Many wedding and event videographers just won’t shoot without a solid, shoulder-mount professional camcorder. They like the weight, the resistance, the steadying nature of a full-size package. Others love the free-form handycam approach, and they are convinced that small camcorders are the best for grabbing quick, unobtrusive, and intimate shots. But handycam can easily become shaky cam, as unwanted shakes, rattles, and rolls turn professional compositions into amateur and unwatchable video. Luckily, support devices for steady handheld video camera operation come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and prices.
Shooting on the Level
Levelcam (left)is a new and interesting solution, recently developed by pro videographers specifically to reduce unwanted camera motion. It’s a passive stabilizer platform, and it looks something like a boomerang (throwing it with a camera mounted may make for an interesting shot, but the technique is not necessarily recommended).
But this flat, small, lightweight (about 10 ounces) device will give you tremendous freedom of movement while shooting. Easily gripped with both hands, it can be held at almost any level for smooth, horizon-sensitive shooting. It can also be used simultaneously with a tripod, so you can switch from shooting handheld to being tripod-mounted in just seconds. Levelcam features standard screw-and-thread holes to mount not only the most common camcorders, but also shooting accessories like lights, wireless microphones, and DV hard drives (included screws or bungee cords can be used). It’s rated for camcorders up to about six pounds, with the latest HDV, P2, HDD, and MiniDV camcorders included.
Levelcam is made from extruded plastic so as not to crack or splinter. It can be easily drilled, modified, or even flipped around (left-eyed) for your own personal shooting preferences. The Levelcam is now available for about $70.
High-End Support Help
Priced at nearly 10 times that figure—around $6,500—the Artemis DV Pro FX from Sachtler (left) is a sophisticated active stabilizing system for DV and HDV shooters with a serious requirement for flexibility and control in any number of shooting environments.
Complete with a sled, vest, and arm, the DV Pro FX offers up a lot of the same camera support that top of the line steadicam-type systems provide.
The wearable DV Pro FX offers operators a range of controls over all adjustments, including dynamic balance, weight optimization, and the ability to add an appropriate amount of inertia to precisely stabilize mounted camcorders. Smooth camera moves while walking, running, or riding a moving vehicle or platform are easier when the camera is, in effect, being worn by the operator, thanks to a back-mounted cushion that spreads camera weight evenly and centers it on the operator’s hips.
The DV Pro FX’s advanced camera support arm uses interchangeable gas-spring cartridges to support different weights: 11.0–17.6 lbs.; 17.6–24.2 lbs.; and 22.0–28.6 lbs. The arm support is fully reversible for operation on either the left or right side of the body.
The streamlined black FX sled features a central post topped with a quick-release camera-mounting system. A battery compartment at the bottom of the post holds standard 14.4 V batteries from various manufacturers. As well, a 7" integrated LCD monitor can be mounted and adjusted to the system. It has 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratio support, and automatically switches between NTSC and PAL depending on input.
Also supporting the work of videographers, with pricing and functions in between the basic operational simplicity of a Levelcam and the stabilizing sophistication of Artemis-like systems, are the articulating arm supports from companies such as Zacuto.
That company's new Zamerican line (left) of small, medium, and large articulating arms can be used to mount any number of accessories to the camera itself. The Zamerican Large comes with a Z-Release on both ends of the arm, for fast mounting and easy quick-release action. Flipping the Z-Release level locks or unlocks a device, with no screwing and unscrewing. Instead of the familiar 1/4" or 3/8" screws on either end of the arm, Zacuto uses standard 15mm rods on both ends. These rods slip into a whole line of Z-Release products that can be used to attach Panavision or other rods, c-stands, gator grips, cameras, and other lighting, grip, and shooting tools.
To quickly expand our July report on new on-camera lighting solutions for event video, here’s some late-breaking news about recently released products that were missed last time.
Switronix has a new battery-powered LED light that can be driven by the same power source as the camera. The company recently introduced its XD-L56S, a 5600 K color temp LED light with a power draw of 6 V, but a reported output that’s the equivalent of 20 W.
A line of adapters is available with the necessary cable connections to connect and power the XD-L56S via the light’s side tap input from Series 7 (or Sony Type L) battery systems, compatible with most pro DV/HDV cameras. The light comes with both 1/4" thread and hot shoe mounting options. Street pricing is around $250.
Litepanels has introduced its 1x1 4-Lite Kit (left), complete with four separate 1x1 LED fixtures with detachable mounting yokes, each with its own AC adapter/power supply, power cable, tripod stand, and set of color/diffusion gel filters—packed in a compact carrying case.
Available in daylight flood or spot and tungsten flood versions, the four heads can be used separately, though not for on-camera mounting. They come with stands, and can be mounted singly, and with standard TVMP receptacles as multi-panel configurations.
The 1x1 4-Lite Complete Kit is available now at an MSRP of $8,995.
Again, not for on-camera mounting, but in small studio settings or confined spaces, the new SL100 Soft Box Light from ikan (left) provides nice fluorescent lighting in either daylight or tungsten temperatures. The unit weighs about 3.5 lbs. with the bulb; the box measures about 32" on the diagonal. It’s priced at $249, which includes the housing, cable, soft box, and an 85 W compact fluorescent bulb.
Take Me to the Pilot
Pricing information is now available for Tiffen’s new Steadicam Pilot, a support system for cameras weighing up to about 10 lbs. At that weight, it’s a slightly scaled down version of the the full-up pro Flyer model; but on long or uninterrupted shoots, it still provides optimum operator comfort and operational functionality.
Depending on configuration, Pilot prices start at $3,750. Camera power and video feed connection are built in, but different battery mounts and monitor sizes are available, including a choice of a 3.5" color 4:3 LCD monitor and a 12 V AA battery back, or a 5.8" 16:9/4:3 color LCD and V-Mount Anton/Bauer battery mounts.
The Pilot features a lightweight iso-elastic arm and low-profile vest, a sled with expandable 28" boom post, and a low-mass, three-axis positional gimbal for smooth and balanced video shooting. The camera mounting plate itself has numerous locking points and adjustments for easy re-balancing and operation.
Lee Rickwood is a media consultant and freelance writer.