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Adjusting Counterbalance for Modern-Day Shoots

Camera operator: Ming Ng, photo taken by Timothy Tan.

Camera operator: Ming Ng, photo taken by Timothy Tan.

With the technological advancements that the broadcast and cinematography fields have gone through in recent years, videographers and cinematographers have more choices than ever when deciding what gear to take to a shoot. From lighting and microphones, to monitors, lenses and the cameras themselves, storytellers have a tool for every scene. Whether the situation calls for a light setup of a simple DSLR camera or a fully rigged system, the one constant in most cases, is the tripod system. Shooters need to take into account several things when deciding what fluid head will provide the right counterbalance system for the occasion.

Counterbalance is used to counteract the weight of the camera rig when tilting the camera rig during the shoot. The amount of counterbalance force required depends on the weight of the rig and the location of its centre of gravity (COG). When setting up a fluid head with the camera rig mounted, the balance point of the rig needs to be found by sliding the rig backward or forward to a point of equilibrium with counterbalance set to its lowest position.

After the camera rig is balanced to a point where the rig stays level, the counterbalance springs—built within the head—take over when counterbalance is stepped up and the rig is tilted backward or forward. The objective is to find a happy medium. If the counterbalance force is too strong, then the rig will spring back and counterbalance should be set to a lower step. If it’s too light, the rig will drop forward or backward. In this case, counterbalance should be increased.

By selecting the right position using the counterbalance selector knob, users should look to select a spring with the right amount of force to keep the rig at approximately half tilt, without springing back to level or dropping to full tilt. It is possible that the exact amount of counterbalance force required lies somewhere between two positions of the counterbalance selector. In this case, choose the position that provides a slight amount of spring-back and add some tilt drag to counter the spring-back. This method has been the traditional way of setting up the fluid head.

The all-new Arrowx 3 from Miller.

The all-new Arrowx 3 from Miller.

Fluid head companies are working to address setups where the right amount of counterbalance might be between two steps. For example, Miller Camera Support Equipment outfitted the arrowX line with CB PLUS™, a unique sequential counterbalance design employing a half step in between the larger counterbalance steps. CB PLUS helps users achieve repeatable, accurate and rapid setup over a wide payload range by featuring eight large counterbalance steps, allowing them to get to their needed position quickly and efficiently and then applying half a step, when required, for finer counterbalance control.

An important point to consider when purchasing a fluid head is how high the camera rig COG is above the fluid head camera plate. Most fluid head manufacturers specify the payload range for a COG at 100mm above the camera plate. For example, a fluid head that can handle up to 10kg at 100mm COG, may only handle 7kg at 150mm COG. Rig attachments such as lights, recorders, and monitors may raise the COG and hence reduce the counterbalance range. It is advisable to purchase a fluid head with plenty of payload range headroom.

A typical example is a videographer tracking a storm for a first-hand account. They might have several lenses and lighting solutions used to catch what is happening in the immediate foreground as well as what is happening off in the distance. Quick and efficient setup is needed for each individual instance, where both large, sweeping changes might need to be made to the counterbalance, as well as small fine-tuning adjustments.

This often leads shooters to a simple but perplexing conundrum: should they make quick changes, relying on the locking mechanism of the fluid head but ultimately inviting long-term damage, or do they take the time to counterbalance their setup and risk losing precious moments that could otherwise be focused on the shot?

The all-new Arrowx 3 from Miller.

Featuring a wide payload range, precision fluid drag and Miller’s innovative 16-position CB Plus counterbalance system, Arrowx 3 delivers the flexibility, speed of set up, and accuracy of shot that professionals expect.

New technology is constantly being invented to help solve any problem storytellers might face in the field, including this conundrum. For example, CB PLUS, or other quick counterbalance adjustments, help where frequent and fast re-rigging is required. Small refinements of using the half-step puts less stress on the inner mechanisms, prolonging the life of the fluid head, while adjusting to any situation. If a shooter has two to three go-to setups, they can quickly dial in the known counterbalance to that setup and be ready to shoot.

If a counterbalance system can’t keep up with a cameraman’s setup speed, precious moments and amazing shots could be lost. Employing the latest counterbalance technologies ensures that this is one less thing the shooter has to worry about.

August 18, 2016