Camera support for DSLRs

Stability of camera movement is essential for any production, even one with a DSLR camera.
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Since 2008, camera manufacturers have invested in the development of a video function in their DSLR cameras, which has triggered real hype in the industry. In forums and blogs, the new possibilities for image composition, including cinema-style depth of field control of full-size imaging sensors as well as great cine-style creative through interchangeable lenses and sensor, have been discussed with excitement. The development offers the advantages of bigger CMOS sensors and the possibility to exchange lenses — in one camcorder housing.

DSLR popularity

To see the viewfinder, the camera must be supported in front of the operator. This Nikon SLR is mounted on an O’Connor O-Grips hand grip system.

In a short amount of time, it is surprising how much the use of DSLRs has caught on with the professional videographer market. A recent Vitec Group customer survey suggested that 16 percent of current videographers in Europe are using DSLRs for professional video production, and 6 percent use DSLRs exclusively instead of traditional camcorders. In the United States, around 20 percent of videographers use DSLRs for professional video production; however, only 1 percent use a DSLR exclusively instead of a traditional camcorder.

DSLRs are often being used in professional video applications as the second camera or as just another tool in the video professional's portfolio. While it can be argued there are some shortfalls in the use of DSLRs for creating moving pictures, they are appealing to a new and old generation of cinematographers. Some early adopters are well-respected directors of photography (DPs) from the film industry who appreciate the control of the aperture coupled with a full-size sensor where depth of field is critical. The depth of field lens adapter market has shifted toward native platforms with large-format sensors that allow for smaller camera builds, no loss of light and achieve the cinematic look. Several high-end productions have been made using DSLRs, and DPs faced some fundamental challenges with ergonomics, moving subjects and particularly critical and extremely shallow focus control. Many cinematographers found solutions by modifying existing lens mounts and traditional camera accessory support products.

DSLR camera accessories

As a result of this, the demand for smaller follow focus controls and matte boxes is increasing. While manufacturers are at work designing products that are compatible with both smaller format camcorders and DSLRs, one issue is keeping the economics in line with the camera prices. At price points less than €1000, the challenge for design teams is to create quality products without sacrificing the performance of their cine counterparts. The demand for mechanical engineering precision and control is attracting traditional cine brands to develop new products for this growing market. Manufacturers have embarked on developing an extensive range of camera accessories to meet the latest demands from DSLR users.

The size and weight of DSLRs can affect image stability. The lack of camera mass can create the “jelly effect,” which can be magnified if the camera is mounted to a dolly or a relatively lightweight tripod. The older generation of cinematographers will acknowledge the advantages of using traditional camera supports that are designed to minimize camera shake and maximize camera stability. Yet, the precise tolerances of engineering components create an extremely stable structure, and combined with integrated and sophisticated drag damping, can offer a substitute for mass and weight.

Stability of camera movement is an essential function of any production, whether the camera is a lightweight DSLR or a fully configured 35mm cine camera with a large lens. Companies involved in camera support for many years have already gone through the learning curves and problems associated with camera wobble and jitter. We can expect manufacturers to closely monitor the development of DSLR cameras to ensure they offer suitable products for the variety of applications that will emerge from this new technology.

Early DSLR adopters are using camera supports that they had traditionally used with larger and much heavier 35mm cameras. Despite operating a lighter and more compact camera, the control and precise movement of a moving image is extremely critical in feature films, documentaries and commercial productions.

The DSLR market is also attracting a new generation of users because of the price point. This group includes semiprofessional videographers who typically have a maximum budget of less than €7000 for all their equipment, including camera and lenses. Although these users are entry level, they still operate with a variety of lenses and accessories, and the total setup can often weigh more than 6kg. Despite smaller equipment budgets, they still have high expectations regarding camera support. The choice of an appropriate tripod system is crucial for smooth horizontal pans and vertical tilts when they explore image composition more intensively after the purchase of their video-capable DSLR cameras. Choosing a professional and rigid fluid head and tripod for DSLRs makes a significant contribution to the quality and value of the production.

The potential to develop a special tripod system for DSLR video production is a challenge both in terms of identification of a specification and direct user operating advantages. Videographers seem to be happy using their existing video tripods but with subtle considerations of how they support the DSLRs and wide variety of lenses and accessories, at prices that are in line with the inexpensive costs of a DSLR camera package.

Trend toward system solutions

DSLR cameras used in traditional video applications are still in their infancy, but they're growing. We can expect an imminent reaction from pro camcorder vendors who have already announced the release of larger sensor, interchangeable lens camcorders. It is increasingly about system solutions — whether it be for video-capable DSLR cameras or HDV camcorders. Products must be simple and intuitive, and at the same time offer smart solutions and reasonable pricing. It is not only about the fluid head and the tripod, but also about lightweight, compatible accessories. Users can expect to see soon a comprehensive range of accessory gear from camera support right down to customized carrying bags.

Barbara Jaumann is product manager for Sachtler, a Vitec Group brand.