Archive | January, 2015

New Camera Rigging

30 Jan

Not sure why I feel the need to continually change and adapt what I have to work with. Recently, I’ve had to make changes in order to use new equipment appropriately, but it also spurred me into doing a thing I’ve been wanting to do for a while–creating my own power distro. So I’ve finally gone and done it. Here’s a post with the summary of my new changes, and a partial review of some of that new gear.

Shown with my handheld addition and my new power distro.

Shown with my handheld addition and my new power distro. The handle is an old Bolex grip that I’ve adapted to a rosette, with a quick-release attachment for the 15mm rails. It’s pretty sweet–used it on A Haunting every day.

Fotga DP3000 Baseplate

Note the base of the C-shape bracket in the rear-middle there. This required flipping the bottom 15mm railmount on the bracket.

As I realised with the Lensse follow focus, the P&C Gearbox cage wasn’t a correct lens-height from the rails. In order to correct that, I purchased the Fotga DP Series 15mm Rail Rod Support, which included two 12″ 15mm rods and an adjustable height baseplate. The 5D2 needs it to be at the top stick, which is fine, and it also gives more screw points undermeath (the P&C had one row of 1/4-20’s, which created a lot of flex.) This plate will let me put any number of camera bodies in here too, where the P&C was pretty much just DSLR’s–I did use a BMCC once, but had to turn it around backwards so I could get to the connectors. I also had to use an SDI-to-HDMI converter in order to use my HDMI-only monitors (SmallHD DP4 and AC7.) The AC7 can be upgraded to put SDI into it, but that’s $300 I haven’t needed to spend yet.

Fotga Cage Top HandleLosing the P&C meant losing a handle on top, as well as attachment points for monitors and my EVF support. The FOTGA DP3000 C-shape Bracket Cage from Amazon for $83 is the replacement. The bracket is a pretty strong aluminum, and even though it flexes a bit, I think it might have been designed with that in mind–the flex actually straightens out the top bar, where it’s a little angled-in when just resting. I also have a great deal of weight on the bottom (when I have the mattebox and power distro) as well as my Solid Camera EVF support on top, and this thing handles it like a champ. I might eventually get a second one for a big rig, and connect the side-rails, but that’s not really in my future–I like the size and compactness of the rig as it stands.

My main complaint with the top-handle is that it is more permanent than I’d like. I’d rather be able to quickly turn it around–for instance, if I take the mattebox off when I’m shooting inside, my rig becomes very back-heavy. If the handle is pointed forward of the center of gravity, the rig will be much harder to hold. I might put a thumb-screw or something in there to let me flip it easily, but that’s not high on my priority list. For the most part, I’m planning on having the mattebox on most of the time.

Custom Power Distro The big black box on the back is a custom power distro I just finished. I’ve used a generic Chinese one for three years now, and while it’s been pretty solid, I’m looking forward and thinking it’s not going to be a great solution. This will tide me over for quite some time, thanks to the flexibility I’ve built into it–the previous distro was not adjustable in terms of its voltages. On the left side, I have 2.1mm jacks with 5v and 12v available (5v for any HDMI solutions, like a splitter or an SDI-HDMI converter); on the right, I have more 12v via a 4-pin LEMO and a 4-pin XLR (for big cameras) as well as two outputs coming from a variable voltage down-converter. Most Canon DSLR’s run on 7.4-7.8 volts, and the Cinema EOS series runs on 8.4 DC-in. I would very much like to get a C100 at some point in the future, so this will let me incorporate that camera into my setup without buying any more new equipment. I’ve also put some velcro on the inside, for attaching anything I need without a cheeseplate setup (e.g., Bartech WFF receiver, aforementioned converters, etc.)

Side note: something that I didn’t foresee happening until I built it and put it into practice is that my ear/head would be right next to the power outputs. The current 2.1mm jacks I have stick out about an inch, and it’s kind of annoying to have those jamming into my ear. As soon as I sell my old setup, I will have to get some right-angle connectors and remake all my cables.

