The Honda Element - My Grip, Lighting, & Camera Mover
I have driven a wide array of vehicles over the years. Sedans, coupes, trucks, SUVs, Minivans, etc… Every car has its faults… except for the Element
If there is anything I have learned working in this business it is that cargo space is as valuable as water in a desert. On the other side of that coin, when working in the urban environment the luxury of cargo space in a truck, even the smallest U-Haul, is offset by size and maneuverability. Unwieldy trucks have difficult time making tight turns, especially “U” shaped ones. And parking, you may find a spot, but it will almost always be far too small.
When I picked this car, after my Monte Carlo, I thought that the rear seats that fold up to the side were “cool” and the rear suicide doors were “unique” but I did not grasp how useful this car would be in the near future.
The above photos are from my college days in Savannah, GA. The first two were from a senior film I volunteered on, the bottom two are from dolly class. I had forgot I even took the time to take these. And for those of you wondering, that is a Super Panther and some accessory cases packed in there (with room to spare even)!
On multiple occasions I was accosted at the equipment checkout cage by someone inquiring if they could use my car to transport their gear for a shoot. I gained a reputation of being the go-to camera gear transport and as a result worked on so many more projects. My car helped me get involved and I probably learned so much more because of it. So I guess I owe a lot of my education to my car… funny.
This car has yet to let me down even with over 165,000 miles on the odometer it runs like the dickens. It’s a compact car so I’ve never had trouble parallel parking, and it’s got a turn radius that rivals my lawn mower.
Kind of reminds me of this contraption, sans the elevating camera platform. But with the Panther dolly and it’s vertical column all I would need to do is remove the glass moon-roof and voila!
Updated ULF Project!
Rear standard is mounted to the camera base. I have decided to go the route of a folding camera design. Front standard is still in the works, as is the method to attach the massive Bell & Howell Lens.
With that lens it is a two tripod setup. Looking into smaller optics in the future.
The temporary bellows I had on in the previous post are not going to cut it in terms of portability. Looking into quotes from Turner Bellows to see what it will cost for a 7’ extension.
Stay tuned for more!
16x20 Camera Test
Finally got some time today to setup the camera-in-progress. Still figuring out the method to attach the rear standard to my big tripod, hopefully the table is just temporary.
The lens covers the entire ground glass. Only issue is the bellows, not operating how I expected, they’re a little unwieldy in terms of sagging, not perfect but light-tight as far as I can tell.
I’m really excited to start using this beauty, but there’s still a long way to go!
The 16x20 camera prototype update!
The rear standard is mostly finished, I just need to find a solution to attach it to a tripod with a fine tuning focusing mechanism.
I have a rudimentary bag bellows attached to preview the image on the ground glass.
Next job is the film holder!
It is said, in the world of filmmaking, that the equipment you use in making your vision become a reality is no where near as important as possessing the skill and talent to do so. I do agree with this train of thought, that you cannot hand the worlds best filmmaking equipment and endless resources to a group of accountants and expect the end result to be the next great Hollywood classic. But the other side of the coin is that good equipment makes your job that much easier, if you know how to use it.
Today I’ll give a rough outline of my equipment and how it works for me.
Let’s start with the camera: The Panasonic AG-AF100
This little camera is a great piece of gear. Even though it’s bordering on being two years old, it holds it’s own as a great tool for shooters. I can shoot 1080 24p, 30p, and 60p with the latest upgrade, although the footage looks better finalized at 720p that works for me and clients. One aspect about this camera that blows DSLR filmmaking out of the water is the no record time limit. When doing an interview or where long record times are necessary this is where it’s at; you’re only limited by the size of the SD card you put in it. But make sure to get class 10 cards as anything less with struggle with the bitrate the camera puts out. Other favorite features include the two XLR inputs for audio, can’t get better than that for on camera audio recording, and the built-in ND filter wheel which beats throwing NDs in a mattebox any day. In the menu settings I get variable framerate up to 60fps in 60Hz country. I also get the professional menu system like that in Panasonic’s high end camera line which includes: gamma, detail, pedestal, and other tweakable settings. Not to mention the large sensor (granted not as large as super35). When this came out it was intended as a cinema camera to compete with DSLRs. I only wished it came with a super35 sensor to make full use of the image circle of cinema lenses. But I bought a PL adapter for this camera if in the future I decide to use cine glass with this guy.
