Review: Vinten Vision blue3 Camera Support System

Written by Chris Soucy on May 30th, 2013

and Vinten’s “blueBridge” Small Camera Adapter

The Vision blue3 is the third Camera Support System in the blue series, sitting somewhere between the original Vb, and the Vb5 I reviewed last year. The “blueBridge” Small Camera Adapter (SCA) is Vinten’s take, and an extremely well thought out one, on a Centre of Gravity (COG) lifter, a subject I talked about briefly last year in the Vb5 review.

The only thing that has changed between the Vb and the Vb3 is a different spring rate. The sticks, case, spreader and head are in all respects identical down to the last detail, but for that spring change. So, if you want all the details, refer to my original Vb review. For this review of the Vision blue3, I’ll skip the usual format and concentrate on the Vb3’s place in the blue hierarchy, the measurable differences between their individual spring rates and, additionally, the effect of using the blueBridge SCA with them both.

Vinten “blueBridge” Small Camera Adapter (SCA)

When I got my first view of the SCA in fellow Dvinfo’er Derren Rootring’s excellent review for it and the Vb3, I instantly thought, hmm, big fellow, isn’t it? Well, I was wrong. Seen in the flesh, it’s actually extremely compact and very light, at 7.1oz (200 grams). Its height from top plate to the bottom of the runners is fractionally over 2 inches, actually 54 mm, but overall it gives a true lift height above the head plate of nearly 2 inches (48 mm).

Compared to a standard Vinten QR plate (which it mimics) at 8 mm thick and 3ozs (95 grams), the designers have done an amazing job of keeping the weight down to a minimum. The thinking behind this minimalist weight is that anyone using the SCA will probably leave it attached to the camera full time, there not being any need to remove one from the other, if it’s required for that particular head / camera combination.

It goes without saying that with the base having exactly the same profile as a Vinten QR plate, you can’t use it on any other make of head. After a great deal of thought on that subject I finally came to the conclusion that it would only be of benefit on a Libec RS series head, which also has continuously variable CB, and they’re not exactly taking over the planet.

The designers solved a very tricky problem in an exceedingly elegant fashion with its swept forward/back design. The top plate with the ¼” X 20 screw and VHS pin slider slot sits directly above a large semi-circular cut out in the trailing bottom plate edge, giving easy access to the connecting screw(s) even at both extremes of the slot, though the use of a stubby screwdriver does make life a bit difficult. I did find myself wondering on a couple of occasions whether we’d ever be seeing the official Vinten SCA screwdriver, designed for wide slot screws, but concluded it was probably unlikely.

For the purpose of my tests I removed the screw, slide and VHS pin altogether from both the QR plate and SCA and affixed the CB100 using 2 X ¼” X 20 screws instead, as the CB100 is quite a chunk of metal to have hanging on one measly screw. Whilst on the subject of screws, I can see an immediate improvement that could be made to the SCA, which would mitigate the complete lack of screw parks on any of the Vb range of heads. As I was to discover during my tests, a ¼” X 20 screw, unattached and left to its own devices, will simply sprout legs and wander off, never to be seen again.

A couple of screw parks drilled and tapped into the sides of the SCA would be greatly appreciated, and would help prevent such screw from absconding. I’m currently down one complete slide, screw and VHS pin plate and three ¼” screws! I have put this to Andrew Butler at Vinten as a modification request, he thought it a good idea and was going to put it to the engineers, no update at the time of publishing.

The unit is designed for use either way around, swept forward or back and even has both ends of the pin slide slot drilled for screw thread clearance, to enable easy reversing of the pin & screw orientation, something the standard QR plates don’t have, even though they are reversible.

When first playing with this unit, it is possible to get into a bit of strife, especially if you haven’t made a mental note of the cameras vertical Centre of Gravity (COG) position. Fitting the camera full forward with this COG way out over the SCA “overhang” and positioning it to a head, full forward in swept forward mode, gives you one heck of a front heavy rig, which without any drag or Counter Balance (CB) engaged could initiate a nose dive of impressive proportions.

If the camera and SCA combination can be placed base down on a flat surface without taking a dive one way or the other, then you’re pretty well good to go. If it wants to tip, you can still use that configuration, however the stress this places on the slot rails either side of the base makes it much harder to adjust fore and aft on the head.

Vb, Vb3 & Vb5 Load Comparisons

The idea of these tests was to try to establish some numerical values for how each of these heads handle a range of different weight and COG loads, and to establish what effect the Small Camera Adapter has with those same loads. I’ll admit right now that this is not as comprehensive as I would have liked, owing to severe limitations with my testing apparatus and an inability to accurately determine the horizontal COG point on my two test cameras, a Canon XL1s (and oldie, but a goodie) and a Canon XH A1 (not exactly in it’s first flush of youth either… a bit like me).