My favorite part of this setup is the top. Power Distro InsidesI have a DPDT switch on the right connected to the display on the left. In left position, it tells me the output from the variable voltage converter (so I don’t have to put a meter on it if I’m changing the voltage in the field); in the right position, it tells me the incoming voltage from the battery mount. My previous system had a frustrating habit of shutting off (losing battery power) in the middle of when I most needed it, without a good way of monitoring the battery. Now I can check the voltage constantly, and when I don’t need the display, I can switch it to the middle “OFF” position for no green numbers.

(I might do a post specifically for the distro at some point, but now is not the time. I built it in SketchUp, but the practical putting-it-together was very different–not sure if I should revisit the original document. If you’re interested in owning one of these, I’d be happy to build it for you, with either V-mount or AB Gold Mount.)

Rig with Lensse and Solid CameraFinally, the last piece of my new setup actually began on the old P&C gearbox cage, but has been adapted to this. The Solid Camera EVF Support, here holding up my DP4, is a really solid piece of kit (no pun intended.) The knobs have a cam inside that will hold the EVF in place nicely, but can be rotated and put in any other position with minimal effort, even with one hand. Before, I used an Israeli arm/strongarm to position the DP4-EVF where I wanted it, and that was a major pain–if I pushed too hard with my head, or even just slung the camera at an odd angle, the arm’s screw might come loose from the attachment point, and the monitor would swing away and put the rig off-balance.

Solid Camera has a dovetail to attach to 15mm rails, but I didn’t want to spend the extra money on that, so I took a jigsaw to a piece of 6061 aluminum I have. It took upwards of 40 minutes to cut (anyone who knows, please tell me why it was so damn hard to cut that aluminum!) but I tapped some 1/4-20 holes and now have a great top-rail solution with this cage.

It ain't pretty.

It ain’t pretty.

The only bug-a-boo is the size of the handle–it’s pretty cushy, which makes it hard to slide mount on, but once it’s on it’s there to stay. Again, if I had an easy way of taking the top-handle off or flipping it, this wouldn’t be an issue, but oh well.

Hopefully, this is the end of my acquisitions for a while–I don’t really have the money, and also have been pretty judicious about building some future-proofing into the setup. I also don’t have any shoots planned until after April, so I won’t really be able to go crazy with anything until then.

An Aside from a [not-current] Freelancer

18 Jan

I have had a weird stigma attached to me from high school onwards. I was inextricably involved in music–I lived it and breathed it, looking forward every day to 4th period band, loving marching season, getting to play string bass in the orchestra and electric at church. Often people would say “wow, you’re really good! We should play together!” or “let’s put together a show sometime!” to which I would always enthusiastically respond in the positive.

But nothing happened, beyond my close group of friends (who became the members of the pop-rock band I was in.) Everyone would get other bass players, or ask a friend they knew, or something else. And when I asked why, they would say “I just assumed you were busy.”

This carried through to college, only now instead of music, it became film. My dorm-hall brothers would all traipse around campus, shooting weird funny videos, but never inviting me. A student would put together a huge set and maybe as an afterthought, ask if I was available (usually on the day-of.) When I would bring it up to people I knew, the answer was the same: “I just assumed you were busy.”

Grad school had its share of similar circumstances, only there I was married and living off-campus. Also, I worked in the equipment office, so I would often get clued into things happening around the school, which would often lead to me getting myself involved somehow. But quite a few times, fellow students from my classes would have big sets or group studies without me, and when asked, they always “assumed you were busy.”

Maybe this happens to everyone, and I don’t know it. But it’s happened to me enough now professionally that I feel something must be wrong with people’s perceptions of me.

I generally try and ask everyone I would conceivably want to work with, whether or not I know they are busy. This industry is built on relationships–maintaining them is just as much a part of it as withholding taxes and buying new gear. I hope to never be at the point where I have to say ‘no’ to everything, but I also hate that I don’t even have the opportunity to say ‘yes.’

Maybe I’m whining, but I feel so strongly about this that I can’t let it slide. Always ask. Even if that person says no, ask again on the next one.

