Camera Supports, Tech and Accessories
- By David Kirk
Contributing Editor David Kirk checks out some of the latest camera support equipment and accessories for getting the camera in the right place at the right time...
The ever growing popularity of large-screen consumer television displays makes high-stability camera mounts essential except in conditions where wobblycam sources are unavoidable or form part of the message. The following survey looks at the latest developments in camera support equipment from some of the leading brands, including cranes, gimbals, heads, pedestals, remote camera control, tripods and virtual production.
Cartoni announces new additions to its range of camera support equipment. Highlights are the encoded E-Master and E-Maxima fluid heads versions. “As of September 2022, all Cartoni heads over 30 kilogram capacity will have an ‘E’ version, featuring high precision position absolute encoders with 4 million counts,” says Sales Manager Luciano Belluzzo. “We are also introducing a ‘V’ box for gathering the positional data required to match with visual effects, LED wall backgrounds, virtual advertising and so on. The unique position of the encoders on the very pan and tilt axis ensures millimetre-accurate reading with no backlash.” Also new is the P40 mid-range pedestal which fills a gap between the lightweight P20 and the heavy-duty P70 pedestals, offers 45kg capacity with adjustable operating height made possible by telescopic lateral supports. “The P40 combines perfect balance and on-shot movement for OB,” Luciano Belluzzo adds. “It is ideal for most light studio configurations and for PTZ cameras, including teleprompter. The dolly has high precision double wheels, lockable in six different positions, with positive brakes.” Cartoni’s Focus/Red Lock support is designed for news, documentary, corporate and events shooting. It integrates with the SDS single-lever two-stage tripod for fast set up. Available in carbon fiber or light aeronautical alloy, it features the company’s Smart Spreader which allows low-angle shooting a double telescopic extension. SDS supports all the Focus heads and is easy to clean after a shot in the mud or sand. Inspired by the rapid increase in pan/tilt/zoom cameras usage in studios, the Cartoni’s PTZ Solutions series comprises the PTZ tripod, lightweight PTZ stand and a half bowl support for levelling the P20 PTZ Pedestal in newsrooms or small studios. The P20 PTZ pedestal allows users to mount a teleprompter. Cartoni is also offering accessories such as a T-bar which can carry two or more PTZ cameras.
Easyrig’s new Stabil Light was developed to support gimbals between 2 and 7 kilograms. It is designed to help stabilise hand held shots and allows the gimbal and camera to be operated for long periods of time. Stabil Light is based on the original Stabil and has the ability to lock the arm so it functions as a standard Minimax. It is also lighter in weight, allowing the user to stay agile.
Egripment has introduced an ARC Compensation hardware and software tool for its Xtreme T10 telescoping crane. This new feature gives the operator a tool to automate the arm movement. It provides three ways to define an automatic telescope movement, related to pan and tilt positions. “ARC Compensation adds functionality for automated moves including vertical straight lines, horizontal plane and pan compensation,” says CEO Philippe Tresfon.” This software module provides the precision needed to make perfect vertical straight lines or horizontal plane moves, or to define a square, all by the activation of just one button.” Also recently introduced is the Egripment Slider, a tripod-mountable 1.2 metre track intended for cameras weighing up to 20 kilograms in upright or suspended configurations. The crossbars of the track can be attached to a 100 mm or 150 mm mounting bowl. The Slider fits into a Pelicase 1770 and weighs less than 26 kg.
Freefly Systems’ Astro multicopter camera platform is claimed to offer more stable flight, longer flight times and greater positioning precision than current Freefly models. The drone’s four motors are designed to support a 1.5 kilogram payload for up to 25 minutes flying time. Battery level can be viewed on the monitor of the remote control. Freefly guarantees at least 500 charging cycles per battery.
Innovativ specialises in producing collapsible cart workstations. These include lightweight compact travel carts and studio-based workstations capable of holding a wide variety of grip equipment, monitors, cinema and broadcast cameras. An example is the Voyager EVO X which packs into slim profile for transport in the back of a compact car, small SUV or simply to save space.
Kessler Crane produces a wide range of camera support equipment including cranes and jibs, motion control systems, sliders and dollies, tripods and heads. Its recently introduced CineShooter Macro is designed for use in ultra-close macro shots and heavy-lifting applications where fast moves and quiet environments are not needed. Based on the standard CineShooter, except for increased gear ratio and encoder resolution, it integrates with the Kessler motion control system.
Libec’s Swift Jib-50 is equipped with a telescopic arm extendable to 90 cm allowing high-angle shots when used in conjunction with remote head. The arm can be slid back 30 cm towards the rear of the boom. A complete kit is available comprising the arm, tripod legs, dolly and transit cases.
