Gear & Now: New Platforms for Video Shooting
Posted May 1, 2008

Finding the best vantage point for camera positions at live video events is often a serious challenge. A good line-of-sight is crucial for the best shot and most telling composition, but often physical hurdles must be overcome. Sometimes, all that’s needed is a little creative ingenuity. At times, a dedicated device is required.If you can’t shoot over the heads of sports fans, crowded around the sidelines, you will miss the shot. If you can’t hold your camera up high enough to get a great shot of the bride and groom on the dance floor, surrounded by friends and family, you won’t capture all the emotion. If your camera operator can’t get into a small space, your coverage will not be as unobtrusive and revealing as you’d like it to be. Or, if the event you’re covering lasts for hours, you may miss the shot out of sheer exhaustion.

iKan Camera Cradle
In the last case, a new wearable camera stabilizing system from ikan could help. The company’s new Camera Cradle is designed for those who shoot multihour events. It provides a lightweight, adjustable, and durable platform for your video camera.The Camera Cradle bag is filled with tiny microbeads that easily mold to the shape of your camera, holding it safely and securely. A padded shoulder strap and adjustable waist belt enable it to transfer camera weight away from the arms and shoulders toward the shoulders and hips. Two horizontal side pockets can be used to store extra gear, or you can strap in wireless microphone receivers with four top loops and adjustable straps.The ikan Camera Cradle is priced at $99.95.

Spider Support Systems
figure 1Spider Support Systems
In many shooting situations, a more supportive platform for both camera and camera operator is needed. The key is to find a lightweight device that you can easily carry around with you, one that can be set up quickly and will hold the videographer and her gear securely.

Spider Support Systems, known for its Spider tripod riser and standing platform, is upping the ante this year with what’s described as a stronger, more secure Spider Pod Version 2.0. The new two-piece Spider Pod provides an elevated tripod and camera support platform that’s 2" in height, allowing videographers to get those engaging high-angle perspective shots, to shoot over and above crowds, and to gain a clear advantage when working in live event video production environments.

The Standing Platform is carpeted for comfort and safety (no slipping) and is best situated next to the Tripod Riser for both ENG and Studio configuration. They are rated, respectively, at 300-lb. and 200-lb. capacity.The riser and platform section are separate units, so movement by the videographer will not cause camera shake. The unit is made of strong lightweight aluminum and features a three-inch (7.6cm) channel, so almost any tripod spreader or footprint can be accommodated.

Portability is a key feature touted by Spider for its Pod 2.0. The Tripod Riser and Standing Platform fold together into a compact-sized 3.5"x28"x28" briefcase-like carrying package for transport and storage (although the package does weigh about 40 lbs.). The Spider Pod features a padded carrying handle, or it can be stored in the optional hard shipping case. A soft case made of ballistic nylon is available and the unit is available with a lifetime warranty. Pricing is based on user configuration and selected options.

EZ Foldz
Folding step stools obviously have many uses beyond wedding or event videography, so generic steps may be all you need to gain a little extra height (for yourself, not the camera). If so, products such as the EZ Foldz step stool, available in 9" or 12" heights, may do the trick. It’s made of very lightweight plastic, but it’s reinforced to support an average sized person. Available through local hardware stores, in-flight gadget magazines, or late-night infomercials, such devices are priced anywhere from $20 to $200.Somewhat surprisingly to me, the number of free patent and blueprints available online for building your own step stool/camera platform cannot be counted on all the digits I currently have available.Of course, step stools and camera support platforms like these are for fixed-location shooting—you can move them in between shots, of course, but not during.

Merlin Camera Support System
figure 1For steady motion-tracking while video shooting, more dedicated steadying devices and camera supports are the best solution. There are several such products currently on the market, and more are coming this year with enhanced functions and added features. One example is the newly configured Merlin Camera Support System from Steadicam. Its original configuration, with the standard gimbal, was rated to carry camcorders weighing no more than 6 lbs. (2.7 kg). Now, with the new, precision-machined Six-Bearing Metal Gimbal and a few additional weights, Merlin can balance a broader range of camcorders, including those weighing up to 7.5 lbs.

That opens up some terrific opportunities for shooting engaging video at the highest resolutions, with the steadiest motion.Of course, with the extra weight comes more effort. Shooting entire weddings or sporting events or theatrical performances can still be kind of strenuous—thanks to both the duration and the run-and-gun nature of many of these events—even with lighter cameras and newer support systems.

Hence, the new Merlin Arm and Vest. The vest is so light and thin (weighing in at about 2.5 lbs.), it can be worn under a tuxedo. It’s adjustable, of course, and can be worn by teenagers and linebackers alike, should they be on your video crew. More to the point, any adjustments you need to make on the vest can be made with special tools, including a right-hand/left-hand changeover.

The new Arm is a scaled-down version of its big brothers, the popular Flyer arms. Like the G-50 and G-70, it features knob-adjustable control to handle cameras up to 7 lbs. You and the Merlin Arm can get terrific vertical lift with the unit, as much as 28" (you can easily and smoothly make a move from above the head to below the waist).


Camera Corps HD MiniZoom

figure 1In certain special shooting situations, getting the camera and the operator into the best position is just not possible. Due to the lack of available space, or because of interfering objects between the camera and its subject, special devices are sometimes needed.Camera Corps’ new HD MiniZoom is a mini 720p/1080i HD camera with a remotely controlled zoom lens. It was developed to meet demanding shooting requirements encountered in sports events and reality TV shows.

For higher-end weddings and event video productions that may demand remote-controlled camera work, the HD MiniZoom is now available to videographers for sale or rent.The HD MiniZoom can be coupled with camera mounts such as the Polecam (cable lengths can be up to 30 meters or longer, via special order); it has a standard 37 mm screw fitting for attaching various wide-angle adapters.In a housing barely 3" long, the camera incorporates a 1/3", 2-megapixel CMOS sensor with 10x zoom lens (5.1 to 51 mm) in a weather-proofed aluminium housing, weighing less than 12 oz. The HD MiniZoom has a low power draw (3.8 W power at 6 to 12 V DC) and can be used in full auto mode with the lens at wide angle.

Operators have full control over manual control of iris, zoom, focus, and tally-light from a small local control panel or full remote joystick and CCU panels. The camera interface accepts data as well as power (9 to 36 V DC, 6 W) via XLR3 and XLR4 connectors and delivers three HD-SDI outputs.


Abel HD Scope

Finally, if you really can’t get there from here—or if the only camera position available does not allow you to get the shot you want, you might consider some "scope creep."I don’t know of many camera platforms that let you shoot around the corner, but the new HD Scope snorkel lens from Abel Cine Tech does bring some very creative lensing possibilities to HD shooters.It’s a high-end solution, designed for 2/3" HD cameras such as the Sony F23 and F900R, and the Panasonic VariCam and HPX3000.

The HD Scope brings a full 360-degree image rotation capability to video cameras for great shots in tabletop work, extra small or tight spaces, unusual angles, and other effects shots. HD Scope is able to navigate tight spaces thanks to a front head that pans 360 degrees while maintaining the horizon. Additionally, the image itself can be internally rotated independently 360° within the frame. For complete remote control over the lens, the focus, image rotation, pan, and iris functions all have .32 pitch gear rings for connecting lens motors. All of the HD Scope functions have large, easy-to-read scales.

Lee Rickwood (lrickwood at goodmedia.com) is a media consultant and freelance writer.