Tis That Season

For the whole of 2012 I’ve been browsing eBay, hoping that some kind soul would decide to part with their never-used Canon 5Dmkii at a ridiculously low price. No amount of cosmic ordering made this happen. Instead, in the early hours of an overnight shift a wise man with logical reasoning suggested that waiting another 6 months wasn’t going to make much difference, nor was waiting till after Christmas. And buying one now (or buying one in 4 weeks) was going to have the same financial impact. “If you really want one, why not just buy one now?”.

So this morning I caught myself on eBay. And the inevitable happened. My Canon 5Dmkii will arrive in the coming days. Along with spare batteries, dual chargers, memory cards and (randomly) a follow focus whip.

I’m chalking this one up to being a bunch of Christmas presents from myself, to myself.

I really have been meaning to get a hold of one of these for years. My Canon 550D has done wonders for my photography, and has done just as good in the video department. In fact, the 550D was used for filming macro shots and cut-aways for Channel 5’s reality show Big Brother. and Celebrity Big Brother in 2012, and I also shot a music video with it too. To me, it really shows that the 550D is just as good for HD DSLR cinematography than the 5D.

But in saying that, the immediate arguments arise with sensor sizes, colour depth and low-light capabilities. And that’s why I’ve opted for the 5Dmkii. As tempted as I was to go for the 3rd generation I couldn’t justify the additional £600 to have a pure HDMI-out (coming in a 2013 firmware update. Allegedly), and getting rid of “rolling shutter”.

I seem to have acquired a mass amount of DSLR kit since becoming freelance. 2013 is going to be the year it’s all used.

The Right Stuff

My amateur photography hobby began in 2009. The noticeboard at work showed someone selling a second-hand Canon 450D. A Digital SLR was a step up from the point-and-shoot Casio pocket camera I’d been using for holidays and nights out. So I bought it. And then spent the whole weekend learning all the terminology of DSLR’s and reviewing various lenses that were well out of my price range (and still are).

Now I own a Canon 550D with several lenses, shoot HD video and time lapse photography as well as your usual stills. And it’s not just an amateur hobby anymore. I use the kit for professional work (more recently shooting inside the Big Brother house for Channel 5 where I was working as a House Director).

I carry my 550D and 28-135mm everywhere I go, as standard. The problem I have is that sometimes I come across a photo opportunity that would be better suited to one of my other lenses that I’m not currently carrying. So I’m hunting for a backpack that’s suitable to carry more kit, but still be a day-to-day backpack.

I’m looking for a backpack with shoulder straps (not a single strap) that’s modular and adjustable, spacious for kit, spacious for day-to-day stuff, inconspicuous and potentially able to carry a tripod.

The first camera backpack I ever bought was a Tamrac Expedition 6x

The Tamrac Expedition 6x, model 5586, is one hell of a crafted product. Waterproof rubber zips, spacious and modular. In fact it was far too much for what I actually needed. Yes, it held my camera and all my kit as well as my MacBook Pro. But there was ample space left over. And it really is massive. I also found the shoulder straps were further apart than usual, and so one strap was secure whilst the other was sliding off the other shoulder. It’s a true photojournalists backpack, but far too much for me. The 6x was therefore resold on eBay.

At the end of 2011 I started the search again and in PhotoPlus Canon magazine I came across a backpack which had a removable bag designed for camera gear that could be used separately.

The NewFeel FW10 with the additional NewFeel Reflex Camera Bag.

The bag is black but internally it’s bright orange, designed to allow you to see and find things easier. The smaller removeable camera bag (purchased separately for £17) is decent in quality and can hold a camera body with two medium or three smaller lenses. I found that I used the Reflex Camera Bag inside a satchel rather than inside the NewFeel backpack. This in itself is fine and has lasted well, but defies the point of the backpack. When the smaller camera bag is put in the backpack, it’s at the bottom of the bag and therefore buried under everything else you decided to chuck in there. It certainly doesn’t give ready-to-shoot access to your camera.

The problem with the NewFeel bag is that it’s just a cavernous space with no organisation. In saying that, I’ve kept a hold of it for a while as it holds all the kit and lenses in a protected way and is big enough for all the smaller items such as chargers, filters, batteries, mini tripods, quick release plates, etc. But all in one jumbled mess. Great for longterm storage and throwing in the car. But not great for walking, or hiking.

The third possible backpack I’ve  discovered is this one: The TamRac Aero 85

In a similar fashion to the Expedition 6x, the Tamrac Aero 85 is capable of holding all my camera kit in a modular and protected way at the bottom of the bag, and has a large padded pocket at the back for my MacBook Pro and has another section separate from the gear and laptop for other stuff such as lunch, a book, etc.