Miller’s ArtX Fluid Head series allows a user to choose a sliding platform, pan handle and tripod attachment. The ArtX 3, ArtX 5 and ArtX 7 heads have a load capacity of 8, 10 and 14 kilograms respectively. All come with 15+0 positions of counterbalance. The ArtX 3 and ArtX 5 have 0+3 positions of pan and tilt drag, while ArtX 7 has 0+5. The ArtX is a flat base head which can be attached directly to a slider or similar device. When attaching to a tripod there is a choice of 75 mm, 100 mm and/or 150 mm claw ball. When a more rigid fixture is required, a Mitchell base adaptor can be used. The ArtX 7 has been equipped with a 30% heavier drag to accommodate heavier loads such as longer lenses. “ArtX delivers the ability to build a great set of tools which provides all the flexibility and versatility that may be desirable on different occasions,” Miller MD Mark Clementson summarises.
Mo-Sys’ has announced two impending new versions of its StarTracker optical camera tracking system. StarTracker Max will be one third the size of the original and is designed to deliver twice the tracking accuracy of the current StarTracker. Features include auto alignment, genlock, 120-degree wide-angle tracking, a detachable processor, rapid star map discovery, a new interface (IOS and Android) and a D-Tap power inlet. StarTracker Mini is designed specifically for studio spaces with ceiling heights up to 3.5 metres and floor space up to 100 square metres. It incorporates a wide-angle IR camera which is immune to studio lighting and suitable for office-style virtual production spaces using green screens, LED walls or projectors.
Movicom LLC’s recently launched Robycam Compact is a smaller version of the Robycam 3D cable-suspended camera. Like the latter, Robycam Compact can move freely through any 3D trajectory within the working area. It uses a mathematical model a base for real-time control of four automated winches, plus gyro-stabilisation and motion control. Camera orientation and the lens parameters can be remotely controlled. Available in both 2D and 3D modes, Robycam Compact is designed for use in TV studios as well as small and medium-sized sports venues, theatres and auditoriums. Robycam also supports complex productions requirements such as virtual studios and XR stages. All of Movicom’s s camera support systems use the open-source FreeD protocol. “Integrating camera support hardware with positional tracking software for camera motion is our hallmark,” adds Movicom COO Greg Salman. “Our technicians take on the heavy lifting of ensuring that the tracking data works seamlessly with AR software, providing the ability to cut easily from one tracked camera to another for extended production value from the graphics. Cut from the cable camera to the rail camera to the remote head camera and all of the graphics will be positioned exactly where they are supposed to be.” MovieTech is a Munich-based specialist in camera cranes, dollies and remote heads. Its new 4×4 Dolly is a lightweight doorway dolly which can be switched from two-wheel to four-wheel steering by lifting and lowering the push bar. Handlebar and push bar can both be mounted on either end of the dolly. Other features include a stainless steel gear mechanism and attachment points for accessories such as turnstiles, seat arms, side shells and tripod adapters. New quick-release pins allow fast set-up. The 4×4 dolly also allows tools-free switching between various sizes of pneumatic and track wheels.
Ncam Technologies specialises in real-time augmented reality technology for the media and entertainment industries. Recent additions to its product range are the Mk2 camera bar, Mk2 server and Ncam Reality 2020 software. The new camera bar is based on Intel RealSense hardware and is small enough to use with a jib or drone, offering fully wireless tracking on a standard RF camera link. Other improvements introduced with the Mk2 include faster and more accurate setup and calibration, plus the ability to track non-natural features with no requirement to memorise marker patterns. “Many options on the market today use mechanical encoders to track pan and tilt only,” says Ncam CEO Nic Hatch. “But this type of tech cannot track a camera that is moving around; it only works for stationary cameras. By contrast, Ncam Reality lets users track any camera, lens, or rig, regardless of whether they are inside or outside. The solution is made up of a small, lightweight sensor (the camera bar), a server device that runs the Ncam Reality software, and the software itself. The server device can be placed directly on the camera along with the sensor or, for a more lightweight setup, teams can use our connection box to connect to a generic server that is located elsewhere.”
oARo’s focus is on virtual production systems based on its EZtrack camera tracking hub. This comprises a small form-factor unit with a web-app interface and is designed to perform live camera, object and talent tracking in real-time. Augmenting the system are the recently introduced EZprofile lens calibration toolset and Swan camera tracker. EZprofile software allows virtual studio operators to calibrate their camera lenses regardless of their type, from cine prime to large-size broadcast. The Swan camera tracker works with lighthouse base stations and is claimed to offer up to three times greater signal stability than other lighthouse-based trackers. “We have designed EZtrack as a tracking hub which can be adapted to any virtual production configuration and evolve with future tracking technologies”, says CTO Timothée de Goussencourt. “With its affordable entry-point and yet a proven tracking performance, EZtrack contributes to the democratisation of virtual production,” adds CEO Aurélien Schmitter.
