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Old April 16th, 2009, 06:30 PM   #1
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Shooting gliders!

Recently I enjoyed a couple of weeks hanging out at a small town, Omarama, up in the high country of the South Island of New Zealand. This is the ‘gliding capital of the world’ they say, and rightly so; conditions for soaring here are superb.

I obtained some very nice footage shot from the ground using the EX1 (and a large number of very nice stills).

I quickly learned that shooting at full zoom, panning and tilting using the Cartoni Action Pro tripod to follow the gliders (moving target) was best with image stabilization set to ‘on’.

Nevertheless, I had two problems:

The first was the tendency to under and over shoot the target resulting in a jerky, versus a smooth, motion. I’m sure a young person, a Formula One driver, would do better, but that’s not an option. I think I need a better tripod. Maybe some sort of gyro tripod stabilisation might help here.

The second was the problem of following a glider through an almost 360 degree pan as it comes in across the runway, runs down wind and turns on final into wind. My problem: stumbling, shuffling, dancing around the tripod legs, and combined with the first problem you can just imagine how that looks in the footage.

I must say that where I manage to keep the glider smoothly centered in the LCD, fully zoomed, without having to shuffle around the tripod legs the results are extremely pleasing.

Any suggestions how to solve these problems, other than employing an F1 driver and or a motorized gigantic studio ride-on tripod costing millions?

(My apologies to management if this is posted in the wrong place, and I welcome being moved accordingly.)


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Old April 16th, 2009, 08:17 PM   #2
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Well hello, John..........

Glad to see you on the boards.

Not sure how long it will take me to find it, but somewhere on here is my post mortem of last years "Warbirds over Wanaka" stint.

Ah, here:

A feature of it was just the sort of thing you're complaining of.

From memory, my detailed "must do before next time" list went like this:

1. Get a big bus, top to shoot from. Must have lateral jacks to prevent swaying (you have one already!).

2. Mount substantial pedestal mount to centre of roof with a good walkway around. Make the pedestal extendable. Heck, if you want to push the boat out, make it hydraulic! (I'm sure you can organise that).

3. Bolt "high hat" 100 mm bowl unit to top of pedestal (easy!).

4. Use the best head you can afford (Vinten Vision 3 AS with a 100 - 75 mm step down ring perhaps?), perfectly counterbalanced, with the drag set real high and a suitable Lanc remote control.

5. Should be like shooting ducks in a barrel.

With the above set up John I'm confident you'd "get the picture".

With the camera, head and pedestal support "as one", the head will simply glide even at full drag and give you amazingly smooth pans, yes, at full zoom.

Something similar to a lumberjacks climbing belt to tie you to the pedestal would allow you to "shuffle" around it with no fear of tripping nor awkward gate to show on the pans.

The Lanc allows the camera to be "hands free" allowing you to concentrate on the job at hand.

A bit of practice and I think you'd be good to go.

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Old April 16th, 2009, 09:43 PM   #3
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Thanks Chris

Yup, got the big bus, with a built in workstation, bed, toilet, shower, kitchen, hot and cold running everything...ha ha

But I'm informed there is a 4 wheel drive vehicle track up a nearby small mountain, a perfect location for shooting gliders as the mountain is a favourite location for soaring and close enough to the airfield, but no way I'd get my bus up there.

I was thinking pedestal. Thanks for the high hat suggestion. I note they are available in 75, 100 and 150 mm.

Is there a reason why you suggest a 100 mm with a step down to the 75 mm head?

Would a 75 mm High Hat with the head you recommended or would I be markedly better off to go with the 100 mm High Hat and a 100 mm head?

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Old April 16th, 2009, 10:44 PM   #4
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The 100 mm high hat is probably overkill, when it comes to camera support I guess I just work on the "the bigger the better" principle.

A 75 mm HH would be fine.

I think a 100 mm head would also be over kill - you're shooting an EX1 from memory, a Vinten Vision 3 AS or maybe the 5 AS max, both 75 mm ball base heads (depends on the EX1's weight and COG).

The matching tripod, on the other hand, would definately be better as a 100 mm, more beef in the receiver and thus less warp and play.

Not sure how you'd get a pedestal and jacks on/ under a 4WD tho', big one maybe - LWB type.

With a 4WD I'd favour really going to town and cut a hole in the roof big enough to get you and a camera through (standing on the 4WD's floor) and fitting one of those circular "machine gun" type rings which would allow you to simply spin it and you round with the head mechanism mounted on and sliding around the ring.

Getting a bit "out there" on the cost front that type of set up, and not sure there's anyone in NZ as can do it - couple of mobs in the UK and Africa but not much help here.

Been scanning the "Big Cat Live" web site to see if I can find a shot of the 4WD they rigged in the same way, so much stuff I can't find it, but it's in here somewhere:

BBC - Big Cat - Video



On brief reflection, the pedestal for the 4WD still sounds like the way to go.

I remember seeing a big LWB Toyota Cruiser in Queenstown, fitted with what looked like a house deck on it's roof and thinking at the time "what an amazing shooting platform".

Put the pedestal right through the roof and bolt it to the floor pan, bracing it using the roof and side supports, add the deck and you're good to go.

The jacks shouldn't be too much of an issue apart from the ground clearance. Can't use the simple, straight "Book Bus" type jacks, think you'd need something cantilevered, but not exactly rocket science for the right people.

Gonna lose the back seat but hey, can't have everything.

PPS: The first passenger vehicle I ever saw with hydraulic jacks?

A 1948 MG "Y" type, 4 door sedan, one of the first cars off the MG production line after the war (please, don't ask which one!).

