When you are travelling light you will always have to make some compromises. But, with the right gear, it is entirely possible to obtain shots with a cinematic sensibility without needing to hire Sherpas!
I love the idea of compact gear and I love the idea of simplicity. When you have a budget and a crew on hand and a load of time, then having a larger camera and a truckload of grip equipment is wonderful. However, as I have perhaps pointed out in my various tomes here, not everyone is working with such luxuries and to the consternation of some, the one-man band is a reality. Particularly when it might come to being out in the wilds doing a spot of adventure filming. Not everyone has the budget, gear, and logistical capabilities of Red Bull.
With that in mind, how can a person travel as light as possible, but still have some ability to get some slick shots? I’m going to give a rundown of some potential equipment here. I have not tested all of it in person, but I hope I can give you some ideas to investigate further. My thought process here is to have a camera that is capable of some real quality, as well as being able to move from mount to mount with minimal messing around. If there’s one thing that really makes me frustrated it is having to keep unscrewing mounting plates.
The business end, the camera
You might already have a lightweight camera you are happy with. Any of the peripheral gear I list here will work with most lightweight cameras. But for my purposes, I want a small camera that is capable of some good quality, with real grading potential.
There are two main contenders from my own perspective. The Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera and/or the Panasonic GH5. The former can already record extremely high-quality 10-bit footage in log gamma up to 1080/60p, allowing for some slow motion, as well as DNG raw.
The GH5, of course, is larger but can record 10-bit 4K footage. A full log gamma ability is a paid for extra, but along with forthcoming firmware updates that allow very high bitrate intra-frame recording, this is a camera to be reckoned with. Both cameras have good battery life from their default battery systems, making power management easy. And both record to easily available SD cards.
The MFT lens mount on both means that glass can also be very lightweight if you do not wish to go down the adapter route for chunkier lenses. Other camera options do, of course, include the likes of the A7S series from Sony, although I have singled out the cameras above for their ability to record either 10-bit colour precision in-camera and/or raw capabilities. No doubt the forthcoming NAB show may give some additional options!
Dealing with tripod plates
As I alluded to earlier, I really dislike tripod plate faff. To obtain different styles of shot we are going to need moving our camera from tripods to sliders and maybe even gimbals. A lightweight camera system gives us the option of using Edelkrone’s QuickRelease ONE system. Edelkrone will feature prominently in this article, simply because they have some pretty innovate solutions to problems that other companies have avoided tackling.
The QuickRelease ONE is a little device that attaches to the bottom of your camera. It contains a nifty little-geared mechanic that allows it to grip tightly onto the protruding 1/4” screw that sticks out of the top of the tripod mounting plate. In short, it allows you to move the camera from tripod plate to tripod plate without having to unscrew a single thing. The company claims that it can cope with rigs of up to 6.6 lb (3 kg) in weight.
The Micro Cinema Camera doesn’t have a built-in monitor. The GH5 is better, due to the built-in flip screen. But other camera options may not have a versatile display either.
First, the display itself. The Blackmagic Video Assist 5” is a good option for portability and the most up to date firmware gives it truly useful functionality. The SmallHD 502 is an alternative, but for viewing in bright outdoor environments and if your budget allows, the new SmallHD 503 UltraBright might be the better option. With a rather incredible capability of up to 2200 nits of brightness and a tough Gorilla Glass construction, this may be the better option for the outdoors. Although with a release RRP of $2499, it won’t be for everyone. Usefully, all these monitor options are powered by easily obtainable Canon E6 style batteries.
The monitor is one aspect, but you’ll need something to mount it on. Once again, Edelkrone has a solution that goes above and beyond the standard mounting arm. Edelkrone’s monitor arm solution allows the monitor angle to be adjusted smoothly and hold the position that you leave it in without needing to loosen any screws. This fits well with my minimal faff philosophy!
In addition, it also has a cold shoe mount on the opposite side for microphones and other accessories to be attached, as well as a mount underneath the monitor itself that could accommodate external recorders or other devices.