It felt great on my shoulders. The modular padded area is great for the camera and kit, and the laptop pocket is well padded and protected. The other selling point of this bag is that you have immediate access to your camera by swinging the bag across one shoulder and unzipping the side pocket. Ideal for some. But I’m left handed. And I’d swing the bag off over my left shoulder and over to my right in order to use my left hand, and the pocket is on the other side! No big deal, but not great for me. Also, the other ‘normal’ section just isn’t big enough for any extra stuff I might want to carry. Not that useful. I managed to get my wallet, a small book and a tin of deoderant in there before it started to become a jumbled unorganised mess. Almost pointless. So the Aero 85 is going onto eBay too…

Then there’s this backpack: The LowePro Flipside 300

Now, LowePro have made camera bag for frickin’ years. Could this be the one? It looks like it’ll hold all my gear in a modular fashion, has a separate side pocket for all the smaller personal items and has a tripod loop. It also has a removable zip pack that can hold wallets, cables, etc. There is also a 200 version too, which has a lower capacity (less lenses).

Does anyone know of any other bag that might be suitable or good for what I need?

UPDATE: As mentioned, I bought the Tamrac Aero 85 but I decided against keeping it. For hiking holidays I’d stick to the bag I had (the Newfeel) as it had done me good so far without damaging any of my other kit, and with a bit of space management I could carry a couple of other lenses in it. In the end I decided to buy something more longterm: A Pelican 1510. Pelican (who also own Storm) are the world leader in cases for the military. These things are crushproof, waterproof, bombproof, etc. They come in black, desert tan and yellow. I have a black version with lid organiser and padded dividers. It’s brilliant!

Pelican 1510

Glidecam XR 2000 Update

Last week I smugly ordered two quick release mounts with plates from eBay which would allow me to remove my camera from the Glidecam system and mount it on my Weifeng/Fancier 717AH fluid head that’s on my Glidetrack and tripods. The idea was to have kit that was all compatible with each other. Unfortunately for me the quick release mounts are not compatible with the Glidetrack. Why, I hear you ask? Well, the quick release mount has a safety button on the side which stops the plate from sliding out completely should you not have the lever tightened and it tip forward. But the diameter of this safety button is larger than the height of the mount itself.

717QK front view by Mercian Media

This means the mount would not sit flush on the top of the Glidecam system. And the trigger catch isn’t adjustable, so if it did sit flush you wouldn’t be able to lock the plate into place. Also, the mount does not have the usual screw holes in the bottom. Instead of one 1/4 inch hole (standard to a lot of tripods and kit) it has a hole in each corner which did not line up with the pre-drilled holes on the Glidecam plate.

EI717QK bottom view by Mercian Media

So these EI717QK mounts and plates will be going back on eBay as they are no use to me. Such a shame, considering all the hands they went through to get them from New York to the UK.

After a bit more research (I did lots already) I decided upon the Manfrotto 577 quick release mount with 501 plate. This is perfect for the Glidecam. It sits flush with the Glidecam plate and the quick release mechanism is moveable so that it doesn’t interfere with the camera or the Glidecam plate. It can lock and loosen within 90 degrees. Perfecto!

Manfrotto 577 quick release on a Glidecam XR 2000 by Mercian Media

Manfrotto 577 quick release on a Glidecam by Mercian Media

However, this means that in order for me to stick to the compatible-with-all ideology, I now need to purchase Manfrotto tripod heads that are comptible with the 501 plate!

Using a Glidecam XR 2000

I decided to get a Steadicam system after being inspired by several short films (see end of the post). I already had a Hague Mini-Motion steadicam system, but it had severe limitations. Anything heavier than my Canon 550D and the kit lens (18-55mm) made it useless. So that’s going up for sale. Eventually.

I had a choice of Glidecam systems; 1000, 2000 or 4000. But it also comes in an XR series, an HD series and a Pro series. So that’s 8 different types of steadicam system (because there isn’t a 1000 Pro). Basically the 1000 version is for smaller camcorders, the 2000 is for D-SLR cameras and the 4000 is for bigger heavier cameras. Sort of. The XR is the original series and has a trickier top plate to calibrate, whereas the HD has a newly designed top plate and is quicker to calibrate. The Pro system seems to be older in design.

So I bought the Glidecam XR 2000. It seems the right style for my Canon 550D and the lenses I have. It was also within my budget, with the HD system costing over £100 more (which is basically for the top plate that’s easier to calibrate, and a different style bottom weight plate).

Within a day I was running around the house, pretending to film people walking through doors and around the place. I could flip the camera from one side of the room to the other with ease. But. I initially had a problem with the camera swinging back and forth in a pendulum motion. The term ‘pendulum’ is splattered across several forums, so I understood I wasn’t alone and that there must be a fix.

The answer was that the bottom section was heavier than the top. So I added one of the washer-type weights to the underside of the Glidecam top plate by putting it on the screw holding the camera onto the top plate, just to give it a little extra. The final addition of a quick-release plate may negate the need for that weight in the future.

Overall it works really well. A lot of forum posts have had people complain about the balancing and use of the Glidecam, and the answer to the majority of those posts is that you’ve either not balanced it properly or you’re not using it properly. Taking the time to balance it properly is a must, and if you’re serious about using this thing on a shoot make sure you assign time for calibration. Regarding ‘not using it properly’; small gentle touches are required. Not jerky sudden stops and flicks (unless that’s deliberately the look you’re after of course).

For some examples on balancing a Glidecam have a look here and here.

Here’s a peek at one of the many great videos that helped make the final decision: