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The Gimbal Revolution : CAME TV Optimus Review

It seems like every once in a while an invention comes along that completely revolutionises an industry. Once you become a part of that movement it becomes difficult to imagine what life would be like (or was like) without it. There are plenty of examples out there but I am of course talking about the 3-axis camera gimbal.

If you’re reading this then you’re probably familiar with what a gimbal does, so I won’t bore you with the basics. I’d also like to point out that I’m no gimbal expert; I’m just a humble videographer who wants to share my personal experiences in the hope it benefits someone looking to invest in a gimbal setup.

Like many people out there, I relied on my budget ‘Flycam’ to get any sort of motion in my shots before gimbals hit the market. It was (and still is) a great piece of kit but it’s not without its disadvantages. Even after years of practice I was finding the more demanding shots took three or four attempts to get right. In certain situations you don’t always have this luxury, not to mention the fact that you need forearms of steel to keep control of these things for more than a few minutes at a time. 

The main question that popped into my head when I first heard about gimbals was – ‘are they actually worth the money?’ No doubt you’ve asked yourself this very question, because lets be honest, most of them aren’t cheap. Once you’ve saved your money and have justified the investment, the problem lies with where and what to buy. No doubt you’re familiar with the likes of DJI and Freefly, but if you’re like me, these will probably be out of your price range. There are plenty of other brands out there that cater towards the everyday videographer like myself. The brand I chose to buy from are a Chinese manufacturer by the name of CAME TV. You might never have heard of these guys but they have been operating since 2003 and have become a big name in the gimbal market; with an array of different models to choose from depending on budget and user requirements.

I first started looking at gimbals in the summer of 2016 and had my eye on Came TV’s upcoming model the ‘Optimus.’ I think I had happened upon a demo video from NAB tradeshow but was waiting for its official release and subsequent user reviews before making up my mind. At the time there were only a couple of reviews out there but now there are plenty to look at on YouTube or on Came TV’s blog – http://cametvblog.com/category/blog/

What’s interesting about the Optimus is that it allows you to use it as a single-handed ‘pistol-grip’ or alternatively it transforms (excuse the pun) into a more conventional two-handled unit that most people will be familiar with. It’s your choice how to use it – personally I prefer the dual handles as it seems to provide a bit of added stability but the pistol grip is ideal for someone constantly on the move. If you’re going travelling for example, you could throw this in your backpack and be ready to shoot within seconds.

One thing to take into account is that this particular gimbal is designed for small DSLR cameras – it is not suitable for something like the Sony FS5 or Canon C300. I use it with my Sony A7S II and a Sony Carl Zeiss 16-35mm f4 lens. The maximum payload of this gimbal is around 1.2kg / 2.6lbs. I actually bought the Zeiss 16-35 especially for use on the gimbal as I heard using the Metabones Speedbooster combined with Canon glass would overload the gimbal.  It’s better to be safe than sorry so I recommend checking the weight of your desired camera and lens combination before you purchase.

I had a number of reasons for choosing the Optimus but one of the main ones was its portability. More often than not I have to travel around a lot and carry lots of gear with me. I was looking for something relatively small and light that was easy yet safe to transport and quick to set up. The Optimus ticked both of these boxes. It comes shipped in a rugged little hard case with foam inserts that hold the gimbal parts firmly in place – protecting the unit from any form of damage that’s likely to happen in transit or on location. If you’re using the gimbal with the dual handles like me, you can have it set up and ready to shoot within a matter of minutes – a definite advantage over some of the other gimbals on the market.

I’ll admit, balancing the gimbal when I got it out of the box for the first time was a little confusing. However, I think after half an hour or so I had it sorted. It’s definitely worth taking the time to make sure you get this part spot on, otherwise it will have an adverse effect on the stability of the gimbal and subsequently you won’t be getting your money’s worth.

Here’s a very helpful video on how to balance the Optimus - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3R2nZYrldeo

Another great thing about this gimbal is the battery life. The Optimus ships with two small clip-in batteries that boast an impressive ten hours of battery life. I’ve had the gimbal now for over six months and have been really impressed with how the batteries hold their charge. I very much doubt you’ll ever get through more than two batteries while out shooting for the day. They are also relatively quick to charge so you can guarantee that one battery will have fully charged by the time the other runs out of juice.  

