The different ways to achieve movement in your shots when using DSLR’s and what they offer to productions.
The ways in which we choose to move the camera is a powerful tool in the cinematographer’s arsenal – it can inject life and energy into a shot or a scene and ultimately take it to a whole new level. It’s safe to say that in 2014, we have more options than ever when it comes to moving the camera and this is thanks to the impressive advances in camera technology.
This shift has seen a total saturation of new digital cameras on the market that not only keep upping the ante in image quality, but simultaneously continue to get smaller and more compact in size. A massive factor in pushing this is the DSLR movement – and now the ever-shrinking size in cameras means we are able to rig cameras and move cameras with smaller crews and budgets in ways we haven’t been able to do before. Some examples of these low profile cameras include the Canon 5Dmk3, 1DC, C300, Blackmagic’s Cinema Camera, RED’s Dragon and many POV camera’s like the Indiecam IndiePOV or GoPro cameras.
With cameras shaving off the weight it makes sense that we’ve witnessed a rise in smaller compact units and rigs to move our cameras around. Let’s look at some examples of the toys we currently have at our fingertips and the ways in which they can add to our production:
Great for adding a subtle tracking motion to your shot! It’s quick and easy to set up, usually requiring two points of support to keep it from becoming a seesaw. Or if you are after a low angle shot, these smooth operators are usually supplied with feet so you can drop it to the deck.
The slider can be very effective when undertaking a classic over the shoulder dialogue scene. If your actors move from their marks during a take, you are able to subtly adjust your framing left and right to accommodate this while maintaining a nice composition.
In my experience there are a few companies out there making cheap and less robust sliders and the old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ really rings true in this case. It’s necessary to spend the extra money to experience better bearings and a superior sliding system. Because really, there is nothing worse than having a slider that doesn’t, well – slide!
The ability to attach motors for time lapses and consistent motion movements is now a possibility. Redrock have even designed the ‘One Man Crew’ slider, which enables a hands-free motion sliding option that keeps your desired subject locked to the frame. The name says it all when it comes to this portable bad boy!
Lightweight Crane / Jib Arm:
This is a nice and efficient way to get that ‘cinematic’ boom up and down motion. It’s also great to have on hand if you want to arm it over an edge or tricky location where a conventional tripod couldn’t help you. I have seen people use the jib purely for side-to-side tracking movements and I believe this is a small trap, as the pivot point adds an arc in the movement, especially with the smaller arm systems. Like most of these tools, if you want to achieve the best linear lateral track use the right equipment for it – a dolly or slider.
Lightweight Camera Stabilisation Systems:
Most of you would have heard about Freefly’s gyro-stabilised camera gimbal, the “MoVI”. If not, check out the video below to get up to speed.
Pretty cool, huh?
Okay so although the concept of a gyro stabilising a camera isn’t new technology, the compact integration and ability as an operator to be able to freely walk and run with a stabilised camera without the need for a fully kitted out steadicam operator totally is! What excites me the most is not the ability to achieve all your general steadicam type coverage, but all the other movement and coverage capabilities it opens up to us. Operating at speed on roller blades, handing the MoVI off a ledge or over a couch to another operator…just the simple fact that you can go from a low angle to a high angle with ease in a shot is fantastic. It ultimately means that we have fewer boundaries, and greater opportunities to play with when conceiving shots. Oliver Stone’s commercial “DirecTV” is a champion example on how to use this system effectively. Just push play below:
The MoVI is now one of many gyro-stabilised systems which companies have to offer including DEFY, Rotorview and Flowcine’s Gravity One. I don’t believe these devices eliminate the need for a steadicam operator, but they do offer us more freedom in designing shots – and this is essentially what contemporary film-making is all about!
The Aerial Drone or Octocopter, allows us to capture impressive sweeping aerial shots while all operators remain on the ground. It’s also available at a fraction of the price of a Cineflex or other helicopter aerial system, to boot. This is amazing! Why? Because it means the production value of a cinematic aerial shot has now opened its borders to lower budget productions. That’s why. Case in point:
There is however, a downside to the drones – being that you can have troubles flying them smoothly in the most moderate of windy conditions. Usually the pilot/drone operator will have different calibration settings which they can tailor to the situation, but in my experience you need a fairly calm day to get the best results out of these systems.
Where I personally find value in these drones is that they offer productions a range of movements that your traditional helicopter just couldn’t do, for example…
…the ability to fly low through urban areas:
…and fly through buildings in tight spaces, performing intricate aerial movements:
Even though investing in one of these drones comes at a very reasonable price (especially now that you have smaller systems to carry GoPro’s and other extremely lightweight HD and above cameras) – you still need to be a trained operator with solid experience and practice to pilot these properly. Likewise, it’s necessary to acquire the right credentials such as certificates, licenses and permissions before moving forward into this territory.
We are entering an age where we have all these systems readily available to utilise – from the top-end productions to the low budget spectrum; the number of options is only going to continue to grow. Thanks to DSLR’s and other low profile cameras, we can now move and place the camera in positions with less effort in ways that as recent as five years ago wouldn’t have even been possible!
On that note, here’s an excellent clip that supremely sums up and demonstrates the awesome creative scope and potential of today’s small cameras. Enjoy!