A still image is the capture of a single moment in time, frozen and devoid of any movement except for what may be implied by its content. When the subject is compelling and when the photographer executes the capture just right, what’s rendered can be just as powerful as any narrative film, thus the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Motion pictures, on the other hand, tell their story through a variety of means. Key among them is the element that tends to confound and challenge still photographers the most: the element of motion.
While the move into motion may not be easy for some, it’s possible to make the transition with a little help from your friends, and if you have the right tools for the job. Vincent Laforet was a staff photographer for The New York Times, and he made the transition to motion pictures in a very public way, beginning with his short film, Reverie. Laforet says that having an additional camera operator can make a huge difference when shooting video, allowing you to direct both the camera and the action on screen. This may not be an option for most indie filmmakers, but for those who are going it alone, here are a few tools to help you execute smooth, precise camera movements.
ERGONOMIC VERSATILITY IN ONE PACKAGE: CAMTROL PRIME 22
A lot of companies throw around the term “ergonomic,” but the Camtrol Prime 22 is the first product I’ve seen that truly qualifies. Unpack the Prime 22, and the first things you’ll notice are that its center spine and main handle fit perfectly in your hand, and are both stable and comfortable. The unit is nicely self-contained, and although it’s totally collapsible, all of the components of the Prime 22 stay connected so there’s nothing to lose.
The unit has three major adjustable joints that have what I’d call speed knobs, similar to what you might find on some electric guitars. These knobs are husky, about the diameter of a nickel, and have a rubber tread around them like a Matchbox® bulldozer or tank. Less than a quarter turn loosens the joint enough to refashion the Prime 22 to suit your needs on the run. Also, the designers at Camtrol took extra care to match these knobs with 1?4″-20 knobs that are also thick, making it easy to quickly remove your camera without having to use a coin or screwdriver.
The Camtrol Prime 22 provides both balance and support, making stable movement easy if you have just a camera, or even a camera with a remote, LED light and LCD monitor. The unit has four collapsible legs at the base, allowing you to easily set it anywhere safely and securely. The possibilities are literally endless, and if you buy only one piece of gear this year, I highly recommend the Camtrol Prime 22. The unit weighs less than 1.8 pounds, and it supports up to seven pounds of camera, lenses and accessories. Estimated Street Price: $399.
Contact: Camtrol, (888) 722-6876, www.camtrol.com.
Moving On A Budget
Cam Caddie targets extreme shooters
|For you skateboarders and snowboarders who spent all of your dough on a brand-new DSLR camera, but still want to capture exciting moves on the slopes or street, Cam Caddie just might be for you. For just $40, the Cam Caddie Scorpion is a universal stabilizing video-camera handle that can mount your DSLR (or small camcorder) and give your shots more stability, as well as a new perspective. Cam Caddie also offers a starter kit ($99) that comes with an accessory shoe, an accessory wing and a flash/ cold-shoe ¼”-20 converter. You can trick out your rig by attaching lights, microphones, monitors and even an iPad teleprompter. For more info, check out www.camcaddie.com.|
COMPACT, AFFORDABLE & LIGHTWEIGHT: CINEVATE ATLAS FLT
Dollies have been the traditional method of choice for many DPs in achieving smooth camera movement. Because of the expense of the dolly, as well as the track and crew involved, dolly shots have been out of reach for most indie filmmakers. Cinevate has done a good job to fill this need, and its most recent slider, the Atlas FLT, is not only smaller, but lighter, too.
The Atlas FLT is 26 inches long and weighs less than 10 pounds, making it easier to transport and maneuver. It has seven tripod-mounting points and a specially designed Vertical System and Counter Balance. The unit was designed to provide horizontal, as well as vertical and angled camera movements. This slider empowers filmmakers of all skill levels and abilities to execute movements by using the specially designed vertical pulley and counterbalance systems. The Atlas FLT sports a nonreflective, black satin anodized finish on a robust, full CNC aluminum/steel construction with stainless-steel fasteners. Options include the Counter Balance System and all terrain legs. Estimated Street Price: $579.
Contact: Cinevate, (647) 723-2664, www.cinevate.com.
The Atlas FLT is 26 inches long and weighs less than 10 pounds, making it easier to transport and maneuver.
SILKY MOTION WITH ASC APPROVAL: GLIDECAM HD-2000
Glidecam, a standard of quality and value for camera support, recently released its latest product, which has received the seal of approval from cinematographer Gale Tattersall, ASC. Tattersall’s introduction to the Glidecam HD-2000 came from seeing the videos of professional skater Vinny Minton, who essentially operates an HD-2000 while inline skating. The results impressed the DP so much that he invited Minton and the Glidecam to assist in shooting an episode of FOX Network’s hit series House, and the rest is television history.
The HD-2000’s offset, foam-cushioned handle grip is attached to a free-floating, three-axis gimbal. According to Tom Howie, VP of Sales and Marketing for Glidecam, the unit was built to eliminate unwanted movement. “What’s great about this unit,” he says, “is it has an offset gimbal handle so any of that up-and-down movement is isolated from the camera, preventing the entire camera from moving up and down.”
