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Wednesday, 12 September 2012 22:29

New Support Gear for Cameras Small and Large

Written by  Carl Mrozek
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camerasupport_k-tek-ktadm_ktekbThere has never been a greater offering of professional cameras — today’s swelling fleet comes in all sizes and shapes designed for so many general and niche applications. By extension, there has never been such a wide range of camera-support gear, including tripods, jibs and poles. In terms of the kinds of cameras being supported, there has definitely been a sea change over the past few years, from a primary focus on larger cameras with mid-sized (2/3-inch and ½-inch) sensors to smaller cameras with larger sensors, like DSLRs and the new class of smallish video cameras with large sensors.



Not surprisingly, much of the recent innovation in camera-support products has happened on the lighter end of the size continuum. The explosion of rigs, tripods and stabilizers targeting HDSLRs and the new class of compact, big-sensor cameras is the most obvious example. And given the diversity of cameras and applications, development is often happening at once on multiple fronts. In fact, in 2012, there have been interesting developments on the heavier end of this spectrum, with tripods, cranes, jibs and more. This largely reflects a concerted response to the kinds of camera systems being deployed for production needs, including what’s hot at the moment. While smaller cameras (such as the Sony FS700 and Canon C300 and HDSLRs) still predominated at NAB and Cinegear 2012, larger cameras (like the ARRI ALEXA, Sony F65 and XDCam, Panasonic HPX 600 and RED cameras) also have large followings, and there has been plenty of innovation in support gear for all.


This year, two of Sachtler’s biggest additions to its product line were geared for DSLR-sized cameras up to C300 size. These include the Ace M tripod head and Artemis “flying rig.” The Ace supports cameras weighing up to 8.8 pounds (4 kg.) and utilizes the company’s trademark Synchronized Actuated (SA) Drag, which adds and subtracts drag in discrete stages as with all Sachtler heads. It also has five counterbalance levels and a long sliding (mounting) plate for extra adjustment of horizontal balance. Cinematographer Elam Stoltzfus of the Live Oak Production Group used the Ace on a recent PBS project while slogging through Florida’s swamplands. “New on this shoot was the Ace, which is lightweight, easy to set up and a solid support for the Sony FS100 camera, and the various cameras I use,” he reports. As with the Ace, Sachtler’s Artemis Handheld rig targets a lower-price niche. At under $1,000, it’s designed for smaller cameras weighing 6.6 pounds (3 kg.) or less (this includes smaller HDV and AVCHD cameras and the ever-expanding ranks of HDSLRs). True to tradition, it also has features found in the much costlier, full-sized Artemis, including modular design and quick releases.


Tiffen recently made three additions to its Davis & Sanford Pro Elite line of tripod systems for cameras from 2–25 pounds. The Pro Elite tripods feature variable quick release and are uniquely prepared for many applications by shipping with both ground and mid-level spreaders. For handheld work, Tiffen began shipping a new lighter Merlin in 2012. The Steadicam Merlin 2 supports cameras weighing up to 7 pounds and has a quick release mount for fast tripod mounting and dismounting. The company’s new Steadicam Pilot HD stabilizer system supports cameras from 2–9 pounds, while its new Steadicam Scout accommodates cameras weighing 5–18 pounds. Both the Scout and Pilot include an adjustable Iso-Elastic stabilizer arm, a dual-axis vernier adjustable stage, and a dynamically adjustable base.


Libec Sales of America introduced new tripod heads for smaller and mid-sized cameras. The company’s LX5 is for cameras weighing 9 pounds (4 kg.) or less, and the LX7handles nearly double the payload at 17.5 pounds (8 kg.). Both feature 75mm balls and sliding plates with +/- 1.6-inch adjustment fore and aft, with a tilt range of +90 degrees and –80 degrees. Both weigh 12 pounds and are available with mid-level or floor spreaders.


After expanding its Compass line of tripod heads for smaller and mid-sized camerasover the past few years, Miller Camera Support introduced the Skyline 70 fluid head for camera systems weighing up to 82.5 pounds, especially EFP, outside broadcast and lightweight sports production rigs. “The ergonomic design reflects the shooting needs of sports-based configurations and outside broadcast operations using barrel or lightweight box lenses with external viewfinders,” reports Miller’s Marketing Manager Heidi Tobin.


OConnor Engineering replaced its middle/heavyweight 1030 HD and HDs fluid heads with heads geared for today’s lighter-weight camera packages. The company’s Ultimate 1030D is for camera packages weighing up to 30 pounds, while the Ultimate 1030Ds supports camera systems up to 41 pounds. They feature the same step-less, ultra-smooth pan-and-tilt drag, which characterized the earlier 1030 HD models for heavier cameras (at 39 and 53 pounds).


Vinten did much the same in 2011 with its Vision Blue head geared for cameras weighing 4.6–11 pounds. However, this year the company followed up with Vision Blue5, a heavier-duty addition to the Vision Blue line for cameras weighing up to 24 pounds. “We’ve incorporated many key features from our Vision series into an economical, efficient chassis with Vision Blue,” states Vinten Product Manager Peter Harman. “They’re designed with today’s popular, lighter cameras in mind and have been well received.” Cartoni also updated its beefy fluid heads with the new Maxima Head geared to support camera systems weighing up to 88 pounds. Designed for rugged use, Maxima has a 150mm bowl and boasts perfect balance throughout its full 180-degree tilt range. And Spider Support Systems introduced the Ringo Head, a safe, dependable way to mount cameras atop a tripod at a 90-degree angle, which is useful for framing in portrait mode. It can even be attached to jib arms, cranes and Steadicams.

