1. Avoid rolling rigor mortis by using heads
and tripods made for
motion media. Tripods and heads designed for still photography work
poorly for video. Although the heads can be aimed anywhere, they
cannot move smoothly enough for gentle tilts and pans. Also, the
tripods at the end of a pan tend to "unwind" causing your panned image
to back up a little ways.
2. If the camera is fairly heavy, or will be used by students, and
will be used in a studio setting, employ a cam-link or cradle head.
If a student lets go of a camera without tightening the tilt controls,
the camera can nosedive forward breaking the lens or even toppling the
tripod. Cam-link and cradle heads have a stable center of gravity
swinging the camera to a horizontal position when the controls are
loose. (In order to work, however, the camera, teleprompter, and
other camera gadgets must be positioned properly for good balance).
3. When working in the field use a fluid or fluid-like head. Tripod
heads like the O'Connor and Miller fluid heads contain a viscous oil
which dampens movement making camera moves smooth. When using
a true fluid head, be sure to work the head back and forth a few times to
"loosen up" the fluid. Fluid-like heads are less expensive and
simulate the fluid effect by employing a thick grease in the
mechanism. Fluid-like heads work almost as well as their brothers but
get stiff in cold weather (don't we all).
4. Use a ball, wedge or other quick-disconnect mount if your camera
needs to attach and detach from your tripod frequently. A wedge
mount, for instance, screws onto the base of your camera while its
mate screws onto the tripod head. To attach the camera to the head,
simply slide the plate into the slot until it clicks; you'll have a
solid connection. Push one button and the camera and its mount slide
free of the head, a much easier process than spinning little nuts and
tightener rings under the camera (a real pain in the wrist).
5. If you set up the tripod often, invest in telescoping legs with
levers, not collars. Usually these legs are square. Press the lever,
pull the leg, and out it comes. This is much easier than twisting
tightening collars (another pain in the wrist), and sometimes those
collars work themselves loose allowing your tripod to tumble.
6. When using telescoping tripod legs, telescope the fat legs first
and work your way out to the skinny legs. This will create a more
sturdy tripod on occasions when the legs aren't fully extended.
7. For sports and other pick-up-and-go situations, try a monopod, a
one-legged tripod. It steadies your picture, takes the camera's
weight off your arms (a real blessing about 1/2 hour into a sporting
event), packs down to the size of an umbrella, and transports quickly,
even in a crowd. You can even use a monopod as a boom to lift your
camera over the heads of others or to catch a bird's eye or
8. Dollies are useful on smooth floors only. Small castors seem to
amplify imperfections in the floor's surface, so buy a dolly with the
biggest diameter castors you can get. Most dollies come in the shape
of the letter "Y" with a wheel at each end, and can fold up for
storage and transportation. Most allow the wheels to lock, keeping
your dolly from careening down inclines, and a few allow the wheels to
be locked in one direction, allowing you to dolly the camera in, then
back up directly, without traversing a little loop as the castors
change position. Larger dollies even have cableguards to sweep away
mike and camera cables that would give your image that bumpity bump
9. You'll always need a tripod, but if you tape a lot of travelling
shots, have you thought of renting a $40,000 Steadicam, or its $12,500
little brother Steadicam Video VX, or buying its $595 baby sibling,
the Steadicam JR (all from Cinema Products)? A newcomer to the field
is the Bodycam (Continental Camera Systems), sort of a crane that
straps to your back and reaches over your shoulder to steady the
camera while you run or pivot. On the other hand, you could let the
camera shake but keep the lens steady with a Schwem Gyrozoom image
stabilizing lens, or by using a camcorder with EIS (Electric Image
Stabilization). These systems actually work, and are a lot easier to
carry through the jungle than a tripod.
10. Let creativity be your dolly. A small camcorder fits nicely into
a model railroad car for a smooth rail ride through the garden.
Shopping carts (not the ones with square wheels) will move camera and
operator through corridors and parking lots. So will wheelchairs.
Carpeting makes a nice sled over a polished floor.
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