New Gear, First Impressions, And More!
It’s been a while since the last post; you can thank the common cold and my overall slothfulness towards writing as of late for that. But I’m back. And there is fresh new gear to be talked about, my friends. So, I recently spent around $1,400 on some new equipment for Blulight Studios and our future projects. The majority of the new gear I got would be very useful for any ultra-low-budget to no-budget filmmakers. Most of items we got were anywhere from $100 to $500. If you have some new equipment acquisitions in mind for the future, please take a read through as these impressions may be of interest to you!
So let’s get started! First up is the:
Pearstone VT2500B Tripod
This tripod was $145 when I bought it on Amazon, making it considerably less expensive than a Manfrotto counterpart. For the price, it seems like you’re getting a solidly built tripod, albeit with a few minor annoyances. It’s the first robust tripod I’ve owned (not worked with) that wasn’t some flimsy $30 toy. The load capacity is around 14 pounds, which is something greatly needed for the gear we’d mounting up on it. It came with a convenient carrying case, which is always nice!
Looking at the head of the tripod, we find the standard setup and controls we would see on a tripod for the price: position-able arm, locks for pan and tilt, ball joint at the bottom of the head, detachable camera slate, and a convenient bubble for getting the proper alignment. The head is not removable.
It all feels heavy and robust, which is to be expected from tripods of this style. The materials all seem to be good quality, using either heavy plastic, hard rubber, or solid aluminum. The head moves smoothly in all directions, with a fair amount of drag to eliminate any jerkiness. There is no way to adjust the drag on the tripod, which means you are limited to relatively slow pans or tilts no matter the amount of force applied to the handle. Another quip I have is with the slate. The button used to unlock the slate from the tripod feels cheap and mashy; I feel it might be problematic in the future.
Looking at the feet of the tripod, there are some nifty options for the type of ground you are working with. Each rubber foot can be rotated upwards to reveal metal spikes that are perfect for secure placement in either grass or dollies. The rubber feet can be used to protect delicate flooring. In the center of the three feet is a convenient lock that prevents separation while traveling.
In all, for the price, this was a solid buy; a great upgrade from what we used to work with. There are some minor annoyances, and we’ll see if they stand the test of time. You can find it at B&H right here.
GINIRIG Puing I
Buying a Ginirig felt like a bit of gamble. The price seemed too good to be true. The very official-looking website didn’t have a functioning checkout system. So then I tried another one. No dice. Finally, the order went through successfully at this website. Multiple websites representing the same company? Really good prices? International shipping? I thought I might be getting ripped off somehow, until an inconspicuous box arrived at my door around two weeks after ordering. And there it was: the Ginirig Puing I, just a bunch of rods and clamps until it’s all properly assembled (it came with no instructions but was easy enough to put together using the pictures as a guide).
The Puing I is everything you see in the picture above, minus the monitor arm in the bottom left corner. A side arm, shoulder mount, follow focus, great handles, and a good baseplate with tripod mounting option at the bottom. In addition to the Puing I, I ordered a monitor arm, and a lens gear (to adapt any lens to the follow focus) all for $423. With $87 international shipping, the grand total was $510. Still, impressively inexpensive for what you end up getting. This rig just feels great. It’s all quality anodized metal, not a bit of plastic in the whole build. Nothing feels cheap, everything is impressively sturdy and rugged. I feel like the Ginirig can survive anything, it feels that great. The follow focus is decent. There is a bit of noticeable play, not to mention the large size of the dial and ring. The magnets holding the marking ring are strong and tough, great for holding it in place.
With no included counter-weight, the rig can definitely get heavy with long use, even for an experienced operator. All the weight of the quality metals add up, and when you add your camera, lens, and maybe even an external monitor, it gets oppressive. An investment into counter weights when you buy this rig would seem like a good idea, but $100 for weights seems criminal. We might think of a more inexpensive way to put something together ourselves.
One problem I have with the follow focus isn’t the play, but the awkward angle that it creates when mounting on a seemingly standard lens. It faces the floor, making it hard to see marks. If there’s a way to adjust the angle of the follow focus, please let me know. The angle is very inconvenient for both the operator and a 1st AC. Another gripe I have is the closeness of the side arm and the camera itself, illustrated in the picture below.
This makes it a bit of hassle to access some of the basic camera functions. This also makes me worry about ever upgrading to a slightly larger camera. Will there be room? There is a bit of leeway to scoot the base-plate more to the left but we’ll see how much room that gives us later.
