank from the reservoir. Heating will take place by wrapping several coils of copper pipe around the outside of the film tank; the copper pipe will carry coolant from the auto cooling system. (Care must be taken to prevent contamination of the drinkable hot water with auto coolant.) This will give me a quick source of really hot water for some instant coffee, instant soup, or just the ability to wash my face with some hot water and soap.

    To keep cold food cold, I'll probably build my own electronic cooler, using a peltier effect chip or two. I'm still giving this one serious thought. There are much more efficient cooling solutions, and they also do a better job of refrigeration; it's just that you can drop $1,500 on decent RV fridge. I can mess with peltier chips for much less.

    For interior van heating, I'm just planning on going where the weather suits my clothes, mostly. I don't want the hassle of carrying around propane, and I couldn't possibly run an electric heater all night; don't have the battery capacity for it. I might insulate the interior, to try and stabilize the temperature somewhat.

    For internet access, I might choose to go with a two way satellite link; this will cost me around $2,500 for the equipment, and $60 a month for the service. It will allow me to connect, via two way satellite link, from any spot in Canada, the US or Mexico. Theoretically it will also allow for VOIP telephone, although speed of light propagation delay may torpedo the idea. The other option is to find legal hotspots, or buy a monthly subscription to a hot spot provider. I can also connect via cellphone, but that's really expensive and slow.

    Hope this gives you some ideas for your own photo van!

    Best wishes, Charlie
  16. Well that sounds like quite a project ! I don't watch TV so that's no issue for me and don't use GPS yet , though I do have "Tumonz" , a full map of NZ on disc if needed . I would love a sine wave inverter but they are about 4X the price of a normal inverter . My budget is not that high but not totally restrictive - enough for "needs" . I have just bought a computer desk kit to assemble and will post pictures in a few hours hopefully of the results ...
  17. The desk has been added . I played around with a few options for securing it but ended up with two old bungee cords for now ....

  18. Hi, Desmond - re the inverter, I messed around with modified sine wave inverters, and toasted a few battery chargers in the process. I also found that the advertised capacity was no where near the actual capacity; hence, my decision to go for the 3,000 watt true sine wave. It should handle anything I throw at it, and I expect that it will last for a long time. They've come down a lot in price; 15 years ago, it was common to spend a dollar a watt for a true sine wave inverter. Now, they can be had for about 35 cents a watt. I'll bet that, if one were to hunt diligently on ebay, one could be had even cheaper. However, I seem to recall that New Zealand is on 240 volts, which would rule out anything used coming from North America.

    I wonder if you'll have a problem with the desk drawers opening up while you're driving? You might need to find a solution for that, as well as some way to anchor the desk.

    The van interior really looks nice, and the vinyl should be easy to keep clean. Nice job!

    What does gasoline sell for in your part of the whirled?

    Best, Charlie
  19. Looks like I'll have to get a pure sine wave inverter for the battery charging thing .
    I have the desk quite secure with the bungee cords but am thinking about some door latches bolted to the frame that can slide into holes in the support pipe . It is actually very secure pulled up against the seats but I will do better .
    The top drawer locks , I don't know if the others will move much , definitely not on accelleration with a 2 litre engine !
    Fuel is NZ$1.50 per litre .To compare prices the D40 cost me NZ$920 .
  20. Now , where to put the box ! It's full length is just 4 inches shorter than the width of the van . I am thinking of getting out the skil saw and making the desk narrower and lower so it can go to the side and be the right height for my camping chair . First though , luckily it has been raining a bit and shown up the slow drip at the rear that needs attention and would have swelled up the wood in the desk , I'll have to pull out the rear rubber and glue it back properly .

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