My most ambitious purchase after the camera was the Oconnor O-Focus DM with the cine wheel. Pulling focus is a very crucial and aesthetic aspect of filmmaking. It is also one of my favorite things to practice as a 1st AC. I wanted a follow focus that I could have for ten or twenty years and not get tired of. I thought of a used Arri FF4 or a Chrosziel studio system but after seeing the O-Focus and it’s modularity I had to get it. I didn’t want to waste money on a Redrock or something that I would look at after five years and say: “Why did I buy this one?” From setup to operation this is the nicest follow focus I have ever used. No play in the gearing, turns very smooth, and it comes with a variety of gears that are a simple screw on and off. The cine handwheel is also great in itself. It is offset so that when you set the rig on the ground the rig’s weight is not pushing on the wheel. It can also be rotated so that the focus puller can see the lens better. I could have gone for the CFF-1 but it was $1400 more and I would have to buy an extra component for it to work on 15mm lightweight rods. All in all this is a keeper for the next two decades.
My wooden handgrip. I love this piece, mostly because I made it myself. You can see a step by step on an earlier post. The handle is made of walnut, hand carved for about twenty hours, then an application of paste wax for protection. The mounting attachment is a RAM ball joint and a berkey system rod clamp. I made this instead of buying one because purchasing the Aaton grip from Abelcine or the Vocas handle were cost prohibitive for me. This project cost me well under $100 and it has paid for itself as my best grip for a shoulder rig.
I also cannot go without mentioning my Vinten Vision 10LF head and sticks. This guy will allow up to 30lbs of rig (overkill for my current setup). I can also get buttery smooth pans and tilts, although I think it needs servicing as it is a little tight even when everything is unlocked and loose. But for now it works like a charm.
My most rencent purchase was a used smallHD DP6 monitor. I bought the HDMI only version since it will just be an on camera monitor and I can upgrade it to SDI in the future. This is a solid monitor. A milled aluminum housing surrounds the electronics inside. It also has an acrylic screen protector and a sunhood for outdoor use. I can also send a component or composite signal to it via the RCA inputs. This is a true HD monitor with a panel resolution of 1280x800. It takes LP-E6 batteries from my 5D and it has a USB port to allow for firmware updates, a way of future proofing this monitor. And I haven’t even gotten to the software of this thing yet! It can do 1:1 pixel mapping, false color, custom scaling (great for anamorphic shooting), framing guides, etc, the list goes on. My only gripe is that it is difficult to match the monitor to what I get when I look at my footage on a calibrated monitor. I’m still fiddling with it.
That’s a rough outline of my gear. Basically the main components that make up my kit, lenses aside. As I add to my kit I’ll update this growing list.
I don’t have any fancy do hickeys, expect the follow focus but that was a decision of the heart, all you camera guys know what I’m talking about. I don’t have a RED camera, although I would like one. This is just what I have built up over the past two years. Weighing pros and cons of various aspects of shooting to determine what I need the most. These are just tools to help me do what I do, capture moving images.
A long awaited update is far overdue. Work has picked up over the past few months and I have neglected this blog among other things. Photo shoots, video shoots, AC’ing for TV shows, setting up for corporate events. Freelancing is great, something new for every job, but it can be stressful when there is no work to be had. And I am thankful that is not the case.
I wanted to share this project I have been working on for sometime now. I bought this lens earlier this year, a Bell and Howell 36” (914mm) f8. I did some research and it seems it was used in aerial reconnaissance in the 50’s and 60’s, some sources even say it was used in the U2 spy plane, more specifically in the Fairchild K-38 camera. I have seen a fair amount of these lenses since purchasing this one. You can find them on eBay occasionally. This is the only one I have seen made by Bell and Howell, all the others are make by Kodak.
What I want to do is allow this lens to once again capture images. You may ask why? Well, back in college I took a large format photography class and I fell in love. I bought a 4x5 monorail camera soon after but I wanted to try something more challenging. I wanted to build my own camera. I scoured the internet seeking out people who had make their own cameras. That was how I discovered ultra large format (ULF) photography. The transition point from large format to ULF is when you go beyond the 8x10 size negative, 11x14 being the first ULF size. From there you can go to almost any size you can think of, as long as you had a lens to work with that format.
