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Part 1: The Principle of Panoramic Movement and Selecting Site-Specific Equipment

Today, with technological advances and the arrival on the market of lighter weight HD-DSLR cameras and the Canon Cinema EOS system, everyone is seeking that incredible shot that combines shallow depth of field, differential focus point pulling, and stabilized movement.

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A complete “crew” of skilled personnel is still my best recommendation for achieving the finest results however the new breed of “film-makers” increasingly work alone and need to carry fewer equipment bags around and the budgets do not normally account for a “crew”. These days, anything is possible due to the lightness and modularity of some of the products available. Users need to make themselves aware of what items are available to help them get the best results from these newer, more portable cameras when working alone. This equipment is all about versatility and there is a vast amount of choice with a range of price options. In this article, I will break down and create an inventory of equipment available to “film-makers” and I will also share with you the choices I made for myself.

The principle of panoramic movement

A panoramic shot is the simplest movement to achieve. The camera doesn’t have to be carried around. It is set on a pivot so it can rotate either around its vertical axis (for a vertical or tilt panoramic sweep), or around its horizontal axis (horizontal or pan panoramic sweep).

The camera remains set in place, and the panoramic shot does not involve any change in perspective, but it can easily cover a large area. It also has a descriptive purpose: this is a good alternative to creating a series of fixed shots. It also allows you to travel over spaces that don’t fit into a classic image proportion (4:3 or 16:9), to illustrate a landscape (location shot), easily depict action, or also to implicitly indicate a link between two or more elements.

Panoramic shots are often slow and should be perfectly steady with no jerks, and they should be buffered at the beginning and end. This movement can be done very dynamically.

Select equipment for stabilized movements suitable for the type of filming you’re doing.

The type of production will dictate the equipment needed. When shooting on set from a fixed location, you can use a heavier more bulky support than if you are mobile over a larger set where lighter weight equipment is beneficial.  Stable footage is a major selection criteria when choosing film production equipment.

Situation 1:  Equipment specifically designed for panoramic movements for static shots

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Fluid Heads

Adding dynamic energy to a sequence, camera movement has to be justifiable. It is often difficult to achieve because it takes much time and experience. When it’s successful, it can give your shot a whole new dimension.

Situation 2: Equipment dedicated to panoramic movement when shooting from a fixed position

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Equipment dedicated to panoramic movement when shooting from a fixed position

Fluid Heads & Legs

The most traditional and common method for image stabilization is the use of a tripod; it also has the advantage of being simple and effective 100% of the time. Even though a tripod is an absolutely necessary accessory, there could be some disadvantages: Often you need to transport heavy, bulky equipment and find the location where you need to use it for just a minimal amount of time.

Lightweight cameras of course benefit from a whole line of lightweight photo tripods. When you are shooting video as the heavier the tripod, the more the need for stability will be reinforced and the more you will achieve elegant movements.

The legs and fluid head really need to be chosen according to your camera set up (camera alone or a camera with external accessories: independent sound system, external monitor, etc.) and the lenses selected for the film (photo lens – light fixed focal length – or zoom cinema with PL mount which could be extremely heavy).

In the case of lightweight cameras, the heads selected to achieve precise panoramic movement are heads developed for video. Three-way heads which are very useful in still photography, are not recommended for video because they prevent any kind of linearity when creating movement. Note: most if not all high quality video tripods or heads feature “spirit levels” for an exact setting.

Since the 5DMKII came out in 2008, my choice was to go for the new Manfrotto video heads using bridging technology and the MPRO series of tripods. These are lightweight legs combined with proper fluid heads adapted for use with lighter weight cameras and are very popular.

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The major advantage of these lines is the same as for the new compact cameras capable of shooting HD video: They are extremely versatile, particularly the “flat based” models that allow users to secure them easily and directly onto many small pieces, like Sliders or MiniJibs for example (see below the tools devoted to classic dolly movements). Unlike bowl mounted heads, the “flat base” heads are adjusted directly and not at the tripod level.

As for  the tripod, I chose the MPRO line by Manfrotto,  because these are the only ones that offer tremendous ease of use, good stability even though they are very light, with a great useable range; (26cm – 2.03m).

Normally, heavy tripods are recommended to guarantee fluidity and stabilization, but when weight becomes an issue, carbon fibre tripods are your ideal choice. If necessary, you can weigh down the legs once you’re on location using sandbags and this helps a lot.

Here the second part of the article.

The original article was written by the author in French and has been translated for the purpose of the MSoX website.

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