Generic Mattebox & Follow Focus

16 Jan

Something I think I’m going to do, when I have the time and capital, is continue what I sort-of started with my Steadicam venture, in that I’m going to buy the cheap stuff and review it. I feel like I’m decently qualified–I work with a lot of professional-grade equipment, and am pretty good at analyzing design and features. I’ve also been through a few shows in my limited time, so I can predict how something will act decently well.

I’m also annoyed when I can’t find good reviews of this stuff online, so hopefully this’ll help somebody out in the future.

Anyway, the first two items on my new list are a 4×5.65 swing-away mattebox, and a dual follow focus system from “Lensse,” a manufacturer of which I was unaware, until it appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. These are both cheap–the mattebox was $168 and the FF $199, both with free shipping. The Lensse was on sale at the time–I believe it retails for $349, and I probably wouldn’t have just bought it for no reason if it had been that price.

Lensse Case Closed

The Lensse Dual Follow Focus popped up on my newsfeed sometime before Christmas 2014. I ordered it sometime around New Years, and it showed up January 12th (through TNT, a shipping company I’ve never encountered before, and shipping from Ankara.) I must have missed the picture of the case on the website, but my first impression was “wow, what a neat little case!” Each component has its own slot, which is nice.Lensse Case Open

The first thing I noticed was the heft and weight of the thing. I had read on the website that it was anodized aluminum, but I didn’t realise it would be quite so dense. My comparison is an O’Connor follow focus that I used on A Haunting–same low profile, direct drive, and ability to quick-release from the rails (something I don’t really need, but is neat.) The O’Connor’s weight is listed at 1.23 lbs/0.56 kgs, which is actually the same weight for the Lensse (I weighed it on a postage scale), but the O’Connor just feels a little lighter. Not sure if it’s a lower profile, a longer bridge, or just a different grade of aluminum, but the Lensse just feels a lot heavier.

The Fotga feels nice for someone my size, where the Lensse is just a little on the small size.

The Fotga feels nice for someone my size, where the Lensse is just a little on the small side.

The second thing is the size of the handwheels. I’m coming personally from using my Fotga DP3000 (reviewed here), which is all plastic but still really solid, and I also have big hands naturally. The Lensse handwheels feel relatively tiny, especially coming from an Arri FF-3 (the big follow focus that Regent had) and even the aforementioned O’Connor.

I don't know what that's actually called. You can see the mark doesn't extend over the marking ring, so you'll be a little less precise.

I don’t know what this post actually called.

The third thing is the lack of anything extra on the secondary handwheel–it’s literally just a wheel. The white marking ring will slide on, but there is no post or anything to mark it by, so it’s kinda pointless from an AC’s perspective. On the other hand, from an AC’s perspective, you wouldn’t necessarily need two wheels (unless there were some crazy stupid camera move?) so you could just switch the primary wheel to either side of the unit.

As far as the action goes, it feels very good. The aluminum teeth are quite sharp on all of the areas where they intersect, and the gear wheel is well built. I removed the screws for the hard-stops because I don’t use them, which lets the rings rotate freely–I’ve had this problem on a Fotga DP500II before (also used on A Haunting,) but it’s more of an annoyance than anything. Really, the only issue is with the focus mark post thing–the little metal spike doesn’t actually reach the marking disk. You can see it from the side, but it’s not nearly as helpful as even the Fotga’s arrow mark, and certainly not as nice as any of the [more expensive] FF’s I’ve used. But as with the mattebox below–we’re at that level of budget. $200? Even list price $350, you’re still getting a pretty good deal.

