Industry experts pay as much attention to the selection of their camera accessories as they do to their cameras; which calls for a deep dive into the world of these enablers
By Anisha Gakhar
If there’s one thing a cinematographer is quite fastidious about, it is his camera. As much as we would like to bestow the credit on the camera itself, it would only be reasonable to acknowledge the importance of accessories that a camera requires: to perform its function in entirety. According to the Grand View Research report, the camera accessories market is estimated to flourish at a CAGR of more than 4% globally, over the next four years. It is fuelled by many growth factors, one of them being the increase in the use of high-end, and technologically advanced cameras.
Camera accessories are primarily used to enhance efficiency, usability, shelf-life and accessibility of cameras. Leading DSLR and digital camera manufacturers are churning a wide variety of these accomplices to cinematographers and DOPs. Accessories including rigs, heavy-duty bags, optical photographic filters, lens accessories, Steadicam camera stabilising systems, lighting equipment, camera covers, tripods and support systems, are trending tools used by industry experts. Other accessories gaining momentum are battery packs and grips, tripods, remote releases, flashguns, soft-boxes and diffusers, SD cards, lens filters, monitors and colour calibrators.
Some camera accessories are standard requirements for any DoP, but with continuous R&D, the basic requirements are evolving daily. For cinematographer Kiran Deohans, an electronic remote follow focus unit is a go-to product, especially when the location is cramped and there is little or no space for the focus puller. Deohans said, “Sometimes the script and the location demand a hand-held shot, for which the hand-held, 3-Axis camera, Gimbal is the best option. Wireless control of camera with Alexa SXT-W helps to eliminate the need for long wires meant to connect the monitor and the camera.”
Filters like NDs and Effects help the DoPs shoot on an open aperture, helping them to get a shallow depth-of-field. For VFX shoots or re-shoots of any particular shot, a lens meta-data transfer system helps to gather data like calibrated T stop, lens name, focal length, lens type, calibrated focus distance, without having to jot down technical details for post.
At ARRI, follow-focus systems and matte boxes are for in-house as well as third-party cameras. The LMB 4×5 matte boxes that were launched last year, together with diopter accessories and a lockable Rota Pola filter frame, are to be followed by a 6×6 version. This will be compatible with ARRI as well as cameras of other makes.
The ARRI Cforce mini RF, a lens motor with an integrated radio module, eliminates the need for an additional camera-mounted receiver unit. It can pair with up to three hand units for split focus, iris and zoom operation. The TRINITY camera stabilization system gives control along five axes and enables fluid, wide-ranging, and precisely controlled movements for unrestricted shooting and creative freedom.
A camera should be able to achieve a counter-balance that ranges from zero to the specific fluid head’s maximum recommended capacity. This allows cinematographers to use any lens they need, while rebalancing the camera real-time, as the image is being captured.
Many modern cameras have on-board monitors, which helps in acquiring a judgement of the image a cinematographer is shooting. The monitors give a detailed display of the various camera functions being used. For a DoP, to get all the required information at a glance, is a boon.
The popular TV series Game of Thrones (GoT) deployed OConnor’s camera accessories to enhance their camera-using experience. Ben Wilson, ACO, camera operator for GoT, said, “Camera solutions should have the ability to handle large camera kits well. The digital cameras may be getting smaller, but after we factor in everything else, from certain lens packages to the focus systems and monitors, the whole rig can still be heavy. It is vital to have a decent sized, strong head, which can perform under weight.”
Thanks to technology, it has made things easy especially for occasions when conditions are not conducive to a shoot. For instance, when shooting in a rainy weather in a windy outdoor location, with water droplets splashing on the lens or on camera filters, the Rain Deflector is a saviour to help get a clean image. At times, the producers themselves hire vendors, to provide the necessary accessories to camera operators.
“Shooting in a remote location with a small crew, a monitor with at least 400-500 units is required to manage a clear image, especially in bright sunlight. During a recent rain sequence with Hrithik Roshan for a commercial, the Rain Deflector proved helpful in providing image quality,” said Deohans.
Along similar lines, Richard Ladkani, director and cinematographer, used ARRI Master Grips in his latest film, a wild-life based project in Mexico, which involves filming at sea. He elaborated on the usability of the tool stating, “When it is fitted with Master Grips, the camera and I become a single unit. Focus-pulling in difficult conditions is easier, and it enables me to control the camera with one hand while holding on to the boat with the other. It doesn’t fight against my muscle memory of other controls.” The Crew Supplies section of ARRI offers bags, pouches and gloves.