The HD-2000 includes eight custom counterweight plates, a fine adjustment Camera Balance Platform and an integrated quick-release camera plate. List Price: $499.
Contact: Glidecam, (800) 600-2011, www.glidecam.com.
SMOOTH MOVEMENT ON WHEELS: ikan TABLETOP DOLLY
ikan, a name synonymous with ingenuity and value, once again has created a clever little device that provides a simple and inexpensive mode of transportation for your camera: the Tabletop Dolly. This unit is essentially a tricycle and is the perfect ride for any camera setup weighing 15 pounds or less. The Tabletop Dolly is the latest incarnation of the ikan Elements line of products, which means it’s completely modular and is designed with customization in mind. This allows you to tweak the unit to your heart’s content until it “suits you to a T.”
Each of the three wheels has seven preset slots in 30º increments and can be individually rotated a full 360º. The wheels also have a thick rubber “tire” for exceptional gripping and traction—crucial when making turns. The unit has multiple 1/4″-20 and 3/8″ threaded holes, allowing you to connect any standard photo/video accessories you see fit, and is compatible with any other components and kits in the ikan Elements line. Estimated Street Price: $349.
Contact: ikan Corp., (713) 272-8822, www.ikancorp.com.
MULTIPLE FUNCTIONS: CARBON XL 10 SYSTEM
Introduced at this year’s NAB show, the Carbon XL 10 System is a unique camera motion package that delivers professional camera motion in difficult shooting locations where a grip truck and large crew aren’t possible. The system’s most impressive aspect is its multifunctionality. You can assemble the Carbon XL 10 System into a camera crane, camera jib, heavy-duty tripod, dolly with track, car mount, zero-gravity head, remote camera control, powered rotating platform and powered time-lapse track—all in one system.
Engineered from carbon fiber, the 50-pound Carbon XL 10 System can be hand-carried to any location to provide the camera-motion capability of several hundred pounds of conventional camera support. By using two or three tripods for support, you can assemble a dolly track up to 22 feet long for extended tracking shots without having to lay or level track. The track dolly also can be converted into a door or hood car mount with four vacuum cups and a built-in ball mount.
The Carbon XL 10 System works great with HD DSLRs, as well as video cameras weighing up to 20 pounds and 35 pounds on the dolly rail. The whole system can be packed down to four cases—less than 36 inches long—and the shipping weight is less than 100 pounds, which includes the cases. Estimated Street Price: $12,950.
Contact: Carbon XL, (928) 282-0804, www.carbon-xl.com.
Kessler offers movement memory control for camera sliders By Clint Milby
Time-lapse, or the technique of capturing frames at a much slower rate than they’re played back, provides movement that would happen far too slow to register when viewed in real time. Time-lapse photography goes back as far as 1897 and usually uses nature as a subject, such as clouds, or more recently, cityscapes or freeways. In the latter half of the 20th century, directors like Godfrey Reggio (Powaqqatsi, Koyaanisqatsi) have taken time-lapse into the realm of features. Besides music and some celebrity voice-overs, Reggio’s films depend solely on the time-lapse aesthetic to create a full cinematic experience. Hollywood director Gus Van Sant also has used time-lapse in a number of his films, including Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho.
Although many times the camera is stationary during capture, in the feature-length documentary Baraka, director Ron Fricke created some of the most stunning time-lapse images by moving the camera during the shot. When viewed, it appears the camera is moving at a normal speed while the world around it is in time-lapse. To achieve the effect of a simple tracking shot, it’s necessary to use a motion-control device to move the camera. Recently, one company has introduced new products to help low-budget filmmakers achieve this effect.
The Kessler line of motion-control products is a system of individual products that, when used together, provides the user with a total motion-control system that aids in creating a time-lapse experience like no other. Starting with the Kessler CineSlider, this heavy-duty, portable mini-dolly is suitable for camera rigs weighing up to 80 pounds. Other products to consider are the smaller Pocket Dolly, which is a lightweight camera slider system designed for cameras under 15 pounds, and the Philip Bloom Pocket Dolly™, which is a hybrid slider that combines a lightweight, portable rail-and-carriage system with an adjustable arc handle and drag control.
Additionally, the Kessler elektraDRIVE motors for motion control come in different sizes with various speeds. The ORACLE Control System is a multifunction controller for all of the Kessler electronic products; it’s interchangeable between the sliders and other products, and has a movement memory function with three memory banks. The unit allows you to control the speed and function of the elektraDrive motors. The final piece in the system is the Kessler Revolution Pan and Tilt Head. This pan-and-tilt arm is fully programmable, offering dual motors for each axis, a ball bearing and belt drive, and CAT5 connectors to connect it with the Oracle Controller. Estimated Street Price: Kessler CineSlider ($1,199 to $1,699); Pocket Dolly ($499 to $649); Philip Bloom Signature Series Pocket Dolly—Standard and Traveler ($1,095); elektraDRIVE Motors ($199 to $249); ORACLE Control System ($999); REVOLUTION Pan and Tilt System ($1,899).
Contact: Kessler, (574) 936-3341, www.kesslercrane.com.