I was commissioned by the production company Yeti Film of Cologne, Germany, to shoot test footage during a research trip to Portugal.
The project involved putting together a camera system for a cinema documentary with the working title “Familie auf Zeit,” or “Temporary Family.” As most parts of this movie were to be shot in Portugal rather than Germany over a period of a few years, the camera equipment had to be small and lightweight while still multifunctional and flexible.
Apart from the advantages of using low-key gear for an overseas job, the company asked me to choose the lightest equipment possible in view of the high traveling expenses.
Finding a solution
When looking for a tripod, I came across Sachtler's new SOOM HiPod system. Having often worked with 16mm film technology or with large HDCAM cameras, initially I preferred large and heavy tripods, even when using smaller handheld cameras. However, for this project, I had to find a small, multifunctional DV tripod in order to meet the baggage regulations.
The SOOM tripod allows every desired camera position. Even the assembly of the individual elements runs so smoothly that I can change to the baby tripod within seconds.
The system is made up of three components that can be combined to form different tools. The mid-level spreader can also be used as a baby tripod (TriSpread). The TriSpread detaches easily and can then be used optionally at a higher or lower basic position, while at the same time giving the user flexibility with its extendable and retractable legs.
Leaving the mid-level spreader mounted to the basic tripod (TriPod) provides a flexible working tripod. In order to keep the tripod from distorting, the TriSpread's legs should be spread as wide as possible. If required, the system's footprint can be reduced to a minimum by retracting the spreader tubes. However, in this position, you should work more carefully, as the reduced radius results in slightly impaired stability.
The HiPod system enables the user to work swiftly and flexibly, which is important for shooting documentary footage. All of the key tripod positions are easy to set up. Even the change to the lowest or highest camera positions can be brought about in a few easy steps.
One pleasant surprise of the system was the maximum lens height of 2.5m, which can be reached by inserting the SOOM Tube into the TriPod. The conversion to 2.5m lens height is the most complex one, as the SOOM Tube has first to be inserted into the completely assembled TriPod via the TriPod and TriSpread's head fitting. The SOOM Tube can also be used as a monopod with a working height of between 0.9m and 1.6m.
Of course, without having a small stepladder handy, adjusting the camera can be a little cumbersome. You must retract the Tube to reach the camera, as the tripod becomes slightly unsteady when used in higher positions, so major moves should be avoided.
The 75mm head fittings of all three components are optimized for Sachtler's fluid head FSB 6. For me, this head was one of the tripod system's big surprises. Before this project, I had always used large tripod heads and preferred higher damping positions. The FSB 6 only has three horizontal and three vertical grades of drag, which are perfectly satisfactory. So far, I have consistently used grade three.
Adjustments made easy
The camera can also be easily adjusted due to its 10-step counterbalance. The only feature you really have to pay attention to is the clamping bowl, as the head has to be fastened tightly in order to avoid twisting the inside of the ring bowl. Therefore, take care in fastening the clamping bowl firmly when setting up the tripod.
Testing out the tripod
In practice, the new tripod system delivered an optimal performance. At a trial shooting during my research trip to Portugal, I had the opportunity to assess the system.
The FSB 6 provided smooth, exact camera work in every situation. Even during exacting pans with larger focal distances, moves and rack focus were possible. However, working with Sony's PMW-EX1 camera with a long-shot scope of no less than 81.2mm required a certain amount of dexterity, as using such a lightweight system has certain physical limits. During long-shot takes, the slightest touch and vibration can transfer to the picture, thus making the handling of the camera a little tricky. Sometimes, if the camera moves fast, the tripod's leg's tendency to warp can influence the pictures. This can easily be avoided by working with care. However, these sensitivities have never influenced my daily work. On the contrary, I'm impressed by the SOOM tripod system's versatility and the creative potential it offers.
The HiPod was a great asset to creative camera work, such as doing landscape shots, which require a higher camera position. We have to make do with little equipment for this project, and important landscape shots quite often require higher camera positions, so the SOOM Tube is a great alternative. The higher the camera position, the better you can portrait a landscape's depth, and many a secret hidden behind a hill can be shown to its best advantage.
Börres Weiffenbach is a freelance cameraman.