The fixed horizon is by far the best improvement from using a Flycam or Steadicam. It’s almost impossible to maintain a perfect horizontal plane with a Steadicam but with the gimbal, the problem is almost entirely removed. No matter how aggressive your use of the gimbal is, the horizon will remain fixed – ensuring your footage is silky smooth. It also makes plugins like Warped Stabiliser much more effective when editing your footage during postproduction.   

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the few disadvantages of the Optimus – and believe me, there aren’t many at all. One such disadvantage is screen visibility. Because of how the gimbal is designed, the LCD screen on the back of your camera is mostly obscured by the gimbal’s motor. There are ways and means around this issue including how you choose to hold the gimbal while operating it. The other option is to invest in an external monitor. Bare in mind this will increase the time it takes to setup the unit and increase the overall weight slightly – you will be mounting the monitor to the handles not to the camera itself so it will not affect the payload of the actual gimbal. This is something I’ve only very recently purchased myself so I’m still figuring out the angles, but in hindsight, it’s not something you should rush out to buy. An external monitor will be most effective for viewing low shots – bare in mind it would be almost impossible to see the LCD screen on your camera when using the gimbal on ground level. I opted for the Small HD 502 which will set you back an eye-watering £1200, but there are many other options out there at a much more affordable price.

One of the main issues I’ve encountered is buying a suitable Micro HDMI to HDMI lead to connect the monitor to the camera. Because of the position of the Sony A7S’ micro HDMI port and the location of the Optimus’ gimbal arm, there is very little clearance for a standard cable. When I ordered my first cable I wasn’t aware of this but soon realised it was useless and had to look for another solution. The second cable I bought was still far from ideal. Despite the right-angled input it still felt as if it was under strain and lacked the proper clearance. Finally I found a cable (pictured below) that was way more suited for the job – it almost looks like a cable you’d find inside a PC tower. Despite the actual cable being extremely thin, it has held up nicely and I don’t have to worry about it catching or getting snagged on any parts of the gimbal. I recommend buying this cable at a 60cm length to ensure that it reaches from the camera to the monitor without being put under strain.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that there is a handy Facebook group for Came TV gimbal owners where you can post your work, post questions and help others with their problems or queries. The Came TV website and blog is also a great resource – here you will find all the information you need as well as examples of user’s work (including my own). I’ve found them to be extremely helpful with any questions or concerns I’ve had in the past so don’t hesitate to drop them an email.

In summary, the Optimus is a fantastic piece of kit. It blew my expectations out of the water and has truly revolutionised the way I film, opening up creative possibilities that I never thought possible. It is by far the best piece of equipment I’ve ever invested in. If you wish to see some of the results I've got with the CAME TV Optimus then please take a few minutes to watch the videos below... 

I hope this information has been of use to you. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me at…

info@blackrockcreative.co.uk

Happy filming.

 

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Black Rock Creative - Video & Timelapse Showreels

It's only taken five years but we've finally managed to find time to edit a few showreels together. Seeing as this was a first for us, we tried our hardest to include a bit of everything from projects spanning our five year existence as a business. It was incredibly difficult to choose what to include but we feel these reels are a fairly accurate representation of the kind of services we provide. 

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JILTED ROYALTY - 2015 - BEHIND THE SCENES

Behind The Scenes - Jilted Royalty 2015 Manufacturing : Conception to Completion

Behind The Scenes : Shanghai 

Behind The Scenes : Hong Kong

PART 1 - UK & SHANGHAI

PART 2 - HONG KONG

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New Horizons – My Foray Into The World Of Super 8 Film

Original 8mm Footage

Experimental 8mm Edit

Prior to my trip to Hong Kong I got slightly obsessed with the look of Super 8 film. I think I’d noticed how awesome it looked in a Lana Del Ray music video and started researching into it soon after. I definitely wanted to do something standout on this trip and thought that 8mm film would be the perfect idea. Truth be told, I had no prior experience shooting with film and very little knowledge of what the process involved. After trawling Vimeo and You Tube for all the 8mm videos I could find, I came to the decision that I wanted to buy a Canon 514XL camera. My first port of call was Ebay – which turned out to be a total minefield! The prices fluctuated pretty wildly and there seemed to be a lot of sellers who had simply found old equipment in their loft and had no idea if it actually worked or not.  I’m sure you could pick up some real bargains on there if you’re lucky but you could just as easily waste your time and money on equipment that doesn’t work properly.  

By the time I’d done all my research, the departure date was fast approaching, so I decided not to take the risk of buying a camera from Ebay. I was lucky enough to find the exact model I wanted in a local second hand camera store for just £65 about a week before we flew out. I watched a handy You Tube video that ran through a feature checklist, so was able to ensure the camera was in perfect working order before I even left the store. If there are any second hand camera stores in your area I would suggest checking these before rushing to buy from Ebay or any other online store. You might just be surprised with what you find – I know I certainly was!

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One of the major downsides of shooting on Super 8 is the cost of the film itself. A single 50ft cartridge of daylight balanced film holding just 3 minutes of footage costs between £40 and £50. There are cheaper alternatives on the market but Kodak’s Ektachrome 100D had been the recommended choice from several sources. I purchased my cartridge from a company in the Midlands called Guage Film. Included in the price was a telecine service – you send your completed film cartridge to them along with a pendrive and they will digitise it for you. All you have to do is provide them with details of your required project settings (frame rates etc.) and they’ll mail it back to you as a single movie file. I highly recommend checking these guys out if you’re going to give 8mm film a go. Kevin was very helpful; he was always happy to answer any questions I had and was keen to share his knowledge of Super 8 film with me. He certainly reassured me that I was making the right choices and taking all the necessary steps before going out to shoot.

 With the cost of the film being so high and the whole process being somewhat of an experiment, I decided to take only one cartridge of film with me to Hong Kong. In hindsight I would have taken more, but I really wasn’t willing to spend too much money on something that could have quite easily not worked out. To add to my list of worries, I read on the Internet before we went that airport security x-ray machines could cause fogging on undeveloped film. I’ve got to say, it was a real nerve-racking moment when I got my footage in the mail and watched it back for the first time. I was really happy with the way it turned out and there was absolutely no fogging to be found (despite it being passed through the airport security x-ray machine at HK airport). If there’s one thing I can take away from this experience it’s that it pays to take risks and try your hand at something new. So long as you do the proper research before hand and have confidence in your abilities then there’s no reason for something not to work out.

 I’ll definitely be shooting more Super 8 stuff in the near future and would seriously recommend giving it a whirl if you’re looking to try something a bit different. With the film being so precious, it really gives you a new perspective on the way you shoot. With digital cameras we’re so used to the freedom of shooting as much footage as we possibly can, we often take it for granted. My experience with 8mm has definitely given me a new found respect for filmmaking.  

 I’d tried to replicate the look of 8mm film in the past using various overlays and whatnot, but truth be told, nothing comes close to the real McCoy. The results really speak for themselves. I think it was worth every penny. 

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Hype Clothing: Be Street Urban Festival Oct 2013

Be Street 2013 Video Recap

Hype Autumn 2013 Lookbook 

Being commissioned for jobs abroad is always an exciting prospect. It’s definitely one of the biggest perks of the job but it also presents new challenges you might not have had to deal with before. When I received a phone call from the guys at Hype asking if I was free to join them on a six day trip to Paris, I jumped at the chance. One of the very first jobs I took outside of the UK was to Paris with Hype the previous December, so to be going back less than twelve months later was a real privilege. In fact, the purpose of the trip was pretty similar. Hype were one of thirty big-name streetwear brands attending a fashion tradeshow known as Be Street Urban Festival.’ I’d thoroughly enjoyed our first trip to Be Street and was really looking forward to seeing how Benny and the crew had stepped up their game. Unlike some tradeshows, which focus purely on the brands, Be Street offers a much more immersive, festival-like experience. Skateboarding, street art and live music all play a big part in the weekend’s proceedings. Not only is this great news for punters and brands, it’s great news for me because it adds a lot of variety to the types of shot I can get. At other, more run-of-the-mill tradeshows, shot variety can be a very hard thing to come by. This puts added pressure on the editing process as it means spending additional time trying to present mediocre looking footage in an exciting way. 

Packing gear for trips abroad can be a challenge in itself. More often than not, you’re going to have to cut down on what gear you take with you. From a practical standpoint, travelling as light as possible is always a wise choice. If you’re travelling on trains or other forms of public transport, lugging lots of gear around with you can be stressful business. It’s important to remember that you’re also going to have to pack an extra bag with enough clothes and toiletries for the duration of the trip. For this trip I decided to pack a decent selection of lenses, my two DSLR’s, a GoPro, my trusty steadycam, tripod and also a laptop and portable hard drive. While this wasn’t exactly the definition of travelling light, I felt the equipment was necessary to get the job done and cover most (if not all) eventualities. 