LHS bulkhead under the bonnet, dinky hand operated pump with jack selector and fluid resevoir. Select from: Front, Rear, All. Close the valve. Insert chrome plated handle onto spigot on pump housing and pump it back and forth.

Lo, you had lift off.

Amazing for 1948.

Last edited by Chris Soucy; April 16th, 2009 at 11:24 PM. Reason: ++
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Old April 16th, 2009, 11:19 PM   #5
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Clarification: the 4 wheel drive vehicle is simply to transport me and the gear to the top of the mountain.

So the 75 to 75 mm is 'sufficient'.

And the High Hat is bolted to a pedestal.

The pedestal is 'home made' wouldn't you know and is made of tubular aluminum, say 25 cm diameter, plate on top and on the bottom another plate that bolts securely onto a larger base plate upon which quantities of rock, plenty up the top of the mountain, are placed to make the whole thing, you guessed it, 'rock solid'.

I did think of making the pedestal water tight (beer tight), fill the thing up with beer which would provide the weight, and slowly drink the beer while waiting for the next glider and as the beer goes down my movements become smoother thereby obviating the need for precision as I operate the thing. I would need a refrigeration unit built in to keep the beer chilled (gets very hot up there during the summertime) and warm beer would never suffice. This device would be called John McCully's 'Miller (Hi) Lite'. Cool huh!

Anyway, that's plan b to be given serious consideration in due course.

One more question: anyone know about the product from VariZoom 'Zero Gravity'?

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Old April 17th, 2009, 12:07 AM   #6
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That Varizoom Zero looks interesting, tho' for your application it might have a problem in store.

The "applying drag" problem they're talking about is because so many heads don't have adequate counterbalance control to allow it to be set accurately, thus leading to a diving or bucking of the camera.

The "applying drag" I'm talking about has nothing to do with that on the Vision 3 AS, as it has the "perfect balance" system which means the counterbalance is perfect.

The reason for applying shed loads of drag when using long zoom lenses is that the human body is exceedingly bad at applying fine amounts of force consistantly against little resistance.

The net effect is jerky motion due to the way the muscles actually work.

When large amounts of drag are applied to a head carrying a long lens, the effect is to even out these inconsistancies and result in a far smoother pan/ tilt than can ever be acheived at low or zero drag.

In effect, the drag is acting like a strong shock absorber.

(Think about pushing a coin across a table top with your finger, then pulling a (small) trailer by hand across a car park. I can tell you, the latter will be infinately smoother, if a lot harder).

I didn't see, nor can I find out, what drag levels can be applied to the Zero, but as it relies on the camera being mounted at it's COG (smart move) they may have left such controls out as being unnecessary - bummer with long lenses.

As to your pedestal, on further reflection, it might be worth dropping into Briford Trailers in Christchurch and getting them to modify a suitably sized unit to allow it to have a pedestal bolted to the floor pan, a smooth floor fitted (most of theirs are corrugated) and some outrigger jacks fitted to prevent rocking.

Ain't seen a 4WD yet that doesn't have a tow bar fitted.


Last edited by Chris Soucy; April 17th, 2009 at 12:12 AM. Reason: +
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Old April 17th, 2009, 02:38 AM   #7
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I've always found that conventional heads just don't work too well for aviation. I've been using a post head for quite a few years now, and although I've got some conventional heads, I use this one all the time. Quite old now really. I've included a small image, for those who have never seen one. The clever bit is that it allows the camera to be tilted from it's centre of gravity. No springs or clever counterbalances required. It can, if you set the pan handle properly, let you tilt up to vertical, and beyond - so following an aircraft that goes up, up, up is quite possible. It's also really good for other sharp up angle stuff, like edge of stage, in the pit. Most conventional heads, when tilted up at steep angles feel very different to straight and level. Post heads don't. As it doesn't use springs or anything other than decent bearings, it can be set to as heavy or light friction as you like - I find that a light setting works well for me. From time to time they come up on eBay - but still fetch serious money. they're also quite heavy items, so you need a decent set of legs to stick them on - but if you ever see one for sale, I'd seriously suggest they are worth a look. The one I have is a Vinten Cygnet, although there was also a Swan version too, but they are rarer second-hand.
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Old April 17th, 2009, 11:10 AM   #8
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As for the glider moving around within the frame (or other aircraft you may shoot doing the same thing as you try your best to keep that stationary in the frame), I recommend you download the trial version Mercalli from proDAD - Solutions for your creativity - Video/Titling/Effects/Composite/Filter/Transition - prodat. This image stabilization program has a number of presets, including one to do exactly what you are trying to achieve. The download is fully functional, it just puts a watermark X on the final image.

I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the results that will produce for you.

Chris Swanberg
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Old April 17th, 2009, 04:48 PM   #9
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Hi John,

Having shot some video of my friend who flies a Power Chute and a small plane, I found that the Mods I made for other Videography work very well.

In addition to the other fine recomendations given here, I use a seperate Monitor (4" to 15" & currently I use a 8" Sony DVD Player), a LANC or IR Remote to Cam by Fivberoptic Cable, an extendable control handle (2' to 4'), and lastly a "vertically articulating Cam to TriPod head mount", these all make this kind of Video much easier for me.

You can see some Pics in the "Tall tripod or crane" thread, and in my other posts.

The longer handle allows for more stable Cam control, the head mount mod allows the Cam to be in any position necessary to keep the control handle where you need it, the IR or LANC remote allows you to control the Zoom much easier, and the small monitor is much easier to see the action with - at least with my vision. For 360 % work, I mount the Monitor either just above, or just behind the Cam - so it goes around with it - but not up and down with the Cam.

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