Gear & Now: Tripods and Camera Supports Get Specific
Posted Oct 1, 2008

Are you a generalist or a specialist? Generalists, by nature, are more broadly based and widely experienced, and they're able to take on a wider range of task assignments. Video generalists may do weddings one day, corporate shoots the next, even a broadcast spot every once and a while. Specialists, as the name implies, are more tightly focused on a specific type of work or practice. Wedding video specialists will not necessarily do the same kind of work as a commercial shooter, and vice versa.

For people, the concept is fairly well understood. But for tripods?

Sachtler Artemis
It appears that brand, model, or manufacturer-specific camera support products are the latest trend. Whether it’s purely a marketing ploy, to align oneself and one’s product to a trendy development in the marketplace, or whether the product specificity does bring tangible benefits, well, judge for yourself:

Sachtler, for example, is touting a "RED" version of its camera stabilizing system, artemis EFP Pro. RED, of course, is the new high-end, high-resolution digital cinematography device—a killer camera that is truly revolutionary in many respects.

So, a RED-specific camera support was most likely inevitable. Sachtler’s is actually compatible with the RED and all current digital HD-SDI cameras; it’s still the only one with a built-in 3 GHz video lead, enabling professional connectivity and transmission with HD-SDI cameras. That’s pretty specific right there, but because the artemis EFP Pro HD SDI can process basically all conventional video signals (SD, SD SDI, HD RGB, HD SDI), it is best described as a crossover system.

So, if you are considering crossing over from standard video to high-end HD productions, specific camera supports will be of interest to you. If you’re staying with any one of a number of MiniDV cameras, the artemis DV Pro MD and the new DV Pro FX (Figure 1) brings some of the same camera-support quality as their bigger brothers.

Artemis systems gain from the balanced interaction of camera weight and plate mounting, flexible arm chassis, and sprint and canister sets while enabling cameras, lights, batteries, and monitors to be conveniently mounted and supported. Prices are not cheap and will vary depending on the system specifics.

KATA Camcorder Guard
Another interesting new camera support device—really, a support accessory—is starting life as a manufacturer in a product-specific way. The new KATA DVG-57 Camcorder Guard is a protective cover for DV/HDV -type camcorders. It both protects from the elements and allows easy operation and access to controls—all while it’s still on the camera. The manufacturer describes its design as "match[ing] itself to the unique shape of the Canon XH A1 and XH G1." Users of other camera models can check out the DVG-52, which will fit a Sony Z1U.

The cover slips over the camera body and lines up various openings, flaps, transparent windows, and zippered openings to the camera’s controls. Dedicated cable connecting slots, for example, let you connect audio, external monitors, or power without exposing the camera to elements such as dust, dirt, wind, and rain, while also helping to prevent nicks, bumps, and scratches.

Quick-access pull flaps let you reach in and get to important monitoring and operating functions and controls. The covers are made of semirigid, closed-cell foam and fabric lamination, pressed and molded to match the exact camcorder design, so it will provide overall protection while maintaining all working functionality. A special flexible viewfinder sleeve is included with the DVG, and the front of the DVG is protected yet left open so that a matte box or lens hood can be added.

Priced around $150, the DVG seems to provide answers to a number of outdoor shooting dilemmas—however, just not on a great number of cameras for now.

KATA does, by the way, have a more generic Rain Cover that fits a wide variety of hand-held compact camcorders. Fabricated from waterproof materials, the cover features a crystal-clear TPU panel that allows control monitoring and viewing of the LCD screen at any angle. The cover slips quickly over your camcorder and is secured by two quick-pull drawstrings that fasten tightly around the lens and your support arm or tripod.

Manfrotto Fluid Heads
Of course, more broadly compatible camera supports and accessories are still more common in the marketplace, but as the cameras themselves become more feature- and function- specific, so will the supports. For now, Manfrotto is announcing a new video fluid head, broadly compatible with camcorder payloads up to 8–10 pounds.