This lens on paper will take a 9x18 image, that’s how it was used in the K-38 camera. It would take two 9x18 images and stack them together to make one large 18x18 inch image. Testing the image circle I found that it throws an image almost 24 inches in diameter at infinity! From there I figured I should make the negative size as big as possible and the closest size is the 16x20 format. From there I have begun to plan out the camera’s rear standard. (more to come on that)
I have figured that this camera will need to use two tripods, one for the lens and one for the rest of the camera. I purchased a surveyor’s tripod at a yard sale for the lens. I planned a cage for the lens made of 2x4’s and plywood which you can see in the pictures. It’s pretty basic but it works to support the 30lbs monster.
I’ll keep updating as regularly as I can.
For the better part of a year I have been researching about building my own wooden handgrip for my camera setup. I would rather buy one as I am no a master woodworker, but with a price tag inching above $700 dollars as is the case of the Vocas product in the image at the top of this post I have taken the DIY route. So I bit the bullet, a rather cheap bullet, and started in about a month ago. I’ll give you a rundown of all the tools and materials.
First step was to find a wood blank for carving, big enough for the part of the grip that goes over your thumb groove but not too wide that you waste a lot of the material you are buying. I bought this walnut peppermill blank here. The 3x3x6 size worked just fine for me and should for everyone else.
Already possessing some basic tools such as clamps, a coping saw, and a drill. I took a trip to home depot to buy a set of metal rasps or files. For this I needed a variety of curved, flat, and round rasps. I cut out the bulk of the unneeded material with the coping saw. Then as patient as I could set about carving and shaping for what seemed like days, probably about 10 hours total until I had the general shape down. If you have a heavy workbench vise it will make carving a whole lot easier. But patience is necessary.
Taking 80 grit sand paper I sanded it for about 30 minutes smoothing the surface all over then progressed to 150 then 220 and finally 400. Each time you move up in grit it takes more exponentially more time for the same surface. But it will be silky smooth if you stick with it! Once this was completed. I tung oiled the grip. I have applied two coats and it looks and feels great. Be sure to give it at least 12 hours to cure for each coat. I plan on polishing a clear-coat on top for further protection and it will see quite a bit of handling.
Now the problem that held me back most was how to attach the grip to the camera. The Vocas version as well at the Aaton grip have an adjustable rosette or locking serrated plates as they are known in the industrial universe. A CNC part would push the cost way up unless I had my own machine shop. Not to mention how to attach the rosette to the camera. So I scrapped that route and took a fresh approach. I happened upon an image of a GPS mount for a car and I had one of my “Eureka!” moments. What if I use a heavy duty ball-joint? As a side note after completing this project I discovered that the company Cinevate uses the same ball joints for their grips.
My next purchases were from amazon. I bought the ball to attach to the grip, a ball with a 1/4-20 thread on the other end, and a short aluminum socket arm. I went with the 1” ball to keep size down. This configuration gave me a 1/4-20 thread end to attach wherever I desired. I wanted to clamp it onto my rod system so I went to my good ol’ pals at Berkey System and picked up a 1/4-20 threaded rail block. I drilled two holes to mount the ball to the grip with wood screws and a tiny bit of glue in just to be safe. Then just connected it all together and… Voila!
The finished product works great, I just used it on a shoot in conjunction with a shoulder rig. The RAM socket ball system was rated to support on 5lbs but it worked fine even at just over 10lbs, just make sure the knobs are all tightened snugly. I’m glad I went the ball mount direction, it gives almost infinite adjustability options as well as vertical and horizontal adjustment from the point of mounting, not even a rosette mount can give you that!
All in all I spent just shy of $100 on tools and materials. This was one of my most fulfilling DIY projects I hope it can be the same for you!
It’s been a while since my initial posting and I apologize for this lack of diligence. I have been busy with getting situated with my life as a whole. But anyway, something from NAB that I felt was worth sharing.
Blackmagic Design’s first cinema camera.
13 Stops of Dynamic Range
2.5K Resolution Sensor
Compatible with EF and Nikon Mount Glass
12 Bit CinemaDNG and Compressed File Formats
Records to Affordable SSD Media
I believe this camera has the capacity to bring all the modern conveniences of professional filmmaking to anyone and everyone. Very similar to the 5Dmkii revolution a few years ago but with more bells and whistles. Only time will tell if this camera hits the nail on the head or is too good to be true.
What follows this inaugural post is a collection of goings on and thoughts from a hopeful cinematographer. You know, the one who sets up the camera and lights for a film or video shoot to put it simply. This is a journey of sorts, for you and I, bumps and road-blocks are a guarantee and the destination is unknown. I’ll be sharing my experiences, ideas, advice, and other tidbits. So stay posted…