Cinevate Atlas 10 Review

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Last week we took delivery of our third Cinevate Atlas 10 35″ slider dolly, ordered from CVP. Over the past few years we have tried out many different sliders including the Glidetrack HD and the Kessler Philip Bloom Pocket Dolly. The Cinevate is my favourite as it is light (the FLT version at least), simple, reliable and well-engineered.

As a small business owner, I always look for kit which is not going to require a lot of special nursing or repairs. Our gear gets used by lots of different crew, so it has to be straightforward to operate without any unnecessary features. Its important too that it can be easily transported and set-up on location. Therefore to accompany the new slider we invested in the Kwik Release plate system from Kessler and some Arrow Cases from Miller that can fit the slider and a tripod in together.

Our cinematographer Tom had the pleasure of Christening the new slider on a wedding last Friday at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge. Our set up (as you can see from the picture above) was to have the slider centre mounted on our Miller Compass 12 tripod with the Kessler Kwik Release system. The slider has a Manfrotto 701 head on it, again with the Kessler Kwik Release system. For establishing shots (externals), we tend to use a Canon 5D Mkiii with a Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 prime lens and a Zacuto EVF.

Its taken us a while to configure our gear like this for maximum efficiency. Our set-up needed to be flexible for the different projects we do as well as individual crew’s style of working. I am happy to say that we have got there and this third slider reflects our confidence. I think in our business you always need to try stuff out before committing to it, but in reality that often means buying it before you are absolutely sure. I take the view that you can always sell a piece of kit again if its not ideal – and I shall be doing just that with the standard Atlas 10 (non FLT) we have, which I find too heavy.

Overall I’d say bang for your ‘screen’ buck, this slider dolly is the best piece of grip equipment we’ve ever bought. It gets used every Cinematic style film we make and adds definite production value to any wedding film. In the example below it is used 9 times in the opening 10 shots. Just a word of caution though – it is much easier to use the slider on static subjects like the church interiors than moving subjects like the bride getting out of her car! There again if it wasn’t a challenge, it wouldn’t be interesting!

Bloomsbury Films ® | Olena & Spencer’s Wedding from Bloomsbury Films ® on Vimeo.

Andrew Cussens is the Director of Bloomsbury Films. For more information about wedding & event filming skills, please check out the Bloomsbury Films Academy.

Hague K12 Multi-Jib Crane Review

Wedding-Filming-with-Hague-K12-Jib-Crane1 whilst moving offices the previous year and hadn’t yet replaced it. I wanted a jib crane that was more robust, had a longer reach and ideally with a motorised head. I was lucky enough to negotiate a good deal on a used Hague K12 Multi-Jib with a Varizoom MC50 Head. The Multi-Jib had been factory modified to have a 12ft reach.

With the Varizoom head it came in about 4 cases which immediately struck me as a bit impractical for wedding filming. (Remember this is just the crane without any camera equipment!) After assembling it several times in our office, I decided to try it out on a project, but for now in its 6-9ft mode and without the motorised head. Despite my ambitions, I believe it’s not good to use too many new things at once on a client’s project – you don’t want it all to become a distraction.

So I loaded it into the car to film two jobs over the final weekend of 2012. Because the jib crane takes a while to set up and position it is important to know beforehand what shot you want it for. I’ll be honest and say that whilst the Hague K12 is fairly well built, the engineering is relatively unsophisticated as the various sections have to be assembled on-site and screwed together. Time is of the essence with event filming and this type of ‘Meccano’ construction can be a little frustrating.

The first job was a Greek wedding at St Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church and The Royal Exchange in London. I had originally thought of using the jib crane for the bride’s entrance at St Sophia’s, but when I saw the operating space and the number of people cramming into this church I decided against it. Instead we opted for a Steadicam shot. This meant the jib crane was mainly used at the reception. I thought the crane would be good for external shots of the Royal Exchange would create the ‘wow’ factor I wanted for the film’s highlights. In the video below you can see the crane use at 1:28 in sync with a rise in the music to give it an epic feel.

Bloomsbury Films ® | Maria & Michael’s Wedding from Bloomsbury Films ® on Vimeo.

Despite my initial misgivings I was impressed with how smooth the Hague K12 jib was. Indeed, compared to the Glidecam CamCrane 200, it had no flex or bounce whatsoever.

The next day I used it again for a wedding at The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. In this instance we had the space to film the bride’s entrance, which had her rising graciously up some steps. Again it was important to know what shot I wanted it for as you can’t quickly relocate a jib crane. I settled for being at the bottom of the steps as it also meant I wouldn’t be in the other camera’s shot filming her walking up the aisle. You can see the shot below at 1:27.

Bloomsbury Films ® | Tiffanie & James’s Wedding from Bloomsbury Films ® on Vimeo.

Having used the Hague K12 on numerous occasions over the last year I have become more efficient at using it. Despite the basic engineering, I plan to keep it for the time being as I have made several modifications of my own. I found the people at B Hague & Co very helpful and willing to make completely bespoke parts for me at an affordable price. These include a custom mount for the Varizoom controller and HDMI monitor and upgrading to heavy duty all-terrain wheels for the dolly.