Developed specifically—there’s that word again—to support the lightweight prosumer and professional compact HD camcorders, the 701HDV fluid head offers an updated design, which has been created for improved ergonomics with locks and knobs that allow for a more solid grip and better control, better fluidity thanks to two improved internal fluid cartridges, a double pan-bar rosette, and a bigger sliding plate to optimize the position of the camera considering its center of gravity. Its panoramic rotation is a full 360 degrees, and front tilt is minus 60, plus 90, for a fairly creative shooting range. The 701HDV video fluid head is part of the renewed line of HDV camera supports from Manfrotto including 501HDV and 503HDV Pro Video Heads.

Manfrotto is also introducing the MPRO family of carbon fiber tripods for ENG-type work. These single-tube carbon fiber tripods, with magnesium die castings, have good stability and load capacity for the design.

The tripods’ new angle selector has been developed for adjusting the leg angle in a quick, easy, and precise way. The legs have spiked feet, of course, also very handy outdoors, on uneven terrain, or on stairstep locations.

Two models have recently debuted in the new family lineup: the 536, the 525, and the 535. The three-stage 536 has a folded height of about 28", a maximum extended height of about 80", and a load capacity of up to 50 pounds. The 526 weighs about 7 pounds itself. A screw-in 75/100 mm adaptor to hold different industry standard half-ball heads is included. The 5-pound 535 features two stages in a folded height of 26", a maximum extended height of 68", and has a maximum weight load of approximately 40 pounds.

Baughan LevelcamQ
Finally, in the "generally specific" category comes news of enhancement and upgrades to a video camera stabilizing system designed for a wide range of applications and cameras, but it's been developed specifically by a working videographer with direct wedding and event familiarity. Baughan Productions has unveiled the new LevelcamQ and its big brother, the Levelpod, now with quick-release systems so common and familiar to the pro videographer community (Figure 2). Incorporating a quick-release system with the camera balancing Levelcam support system meant that a stronger and lighter platform had to be found. Instead of molded plastic, Levelcam now uses something called "plyboo," a new triple-layered bamboo laminate that has the strength of solid hardwood.

Yet the LevelcamQ weighs only about 13 ounces. Its new rigidity means it can support heavier video cameras than its predecessors, including the Sony Z7U, EX1, EX3, and Z1U; the Panasonic HVX-200A, HPX-170, and HMC-150; and the Canon XH G1 and XH A1.

LevelcamQ stabilizes handheld shots using the operator’s grip for leverage; it attaches to a tripod and connects directly to Levelpod as a total support system. Levelpod uses the Bogen/Manfrotto RC2 quick-release system, and there’s also an optional RC2 adapter plate that screws onto your existing tripod for use with Levelpod or between Levelcam and the camcorder.

The new LevelcamQ is available for $80. It is included in the LevelpodQ package at $400 complete with a 24"–80" Monopod; LevelcamQ swivel head; padded shoulder strap; counterweight pack with 1, 2 and 3 pound weights; mounting hardware; bungee cords; and instructions. Product developer Tim Dixon says his gear uses quality parts from Bogen/Manfrotto. The kit’s counterweight bag and shoulder straps, soft counterweights, grips, and levels are from well-known U.S.-based manufacturers or distributors.

The original Levelcam is $49.95, and the original Levelpod package price has dropped to $369.95; there is an upgrade path for previous owners. Quick-release adapters are available for existing tripods for $29.95.

Finally, no matter what camera support you use, whether you’re a generalist or specialist, a word of warning: Be careful on all your shoots. In specific, watch where you stick you uniquely supported camera!

It’s true that a cool new camera support that can help you get that unique shot no one has ever seen can come true, but unique angles can also get you the shock of a lifetime. Check out the high-tension wire act one unnamed Polecam operator had to deal with (Figure 3), and promise me you won’t try this at home!