Pressed into service was the CBTechniques CB100 Counter Balance Correction System mentioned in my Vb5 review, which, whilst allowing numerous novel lift and weight options with the cameras, made determining the COG of a combined camera and CB100 components set up nigh on impossible, thus rendering the data almost useless.

I subsequently abandoned the mixed systems and gave the cameras the flick completely, using just the CB100, whereupon I fell into another hole, because I do not have a full system to hand, being short of the 1″ (25 mm), 2″ (50 mm) and 4″ (100 mm) risers and at least 4 extra weight plates.

I started off conducting tests using completely symmetrical builds, as it made pinpointing the COG extremely easy, however, having quickly run out of options with that method, I ditched it. Having eventually found a method for calculating the overall COG of non-symmetrical system builds, I switched to that, as it gave me more options and it was a lot easier to follow the build progression in the resultant tables.

The testing technique itself may seem somewhat primitive, but proved surprisingly accurate, if somewhat tedious. On the body of each head, I placed a white dot adjacent to one lobe end on each heads CB knob, at exactly the point it first started to “bite” down on the spring of the head, so that point was the heads absolute minimum CB setting.

I then carefully set up all three heads on Vinten tripods, leveled them, then, using an inclinometer, set the head plate on each, perfectly level for and aft, then locked the tilt lock. I then used the same inclinometer to set the pan arm angle of all three heads to be absolutely identical.

Now that I was in a position to compare apples with bigger apples and then with giant apples, I began. Each load combination was loaded as evenly as possible, first on the Vb then on the other two heads and, in the event the load didn’t CB at 0, the CB knob was wound and the turns counted (each turn = 360 degrees, by the way, unless specified as a fraction) until the load would just CB. Surprisingly, it was possible to measure the turns to an accuracy of 1/8.

Much shuffling of loads ensued to be absolutely certain the load was accurately balanced and would hold perfectly both forward and backward. Not surprisingly, there were many instances where a load wouldn’t map from one head to another, especially from the Vb3 to the Vb5, the latter shrugging off every single one of my test rigs, of which more in my conclusions.

Having run through the six asymmetrical rig builds possible (eliminating the lightest build as not working with any of the heads) I then tested the remaining 5 builds on both the Vb and Vb3, with both a standard QR plate and the SCA (did I mention this was exceedingly tedious?), I then went back to double check both the rig weights and my COG height measurements to a much closer accuracy.

It was during this process that I discovered I was in a bit of a mess with the figures, owing to the fact that COG is measured from the top of the head plate, which was fine as far as it went, however I had not taken into account that of the QR plates 8mm thickness and 95 gram weight, only 1.4mm of the QR plate was actually above the head plate. The same held for the SCA, with only 48 of its 54mm clear of the head.

I thus had to recalculate every single figure I had taken, to deduct the weight actually below the top of the head plate for both the QR and SCA and map that through all 5 builds and the two tripods. Cue serious brain fade as I tied myself up in knots time after time. I persevered however, and the published figures are as accurate as I can make them.

Vb and Vb3 Mass/COG/CB Turns Comparison Chart

– System – – Load Weight – – Load COG – – Turns CB –
  Kg lbs mm inches Vb Vb3
Quick Release (see Note 1) 1.895 4.177 63.90 2.515 0 -
  2.370 5.224 70.30 2.767 0 -
  2.845 6.272 75.87 2.987 ½ 0
  3.320 7.319 80.82 3.181 1 ¾ ½
  3.720 8.200 85.10 3.350 2 ¾ 1 ½
bB SCA (see Note 1) 2.000 4.400 102.51 4.035 0 -
  2.470 5.445 107.12 4.217 1 -
  2.950 6.500 116.35 4.580 2 5/8 1 ¼
  3.425 7.550 121.41 4.797 4 2 ¾
  3.825 8.430 125.72 4.949 Overload 4
Note 1 These differ due to the difference in weight between the Standard QR plate and the SCA. The actual loads are identical

In case anyone’s interested, the equation used goes like this. Setting the datum to be the top of the head plate, I calculated the various moments of the individual items in the asymmetric stack by taking each individual items COG above the head plate (half it’s individual thickness/ height as they are individually symmetrical) and multiplying by the items weight, then adding all the different moments together and dividing that total by the entire built units weight, thus:

QR plate: COG 0.7mm high X adjusted weight (.016625 kg) = .0116

plus

Riser: COG 40mm high X .829 kg = 33.183

plus

Weight plate: COG 82 mm high X .471kg = 38.62

equals 71.826 ÷ total unit weight (1.31625 kg) = 54.56 mm COG

After all that, this particular one was wasted, as a one plate build wouldn’t get any of the 3 heads to do anything whatsoever. Just to clarify the modus operandi here, the test rigs consisted of a Vb (x), either:

a standard Vinten Quick Release plate

or

the Vinten bB SCA, and one of five usable CB100 builds.

