Kitted up

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You can’t make a movie without a camera. Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Turns out, though, that a camera by itself is fairly limiting.

As someone who’s been a professional stills photographer (on and off) for 30 years, I’ve always understood that equipment is important. Photography enthusiasts tend to obsess about, even fetishise, their kit. But to a pro, equipment is a means to an end – it allows you to get the shots you want.

Naturally, I already have a lot of the necessary kit – lenses, tripods, light meter, lights (flash units but with usable modelling lamps), barn doors, light filters, reflectors, etc etc.

Years ago, when I first mooted the idea of making a movie to friends, the one problem I had was lack of a suitable camera. I had an 8mm camcorder, but no means of editing the tapes. Then, recently, I bought a Nikon D800 and that problem was solved. It’s capable of 1080p HD video and has a full-frame sensor for those lovely shallow depth of field shots.

So, I thought, we’re all set.

But then I found that monitoring the shot, and trying to pull focus, just staring at the camera’s LCD screen is tricky, especially with the way my old eyes are now. So, enter the Zacuto Z-Finder, a gorgeous clip-on loupe with dioptre adjustment. That’s one problem solved.

Edelkrone Pocket Rig

Edelkrone Pocket Rig

Still, pulling focus still wasn’t easy just using the lens’ focusing ring. And DLSRs are not really designed for hand-holding while shooting video. One firm – Edelkrone – had the answer to both those problems. Its brilliant Pocket Rig provides a rifle-like fold-out stock that offers excellent stabilisation, especially when the camera is pressed to the eye using the Zacuto Z-finder.

The Pocket Rig also has fold-out 15mm rails to which one can attach accessories. My accessory of choice is the company’s Focus One Pro, a follow-focus device. This is a clever bit of kit because it allows the focus direction to be reversed (so you can decide which way to turn the knob to focus closer or further away). And the indicator dial faces the camera operator: most follow-focus units have the dial facing sideways because they presume you have a separate person to act as focus puller. With a lot of DSLR shooting, though, it’s the camera operator who’s going to pull focus, so the Edelkrone approach makes more sense. The dial has an inscribed mark: once you’ve set the focus, you can turn the dial to match up with a convenient point on the surrounding scale – no need for grease pencils. It’s all very quick and easy, even with the lens we’re using (a Nikkor G 35-700mm f/2.8) which has a very short focusing range. That means most focus pulls take only a very small movement of the focusing knob. The design of the Focus One Pro makes this a lot easier than it would otherwise be.

Edelkrone Focus One Pro

Edelkrone Focus One Pro

I also got extensions for the Pocket Rig’s rods which will allow, further down the line, the addition of a matte box and handles.

The Edelkrone kit is superbly well made. It’s not cheap, but it is value for money. I’ve only encountered one problem: the silicon pads on the camera platform on the Pocket Rig went weird. They seemed to crystallise and then disintegrate. I emailed Edelkrone about this. Within the hour the company replied, saying that they would arrange for replacements to be sent out straight away. And they’ve been as good as their word – the new pads are on their way right now (via DHL) all the way from Turkey. Now that’s customer service.

Aside from some neutral density filters (more about those anon) that was pretty much it for the camera gear. So far. Most of the rest of the investment in kit has been to do with sound. But the more I get into this, the more kit I realise I need. Well, maybe not need. But definitely want…

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