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Old March 6th, 2006, 12:09 PM   #1
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Daft Tripod question using EF lens

I am trying to film buzzards with the XL2 / EF lens combo using a 300mm lens & 1.6x extender (equiv 3456mm). I have a vinten vision 5 set of legs and a manfrotto 519 head. How do you get unshaky footage when using such long lenses ? I took some trial footage of a buzzard hovering, which would have been great if not for the shakes! You just can't lock the tripod when following such an animal. Do I need a sturdier tripod or are there any "tripod techniques" to minimise shake and provide more stable picture ? This is my first go with wildlife filming, so be kind !!
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Old March 6th, 2006, 01:24 PM   #2
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First, I don't think you can get steady images with that bogen head.
You should probably look for a Vinten or other high quality fluid head
to go with those sticks. Use a tripod leg spreader if you haven't been.

Second, if your hands shake _at all_ you will never get steady images
when fully zoomed in. Part of being a great camera operator mean
you have to be able to acquire, zoom, focus, keep steady
AND keep the subject in the viewfinder *when it counts*.

It is NOT easy IMO and takes constant practice.
Jacques Mersereau
University of Michigan-Video Studio Manager
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Old March 6th, 2006, 02:21 PM   #3
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I took the spreader off and "dug" the legs in low and wide into the ground. I guess your right, like anything, practice makes perfect. In hindsight, once I found the shot I should have locked it off. It was quite windy and even with a locked off shot there was some movement, thus wondered if the tripod/head was up to the job. The 519 has counterbalance springs etc and was good for using the standard 20x / 3x lenses. It's hard to know whether it's the legs, head or both as you only have to lightly touch the pan bar and the camera shakes a bit (when locked off). Does anyone know of a good tripod combo to work with long focal lengths ?
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Old March 6th, 2006, 04:47 PM   #4
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have you tried using the IS? It might be worth a shot even if it's on a tripod. I believe most Canon lenses with IS have an IS setting for panning that turns off the IS on the horizontal axis.
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Old March 6th, 2006, 04:55 PM   #5
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The lens I am using doesn't have IS. I am looking to get one in the near future.
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Old March 6th, 2006, 05:33 PM   #6
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You definitely do not want to use IS while filming a flying bird. The IS will fight you and cause you to overshoot badly, constantly. Try it once and you'll see. As Jacques has said, it takes a lot of practice, and if you are trying to keep the bird close to full frame, it's extremely hard, if not impossible. It's a good idea to settle for 1/2 to 3/4 frame. Unless the bird is very far away, you do not need the extender to do that, and the extender only softens your image, and shortens your depth of field, which you want to be as deep as practical.
I use a Bogen 516 head, which is the little brother to yours. It works admirably. You do not need a multi-thousand dollar head. One thing though, if you are losing the bird, its probably fore and aft more than up and down. This happens when your pan setting is too loose. Tighten it a bit. It may feel too tight, but control is better. One final trick. I have a small gun sight mounted to my XL2. I can follow the bird much better with it than in the viewfinder, and with practice going back to the viewfinder occasionally to adjust focus, can keep flying birds in frame more often.
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Old March 6th, 2006, 05:36 PM   #7
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It is an unfortunate fact of life, the longer the lens you have the heavier the tripod you need.

With a slightly similiar setup to you (Canon 300mm EF and 2 times extender), filming birds I find it necessary to use a Satchler Studio 7+7 tripod and head, The downside because of the weight of this tripod, my filming is limited to where ever I can drive but on the positive I never get shaky footage.

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Old March 6th, 2006, 05:37 PM   #8
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Hi Declan;
Steady hands, better head and a RONSRAIL to help stabilize the camera-lens combo will help. Check out my website!!
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Old March 6th, 2006, 05:40 PM   #9
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i think tracking birds generally requires closer proximity and a shorter lens length, like the 20x. if i use a long lens, it's usually locked-down, or with simple pans or tilts (using the 516 head), but tracking a flight path without camera shake is quite difficult to do well.

unless someone else has more experience and tips to offer. it's a great question. i'd love to learn more about how others are tracking birds without camera shake and with a long lens.