In order, a 3” CB100 riser & 2 weight plates on top, then 3 plates, all the way up to 6 plates.

Conclusions

Careful reading of the obtained data reveals some rather surprising information:

  1. The Vb3 isn’t actually all that much more powerful than the Vb, averaging only a 1 ¼ turns reduction in CB using both the QR plate and the bB SCA.
  2. The blueBridge SCA gives a CB lift of pretty near 2 ¼ turns if you exclude any result that has “CB @ 0” in it – CB @ 0 covers such a wide range of weight/ COG combinations it’s not a great place to make comparisons and inherent head drag hides what’s really going on.
  3. If you need even more grunt from the SCA than it can provide, one way to get there is by using an appropriate adapter like the Manfrotto 577, which will add to the up top mass and provide even more COG gain.

    By my measurements, with and without a 577, a further 1 ¼ turns can be cranked out, giving an all up gain for the SCA + 577 of 3 ½ CB turns, quite a feat.

    It should be noted that that last figure will be dependent on the actual mass involved, lighter cams won’t fare so well in this regard. This test was using a 4 plate build at just under 3 kg, exactly 6 ½ pounds.

    Using a lighter load, I managed to get a two plate build (the first set in the table, 2 kg, 4.4 lbs) to CB @ 0 on the Vb3, not possible with the SCA alone. The same rig took the Vb from a CB @ 0 to a CB @ ¾.

  4. The gap between the Vb3 and the Vb5 is massive by comparison to that between the Vb and Vb3. The 6 plate build using the SCA blew the Vb away and had the Vb3 at it’s maximum, yet I still couldn’t get the Vb5 to even acknowledge its existence. From memory, during my Vb5 review, it took a full 6 plate CB100 build AND my Canon XH A1 on top to get the head to play ball.

Whether this implies that there should be a Vb4 coming soon, or that the Vb3 should really have been called the Vb2 and there should be a new Vb3 AND a Vb4 is hard to say, but that gap bears no resemblance to that between the Vb and Vb3.

If I can scrounge some more risers and weight plates for the CB100 I can pretty accurately map the exact Vb3 to Vb5 space and answer my own questions, stay tuned for any updates.

As for the blueBridge Small Camera Adapter, if you’ve got any Vinten Vx (continuous cb) or Vb/ Vbx head, it’s got to be worth having, if only for a rainy day option. With certain camera/ head configurations it’s going to be almost mandatory.

I’ve seen no mention yet of price; so let’s hope that Vinten continues in the Vb “value for money” mode and keeps it fairly cheap. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen an “on sale from” either, though it’s up on the Vinten web site, but hadn’t made it to B&H at the time of writing.

In the spirit of “value for money,” I’ve included the weight/ COG graphs (courtesy of Andrew Butler at Vinten) for the Vb, Vb3 & Vb5. My thanks to my other half for separating them out for me and actually mapping my test results onto them, as I didn’t have the appropriate software and probably wouldn’t know how to use it even if I had.

As usual, my thanks to: Vinten in general, and Andrew Butler and Peter Harman in particular, for their help in setting up this review; the crew at DVi for getting this published; Yvonne, my partner, for proofing and layout.

About the Author

Born in London, Ontario, Canada but transplanted to Tasmania, Australia at a tender age, where I spent most of my formative years. Decamped at 19 to “see the world”, and proceeded to hitch hike from Madras (India) to London (UK). Somehow surviving (despite many “life enriching experiences”), I spent most of the 70’s and 80’s in the UK computer industry, using my spare time to polish up my still photography skills. Quit the rat race for the first time in 1990 and spent 18 months travelling through China, Pakistan and India hauling round a monstrous bag of camera gear, somehow ending up back in Australia more or less by accident. Realized I’d taken a wrong turn 5 years later and headed back to Blighty for another decade. Finally fled the “big smoke” 2 years ago and headed to NZ with my Kiwi partner.

Got into Video about seven years ago with an XL1s but always knew HD would be the way to go, trading up to a Canon XH A1 (and a Nikon D80) December ’06. Have been throwing shed loads of money at it ever since. Still coming to terms with this whole “moving image” thing. Despite my constant declarations of retirement my shooting time is continually intruded upon by that 4 letter w**k word.

A confessed perfectionist, I built a conservatory onto our London home with a micrometer being the main measuring instrument (true!). Despite my long computer association, have done more different jobs than I’ve had hot dinners, none of them as much fun as playing with cameras.

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