Geoff Poister /
Gear on the Go: Old Favorites Dominate
But innovative functions can unseat legacy newsgathering equipment
When looking at video field gear, it's plain to see how digital technology has transformed cameras. Everything is smaller, lighter, faster and cheaper. But what about the workhorse items: batteries, lights and tripods? A quick survey of several TV news outfits indicates what people are using. But an equivalent survey of manufacturers shows more of what is possible.
THE TELEVISION NEWS VIEW
Fox 53 in Pittsburgh went on the air in 1996 and could avoid the inertia that afflicts stations heavily invested in older equipment. The decision to use DVCPRO cameras guided many of their choices for batteries, lights and tripods.
"We decided to use Anton Bauer Digital ProPac 14 batteries," said Chief Photographer Dale Eaton. "There was no question. We've always had good luck with them."
Because the camera batteries also power lights and microphones, they need staying power and the ProPacs fit the bill. "Most days, a camera operator will only use one battery," Eaton said. "The guys carry six. No one has ever run out of battery power."
For lights, Eaton chose a Lowel i-Light for the camera because of its versatility and low cost. "The i-Light can be focused from flood to spot, so it can adapt to different shooting conditions," Eaton said.
Eaton abhors sloppy camera work, so tripods are mandatory unless conditions prohibit their use. And because news crews often work in crowded places, he wanted a tripod that can achieve height while keeping the base small. His final choice was a Sachtler tripod with a Video 14 head.
John Premack, chief photographer at WCVB in Boston, chose Anton Bauer for batteries and camera lights.
"For batteries there were only a couple of choices and we'd been using Anton Bauer for fifteen years," Premack said. "Their charging systems are always among the best and they have an outstanding warranty."
Premack chose the Anton Bauer Digital HyTron battery. "With the HyTron, we rarely go through more than one battery on an average news day," he said. "HyTron batteries have significantly higher capacity and longer run times. They're slightly denser and heavier but overall the load is lighter because we don't carry as many."
For lighting, Premack has found it necessary to adapt to the higher sensitivity of newer cameras.
His choice for the on-camera light was the Anton Bauer Ultralight 2 with a 20 W bulb. "It has soft light accessories like a tiny chimera," he said. "The sensitivity of newer cameras makes softer light quality a more significant issue than quantity."
For additional lights, Premack uses Lowel Omnis and Pros, often with a Chimera to soften the light.
"With today's cameras, you have to be careful not to overlight," Premack said. "So we use lower watt bulbs, 250 or 300 watts, and diffusion."
Surprisingly, it was the tripod choice that caused Premack the greatest amount of deliberation. He spent weeks evaluating different products until finally deciding on a Vinten 100 head and Miller legs.
"Vinten has the most incredible design out there," Premack said. "They have created heads that can achieve neutral balance easily and allow you to point the camera virtually straight up or down."
But when it came to legs, Miller won out. Premack chose Miller's carbon-fiber legs because of their configuration versatility, rigidity and light weight.
In Lafayette, La., KLFY-TV has followed a different path. Because they shoot on Sony Digital Beta, they have a heavier camera with fewer battery options.
"We use Sony's BPL 90A batteries," said News Director Bee Stanley. "They're the Lithium Ion type and one or two will last a shooter all day."
The on-camera light is a Frezzi Mini-Fill, and for special lighting situations they use a Berkee Colortran Mini Pro light kit. For the tripod, Stanley chose the Bogen 3068 with a 3066 head. This class of Bogen tripods is particularly rugged. "I was mainly concerned about quality and durability," he said. "Weight was not as critical."
THE MANUFACTURERS' VIEW
The companies that make equipment would generally like to see video crews use a wider range of products and be quicker to try new technologies.
One of the most dynamic areas is the battery market. Many conflicting forces add drama to this arena: few brands to choose from, brand loyalty among users, increasing potential for rapid innovation, and misinformation.
For many years Anton Bauer was the only game in town. But now there are other significant players. IDX System Technology, for example is actively promoting the advantages of Lithium Ion technology and their sophisticated, "intelligent" batteries.
Barry Rubin, General Manager of IDX in the U.S., is exuberant about the advantages of Lithium Ion batteries over the other prevailing types: Nickel Cadmium and Nickel-metal Hydride. "Lithium Ion batteries are half the weight, last 40 to 60 percent longer, have no memory effect, have the lowest self-discharge rate, and they are environmentally safe," said Rubin.
Getting stations to try the new batteries has been a struggle because they require different chargers. But IDX's new Endura system is starting to catch on and the company is growing.
Another problem is misinformation. New transportation laws will not allow batteries with more than eight grams of Lithium on planes. Rubin is trying hard to get the word out that none of their batteries are above the limit and all are legal to transport.
Another formidable player on the battery stage is PAG, which also makes lights. PAG makes all types of battery systems, including Lithium Ion. They are most known for their Time Batteries, which have a sophisticated calculating system to predict running time based on changes of load, operating conditions, charge status and condition of the cells.
In the lighting arena, Cool-lux is adding some interesting innovations. They took their popular Hollywood Softlight, a light that converts from a hard light to a soft scoop, and made it small enough to mount on a camera. This new camera light (SL3000) is starting to catch on while their earlier lights, the U-3, Micro-lux, and Minicool remain strong sellers.
K5600 is a light manufacturer that makes a variety of compact, stand-mounted lights popular with some news outfits. Their best-known products are the Jokers, focusable lights with numerous accessories designed for fast set-up. Their newest product is the Blackjack 400, a small Fresnel with a very wide but controllable beam pattern.
In the tripod area, I didn't hear the highly respected OConnor name mentioned much in TV news, so I called them up to ask why. General Sales Manager Bob Low provided the answer.
"About 60 percent of our sales is in the film camera market," Low said. "In fact, OConnor heads are underneath about 90 percent of the film cameras out there."
Regardless, they do make a model popular with many TV stations: the 1030-B-3 head with a 25-L tripod. The head handles cameras from 10 to 30 pounds and the tripod is a carbon-fiber type weighing only seven pounds.
THE OVERALL PICTURE
he investment that stations have made in equipment tends to slow down the adoption of new products and brands. But one thing is clear: News photographers know how to detect quality and durability and will remain loyal to any company that consistently provides that. As older equipment is replaced, the major brands will likely be the ones to succeed in getting newer technologies in batteries, tripods and lights to take hold. But this will also create a door through which newer or smaller players can enter.