Mahesh Aney, cinematographer for many movies including the acclaimed Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Swades and TV series Everest, said, “My last film Pushpak Viman, was shot in tiny rooms and cramped areas. I used a compact ‘C-Motion’ remote-focusing device. This accessory needs to be ordered from the rental house as it is not a part of standard accessories. Also, it is difficult to operate a camera through an on-board monitor. If I have to shoot on a RED camera, an important requirement is to source a good eye-piece. The Sony & the Arri digital cameras come in handy for this.”
A CINEMATOGRAPHER’S TAKE
How do cinematographers and DoPs learn about the constant innovations taking place in the industry daily? Until recent times, most DoPs relied on e-mails through press releases or subscription lists, which announced new products, their specifications and latest developments on lenses, cameras and other supporting gear. But now, apparently an essential source of information though, is group forums on social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and LinkedIn. These groups enable the members to post queries, answers and discussions, thus, facilitating and brain-storming with knowledge sharing.
Many industry leading magazines and publications like Digital Studio, include personal interviews from industry veterans, which again, help in information flow. And of course there is the Internet with its innumerable blogs, which pose as a meeting-place for industry enthusiasts across the globe. Technology and broadcast events, like The NAB Show, IBC and BroadcastAsia for instance, showcase a plethora of latest augmentations that can help add value to one’s business. These serve as a common-ground for both, vendors as well as consumers.
Trainings and workshops on the best practices, tips and tricks, allow an accessory to be used to the best of its ability. Philip Visher, product manager, Mechanical Accessories, ARRI, said, “The ARRI Academy provides training on how to get the best out of our products. We travel through India have local trainers, with a good understanding of local conditions and languages, teaching our customers to service and maintain their equipment themselves, saving on downtime and costs.”
Coming to a cinematographer’s wish-list, it is subjective to each, because every DoP carries his own style and specifications while shooting. For Deohans, camera heads, hand-held devices and camera filters stand important. He said, “Master Prime or Anamorphic lenses, OPTIMO 24 to 90 and a short zoom depending on the project are essential components. Also, a fine fluid head like OConnor for smooth camera movements, and a good set of OLED monitors is preferred.”
Aney stresses on having a good eye-piece, saying, “A good eyepiece is one of the most vital accessory for all DoPs.”
INDEPENDENT, ARE THEY?
In today’s market, most camera accessories are designed for specific cameras and/or applications, which can eventually restrict creativity and performance. Few accessory vendors create solutions that are versatile and designed to be camera-agnostic. This makes it possible to swap out accessories reliably and with ease. Many rental houses around the world have recognised these operational benefits and have switched to such adaptable tools.
Jeanfre Fachon, product manager, Mechanical Accessories, ARRI, said, “ALEXA Mini’s Studio Set helps our customers use that camera effectively, but we have developed Pro camera accessories for third-party cameras, like the Sony Venice for example, which will help operators get the most out of them. The point of our accessories is to complement the cameras, and make it easy for their operators to achieve the results they’re hoping for.”
PICKING THE BEST
It’s not uncommon for new ideas to hit the market and then disappear just as quickly. Accessory manufacturers need to minimise the ‘fad’ effect by ensuring that new products contribute and bring a new dimension to production; completely informed by real-world customer experience. They need to strive to empower cinematographers to achieve something that they either previously couldn’t before, or couldn’t do without additional fuss, downtime, and associated costs. The operational needs cannot be ignored and should be essential criteria for designing camera solutions.
An important factor that helps a company retain acclaim and goodwill in the industry, is, a varied cinema and documentary experience, along with working closely with generations of camera operators and cinematographers. This helps them develop products that stand the test of time, even when the market is thronged with a herd of products to scout through. Even in the current, rapidly changing technology-driven market place, customers need to be reassured of ‘future-proof’ products that can deliver upgrades and updates.
“In the broadcast field, we are responding to our customers, AMIRA multi-cam has been adopted by a range of TV programmes to give the shows picture quality and flexible workflows,” said Hendrik Voss, product manager, Electronic Accessories, ARRI.
“Cinematography is a close-knit profession. At OConnor, we work with our end users, often arranging a hands-on demo or a live field trial which generates word of mouth about a new product and accelerates its demand. Exhibitions and digital media also play a role in communicating our developments, but it is the hands-on experience that seals the deal. Nothing beats a recommendation from a professional who is living the experience daily,” said Peter Harman, head, Product and Sales, Vitec Production Solutions. A camera and its accessories, thus, are inefficacious without each other. More power to their nexus!