One of the definite downsides of travelling (especially in a cramped van) is the amount of time you spend getting from A to B. However, it can also provide a great opportunity to start shooting footage right from the word go. The evolution of the GoPro has made this a great deal easier than it once was. I like to get as creative as possible with the GoPro, which is why a healthy amount of mounts and adhesive pads is a must. On this trip I used a suction cup for the very first time. I experimented by sticking it on the inside back window and also on the side of the van. While these suction cups claim to withstand high speeds, I wasn’t entirely comfortable letting £350 worth of equipment hang on the outside of a speeding vehicle. Luckily, a side window allowed me to keep a loose grip on the mount in case it decided to work itself loose. I think next time I’ll be more confident with letting the mount do its thing as it seemed to hold really well. An important thing to remember is to always clean the surface before attaching the mount – I’ve seen plenty of videos on YouTube of people who’ve learnt this lesson the hard way – so make sure you’re not one of them!   

One of the great things about this year’s Be Street festival was that the venue had been upgraded to La Grande Halle de la Villette. The added room allowed for lots more quirky attractions – a retro arcade gaming area, a wheel of fortune type game, a huge stage, a half pipe, huge graffiti walls and even a fairground bumper car circuit – all of which made for great footage. 

 In these kind of situations where there’s a lot going on at the same time, it’s really important to stay vigilant – you don’t want to miss something exciting because you’re too preoccupied with something else. Admittedly, this can be very difficult and is often a case of potluck. Sometimes you just happen to be in the right place at the right time. For instance, a group of break dancers decided to give an impromptu performance for what must have been no longer than 15 minutes or so. I was lucky enough to be in the vicinity and noticed the crowd forming out of the corner of my eye. When things like this happen, it’s important to act quickly but also to take time to consider what angle might be best and always check your focus.   

One of the standout moments of the whole trip was getting to shoot Irish rap sensation, Rejjie Snow. Funnily enough I had no idea he was performing until someone came up to me and asked if I knew where he was hanging out - a nice surprise to say the least. If you’ve never heard Rejjie’s stuff before, head over to iTunes or YouTube and listen to his EP, Rejovich – it’s an absolute banger! I predict big things for this man in the near future, so keep your eyes and ears peeled.  

After a weekend of filming and hanging out at Be Street, we had an extra day set aside to shoot a lookbook for Hype’s upcoming Autumn range. Fellow photographer and close friend Gobinder Jhitta had been shooting photos for Skull & Bones Boys Club at Be Street but had stayed on an extra day for the lookbook shoot. Its always a pleasure working with Gobby, he’s such a down to earth guy who knows exactly what he wants from a shoot and has a good laugh getting things done. The entire shoot was touch and go for a moment when one of the models cancelled on us last minute, but luckily the amazingly talented Pauline Baly stepped in to save the day – much to everyone’s relief. In all honesty I hadn’t really been given much of a brief and there was no real plan laid out for the day. You’d be surprised how often this happens, but the important thing to remember in these situations is not to panic, have fun, roll with the punches and have confidence in your abilities. Knowing that we were going to be travelling around on foot all day I decided to keep my setup very simple. All I took out with me was my 5D MKIII mounted on a steadycam with a 24-105mm lens. It made a pleasant change to lugging around a heavy bag and tripod. I was able to capture shots quickly and effectively without inconveniencing myself or the rest of the group. Coming up with shot ideas on the spot and working around Gobby was definitely a challenge but also great fun. Situations like this really test your skill and your ability to think on your feet. 

We were lucky enough to be blessed with a beautiful sunny autumn day, which coupled with fantastic Parisian scenery complimented the vibe of the shoot perfectly. Seeing as we didn’t have any kind of narrative in place, I figured it’d be a good idea to get shots of the models interacting with one another interspersed with behind-the-scenes type shots to put a bit of a twist on the whole thing. When I started the edit I really didn’t know if this approach was even going to work out – but that’s just the way things go sometimes. It can leave you with an uneasy feeling in your stomach when you approach an edit in such a manner but in the end I was really happy with the results and am looking forward to my next lookbook adventure.

Be Street Photo Credit : Mlle Shu | Lookbook Photo Credit : Gobinder Jhitta

Models : Pauline Baly & Tony Stone   Special thanks to Liam Green & Divesh Patel 

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