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Old July 1st, 2013, 09:39 PM   #1
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Location: Dallas, Texas
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Pan-tilt head help needed

Hi. My wife and I make short amateur (maybe very amateur) productions and are having problems with something very basic – panning and tilting at the same time. We have two lightweight camcorders, a Canon XA10 and a consumer HG10. We also both use Manfrotto fluid heads, a 701RC2 and a 700RC2.

We thought we'd head up to the airport to practice some challenging pans. We set up perpendicular to the runway about 100 yards away. We both ran into two unexpected problems.

First, we found that the fluid heads are pretty good at panning even light camcorders, but only if the panning motion speed doesn't change. If I fall a bit behind while panning, it seems impossible to accelerate again smoothly to save the shot. The pan speed correction to reposition the subject is really jerky.

An even harder problem surfaced when we tried long pans, such as following an aircraft down the runway on its takeoff roll. Vertical tilt corrections were very difficult for either of these fluid heads. The force required for panning is very different than that required for tilting. It seemed physically impossible to blend them smoothly.

One last problem that especially vexed my wife was the tilting horizon effect. When the aircraft were perpendicular to us, the horizon was nicely parallel to the bottom of the frame. Naturally if we pan far to the right or far to the left the horizon would tilt off horizontal accordingly. For very long pans, this effect becomes severe and looks pretty bad. Is there any possible way to minimize this?

Thanks much!
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Old July 1st, 2013, 10:20 PM   #2
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Re: Pan-tilt head help needed

Welcome to the wonderful world of Panning and Tilting at the same time.
First it takes lots of practice
Second it takes a properly set up head
Thirdly it takes solid nerves
Fourth it take lots and lots of practice
Fifth, the horizon going wonky isn't unusual. The ground where the tripod is set may be slanted and when you go to the extreme, the head isn't actually level. The out of level look is made worse when you're working at the long end of the lens.
Sixth, did I mention it takes lots of practice?

When I did NASCAR races there was panning and tilting and sometimes you had to throw in a bit of zooming. These are the remote controlled cameras on the walls. How did I learn how to do it so the director wouldn't yell at me? PRACTICE and a very good (read very expensive) Cartoni tripod along with very good lens controls.

Can it be done with lesser gear? Of course but it does take a bunch of practice. Got a dog? Set up your camera on the tripod, set up your lens controller, follow the dog. Works really well in the yard if someone is throwing the dogs favorite toy and the dog is chasing after it.
Keep working at it you'll get the hang of it.
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Old July 2nd, 2013, 07:49 PM   #3
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Re: Pan-tilt head help needed

Ok well this doesn't sound so bad. By that I meant that I thought we just didn't know what we were doing :-)

By lens controller, did you mean pan-tilt head?

I did add an optional very long pan arm to one of the heads and it does seem to help. Some help from a drill and thread tap.

Do you think we'll end up getting better with practice? kidding! Thanks for the help. It is really encouraging :-)
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Old July 2nd, 2013, 10:00 PM   #4
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Re: Pan-tilt head help needed

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nick Mirro View Post
Ok well this doesn't sound so bad. By that I meant that I thought we just didn't know what we were doing :-)

By lens controller, did you mean pan-tilt head?

I did add an optional very long pan arm to one of the heads and it does seem to help. Some help from a drill and thread tap.

Do you think we'll end up getting better with practice? kidding! Thanks for the help. It is really encouraging :-)
Nick, the lens controllers I speak of are either a LANC control or focus and zoom controls depending on the type camera and lens you use. For instance, most Sony cameras like the PD series and the Z series use a LANC control which depending on the model of controller will work the zoom, and focus if you want it to. Other lenses use separate controls for instance my JVC HM700. I need a separate zoom control and focus control as well as 2 pan arms on my tripod but I have total control of my camera and tripod.
Again all it takes is some work at it much like anything we do in life. Well most anything. I could practice until I was blue in the face and I still couldn't throw a 90 MPH fastball or hit a wide receiver 50 yards downfield ;-)
Keep working at it, you'll get it!
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Old July 3rd, 2013, 03:22 AM   #5
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Re: Pan-tilt head help needed

It is partly down to skill and practice.... but a lot of this is down to equipment. The shots you see on TV are a result of both those things, but it really takes high quality tripod equipment to get good camera moves. Those guys could be using tripods that cost $5000!

(Wait for the groans....) I use a Vinten Vision Blue, and it's the low end of what I need to get good camera moves. You shouldn't need to struggle against the head, fight the tripod, do workarounds or use rubber bands or anything to get a smooth shot. I don't even need to think about that tripod and head, it's just there and moves where you want it to and when you want to. The other "budget pro" tripod worth considering is the Sachtler Ace.

Add on (as Don says) a remote controller for the lens on the pan bar of the tripod head, and you can pan, tilt and zoom all at the same time with one hand.

In a fit of optimism, and a desire to travel light, I took my old Manfrotto 501HDV head with me in April for a day's filming. Yes, I could pan, yes, I could tilt (well, sort of). But both at once? Absolute disaster!

What I'm trying to say in my usual waffly way is, you can practice and get better, learn some workarounds and tricks, but there's only so much you can achieve with a budget head like the 701/700RC2. You'll probably never get TV-level of perfection, but only you can define "good enough"!

I've used a number of zoom controls ( Bebob, Libec, Studio 1 and Manfrotto). I've just taken delivery of this for use with my Panasonic AC130:
Manfrotto MVR901ECPL Lanc/Panasonic Clamp-On Zoom MVR901ECPL B&H


The Libec is a bit cheaper, actually at an excellent price from B&H at the moment:
Libec Zoom Control for DV Cameras ZC-3DV B&H Photo Video


The Libec was good too, but it's either incompatible with my camera or (more likely) taken a bash and not behaving itself all the time. The Studio 1 ProZoom is good, but it's a dial instead of a spring rocker, which I just can't live with. It's good for some shots, but I find it too clumsy for general work. The Manfrotto one I linked to seems sturdy, well-built, and works well.
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