All in all, the rig was extremely worth the purchase as we now have the room to attach any add-ons like matte boxes and stuff. We also now have a shoulder rig, and a great base to start off with making the ideal rig. The “risky-ness” was definitely worth it.
Liliput 7″ External Monitor
The Liliput 7 inch external monitor was only $189, coming with the essentials such as a battery and charger, mini-HDMI to HDMI cable, and a remote control, among other accessories. A few more professional filmmakers told me to hold off on buying an external monitor until we could afford a more expensive, higher quality monitor, or to get a viewfinder instead. We are planning on doing quite a bit of indoor shoots, and with our new crew, we needed a larger monitor to be able to provide simultaneous viewing for the director, DP, and script supervisor. I think this was the perfect buy. For the price you get a great size, great brightness, and decent color reproduction. The monitor definitely needed some tweaking of its color settings to provide the proper image, but once it got set up, it made itself another valuable production asset to Blulight Studios.
The battery life is decent, clocking in at around two hours of usage. Definitely needs an extra battery to last for any standard shooting day. A larger sunshade is also recommended for outdoor use. We’ve been having some problems getting the camera to both output to the monitor and the camera screen at the same time (is this possible? We are using magic lantern trying to make it happen) and we’ll let you guys know whether it is indeed possible or not. But as far as the monitor goes, very cool device we’ll definitely be using in upcoming shoots. You can find the monitor for purchase right here.
Pearstone Clapboard (9.25×11 inches)
It’s a clapboard for synchronization of audio and video takes, and organization for the editor. The acrylic is little flimsy, and one of the screws apparently fell out of the (wooden?) sticks when our 2nd AC was taking a look at it. The sticks feel solid enough, so I’ll just make sure the 2nd AC maintains it properly. All in all, decent clapboard, with screws that needed to be tightened a bit more. You can get it here.
Glidetrack SD – 20″ Slider
Here’s the Glidetrack SD, the first slider I’ve ever worked with at $280 at the time of purchase. The slider came barebones, with all you see in the picture above, minus the tripod obviously. The slider came in pretty good condition, with smooth action of the slidey parts. I discovered that the main screw on it didn’t fit with the camera or the tripod head I had available (all my equipment received the standard 1/4″ size, the screw on the glidetrack was a 3/8″) so I had to buy an adapter. Once that came in, I was able to use the slider.
With the weight of the camera, it works well. It takes a steady hand and practice to pull smooth slides on it. When mounted on the tripod, it handled the weight pretty well. The slider didn’t tip or bend too much when the camera was at one end of the slider. I have a crappy SLIK tripod head on it.
The length of the slider (0.5 meters) works for subjects and foreground at most seven or eight feet away. Beyond that, the parallax isn’t as dramatic, and you find yourself running out of track to get a desired slide. Anything in that range, which is a lot of things especially close indoor environments, it works really well. All in all, a great slider to start out with and use for your run-and-gun productions. The version I got did not come with a carrying case, making transporting it a hassle. You can find it here.
Impact Three-Light Mini-Boom Kit
Using the picture from B&H here as the setup time for the lights was too long to get pictures of them. I got this light kit from B&H for $219 dollars. They come without bulbs, so just be ready to purchase your own tungsten bulbs. The build quality of the lights are a bit cheap as you’d think any sub-$1000 light kit will be, but not as flimsy as expected. Using the umbrellas as diffusion, you can get some pretty nice, even lighting out of this kit. I’m using two 500w and one 250w tungsten bulbs purchased from a lighting store here in my home town. The boom light provides some much needed flexibility in placement, and works great as a backlight. The carrying case provided seems big and adequately durable, but only time will tell. The stands of the lights are built good enough to last, handled carefully of course. Any rough handling of these cheap stands will cause guaranteed issues in time. The sockets consists of some wooden handles that heat up easily and some ceramic parts.
In all, the lights just work. They must be taken care of well in order to last, so please keep that in mind while using them (or any sub-$1000 lighting kit for that matter).
Magic Lantern and More!
We recently got our hands on Magic Lantern and will be using it from now for video. It provides a very much needed degree of control while shooting, and adds all sorts of incredibly useful tools and settings. We shot a little test using the experimental HDR shooting mode, as well as testing out the much talked-about Warp Stabilizer feature that Adobe CS6 has. Check it out!
And that’s it for today! Come back soon for an introduction to our new production crew and some insights into how I’m going from my one-man-crew productions to 11-man-crew productions and what sort of logistics we’ve worked out for a bigger production. Thanks for reading.