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The Industry Re-Tools: New Cameras And Cine-Style Shooting (Pt.1)

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Get a grip: George Jarrett talks to three of the major players in the camera support market – Vinten, OConnor and Miller – and wonders if there are many technical and functional advances still to find, and what impact the new 4K cameras have made.

Most of us probably think that every shoot begins at the lens. This used to be a given because a key grip and his grips will have rigged the camera, facilitated any crane and dolly operations and put in the lighting controls. The grip head mounts for attaching the flags and cutters that keep light from parts of any set would also be waiting for the director, DOP and his operator.
When you look at the camera support market today, especially now in the digital age, and consider that production crews are much smaller, production times are shorter and budgets are often insulting, it makes sense to think that everything starts ground upwards. Think optimal balance and drag control.

Sophisticated Drags
In what is a very big market sector, the VITEC Group has a massive spread through its subsidiaries Vinten, Sachtler and OConnor. When initially formed, the group continued to run the brands as competitive businesses, particularly Vinten and Sachtler; OConnor was and remains very much cinematography specific.
"Over the years this evolved into a dual brand strategy where we offered broadcast studio, pro-video, mobile production, and ENG users in each payload bracket or application the choice of a Vinten or Sachtler product. In cine we offered the choice of Sachtler or OConnor," said Andrew Butler, strategic planning & product manager at Vinten.
"Essentially Sachtler is quicker to set up and more portable but offers less sophisticated functionality in use performance than Vinten, or OConnor for film applications," he added. "The attributes of each brand has led to their dominance in certain applications where those qualities are most important: Vinten dominates sports OB because those operators benefit most from the ergonomics of perfect balance and sophisticated drags to control large lenses and cameras used over extended periods."
What has been the effect of the gradual demise of film and the arrival of so many digital cameras, in terms of multiplying the size of the market?
"Interestingly, the latest high end digital cine cameras - when fully accessorised - require very similar supports to the 35mm film cameras they replace. However, the substitution of film for digital has driven a change out of quite a lot of equipment in the cine industry. Supports have been part of that change out, and we have seen an increase in business driven by the new camera types," said Butler.
"Digital cinema has also brought the price point for entry into the 'cine look' right down, making it accessible for other types of programming. Because of this price point shift and the convergence in workflows between digital cinematography and - for example - episodic production for TV, we are seeing OConnor products being deployed in applications that used to be the preserve of Vinten or Sachtler," he added. "There is a real demand for products which have that cine heritage and feature set, but in a much smaller and lighter product to work with: the smaller camera and lens combinations, such as the C300 and EF lenses, will produce that film look."
In his strategic role Butler will have seen so much automation and robotic domination in studios. What advances in terms of technical design and functional advantage are left to provide there? "Robotics is a very fast moving frontier of camera support," he said. "Originally the proposition was based almost entirely on cost savings in the production of very simple, formulaic programming such as news. The ROI for broadcasters making that investment was and remains excellent. Full show automation, where all the events in a program are essentially driven from a timeline, takes this to a logical next step, but requires robots that are more 'situational' aware."
Vinten showed a system at NAB that scans the room with an invisible IR laser and builds a map of the environment to help robots navigate.
"As technology moves forward the capability of the robots to perform more and more sophisticated moves - and particularly advancements in the user interfaces and programming capability of the devices - means we will see robots move out of the news studio to provide not just cost savings but new and previously impossible shots in applications like sports OB, with much less human supervision than even the best automation systems of today," said Butler.

Hands On Pan Bars For Two Hours
OConnor product manager Steve Turner had a high-rev take on Vitec group market shares.
"Essentially it is like a 4X4, a sports car, and a city run around.
"Each vehicle has four wheels, brakes, a steering wheel, but each is particularly good in certain applications," he said. "Sachtler is portable, fast and robust, and so good for newsgathering and documentary-style production. Vinten is so ergonomically good when you are at a sports match with hands on pan bars for two hours! OConnor, versatile and robust, is good in rental houses when working on a variety of different shoots with different cinematographers and the choices of cameras, lenses and filters."
"OConnor is used in movies, high end TV productions and drama, and commercials - anything where there is a story being created from print rather than real life being documented and re-broadcast," he added.
Apart from lighter/stronger structural materials and keen pricing, is it possible to keep advancing camera heads in terms of new technology and new functionality?
"Yes. You only have to spend ten minutes with someone working independently with a tripod on a film, and trying to get lots of shot coverage, to realise that all tripods - in general - are inadequate for the task," said Turner.

George's article is available to read in Broadcast Film & Video online.
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