LAST MONTH we took a look at gimbals and cages, accessories that can free you up to get right into the heart of the action while still retaining a rock steady feel. While this is becoming an increasingly popular way to work, however, there are still lots of other options out there that are worth exploring should you wish to produce a bespoke sequence for your film.
We’ll move on to some of these specialist devices in a moment, but let’s first pause for a second to consider a steadying staple that’s been around for as long as photography itself has, namely the tripod. It’s so easy to overlook them in favour of something sexier and more obviously cutting edge perhaps, but that belies the fact that even in this high-tech modern world a huge number of professionals who are serious about their filmmaking will still make a high-quality video tripod their number one investment “A good solid and smooth tripod and head combination is one of the most valuable tools you can own as a video creator,” our resident CVP expert Jake Ratcliffe confirms. “Tripods are incredibly versatile and the smooth and
stable footage they can deliver over shaky handheld shots will take your production values through the roof! The best of them won’t be cheap, however, but what you’re ultimately paying for is build quality, consistency, durability, serviceability and speed of operation. All of these things will make your life easier while out in the field operating and, if treated right and serviced at regular intervals, a good quality tripod will last you for years.” You might imagine that a set of sticks would be the same for both still and video work, but if you’re regularly shooting motion then it is probably worth investing in a specialist video version since there are some serious advantages that they can offer.
“A lot of lower end video systems use the flat base design for their detachable heads,” explains Jake, “but larger and more costly systems will utilise the bowl system since it makes levelling the tripod head easier and faster. The Flowtech system from Sachtler, for example, (CVP price £1692 with FSB 6T Fluid Head) is a is a great example of a set of video-focused tripod legs. They are made from carbon fibre so are solid and light, feature one lever for each leg at the top of the system for ultra easy and fast adjustments and they are also compatible with Sachtler’s new Aktiv range of fluid heads, which makes it even faster and easier to switch your head between systems.”
A number of specialist video tripods will feature a spreader, either at ground or mid-level, whose role is to adjust the angle of the legs, for better stability at high or low extensions, while preventing the legs from spreading all the way out. The ground level spreader provides great stability but runs the risk of getting dirty when used on location, and you might need to remove it and work instead with leg spikes. The mid-level spreader, meanwhile, offers the advantage that you’re able to use it on uneven surfaces, but if you do encounter a situation where it needs to be removed and reattached it can be quite a fiddly operation.
The third option is the no spreader approach, where the angle adjustment is achieved through limiting the spread with angle locks at the top of the leg. This kind of arrangement is becoming increasingly popular, although it doesn’t work quite so well with the heavier cinema camas. For those using hybrid models, however, there shouldn’t be any issues at all.
Choose Your Head
It’s not just in the sticks department that a video tripod will differ from one that’s designed for stills, however. You should also be looking at investing in a specialist head to complete the outfit and to make sure you have something to work off that will enable you to comfortably produce video footage that’s full of silky-smooth movement.
“Tripod heads designed for video are massively different to those designed for stills,” confirms Jake. “This is because stills tripods have been designed to be quick and precise to position your camera so you can take your shot. However, video heads are all about motion, which means that the design ethos is completely different. You’ll probably be looking at a fluid head, for example, where a fluid chamber has been included that’s designed to dampen the movements you apply to the head, resulting in beautifully smooth pans and tilts.
“Most video heads will also come with the ability to adjust your camera’s position back and forth, to enable you to spread your camera rig’s centre of mass across the head for balance. Balancing a tripod is important if you want to achieve the best performance. This is where counterbalance comes in, which also isn’t featured on tripod heads that have been designed for stills cameras.”
Video heads come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and at a huge range of price points, which is why it makes so much sense to visit an independent equipment agnostic retailer such as CVP. They will take time to evaluate what your requirements are and will then make product recommendations based purely on what the best solution might be, not which piece of kit might deliver them the greatest profit margin.
