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Thread: Using a video head with a large format camera

  1. #1

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    Using a video head with a large format camera

    On the off chance that someone is familiar with both video heads and still camera heads...

    I have to buy a new pan and tilt head for my 4x5 because my ballhead is driving me crazy when I try to use it for a bunch of photographs I need to make at close range to the subject. I am also about to buy a 16mm motion picture camera. Both cameras weigh under 10 lbs with lens, and I plan to use them with one tripod (a Gitzo 1325). Is there any reason why I can't buy a high quality video/motion picture camera pan and tilt head and use it with both cameras, instead of buying separate heads for each?

  2. #2

    Using a video head with a large format camera

    As long as you have some way to adjust the side to side leveling, a video head can work just fine.

  3. #3
    Robert A. Zeichner's Avatar
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    Using a video head with a large format camera

    Jeff, I'm in the television equipment business and used to sell and repair motion picture equipment before that and shoot motion pictures before that and so I have a pretty good idea of what's out there. I don't see any reason why this is not possible so long as you are aware of a few details. Many television and motion picture shooters like and use Gitzo tripods. Gitzo makes a ball leveling head adapter for fluid heads and so leveling can be accomplished in that way. The heads that are available are plentiful. Sachtler, Vinten, O'Connor, Miller, Cartoni are names that come to mind first. I have a leaning toward Sachtler as their quality of materials and finish is first rate and they are very smooth. For a 10 pound motion picture camera (something like an Arri-S with internal 100' loads or an SR with a 400' magazine) equipped with the typical Angenieux 12-120 or similar, the Sachtler DV-12 might be adequate, perhaps even a DV-8. If you check out Sachtler's web site, you will find load specs for every head. With Sachtler, you can take adavantage of their touch and go quick release plates which are very conveninent for a view camera. You can also dial in 0 counter balance spring tension when using a view camera to prevent the head from fighting you as you position the camera. By dialing in a little tilt drag and pan drag, you should be able to position the camera and then lock it down. The ability to remove the pan handle will be an advantage as those things are so long on all of these heads that they will just get in the way under the dark cloth. I envision that you'll use the fluid head like a ball head when using with a view camera. One important feature of any fluid head that is a must for you is the ability to do a solid lock down shot. Many of them are not as good as they should be in this regard. Another reason I like Sachtler.

  4. #4

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    Using a video head with a large format camera

    Robert,

    The camera is the portable, dedicated super 16 that Aaton introduced about five years ago. I'll be able to check out the brands of tripod head you mention, hands on, next week. I'd much rather put extra money into a fluid head than buy two heads, so hopefully I'll find one that feels right and will lock down sufficiently tight. As much as I like the Arca-Swiss ballhead, it is annoying for close-up photography. Hopefully, one of the fluid heads will do the trick.

    I thought that large format was expensive, in gear and operating costs, until I started looking at super 16. Professional motion picture equipment makes the cost of large format look like the cost of point and shoot 35. The camera bodies are extraordinarily expensive, and the prices of lenses are frightening, not to mention the cost of film, processing, converting footage into digital form, manipulating the digital images, etc., etc. I'm starting to understand why video is attractive, although as you know, being in the business, the cost of a serious video camera makes super 16 itself look cheap

  5. #5

    Using a video head with a large format camera

    Jeff, that's exactly what I do. I own and operate a few heavy motion picture cameras and use the tripods for my still picture cameras as well. As I'm sure you are well aware it is very easy to move and operate a motion picture camera tripod and it's just as easy to use a still camera as a motion camera.

    The only drawback is the weight. In the grand scheme of things I don't personally think it's a big deal, but some people really get into the ounces of things.

  6. #6
    Robert A. Zeichner's Avatar
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    Using a video head with a large format camera

    Jeff, yes the cost of all of these various options are relative and I wouldn't try to talk anyone out of working with motion picture film if the visual feel of that medium were precisely what they were after. One of the reasons many have switched over to things like the Varicam is that processing costs and raw stock are significantly more than DVCPro tapes, which need no processing, can be shot in 24p and now can be edited directly on something as inexpensive as an FCP system. The initial outlay might be more than a used Super 16 package, but the operating costs will be small by comparison, at least in a one-man-documentary type shooting scenario. And with the variable frame rate feature of the Varicam and some of the aftermarket ramping controllers available, even under and over-cranking is not a limitation anymore. This is getting a bit off topic, so if you would like to discuss futher, please email me and I'll be happy to help in any way I can.

  7. #7

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    Using a video head with a large format camera

    I mentioned the comparison with large format only because I'm sufficiently shell-shocked by 16mm costs that I now find it amusing that I and other large format users sometmes bemoan the cost of the medium. I figured that the price of the Cooke portrait lens was rather steep until I found out what their motion picture lenses cost. Now the portrait lens seems a pittance

    As between film and video, I have made a conscious decision to go with film. It took a lot of agonizing, and I know that film will be more expensive in the long run, but it's the look I want for the project I'm working on. If I were going to shoot video, I'd do what just about everyone else does and rent. That is another interesting difference between motion pictures and large format. In motion pictures, renting is the norm for most people, and for good reason.

    I agree that this is off topic. I just find the cost comparison fun. Actually, I think that there are some things that large format photographers can learn from cinematographers, especially about the use of continuous lights and the film to digital to print process, but there may not be a lot of tolerance for such discussions on this site.

    I appreciate your offer to discuss off list and I'll take you up on it when (not if) I get confused about this sudden invasion of motion pictures into my life.

    Thanks also to Jeff and Bosaiya for their posts.

  8. #8

    Using a video head with a large format camera

    Jeff, I got started doing motion work, so when I started doing stills I just used all of my other equipment. I have little off-camera (Canon) flash for my SLR, but other than that all of my lights are hot lights. My light meter is a cinema-style meter (I need to replace this because of the long expsoures I take now), all of my gear is motion gear. Things like camera shake are not much of a problem, it's all built like tank parts. The only downside for me is weight, and since I don't travel with my gear much it's not too bad. Costs for everything are much higher (as you've mentioned), but since it was all already purchased previously it's not an issue.

  9. #9

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    Using a video head with a large format camera

    Bosaiya,

    Have you read Nestor Almendros's A Man with a Camera?

    It is far and away the most inspirational, and for that matter commonsensical, book that I have ever read about photography. There is SO much that a still photographer can learn from Almendros. He makes people like Ansel Adams and Susan Sontag look like obnoxious prigs, and he had a wonderful sense of humour.

  10. #10

    Using a video head with a large format camera

    I haven't read it, but will have to keep an eye out for it. I've never been thrilled about reading Adams and the like. Lots of good information, but it's just a chore.

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