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1996-2006 Kevin Johnson


March 2006

It would be great if equipment never failed and if spot news happened at only the opportune time and place, but to badly paraphrase Bobby Fuller, "I fought Murphy's Law, and Murphy's Law won!" The nature of our gig as television photogs requires us to be ready for anything... at any time.

Tweaked cameras, loose tripods, bent lights, unopened beers: I don't believe any one tool helps us get through these bouts of Murphy's Law like a good Leatherman.

Back in the 70's, Tim Leatherman, inspired by his 1968 Fiat's constant break-downs on the road, designed a portable multi-purpose tool to help fix it on the go. The Leatherman PST was born.

Back when I bought my first Leatherman Tool, there was only one choice. Now there are over 13 different models of this multi-purpose tool.

I wanted to see what the new variations were all about, so I contacted Mr. Leatherman. He graciously sent me a couple of new models to test and put through their paces. Here's my take:

The Charge

One of Leatherman's newest designs, the Charge Ti is beefy and packed just with about every tool you'd ever need in the field. Its titanium handles reduce the weight, for easy portability in your pocket.

The well-known standards are still there - pliers, knives, files, scissors, and bottle opener - but a new innovative design allows for interchangeable bits. Phillips, flat, hex, and star screwdriver bits allow you to fix just about anything on the road. Tiny "jewelers' Phillips and flat bits are just what you need to make small adjustments to wireless mics and circuit boards.

Recently, while standing around on the White House lawn, I saw one of the reporter's glasses fall apart. After scrounging on the ground to find the tiny missing screw (which probably raised suspicions with the Secret Service), we were able to re-assemble the glasses using the needle nose pliers and tiny screwdriver. I'm sure our success allowed the reporter to see the story much clearer.

The only flaw that I can find with the Charge is a missing medium flat-head screwdriver. The screwdriver functionality is replaced by the interchangeable bits, but there are applications in which I wish I had a simple straight screwdriver. There is also the challenge of maintaining the location of extra bits.  I have a natural ability to lose small objects, and I don't need any extra help.

The Charge is a perfect addition to any photog's gear bag, but priced at $100-$150 it may be a little pricey.

The Blast

At just $50, the Blast is a more economical option. It has many of the same tools as the Charge, but in a compact and simple design, reminiscent of the original PST tool. There are no small bits to lose, and the Blast makes a few improvements over the PST. Unlike the PST's sharp metal handles, the edges of the Blast's handles are rounded and formed to be more comfortable when you need a lot of torque on the pliers.

The Blast is missing a helpful design feature that is found in the Charge. The files and knife blades on the Blast are inside the tool, requiring you to open the pliers to get to get a blade, whereas the Charge has locked blades accessible without even opening the tool. These are very subtle differences, but when you need a knife quickly, and only have one hand, the Charge design wins every time.

The Blast is a great tool to have for all of those moments with Murphy, but if price were no object, I'd definitely choose the Leatherman Charge to have in my kit.




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