I call the Hague K12 my “pet dinosaur” on shoots as I think it amuses some people to watch me wheeling it about behind. However, like a dinosaur, people prefer to only hear of its existence, rather than actually seeing one imposing on their event. This means safety and discretion is always key to my decision when to use it!

Andrew Cussens is the Director of Bloomsbury Films. For more information about wedding & event filming skills, please check out the Bloomsbury Films Academy.

Wedding Video Cameras

Wedding CinematographerWhen we started Bloomsbury Films in 2006 we filmed all our events with a Sony PD170 camera. This was the ideal camera for documentary and events work since it featured the professional DVCAM format, had XLR sound inputs and a decent zoom lens. A couple of years earlier I had shot a drama film with this camera and couldn’t imagine anything better….

However, HD filming came along and with it a switch to widescreen (16×9) aspect ratio… So in 2008 we upgraded to Sony HDV Z7 cameras. We chose this model over the Sony Z1 (already slightly dated by then) because it worked much better in low light. We also trialled the Sony EX-1 but the cost of its proprietary SxS Media was prohibitive. We liked the Z7 because it had dual format recording (tape and CF card) and an interchangeable lens mount – which was very sexy.

I was convinced at the time we’d be using DigiPrime lenses on it just like in the Sony brochure. But we never did. And the dual format recording was erratic at times. Nevertheless, the Z7 had a beautiful Zeiss lens and proved to be a good choice of camera that lasted us many years. It became one of Sony’s most popular cameras and when we finally sold them in 2012 we got a substantial proportion of our original purchase price back.

But the reality is our ambitions to use the Z7 as a cinema camera weren’t realised and in any case another shift in the industry had already started which would overtake its nascent potential. DSLR film-making began in late 2009 as something of a cult movement attracting just a handful of determined enthusiasts. I knew about it at the time, but honestly held the common view (at least then) that DSLR cameras weren’t suitable for filming and that any advantages they had would be incorporated into the next Sony video cameras. So we just waited…

And waited.. And waited..

By 2011 we found ourselves somewhat behind the curve as DSLR film-making became increasingly mainstream. Yes, they were still very primitive as video cameras, but the footage they produced punched way above their price point. For example a £1500 Canon 7D body could produce footage as good as a cinema camera 20 times the price. Whatever the practical issues this meant our films, which were still being shot on Z7 cameras, were looking worryingly dated.

Consequently, we decided to film our first job with a Canon 5D Mkii DSLR camera in June 2011 (see Richard & Samantha below). To circumnavigate the problems of sound recording and recording duration, we filmed it in dual format – ie one DSLR and one Z7 video camera. It was the right way to begin, except the difference in quality between the two cameras was a little obvious in the edit. This trailer mostly favours the DSLR footage.

Bloomsbury Films ® | Samantha & Richard’s Wedding from Bloomsbury Films ® on Vimeo.

The thing about DSLR film-making is that when used properly it is a cinematic format rather than a documentary video format. That is because of the larger sensor size in these cameras and the scope for using interchangeable lenses, filters, focus control, external sound recording and specialist stabilisation. However, this all adds complications to the filming process which is best managed in a controlled (i.e. staged drama) environment, rather than a live (i.e. event documentary) environment.

During 2011 we trialled various new cameras that were coming onto the market, including the Sony FS100, Panasonic AF101, Canon C300 and Sony F3. While each had their quirks, there was no turning back with large sensor cameras. In early 2012 we took the plunge and invested in the newly released Canon 5D mkiii. We combined our cameras with Canon & Zeiss lenses, Edelkrone rigs, Zoom H4n recorders and Miller tripods. From that point on we filmed exclusively with DSLR cameras.

Since then we have continued this journey, refining our (frankly complicated) workflow in an effort to regain at least some of the efficiency of the Z7 days. Of course having switched from videography to cinematography we will never quite achieve that, but we have learned a lot of valuable lessons. In particular, we ditched the Edelkrone rigs in favour of Zacuto ones and invested in some Canon C100 cameras to complement our 5Ds. This enabled us to circumnavigate sound recording issues and get rid of the messy process of external recording to Zoom H4ns.

Canon C100 Filming Wedding
Thankfully, this now means less time is spent wrangling equipment and more time spent being creative. Which is what I love… After all the initial scepticism, I have completely fallen in love with the Canon 5D mkiii and enjoy finding ever more inventive ways of using this unassuming ‘video’ camera. It is currently my weapon of choice and below (Jennifer & James) is a more recent film made with it. Of course, I don’t know how long it will be before we are changing our cameras yet again, but I suspect not too soon. With 3D losing some of its momentum, we’ll probably have to wait for 4k to make a substantial move forward….

Andrew Cussens is the Director of Bloomsbury Films. For more information about wedding & event filming skills, please check out the Bloomsbury Films Academy.

Bloomsbury Films ® | Jennifer & James’s Wedding from Bloomsbury Films ® on Vimeo.