New video heads are regularly coming to market, the latest being the new S Pro Series from Benro, which replaces the existing S series and updates it. The S4PRO is a compact and versatile unit that features a two-step counterbalance and comes with the ability to support
cameras up to 4kg in weight, which is plenty enough to cover most of the models the hybrid photographer will consider. The new range is completed by the Benro S6PRO, which can handle cameras weighing up to 6kg, and the S8PRO, that comes with the capacity for the largest cinema cameras, weighing up to 8kg.
If a full-scale tripod is a little more than you want to be carrying around then a lighter alternative would be a monopod, which likewise offers a welcome touch of stability but with built-in flexibility. “Monopods are a great way of getting some of the benefits of using a tripod,” says Jake, “but in a smaller and lighter package. When we’re making films at CVP we often use monopods when carrying a larger tripod system isn’t an option. One thing we really like is combining a monopod with a gimbal to create some unique movements: this was the approach we took when filming mountain bikers in Morzine in the French Alps while reviewing the Ronin S for CVP’s YouTube channel.
While, as we saw last month, working with a gimbal can give you the opportunity to introduce movement into a scene and to follow your subject while still producing smooth footage, there are other occasions where you might be looking for a more controlled approach, where exactly the same line of movement and direction of travel will be followed precisely every single time.
This is where specialist accessories, such as sliders, dollies and jibs/cranes, can come into their own, and it can be surprisingly affordable and straightforward to acquire what you need while adding a completely new dimension to your filmmaking.
“Using a slider system could introduce some really interesting motion into your production,” says Jake, “so they definitely are worth exploring. There are some fantastic systems available that range from being as simple as a short manual slider to a fully motorised pan and tilt head integrated into the slider system for full programmable camera control, such as the Rhino 4-Axis motion control system. We’re always happy to provide more detail for those who are new to this area and who want to learn more about how these systems work and what they can offer.”
Entering into the world of sliders can open a huge number of new doors and it’s up to the individual how far they want to take things. From a straightforward slider such as the Hague Reach-500, which offers 500mm of travel (CVP price £288) through to the full-on motion control bundle from Rhino that features smooth motorised and totally controllable tracking (CVP price for the Rhino Ultimate Slider Bundle is £3498), you can pretty much go as simple or as sophisticated as you want.
Move to a system such as this and you can combine a slider with a timelapse and/or pan and tilt device to create precisely controlled movement, speeded up footage of construction taking place and spectacular ‘day to night’ sequences, and you can even set up vertical lifts as opposed to a side to side movement. In short, you have a blank canvas if you venture into this area with a view to exploring all the options and ultimately the only limit will be your imagination.
Beyond here there are the likes of dollies and jibs, and once again there are a number of price points you can be looking at depending on how high end you’re looking to go. CVP stocks kit such as the Hague D5T Tracking Dolly Kit (£282), the Egripment Skateboard Dolly (£1550.72), the Hague K12 Multi Jib (£750) and the Manfrotto 127 Basic Dolly wheel set (£179), so they can be affordable, and can either be moved around on a set of wheels or combined with a track, so that once everything is in place the direction of travel will be exactly the same every time.
“Dolly’s are another interesting way to move the camera,” Jakes agrees, “and they can be very simple to set up and control. However, depending on the system, they aren’t without their pitfalls. For the most part, they are quite large and heavy, so could be better suited to productions where you have a crew to properly handle and operate the system. So, as with most of the camera motion kit that we stock, everything has its place on a production and a dolly needs to be used in the correct scenario and environment to get the best results.”
Open your eyes to the potential for controlled movement and you could add a whole new and exciting edge to your video production. Feel free to contact CVP with any queries you might have to work out what the possibilies are and what the best systems could be for your own operation.
ONE OF CVP’s resident team of technical experts, and a selfconfessed camera nerd who gets way too excited over kit, Jake’s background mirrors that of so many creatives these days. After graduating with a degree in photography he took up a freelance career and found that many of his clients were asking for video services so, rather than turn the work away, he started to teach himself the filmmaking basics. Having been based at CVP for four years now, Jake epitomises the ‘equipment agnostic’ approach of the company and devotes his time to advising customers who might be looking for impartial feedback on which products to invest in as they look to make the same journey into motion.
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