Last edited by Meryem Ersoz; March 7th, 2006 at 08:48 AM.
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Old March 6th, 2006, 06:04 PM   #10
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There are 4 main reasons you will encounter a shakey video for wildlife (Canon XL's) Wind, human touch, stability and balance. Wind - Before I go on a shoot, I check the weather forecast. If wind is in the forecast, I will not use long lenses. Anything over a 100mm prime lens translates to the shakes (relative to wind force) without IS so you are limited to the stock 20x - good for 100yds depending upon subject size. Human Touch - As Jacques says experience makes a big difference for filming wildlife with long lenses. Keep practicing It helps to use an extendable handle. Stability - A good sturdy tripod is a must however not as important as a good video head. Get in the practice on windy days to lower your legs and use a stool. Balance - This is the key. If you're using a Canon 300mm, it weighs about 6lbs. It must be balanced on your head for smooth pan and tilts. Ronsrail is the only system available to balance a long lens for the XL series and I highly recommend it.

I personally have a Vinten 3 and Bogen 519 and I use the 519 90% of the time. Your next level up would be a Sachtler dv series which I have tried and are no better than the Bogen 519. After that price range you'll be spending over $3,000 and frankly for $800 the Ronsrail is the best option (which you will still need for long lenses and an expensive video head). As Andrew says sometimes it is better to use an IS however if you don't have it then it's moot. By the way (now I'm sounding like a promo video - which gives me the jitters -pun) but the Ronsight is a must have for birds in flight and wildlife acquisition where seconds count.

Your cheapest way is to practice with what you have then go from there.
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Old March 6th, 2006, 09:57 PM   #11
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I Only Rarely Use a Tripod for Birds

Since shooting flying birds (and aircraft) is my specialty, I have evolved a shoulder-mount stabilizer to make things work with long lenses. It uses a low counter-weight on an upcurved arm, a contured and padded shoulder plate, a stiff foam chest pad and two grabhandles, one adjustable. When using it, I have contact with 9 different places on my hands, arms, chest, face, shoulder and one leg. The main chassis is made from fiberglass and although stiff, is slightly flexible, which is important in putting variable tension on the right points. It has aluminum tubes and a wood front handle. I shift it away from my body a bit for fast-flying subjects and touch it at just 5 places. I've used as much as 40X magnification, although usually it's 20X or 26X.

The two key elements are having each part carefully designed and adjusted to fit each part of myself and to have extensive practice with it. I'm very pleased with how well I can shoot with it and it gives me the mobility and agility I need to quickly locate and stay on a flying subject. I've made half a dozen of these rigs for friends and video associates and spent more time adjusting and fussing with them for a proper fit, than in actually building them. No denturist has ever had to make more followup adjustments to a set of false choppers, than I've done on each of these.

I made the first version 17 years ago and I'm constantly changing some part of it. I doubt if other people could ever get the precise, comfortable and effective fit I have with it, if they didn't make such a rig for themselves and be able to fine-tune it. Or, as I said, have the builder willing to serve their every whim for adjustments.

Here's how tripods fit into my view of things for shooting flying or other fast-moving subjects: Generally, your use of a tripod for such things is going to greatly restict your range in which you can follow the target. But, I developed and occasionally use a tripod set-up that has some key features for action video. First of all, it has two long control arms. With one standard short arm, you can't move it steadily enough. You can buy two-arm kits for most tripods, but I made my own from extra-heavy, 1.25-inch PVC plumbing pipe. Each arm is 24 inches long, but I also have shorter ones for different situations. On the handle of one, I have the Velcro-mounted remote camera controler. I can operate this with a thumb and forefinger and still hold the arm steady. For my Beta pro camcorder, I made two mechanical remote controler handles, using motorcycle throttle assemblies. The heavy motorcycle cables can be pushed through their housings as well as pulled and need no return springs. One side is for focus and the other for zoom and a thumb lever for Record/Pause is in front of one. You can buy electronic remote controlers for professional manual-lens cameras, that plug into LANC or other types of control jacks. They have little motors and drive wheels to turn the focus rings. If you price them, you'll see why I made my own.

