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Behind the Scenes Gear

The most obvious thing most people understand about a news photographer's work is the quality of the pictures on the air: well framed, well lit, level and well exposed. What most people don't appreciate is the NASCAR crew-like setups and tear-downs, quick moves from location to location and around a given location. The ability to run-and-gun from place to place is what determines whether or not the news photog covers all aspects of the story in the first place.

Gear makers, those who supply camera support, portable lights and battery packs, play a big role in enabling the news shooters to move quickly, get this shot and that, so that they can get the story back to the station and on the air.

Vintent Protouch Lightweight Camera Support SystemCAMERA SUPPORT

In addition to providing speedy setups and the ability to move quickly, tripod and fluid head makers have the challenge of building equipment that will keep the costly cameras and lenses from accidentally falling to the floor. At the same time, news cameramen want to be able to execute smooth pans and tilts, and want something lightweight enough that they don't feel like leaving it in the newscar because it slows them down.

Miller Camera Support's Compass line of fluid heads are designed for the lightweight HDV style camcorders that have become popular in news. "We incorporated the features from our larger head, the Arrow," said Gus Harilaou, Miller U.S. sales manager. "So we have the drag on pan-and-tilt features like the Arrow, and an illuminated lighted level, for low light situations, and a four position counterbalance." The Compass 15 head handles camera packages from four to 20 pounds, the Compass 20 from four to 26 pounds.

Jim Davis, Western U.S. manager of The Vitec Group, which handles Sachtler, Vinten and OConnor camera support equipment, has suggestions for news shooters in each of Vitec's three lines.

"In Sachtler, the FSB6 is good for news shooters, because they're our lower cost heads," said Davis. "But they can handle a camera up to 13 pounds, so that will handle most small sized, HDV cameras. The design is the same as is used for all Sachtler fluid heads, our graphite heads, step drag, a step counterbalance."

Looking to the Vinten brand of Vitec Group's camera support line, Davis pointed to the new Protouch Lightweight Camera Support System, featuring the Pro-5Plus head. "It's an entry level system that's definitely approachable for a news department," he said. "It has Vinten's Sideload camera attachment system, and is made to handle camcorder payloads of up to 10 pounds," and by moving to the Pro-6HDV system, the payload goes to over 13 pounds.

Vitec's OConnor brand of camera support equipment is probably better known in the film industry, where its larger payloads and ruggedness have made it a longtime favorite. But Davis said OConnor still finds a place in the news business. "We find that many older cameramen, with lots of years of experience, tend to prefer the OConnor tripods and heads. They're more durable, carry a heavier payload."

OConnor's smallest head is the 1030HD, with a 30-pound payload, ample for almost anything a news photographer could want to hang on his camera. It features OConnor's patented sinusoidal counterbalance system for true and accurate balance at any point in the tilt range, and a stepless, smooth pan-and-tilt fluid drag specifically designed for HD applications.

Cartoni looked at the way that news photographers have to set up, raise and lower their cameras on the tripod and decided to make their two stage tripod legs more foolproof with a feature called Smart Stop. "Most single lock tripods, both stages of a leg drop when they are released," said Steve Manios, whose SteMan company handles Cartoni in the United States.

PAG Cube Charger "On the Cartoni, the top leg drops first, then the second leg. So basically, when you open it up and release all three legs at the same time, they drop evenly. For a news cameraman, it makes it a lot easier if, when he gets on location, the legs drop evenly."


In spite of the airline restrictions that essentially hold lithium ion battery capacity to under 100 Wh for carry-on or cargo transport, Jim Crawford, president of Frezzi, said larger Li-Ion batteries are still being sold. "The fast pace of news operations today require that you have batteries that will last a long time, and the Lithium batteries are really being used now much more than we ever thought." He said local news crews operate largely in their own market area where airline travel is not a factory, so they can use his company's larger, 200 Wh batteries.

Anton/Bauer has taken note of the trend toward news photographers using small, HDV camcorders. "The EX3 is a popular camera, for a lot of independent guys and a lot of smaller market TV stations," said Paul Dudeck, director of Anton/Bauer product specialist group-the Americas. "We now have an adapter which allows them to use existing batteries with it. It actually gives you a longer run time. For instance our Dionic 90 battery pack will give you over six hours of run time to the EX3."

PAG has added a V-lock design battery pack to its L95e line of lithium ion batteries. "The 95 Wh batteries duck under the 100 Wh airline restrictions," said Steve Manios, whose SteMan company sells PAG in the U.S. "And in a battery that has the five dot remaining capacity indicator, each dot stands for 20-percent capacity."

Because quick charging is also important to a busy news photog, PAG has delivered a Cube Charger capable of simultaneously charging four V-lock batteries. The Cube brings all four batteries to 80-percent capacity in an hour and a half, then slows down for the final 20 percent. "However, charging to 80 percent in an hour and a half should give you plenty of batteries to shoot with," said Manios.

