Most video cameras and DSLRs have only one onboard utility for mounting a small monitor, camera light, wireless receiver, or other accessory, which begs the question—what do you need most?
The K-Tek Norbert Sport in use In response to this omission, camera support designers have created a variety of rigs for supporting a wide assortment of cameras off-tripod, and to accommodate just such accessory items. While some of these incorporate state-of-the-art technology, others are based on pragmatic solutions that still provide excellent support for various types of cameras and accessories.
The K-Tek Norbert line of camera support products falls into this category. The units are basically rectangular frames that provide a "flexible platform" for mounting your camera and multiple accessories.
The original Norbert consisted of a frame with three of its sides equipped with multiple points of attachment. The newest member, the Norbert Sport, uses its side members strictly as handles for stable handheld shooting, and has a bottom plate for limited accessorizing. Overall, the Norbert Sport is designed for maximum mobility, with a small-medium video camera or DSLR.
A quick glance at Norbert Sport suggests that it's designed for action and mobility. Both sides of the rectangular frame feature matching sure-grip handles for steady handheld shooting with DSLRs, and small to medium video cameras. With Norbert Sport, there are two basic ways of attaching camera peripherals: via shoes and threaded holes. While the accessory shoes are standardized, there are both 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch threaded holes to accommodate most photo and video accessories.
The top and bottom cast aluminum plates are each 11.25 x 1.5 x 0.375-inches and fasten to the sides via a single bolt at each joint. The Norbert Sport comes pre-assembled, but can be tightened at the corners with an Allen wrench, if necessary.
Unlike its precursors that were designed for use on a tripod or with some sort of body-mounted rig, the Norbert Sport is geared primarily for handheld use. Its bottom plate features six 3/8-inch holes, 10 1/4-inch holes, and also a 3/8-inch hole in the dead center for attaching a quick-release camera mount atop the tripod adapter plate mounted to the bottom of the bar. Two 1/4-inch holes in front and back are supplied for attaching tripod adapter plates. The spacing between the holes' center provides some flexibility in establishing a balance point when mounted on a fluid head.
The unit comes with a compact quick-release camera mount adapter by Manfrotto, which attaches to the center of the base plate via a single 3/8-inch bolt. The quick-release plate attaches to the base of the camera via a 1/4–inch bolt with a keyed head that folds flat to allow it to seat properly and lock to the Manfrotto adapter.
A unique feature of the Norbert Sport is its tough foam-coated top handle which locks to the top plate via a bolt and washer with deeply grooved edges for easy and secure tightening. This is essential, as the handle has to support the weight of the camera, lens, and accessories being used. The handle includes a built-in "brake" to prevent it from moving laterally more than about 20 degrees, should it loosen up.
In lieu of sidemounting plates, the unit features a pair of large handles covered with tough foam handgrips. This provides a secure and comfortable grip for extended handholding and/or for better anchoring the camera to an external supporting surface. When using a smaller DSLR such as one of the Canon Rebels, the handgrips make it feasible to do short interviews and pans, and even some short static shots. The handles can also be raised and lowered several inches in two stages, thanks to the telescoping design of the side posts. Loosening the rubberized twist locks located just above and below each handle adds two inches of height per lock. When the side handles are fully extended the Norbert becomes slightly more vertical than horizontal in shape. The extra height allows the mounting of a 7-inch picture monitor or even an LED light fixture to the DSLR's utility shoe, or possibly the attachment of one of K-Tek's "T-bar" extenders.
I tried the Norbert Sport with a few different cameras, including a Canon EOS 7D with the EF 70-300 mm lens and Varavon Pro Finder. This created a fairly long configuration with a low center of gravity, especially when the lens was fully extended. I was initially dubious about mounting this on the Sport, but to my amazement everything balanced nicely when I used the lens's tripod mount as an attachment point. Equally surprising was how nicely balanced and comfortable the combination felt when I grasped the Norbert Sport either by its top or side handles, even with the lens zoomed out to 70 mm or so.
By contrast, trying to frame shots and execute smooth camera moves while peering into the Varavon eyecup and handholding the 7D and the 70-300 mm lens proved nearly impossible. However, when I mounted the package on the Norbert Sport, I was able to use the Pro Finder in an unexpected way—to grab some stable close-ups of bees pollinating flowers. By resting the eyecup against my chest, I found a third point of contact, which was critical for stable shots on or off "sticks." The trick was in pushing upwards with the Norbert's top handle to offset the lens's weight.
I also monitored with another display connected to one of the eight camera shoes on the Norbert Sport's top plate. This made it easier to shoot and monitor at most all angles. Except for rather high angle shots the weight distribution of the monitor wasn't problematic in most shooting, and its weight actually added a measure of stability.
I didn't use the Norbert Sport on a tripod very much, as I was more impressed with its utility in handheld shooting. However, it can be attached to many tripods via the threaded holes in front and behind the central 3/8-inch hole on the bottom plate that the Manfrotto quick release adapter was connected to.
Although fairly simple in design, the Norbert Sport is a unique rig that's ideal for grabbing all sorts of action shots from extreme sports to tracking shots from moving motor vehicles, bicycles or on foot. It makes capturing tough shots comparatively easy and comfortable, and leaves the shooter free to frame and focus with the help of his or her favorite accessories.
Carl Mrozek operates Eagle Eye Media, and specializes in wildlife and outdoor subjects. His work regularly appears on the Discovery Channel, The Weather Channel, CBS, PBS and other networks. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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