Focus blockA fourth thing (four? wow) is the height of the focus gear. I have yet to reconfigure my rig to get my lens to the proper height, but this is a problem I dealt with on the O’Connor (which was rigged on a C300 using still photo lenses)–the gear barely touches the focus ring of the lens. It’s a very low profile unit, which is fine, but the gearbox must be jammed almost under the lens to interact with the gear. This puts the handwheel very close to the rails, though a workaround would be to flip the unit so the gearbox is on the opposite side of the handwheel. As of mid-January when I asked the company, they are in the process of designing an arm for use with the Lensse, which would eliminate that problem and also open the unit up for use on much larger or smaller lenses.
Handwheel attachment knob Rail attachment knob

One major complaint: the knobs here are a joke. They are small and plastic, and though the screws are solid, it’s very difficult to tighten or loosen some of them. In particular the screw on the “quick-release” portion (which, incidentally, is not a very quick release–it’s not spring loaded, so you have to loosen it all the way in order to get it on or off) is nigh impossible to operate, especially for someone my size with the aforementioned large fingers. Once they’re locked, they’re fine, it’s just getting them there that’s tricky.

12mm square holeMinor complaint next: the square hole on the handwheel was just a millimeter too thin to truthfully seat the speed crank I have, which means it may not handle anything else. Of course, I only have what I have to test with, so it’s possible that it will accept “industry standard” (meaning, not-also-from-China) but it’s still something worth mentioning. Now, as you can see from the image, it fits enough–I can still get the functionality out of it. However, if this were a whip, and I walked away from the rig for a moment, it’s entirely possible that it would fall out.

So I’ve yet to field test the Lensse–will update this post when I’ve done so after next weekend. But my general impression is that it’s a nice, professional-looking follow-focus, well built, with a few quirks and quibbles. As with everything that’s cheap, just remember: there’s usually a reason for it.

Lensse Follow FocusBoth the mattebox and the follow focus highlighted a problem with some camera rigs: they require the lenses to be at the industry standard height from the rails (supposed to be 85mm from center of rods to center of lens–Duclos Lenses has a great post about that.) This required me to do some serious rig reconfiguration, which I suppose is my fault to begin with, but also highlights the issue with the P&C Gearbox cage in this configuration. You can see the height of the lens in relation to the bridge there, and just know that the bridge actually would run into the focus gear on my lens. Luckily, the focus gear was in a position that didn’t require me to get drastic with my build, but if you have anything close to what I’ve got, you might have to get a camera riser to use these pieces of equipment.

Next, the mattebox. The box listed it as a “Digital Juice” but I’ve seen practically the same mattebox (in pictures, anyway) from a variety of other sellers for a variety of prices (anywhere from $149 to $499.) Whether or not the others are the same ones with different stickers is something I suppose I can’t contest, but they look awfully similar.

Cut on the EyebrowOne thing I had read about in various reviews of the others is that there were scratches already in place from the box opening, and sure enough, there was a huge slice across the eyebrow.

Other than that, I didn’t notice any big problems right out of the box. The look and feel is very similar to the RedRock microMattebox that we had at Regent for our BMCC rigs–the comparison had been made before by a friend, but I didn’t think it would be as accurate. I think the main difference is in material of the mattebox itself. This would also affect the weight, obviously.

The mattebox comes preassembled, with a single hard-matte that clips into the front. The whole thing is a mixture of plastic and aluminum–some things that should be one are the other, but overall the design is solid. The hinge mechanism is clearly a lower-grade material, one which I’m used to dealing with on my Flycam–I know the feel of that stuff by heart now. But I don’t think it’ll give me any problems until much further down the road. The eyebrow and side-shades are individually wrapped, and may require the screws to be put back into their holes, but if you’re not an idiot, this should be fine.


I have an empty Pelican 1600 case that I’ve been meaning to work on for a while, and this gave me a perfect excuse to create a “cinema” case for my equipment. I pulled the bottom foam from the mattebox’s box, and used some corrugated plastic to create the dividers on the right. I’m actually really happy with how it’s all turning out, though I haven’t run it through the ringer yet.

Filter traysThe filter trays are plastic (probably should be aluminum) but they work pretty well so far. I’ve read a lot of people distrusting the plastic, but we’re at that level of budget here–for under $200, it’s what you’re gonna get. Strangely, the “hard mattes” for the 4×4 filters (seen on the left) are aluminum–I could see those getting bent during handling, but I think they’re thin enough that you could probably bend them back without too much stress. Obviously, with some wide angles, you’re going to run into problems with that matte, but you’d run into that problem regardless because of the smaller filters. Eventually I might get to where everything is 4×5, but 4×4 is what I mostly have right now. Plus, they work well with my other filter system (a LEE screw-on system) so…

So there you have it. I will be adding updates hereafter as I start using these things in the field.