IDX looked at the power draw from some HD cameras and accessories, including lights and microwave transmitters that news shooters now use, and came up with an HL line of batteries to provide power at high discharge rates. "They're similar to the Endura battery, with a V-mount, however they can handle up to 10 amp constant draw," said Zachary Shannon, customer service and sales specialist, at IDX. They provide remaining capacity indicators in 20 percent increments, and support Digi-View for reading battery levels in many of today's camera viewfinders.


Frezzi has long supplied its Mini Fill battery operated lights with tungsten bulbs to news shooters. But at the 2009 NAB Show, the company added daylight and tungsten balance LED bulb assemblies that plug into the standard Mini Fill light fixtures. "Since NAB, we've delivered slews of units just with LED bulb assemblies," said Frezzi's Crawford. "But it's the same fixture, so our existing customers can just buy the new LED bulb assemblies. It gives them tremendous flexibility."

As news shooters can quickly find themselves in changing lighting conditions, Zylight's Z90 provides a switchable 3200K or 5600K color temperature output. "Simply press a button on the rear of the light and output either Kelvin temperature," said Charlie Collias, Zylight sales director. "This is simple and easy to accomplish and no light output is lost due to gels being taped or filters being applied to the front of the light."

For further flexibility, Zylight's LED bulbs can actually span a color temperature range of from 2500K to 9000K. "This will help shooters when they find themselves in a room with mixed lighting, said Collias. "Simply take a meter reading or white balance the camera and set the Z90 to that temperature." And the Z90 has a plus and minus green correction to help balance to the color characteristics of ambient fluorescent lighting conditions.

Anton/Bauer's UltraLight has been an on-camera mainstay for many news operations, allowing them to convert back and forth from HMI to tungsten bulbs quickly. Now A/B has added LED capability to that mix. "The ULHM-LED fits right into the UltraLight on-camera assembly and is the perfect complement to the most popular on-camera light in the world," said Anton/Bauer's Dudeck. "You can virtually change from tungsten, to HMI, to LED in seconds, thus maximizing your current investment." The new LED head has a storage space for gel filters to convert to tungsten balance, or for diffusion.

K5600 Focal Spot accessory for Joker-Bug The popular PAG on-camera lighting fixture now sports an LED assembly option. "We now have an LED that works with existing PAG lights," said SteMan's Manios. "So every person out there who has bought a PAG light from us in the past—hundreds and hundreds of these have been sold—can now buy an LED pack that can drop right into their existing PAG light. It has a dimmer switch on it, and also provides focusing capability, spot and flood." The LEDs are daylight, and PAG provides a filter to convert to tungsten color balance.

News shooters are often asked to come up with attractive backgrounds, on the spot. K5600 has introduced its Focal Spot accessory to its Joker-Bug 200 and 400 watt fixtures that can project a 20 to 40-degree pattern on a background. "It's got cutters built in, and it's something small and compact that they can travel with and it's easy to use," said Ryan Smith, sales at K5600. Like all K5600 fixtures, it is an HMI providing 5600K color balance.

A news photographer never knows quite what kind of lighting conditions he's going to have to shoot in, so Lowel Light developed its Blender LED lighting fixture so shooters can match any ambient lighting condition. The compact lighting fixture combines two dimmable arrays of LEDs: one daylight color (5200K) and one tungsten color (3000K), according to Duane Sherwood, director of communications at Lowel. "We call Blender 'intuitive lighting' because when you are shooting on the go in a mixed source environment, you just dial the two sets of LEDs until you get the right blend of output to match the lighting of the location. You just dial it until it looks right."

To provide untethered lighting flexibility for news shooters, Litepanels developed its Micro and MicroPRO fixtures that are powered off standard AA battery cells. "Because the power source is self-contained, the photographer can move the light from an on-camera configuration to a light stand without having to worry about cabling," said Ken Fisher, co-founder of Litepanels. The low power draw of LEDs allows the AAs to provide power. Rechargeable batteries can be used as a normal course, but in a pinch, a news crew can pick up more batteries at a convenience store.

IDX has come up with a third generation of its X5-Lite LED on-camera fixture. "The X5 provides the equivalent of 50 watts of light," said IDX's Shannon. "But it consumes only 12 watts of power, so it's very easy on batteries." The X5 can be power connected by 2 pin D-Tap or an optional 4 pin XLR. The fixture is flicker- and noise-free, with a built-in dimmer to adjust lighting conditions from 0-100 percent with no change in color. And it features a one-touch hot shoe that allows the X5-Lite to be easily and quickly connected to a wide range of cameras via slide-shoe or thread mount.