ProSup was founded in 2000, initially producing the E-Jib, Laptop Dolly and Tango Roller. The Tango Roller is designed to achieve vibration-free operation on extendable track segments. Its sliding movement can now be electronically controlled by the Tango Electronic Drive (TED). A multi-functional DynaStick linked via cable to the TED main unit allows control of speed, acceleration, deceleration, end stops and position/move programming. An input for a foot pedal or an external joystick is also incorporated. The guide rail includes a fine-toothed gear rack which works with all existing Tango track lengths. TED can be retrofitted to existing ProSup units. The motor and drive unit are attached to a 100 mm bowl. A 24 volt 60 watt brushless motor can handle a 15 kg camera load. Power can be sourced from standard V mount batteries (10.8 to 30 volts). The Tango Roller can be controlled remotely using TED or disengaged to allow manual control.
Ronford Baker’s Heavy Duty Tripod is a four-tube telescopic design which has not changed much since it was first developed in the early 1970s. “One area of improvement we noticed was to strengthen the foot assembly and help prevent broken spikes and foot castings,” comments MD Jeff Lawrence.
“We have now increased the thread size of the smaller spike from ¼-inch Whitworth to 3/8-inch. All our Heavy Duty tripods, Tall, Short and Mini, are now supplied with this foot casting and spike.”
Shape offers a range of camera equipment and accessories including support rigs and shoulder mount designs. Recent additions to its product range include a 75 mm bowl fluid head three-stage video tripod, lightweight single filter tray 4 x 5.6 matte box and universal 24 inch video monitor hood.
Spidercam specialises in overhead stabilised camera supports for sports television OBs. It provides a complete service including initial site survey, recommendation to place the system components, logistics and crew. This is based on three systems: Spidercam Field comprises four winches, one dolly, one control station plus software and safety features.
It can cover areas of 250 x 250 m and is intended for large venues such as stadiums, arenas or big studios. Usually equipped with a 1080p or 4k camera and a wide angle lens, Spidercam Field can provide wide bird’s-eye, wide-angle, closeup and follow-action shots. Spidercam Bow was created to operate as a point-to-point system but an operator can also control the height.
Spidercam Light is designed to perform in small venues like TV production studios, news studios, concert halls or small sports arenas. The reduced footprint of the components, compared with the standard Spidercam, makes placement easier. The dolly can also achieve a greater flying height than comparable systems, covering an area of about 80 x 80 m. Spidercam Light is equipped with a stabilised remote head and can carry a variety of camera and lens setups. Data and video are transmitted over glass fibre. Spidercam provides an initial site survey, system placement recommendations, logistics, setup and operating crew.
Stype describes its ‘Follower’ as an object and people tracking system giving TV show hosts a new level of freedom as they can physically interact with graphics, “moving them around, throw them or whatever comes to their mind”. It comprises four or more infrared cameras positioned around the studio, and up to 1,000 LED points that can be followed. The system tracks the position and orientation of these followed objects and allows graphics to be placed in their positions. Each beacon is uniquely identified. Follower can be combine with Stype’s RedSpy and Stype Kit systems and is compatible with many third-party rendering programs.
Waterbird’s Multi Slider XL is a bendable rail system for studio, OB or theatre applications. Design features include fast conversion from linear to curved tracks, low-noise operation, quick and easy setup, and compact transportation. Its servo-motor-driven carriage can be controlled by joystick, foot-pedal, DMX or IP. Compatible with the Multi Slider XL, the XL Motion Controller supports digital motion control and time-lapse. It allows to control up to two motors simultaneously plus the triggering of shutter and focus of a connected camera. Auxiliary analog input and output ports for illumination control and motor control are also included. The XL Motion Controller supports IP and DMX protocols as well as wireless connection to a an iOS or Android mobile phone.
Zhiyun’s recently introduced Crane-M2S is a light weight unit (549 gram) gimbal designed for use with smartphones, action-cams and mirrorless cameras. It has a built-in 0.66-inch display showing operating parameters of the camera and gimbal. Operating modes include pan follow, follow, lock, POV and vortex. The gimbal includes a 1,000 lumen fill light with five levels of adjustability and four colour filters. A USB-C port can supply power (5 volts at up to 1 amp) directly to a compatible attached camera.