Can’t get a grip on the latest and greatest camera support launched at NAB? We tracked moving camera systems at the show and found lots of new twists on old themes for both field and studio production.
Losmandy Spider Dolly
This first product is not new by any means, but it continues to be refined and is one of my favorite moving camera tools on the market today. The Spider Dolly by Losmandy is a simple idea that begs the question, "Why didn’t I think of that?" It consists of an expandable spreader dolly that latches to the feet of your tripod. One of the spreader arms has an additional wing that articulates freely from the other two. This lets the dolly roll smoothly on a track that doesn’t have evenly spaced or even straight rails. In fact, the system comes with an available flexible coil of hose-like vinyl-rubber material (although it’s solid) that can be arranged in nearly infinite patterns of straight and curved paths for the dolly to follow. This system would make it easy to set up a track in odd-shaped rooms. Its drawback, when compared to rigid track systems, is that it has to be on flat, but not necessarily level surfaces. The system could also be used as a tabletop track for product shots, if you mounted a high-hat post or short tripod to the hub of the Spider Dolly.
P+S Technik Skater Dolly
Speaking of tabletop dollies for product shots, the Skater Dolly by P+S Technik has got to be one of the most innovative dollies I’ve ever seen. The design is functionally simple but the mechanics are precise and elegant. The price is a little higher than would be expected for a piece of hardware with limited application, but for inventive camera tracking, it’s second to none. By simply turning the dials and adjusting the degrees in which the three independent wheels are angled to each other, one can dial in straight lines or infinite smooth curves that could encircle the product or item being shot.
Because the camera plate can mount directly to the central hub of the Skater Dolly, the center of gravity is low and there’s less leverage to cause noticeable jiggles in the camera while moving. The three modified inline skate wheels provide a smooth movement without slippage or too much stickiness.
Microdolly Hollywood LadderDolly & Indie-Dolly
More affordable track and dolly combinations, which are also easy to set up, were demoed at the Indie-Dolly Systems and Microdolly Hollywood booths. Simple, complete packages are available from both companies that include everything needed to get rolling, except the tripod, and additional track is available from both companies. The Indie-Dolly product is a fairly heavy-duty setup with solid manufacturing, intended for broadcast use, while the Microdolly is a quick system for smaller camera operators.
The Ladderdolly from Microdolly is a system that installs the standard Microdolly track to any straight aluminum ladder, which allows inexpensive but sturdy track mounting across uneven terrain, divides, through windows, over the hood of a car or even up and down stairs, with minimal blocking. Place it across two sawhorses and you have a quick tabletop system.
VF Gadgets Shooter Scooter
This ride-on doorway dolly or field dolly, which also acts as a gear cart – and also might double as a go-cart- was one of my favorite finds at NAB. A pneumatic tire ride provides smooth rolling motion. The camera operator can be standing or sitting and shoot with either a shoulder mount, pedestal, or stabilizer arm (like Steadicam), without the need for a vest. The grip can be pushed or pulled, there’s a rickshaw and bicycle-towing attachment, and quick-release wheels for a track system. The cart has mounts for all sorts of gear, posts, lighting or sound equipment. It even folds up so you can carry it easily and can fit in the trunk of your car. Very cool!
Panther U-Bangi II
One more rolling gizmo I thought was trick was the U-Bangi II by Panther. The Panther products were shown at the Abel CineTech booth. This is a precision-bearing rail system for doing studio product shots or other short tracking moves on a straight path, like virtual globe shots using a map or panning through large photographs. The internal wheel mechanism is flawlessly smooth and the system was surprisingly stable when mounted on just two standard ENG-style tripods. A high-hat mount with a tripod head lets the operator move freely. Though just the slightest energy is needed to start rolling, it didn’t feel like it would lightly free-roll- a very nice sign. Smooth resistance but easy movement is what you get for the money with the U-Bangi II (the feeling was like moving your finger through gelatin). But, I have to ask: What’s with the name?
Abel CineTech was demonstrating lots of other great gear at its booth, including lighting hardware. Another favorite of mine was the Ringlite. With a simple design that houses all of the lighting hardware and a really easy-to-use, dual-rail mount similar to a matte box mount, this even intensity, P.O.V. light couldn’t be simpler to use. Great for portrait, interview or macro product shots, the Ringlite would make even my crummy lighting skills get that much better. It has a 9-inch lens hole in the middle and is about 19 inches in total diameter. The unit uses LEDs to provide the light (LEDs last a long time, and consume less power than bulbs). It’s also fairly light, which means it could be used for shoulder-mount or stabilizer-mounted shooting.
IDX has steadily been making partnerships with camera and support gear manufacturers over the past few years, making it one of the most trusted names in power supplies and batteries. In fact, the IDX booth was a demonstration point for Tiffen’s Steadicam products. Steadicam is now marketing its own battery products for its line of camera stabilizers, but the manufacturing is being done by IDX. I was impressed by IDX’s new charger, the VL-4Si, which looks like it could power a space station, but is really just designed to charge four V-Mount batteries. The unit is part of a family of VL-type chargers. It also can charge NP-type cells with a simple adapter. Connect via a USB port to your computer and you can monitor battery maintenance and performance. The unit has an LCD display for easy data reading as well.
Tiffen Steadicam (and Lego Steadicam!)
Speaking of Steadicam, Tiffen continues to show up at NAB each year with the most innovative stabilizer technology in the industry. There was more good stuff this year, including new Iso Elastic arm developments, several other new products and upgrades to existing lines. Last year Tiffen introduced the Steadicam Flyer, the first affordable yet full-featured Steadicam on the market. This year the company offered a Special Edition unit with a more comfortable and durable leather-lined vest, all possible accessories included, and a hard case with wheels for transport. I’m in the midst of a field test now, so look for more details to follow.
Also of note, Tiffen turned more than a few heads with its new, limited-edition LEGO Steadicam. Yes, you read that correctly: Tiffen unveiled a stabilizer made from LEGO blocks. Operator Mikko Wilson, from Finland, created it. (Sorry, only one exists right now and it’s not for sale.) I took it for a spin and it was sweet, though the LEGO camera mounted on top didn’t produce any, um, images. And I had such high hopes for the lens, which was assembled out of tiny toy tires!