Monthly Archives:

March 2021

Camera Gear DIY Projects

This camera is not for turning…

March 25, 2021
Compact follow-focus rig with an anti-twist Arca-type plate.

The best ideas for inventions are those that turn out to have already been thought of and produced. OK, that means you can’t make your fortune, but odds are you wouldn’t make the leap from an idea hatched in the shower to a production line anyway: and, anyway, you can go out and buy the thing with none of the hassle of being the next James Dyson. This happened to me with my genius solution to feeling all tangled up and constrained by sleeping bags when camping: just imagine if the sleeping bag had separate legs and arms? Well, as you probably know but I didn’t, you can buy these already…

To the case in hand, I’ve long been frustrated how stills cameras rotate all too easily on tripods, fixed (in the loosest sense of the word) by a single 1/4″ screw and lacking the additional pin hole found on camcorders. With stills cameras then moving into video and, for cinematic focusing, then needing follow focuses, the need for anti-rotation got all the more compelling. While camera companies vie about 4k and 8k, or 10-bit and raw on mirrorless cameras, nobody seems remotely bothered to drill a hole in the base to allow a second pin to stop rotation. An L-bracket or a cage can sometimes solve the problem, but, unless you need one, they are clunky additions, making access to controls and connections much harder and losing the carefully designed ergonomics of the camera. Also, many L-brackets and cages are just not rigid enough or not fixed to the camera well enough. With my compact – and cageless – follow-focus rig for my Lumix G9 I’ve found the old problem rearing its head, with the camera sometimes gradually rotating away from the follow focus to the point that, eventually, the gear disengages. So my genius ‘invention’? Well, simply a small Arca-style plate with a ridge at the front, forming a snug fit against the front of the camera: with the G9’s flip screen there is no value in a ridge or lip at the rear. Visions of finding someone who could mill one for me proved unnecessary since, as you will have guessed, the idea has already been thought of. Oddly, though, I haven’t simply missed something common, as such plates are incredibly obscure. Arca themselves sell an anti-twist plate (the blandly named ‘Kameraplatte 40mm’) as do Really Right Stuff (the equally unrevealingly named ‘B9 Multi-use bidirectional plate’), but both are extremely pricey for a small bit of metal with a lip (€63 and $49 respectively), need an allen key to tighten, and are hard to find in the UK. And then I came across the plates made by the Colorado Tripod Company in the USA: a perfectly sized 40mm plate (they do 60mm and 85mm-long versions too) with a bolted-on lip, and, unbelievably (since their well-made kit isn’t generally cheap), available for $10 (in my case £9 on Amazon UK). It turned up today, and is a supremely well-engineered plate, and even includes miniature bubble levels: you can tighten it with fingers or a coin. I might not have made my fortune with a new invention, but it hasn’t cost me a fortune either: I just wish I’d realized, and hunted for, the solution to camera twisting before.

UPDATE 18.6.2021. Well, sadly my optimism about the off-the-peg anti-twist plate wasn’t entirely merited: after a month or so in use I found the plate still undoing from time to time: not as badly as before, but enough to be frustrating. The reason for this is evidently the slot (instead of a hole) for the screw, also common to the more expensive offerings from Arca and Really Right Stuff, which, while designed to allow fitting of the plate to different cameras, allows the screw to loosen when used with a follow-focus. Doubtless, the designers didn’t have that in mind. What is needed, evidently, is a plate with a hole rather than a slot for the screw, which, of course, means a plate designed perfectly for the camera body. So, after all, it was necessary to DIY something: I simply added an aluminium bar at exactly the right point (with some very careful sub-millimetre measurements) to an existing Arca plate and – voilà – at last I have got there: in use it has proved reliably rigid.

Colorado Tripod Company anti-twist Arca-type quick-release plate with lip at the front or rear. The detachable front/rear part with the lip (and bubble levels) is bolted on from below and further aligned by two pins that slide into the main part of the plate. Sadly, like any such lipped plate with slot for the screw (which allows it to fit many different cameras), it will still loosen under the duress of a follow-focus.
My modified Arca-style plate with the screw through a hole and an aluminium bar bolted on so as to perfectly abut the front of a Lumix G9. Not pretty, perhaps, but at last rock solid with a follow-focus.
And here’s the DIY-modified plate on the camera. I’ll probably paint the aluminium addition black in due course, but, meanwhile, it is clearer for these photos.
Audio Projects Film Projects

Experimenting with moving or POV stereo ambiences…

March 6, 2021
Setting off in the cause of research…or seeking ridicule?

I think Lockdown III must be getting to me: I’ve been pondering over stereo ambiences for film lately, wondering if they ever are or should be recorded while moving to match the POV (point of view) of the camera?

This was stimulated by thinking about sound for an upcoming project with drone footage, where the drone will follow the course of a small local river from source to sea – flying fairly low and slowly. I want the sound to match the view – along the bubbling stream, the passing over of weirs, cows and sheep being flown past etc. Obviously bunging a couple of mics on the drone isn’t an option given the noise of the motors and rotors, so any ambiences will need to be recorded quite separately. Initially I thought of helium balloons: I calculated that seven normal-sized party balloons would lift a pair of Rode Wireless GO II transmitters into the air, but, the more I have thought about this the more complex it seems: a totally windless day seems essential and, even then, trying to stop the mics spinning or, harder, trying to get the balloons in the right place seem fraught with difficulties. And then, more fundamentally, what does a moving stereo recording actually sound like? In other words, would it even be worthwhile trying to do this?

Recording to the miniscule MixPre-3

Drawing a blank through internet searches (the nearest thing being people trying to record the sounds of – say – a bike travelling, rather than just the ambience without evidence of the mode of transport), and not knowing how the soundtrack of any film with apparent moving stereo ambiences was actually made, it seemed easiest to experiment. A bicycle appeared to be the best bet for near-silent travel, as long as fast speed or free-wheeling was avoided. After initial less than satisfactory attempts with semi-binaural set-ups of lav mics by my ears and either side of a rucksack (both getting far too much bike noise, and, also, showing up the inadequacies of furry wind-protection for these mics), I rigged up a boom pool to a sheet of ply, cut to the shape of a rucksack, to mount the mics well above me (so further from the bike and road noise) and to prevent unwanted rotation. The mics were omni SDCs mounted end-to-end in a single blimp to minimize windnoise (see my post here on using mics in this way). Extending the boom pole very far got unwieldly, so it was only partly extended. Sound was recorded to a Sound Devices MixPre-3 on a light harness. The results were in a different league to the lav mic experiments, but the bike was still very evident and, above all, I’m not at all convinced that the sense of movement is very strong. This last point is critical. In short, I have no doubt that a better result could be achieved by recording general ambiences and specific sound effects from static positions and amalgamating them into the soundtrack to give the illusion of moving through space: doubtless this is what sound designers know and do, anyway, but it is good to experiment and find that, sometimes, the seemingly logical approach doesn’t work. And if, in doing so, I’ve gained an eccentric reputation in the village (yes, cycling with a blimp on a vertical boom pole does look extremely silly), then so be it…

For anyone interested, here is a recording of one of my tests with the SDC spaced pair in blimp, including the reaction of a passing neighbour.