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09/05/2014

The Industry Re-Tools: New Cameras And Cine-Style Shooting (Pt.2)

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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.

(Continued from Part 1)

Production crews are getting smaller and production schedules are compressing: are the key grips and grips of the unionised past still the guys who set up the camera platforms, the dolly tracks, cranes, etc., or are times changing in the way people service sets?
"Not at the high end OConnor currently works at," Turner said. "Certainly the budget is a major constraint, but the types of shot needed to create the director or cinematographer's vision would not be changed due to budget.
"Technology change is what will bring this pricing down," he added. "For example, a small indie movie where a smooth straight tracking shot may be done with a slider rather than a dolly. We were fearful and prepared for the digital cinema cameras driving the payload of everything down, but actually with the complete dominance of the Alexa – heavier than a film camera body – and with big lenses, two onboard monitors, power, RF system and EVF being as heavy as the mag of film, we have actually seen the payload go slightly up." This may well change soon, but right now everything traditional seems to be OK.
"This means that we cannot fully replace the long dolly shot with a slider, or the Steadicam shot with a Movi10, etc. Acceptance of smaller form factor cameras and technologies removing glass from lenses may mean we can change down on physical support equipment," said Turner.
"Electronic intelligence, animation improvement, CGI and automation are bigger threats to current working patterns. The main impact digital has had on us is that in general it has made 'cine-style' shooting more globally accessible, and has vastly increased our market as our products are particularly good for shooting cine style," he added. "Digital has been a relatively slow disruption actually and in the early days quite unnerving. 'Phantom Menace' was shot digitally, and here we are 12 years later with 'True Detective', 'Wolf Of Wall Street', 'Boardwalk Empire', '12 Years a Slave' and others still being shot on film."
When Turner talks digital cameras with core users it is basically the Alexa they currently favour.
"All the camera supports we make care about is what sits above them in terms of technology - the mass of the setup and the height of this mass at a basic level for controlling the inertia with smooth drag. Then at the next level the positioning of controls for ergonomic comfortable use," said Turner.
"Therefore a reduction or increase in camera setup may affect us, or a changing mode of operation. If people stop using eyepieces and use remote rear mounted monitors, then perhaps the placing of the controls would need to move to a more optimal position. This kind of thing," he added. "What is good for OConnor out of NAB is that more cine-style, 4K, global shutter, PL mount cameras were launched, proving that the camera manufacturers also see a trend to cine style shooting in more non-live environments."

Sufficient Drag To Stop Overshoots
Charles Montesin, global marketing and sales manager with Miller Camera Support Equipment, settled one question; do fluid heads contain any fluid, or by magic are they just friction free?
"Definitely every fluid head Miller makes contains fluid. We have refined this fluid over the years to make it the right viscosity, and this viscosity is maintained over a wide range of temperature from -40 to +60 degrees centigrade. This fluid is very expensive - over $1000 per litre," he said.
What advances in terms of technical head design and new/improved functionality have been required by the rush of digital and HDSLR cameras? The Miller Cineline 70 must reflect many of the positive changes.
"The fundamentals here are smoothness of pan, tilt and diagonals, hence the new Miller slogan: 'The Right Feel'.
"HDSLR cameras and the declining size of all cameras has created the need for a larger range of counter balance and camera plate sliding range, due to varying loads; say a Canon C300 just fitted with prime lens to the same camera fully rigged with a 30-300mm lens, Matt box and rails," said Montesin.
"Suddenly the weight and centre of gravity has totally changed and balance has shifted. To correct for the new set up, the camera has to be rebalanced, the correct counter balance selected and sufficient drag applied to stop overshoots."
Miller is seeing smaller budgets resulting in lower cost shoots. "Speed and ease are the key factors these days. And bearing in mind that most shoots are going to be one man operations, Miller pays a lot of attention to ergonomics; for example, the Cineline 70 has a quick side-loading platform which enables the camera to be taken off, remounted after re-rigging and rebalanced very easily.
"The pan, tilt drag controls are all at the back of the head in one location and all the locking levers are made long so they can easily be flicked on or off when required," said Montesin.
Rental houses are key customers for Miller, but TV stations are by far its largest user group. How does R&D manifest itself given that we now have cameras like the AJA CION and the many and varied Sony 4K offerings: cameras get smaller but they will use a lot of glass?
"We totally acknowledge that camera weight is becoming negligible and lenses make the bulk of the weight. The frequent changes in lenses cause balance and COG shifts which we have to cater for. Our heads can support these changes now however," said Montesin. "Our R&D is always looking for ways to enable quicker re settings."

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