Update the first:
Used both over the weekend for a commercial shoot–what ended up being a very fast, hit-the-ground-running, already-an-hour-behind commercial shoot–and was very pleased with the performance.


The Lensse was fine for the most part–no problems like I’ve had with some other FF’s (namely my D|Focus.) Occasionally, the handwheel will work a little loose, but that could have been because I was taking the rig in and out of my car every hour. Also, if the unit has been sitting still for a certain amount of time, it will be very hard for the first turn–not sure what’s making it do that. It could be my lens, but I never had that problem with the Fotga or O’Connor. Other than that, no issues this time around.

The mattebox did pretty well. Often when sliding filter trays in, the top latch would catch, and sometimes the filter would get out a little, but it was never in such a way that would have broken anything. The foam inserts for keeping light out aren’t really matte black, so they reflect a little light back, but this is only a problem if you’ve got a lot of flaring (i.e., you had the sun in your shot, which I did at one point.)

A mild annoyance (and, as yet, not a functionally-challenging one) is that the mattebox isn’t on the optical center. I’m trying to figure out how to compensate for that, perhaps with a new aluminum plate for it, but I knew this was a possibility–several reviews on Amazon brought that up. But again, $168. Not expecting great things here. In general, the mattebox would bounce and flex while moving the camera between setups, but didn’t really do that during any shots.

Update the Second: here is the mattebox from the front. You can clearly see how far off-center it is from the rig. When I can make some better measurements, I will probably make some cuts and move the screws over.

So far off center. So far.

So far off center. So far.


Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.

13 Jan

(Which is a line from my 2nd favorite Marx Brothers movie.)

Anyway, a friend asked me to share a recipe on Facebook. I didn’t want to take up space in the comments, so I thought I’d do it here. It’s a recipe for “vegan bread” which is very versatile–I’ve made rolls, loaves (mini and full), and even hamburger buns, and had great success. I have even made smaller rolls, which I put into a pie pan and froze for a later date (similar to “Mrs. Schubert’s Dinner Rolls,” though the results are hard to replicate.) It’s a bread on the sweet side, which is fine by me. It’s “veganness” or “veganity” (Vogonity?) doesn’t matter a whole lot to me, but it does make it dairy-less, which is cool.

2 c. “tepid” water (I usually put a cup of cold and a cup of hot)

1/2 c. sugar

1 1/2 T. active dry yeast

1 1/2 t. salt

1/4 c. vegetable oil (though I’ve found that full olive oil makes it lighter)

6 c. all-purpose flour

1. Dissolve sugar into water (as much as possible), add yeast. Let it sit ’til it’s frothy (about 20 minutes.)

2. Mix in salt & oil. Fold in flour 1 cup at a time; once all flour is mixed in, dough should be pulling away from the walls.

3. Knead dough on a floured surface until a smooth ball, then let it sit in a PAM-sprayed bowl for at least 1 hour, or until doubled.

4. Punch down; split into loaves/rolls/whatever and knead a little.*

5. Cover and let rise.**

6. Bake at 350-degrees for 22-25 minutes on the middle rack.***

* = if you’re making the “buns”, basically just make a dinner roll, then flatten it between your palms and put it on the pan.
** = I have found that the longer the rise time, the lighter the bread and the better the texture. I usually let it rise for at least an hour in its final form. The only issue is that sometimes the loaf rises enough that it won’t fit between shelves in the oven.
*** = Obviously, baking times differ. I use Pampered Chef stoneware loaf pans that my wife bought me for Christmas of 2013, and they cook pretty evenly with only an 18-minute cook time. But whatever you do, please put the bread on the middle rack. If you don’t have the room, then use two racks to split the oven into thirds, then at the halfway mark switch whatever’s on the top to the bottom, and vice versa.