The Redrock Micro UltraCage Blue DSLR is a mounting and accessory cage for HDSLR cameras that enables the attachment of a variety of accessories, including all in Redrock’s Ultra Series. The UltraCage includes secure attachment points for matte boxes, rails, focus assists, viewfinders, monitor and mic mounts, and it attaches easily to all Redrock shoulder mounts. It’s available for standard HDSLRs and the Canon C300.


This year, Zacuto introduced its Recoil Rig, a DSLR-style shoulder mount rig for Digital Cinema cameras ranging from the Canon C300 to the RED EPIC and SCARLET. It uses a recoil design to position the camera right above the shoulder for perfect balance and easy operation via ergonomic handgrips. Zacuto also created the Tornado, a new and improved follow-focus system with focus control built right into the handgrips. “With an EVF like our Z-Finder, the camera sits comfortably on the shoulder and both handgrips [for focus and camera control] pivot for custom adjustment,” says Zacuto President Steve Weiss.


OConnor announced the O-Focus Dual Mini (DM), a compact, double-sided, direct-drive follow-focus unit optimized for both still and cinestyle camera lenses. Two versions, the Photo Set and Cine Set, utilize different handwheels to apply a unique (transmission) output to optimize rotation for the relevant lens type. “The O-Focus DM lets me work easily with photo lenses, which have been the bane of my existence,” explains Mike Milia, cinematographer and owner of NYC Jibs. “The O-Focus DM Photo Set has a gear ratio of 1:0.75 so that 360 degrees of input results in 270 degrees of output, a unique ratio that provides greater accuracy for limited-barrel-rotation still-photo lenses.” The hard stops enable setting minimum and maximum focus points for lenses with unlimited rotation and executing hard-focus stop pulls.


Focus-control technology by edelkrone FocusPLUS+ separates the focus marker from the focus wheel and puts it right next to the lens. A focus marker placed right next to the lens gives unprecedented precision with a follow focus, and it eliminates imprecision due to imperfections of the gearbox and the rest of the mechanical structure. The belt-driven mechanism enables soft starts and stops and the most fluid focus pulls possible by human hand, while the handle easily assumes many comfortable positions.


Redrock Micro introduced a very different type of optical assist with its LiveLens MFT, the first active lens adapter that enables Canon EF lenses to be used with any micro four-thirds (mft) camera, such as the Panasonic AG-AF100 and GH1/2 cameras. Canon EF lenses require power and electronic controls in order to adjust the lens’ aperture, so their apertures remain wide open without the LiveLens MFT.


Manfrotto’s SYMPLA Clamp-On Remote Control for Canon DSLRs enable auto focus, start/stop recording, photo shutter release, live view, and live-view digital zoom. It also has customizable focus direction and speed limits, focus memory settings, and fixed or variable focus-control modes. Plus, LEDs display its battery status, camera mode and recording status. While it’s for Canon lenses only, its auto follow-focus works with most recent Canon auto lenses that can be easily swapped.


VariZoom, a pioneer in focus and iris controls, recently offered these controls wirelessly for multiple functions via multiple channels, all controllable by touchscreen. The company’s VZTOC-ZF Series offers either or both focus and iris control for two or three channels. VZTOC-ZF controls work with broadcast, cinema or DSLR lenses, and they can also be cable controlled in case of RF interference. VariZoom also introduced the Reach Cinema-Grade Telescoping Crane with up to a 30-foot reach for loads up to 100 pounds. It includes a four-wheeled dolly and is touted as one of the lightest, strongest telescoping cranes in its class. It also integrates perfectly with VariZoom’s new frame accurate, fully repeatableCinema Pro True Motion Control System and Head.


A comparable but lighter and even more versatile system (that includes a crane with motion control) is the Carbon XL 10, which can be assembled into a camera crane, camera jib and dolly with track, timelapse system, car mount, zero-gravity head, camera remote-control unit or motorized rotating-camera platform. The 50-pound, carbon-fiber Carbon XL 10 system can be hand-carried to remote places on location to serve varied camera-support functions. A simpler, smaller Swiss Army knife approach to camera support is International Supplies’ Optimos, which multitasks as a slider, body-mounted camera rig, cart, crane, dolly and more while being all mechanical and highly mobile.


camerasupport_-sachtler-ace_07While there are now myriad adapters and support rigs for DSLR-sized cameras and small camcorders, the options are still pretty thin for smaller cameras. Fortunately, two companies now offer multiple innovations that quickly upgrade rather fragile but ubiquitous prosumer cameras into rugged, pro-grade capture devices. The first is Unruly, which fortifies GoPro housings and mounts by replacing basic housings, clamps and pins with rugged, custom-machined alternatives capable of withstanding the rigors of extreme applications. The company’s Beartrap stainless-steel pin keeps the GoPro housing locked securely. “GoPro’s standard latches loosen up easily with vibration, and the housings pop open often damaging the GoPros,” says Unruly CEO Jim Clark. “Our Beartrap clamps are anodized aluminum with stainless-steel locking pins that never break. During Formula One car races, our Headgear housings have flown 1,200 feet before hitting the tarmac without breaking, which is why they use our housings exclusively in all their cars. Our products make GoPros military grade.”


K-Tek offers better camera cases with its Aluminum Case for the Apple iPhone 4 and 4S. Made from a single piece of machined aluminum, it has two threaded holes that will attach to a K-Tek Tadpole, tripod, DSLR support rig or anything with a 1/4×20 threaded stud. “I kept breaking every iPhone case I tried, especially after attaching them to a Tadpole or tripod,” admits K-Tek President Brenda Parker. “So my engineers and I designed a bulletproof case. I’m always attaching it to one of our Tadpoles or Norbert Sports, but am still using my first one. [Now] my iPhone never leaves its case.”

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