On my older cameras, I used either a 5-inch color monitor mounted on top for the smaller ones and a 9-inch B&W with 750 lines of res, mounted on a side plate for the big ones. I made deep sunshades for these. With the built-in, side-opening viewscreens on most camcorders nowadays, if they are glare-resistant, they do the job. However, the bigger and brighter the monitor is, within weight limits, the better you can follow those distant birds. A 7-inch, side-mounted monitor, would be my choice for an ideal size for this use. I put the camera-status readouts onscreen, at all times. I put a sideplate of 3/8-inch plywood on top of the tripod head and under the camcorder to hold the monitor. I put it on the right side, but it could go on the left, just as well. If there was a left-side viewscreen, putting it on the right, would allow you to use either one or both. I attach it through the top of the tripod with 4 bolts. This makes the instant-release tripod mount inoperable, which is fine with me. My definition of instant-release mounts is: Instant disaster. I drill 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch holes through the whole structure, in the right places, to use one of the two standard-size mounting bolts for the camera.

By standing way in back and reaching my arms forward, I have good leverage on the handles and can track subjects smoothly. This is the main reason for the long arms. I've shot volleyball matches with this rig and was able to follow the action more quickly and accurately than I could from off the shoulder. And, it was so much more comfortable than having the heavy contraption up there for two hours. For the rare times I videotape a speech or some types of live music, I use the tripod.

This type of set-up is similar to the ones you see with broadcast production teams doing pro sports, except it weighs only about 15%as much and cost a few pennies for every dollar they spent. I've used a large Bogen Cinema tripod and one of their medium-small models. The cost and performance of the tripod itself is a greatly-reduced factor, when you have those long, twin control arms, to smooth the panning and tilting. I could set this up on a cheapo, $30. tripod and make it work pretty well, after some modifications.

Incidentally, when I buy smaller tripods, I always tear them apart and rebuild them with studier pivoting axles and supporting parts. I also clean-out the sticky goop they use, that gives them a psuedo fluid-head effect. I replace it with some nice waterproof marine grease, that allows much lighter and smoother motion.

Last edited by J. Stephen McDonald; March 6th, 2006 at 10:59 PM.
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Old March 7th, 2006, 01:13 AM   #12
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I agree with Stephen - the use of a longer arm on the head is essential. I must admit that I have never tried two arms, but I can see that this could help.

Technique and anticipation of the birds movements probably play as large a part as equipment, though as Meryem said, using a shorter lens. closer to the bird improves things.

I have a five minute hand held shot of a circling vulture taken from half way up a cliff where the bird is centre frame throughout. But the Griffon vulure's movementes are entirely predictable; it soars at low speed; it is large (9 ft wingspan); it was close. As a result I was using my GL2 with about half zoom.

All these factors were in my favour.

In contrast I have a 5 second shot of a Hen Harrier "sky dancing". I say no more about this!
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Old March 8th, 2006, 04:13 PM   #13
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unmoving birds

I once shot a perching owl using two tripods, one on the camera, one on the lens. The only thing that was shaking was the owl: in the prevailing gale that was blowing.

Rod C

p.s I like the sound of J Stephen Mc Donald - a true innovator in our midst. I suspect the orders are about to start rolling in, if not, I've already got my hacksaw out - drawings please old chap. What about a royalty system, like shareware with proceeds to charity.
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Old March 16th, 2006, 07:42 AM   #14
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Good Morning, Declan.

I use the 100-400 canon lens on my 516 head on my ARTS tripod on eagles and buzzards, among other wildlife, such as my current project: adirondack bison.

My advise to you with the buzzards, is to get close to the kill, or whatever carion that they are feeding on. Keep back @20 yards.

Now the hard part: patience. The birds are just like all other creatures. Hunger will over come fear. After a period of time, (perhaps an hour, or a day, or two), they will move in to feed.

Use the widest that your lens allows. Turn the IS OFF!

As has been mentioned several times before, practice, practice, practice. It beats all of the expensive alternatives.
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