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Tuesday, 07 May 2013 13:23

It Still Pays to Be Smaller, Faster and Cheaper

Written by  Valentina I. Valentini
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courtesy-of-christopher-walters_smWith the next big thing always around the corner, camera professionals can rely on having a plethora of gear offerings. The products that stand out can vary from shoot to shoot, but the remaining constant is that equipment needs to be small, fast and cheap enough to compete in today’s competitive market. One “faster” piece of equipment is the Midas Mount SnapFocus. Created by Brandon David Cole, the SnapFocus is a simple, cable-driven follow focus system that combats smaller-budget production restraints. It works on the principle of resistance between two retracting hand grips, which on the prototype are levers from bicycle brakes — and since your hand never needs to leave the handle bars, you’ll maintain a rock-steady center of gravity.

Cinematographer Christopher Walters (pictured left) used a modified SnapFocus for the RED EPIC for a portion of a Toyota Space Shuttle campaign that aired online in conjunction with Super Bowl commercials. “It performed brilliantly,” Walters reports. “We were running and gunning at this industrial site, and the more people we had around the camera, the more of a target we became for accidents. But with the SnapFocus, I was able to go with no crew at all and get shots with incredible follow focus.” He maintains that he still loves his first assistants, and doesn’t think that this piece of equipment will negate what they do, but it will aid in smaller or more off-the-cuff shoots.

On one day of the Toyota shoot, Walters used an 85mm lens while following a mockup of the shuttle that had been mounted to giant dollies. When the shuttle was moving, it had all kinds of vehicles moving around it, so the most dynamic way Walters could shoot it was with the longer lens. “I wanted to shoot wide open because I was going for an abstract, shallow depth-of-field look,” recalls Walters. “The SnapFocus was the perfect tool. I would never have been able to pull focus off the barrel. With two people on that particular job, there would have definitely been a margin for error in the focus. But because I knew exactly where I was going to step next, I could pull the handle and land everything super sharp.”

motion-pocture-marine_smA piece of gear that fulfills the “smaller” requirement is Motion Picture Marine’s Perfect Horizon camera stabilization head (pictured right), which has won an Academy Award and an Emmy for engineering and scientific achievement. Coming in at under 30 pounds and only 9 inches high, the Perfect Horizon stabilizer is still able to carry loads of up to 150 pounds. It can be mounted on a great variety of boats, and has proved its salt for some spectacular filming sequences in James Bond films, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Discovery’s “Air Jaws 4” and the opening sequence for the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, which was shot by Cinematographer William Reed and Perfect Horizon Technician Brian Uranovsky.

“Instead of holding the camera on my shoulder at sea while rolling over the waves and such, I can put it on the Perfect Horizon and get a completely level shot every time,” says Uranovsky, a London-based South African DP who has worked all over the world. “It allows us to zoom into images, like shark and whale breaching, and hold it there with absolute precision.” While Uranovsky has used other stabilizers, like the Cineflex, he says the Perfect Horizon is the only stabilizer that’s fit for the sea. For Die Another Day, the stabilizer was used for a dramatic opening surfing sequence on a huge surf day with 40-foot waves — and this was the same day when the Olympics sequence was shot. For Casino Royale, the gear steadied the horizon duringa speedy chase sequence in Venice, Italy.

eddie-space-shuttle_smLos Angeles-based Jib Operator Victor Pancerev has been using equipment from Inventor/Filmmaker Eddie Barber (pictured left) for the last 20 years. Pancerev swears by the SteadyPOD by Barber Tech Video Products (, which tops the “cheaper and faster” gear categories. “I needed a Steadicam for a small film we were shooting on the Sony EX3, and really you don’t need what I would call the conventional-jacketed Steadicam setup for a camera like that,” recalls Pancerev. “So I bought the SteadyPOD, [which] has some great features besides just steadying a shot. You can put it in high mode and use it as a mini-boom/jib arm; there’s low mode [which turns it into a doggie cam; and you can even turn the camera back at yourself to do some amazing narrative shots, where you’re in frame as you walk and talk. It’s just so easy to get a great shot with it.”

Barber, Pancerev and others that have used the SteadyPOD all claim that the learning curve is close to zero. In fact, a complete camera amateur could use the SteadyPOD to potentially create useable steady shots for a project, making it a very valuable tool. “When the cameras were heavier, you needed that gyroscopic support to hold it,” explains Pancerev. “Now that many cameras only weigh a few pounds, the SteadyPOD is just more practical. This takes seconds, literally seconds to balance the camera, and then you’re shooting. In filmmaking today, time is everything, and this saves so much time. And you can make your mark on the film world without spending millions of dollars. My friends are Steadicam operators, and, I’m not trying to put anyone out of a job, but when you’re making your own film and the tools are available and are cheap, it’s such an advantage to have something like the SteadyPOD.”

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