Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Get a tripod or your films will look like tripe (and odd)

Anyone who knows me will know I love photography. I love everything about it - the images, the gear, the excuse to go out a shoot stuff.
I love old gear - I'm currently infatuated with Topcon cameras - the pro stuff like the RE2, RE Super, SuperDM. When I pick up one of these cameras and raise to the eye, there is a wonderful feeling as you focus and everything turns smoothly, precisely with absolutely no play; the lens works as well as it did the day it came out of the factory. The gear is as old as me and in that time I've developed a hell of a lot of play and my optics are certainly not quite as clear as they once were.
I also shoot video, now HD. In the past I've shot real film too - standard 8 and super 8. One piece of gear I have that is common to both video and stills is a tripod. Over the years I've upgraded the tripods to the stage where I have a £100 model
This is not the top end of the market by any means and some cameramen will happily (or grudgingly) invest five times this amount. That said you can also pick up a tripod for £25. And both these options will usually bump your image quality up a couple of notches.
  Years ago I used to have a little Olympus μ[mju:]-II (I called it the 'mew') which I used for my work, photographing tasks such as night club refurbishments. 

This tiny 35mm camera was regarded at the time as a classic camera featuring a clamshell body barely thicker than the film it contained and topped off with a fast (for a AF compact) f2.8 lens. Put a 400asa film in and you could shoot in quite low light without resorting to using the flash. 

One day I had to take pictures of an almost finished nightclub and because I knew the light levels were ridiculously low (so punters could not see just how ugly all the other punters were) I took my tripod along. When I got the results back I was very impressed by how sharp the pictures were. A lot of users of these modest little cameras didn't realise just how broad the shutter range was, 1/1000sec all the way down to 4 seconds - basically the same spec typically found on a £300 SLR. By using the camera self timer (and therefore not touching the camera at the moment of exposure) lovely sharp images were obtained at very slow speeds.

I found that I used the camera with a tripod more and more, often in situations where I would have previously found hand holding acceptable and all the time my photos were getting more bite. Basically my camera was delivering results which looked like they had been taken with a more sophisticated and expensive camera.

As I started shooting video I used the same logic but found that panning shots needed a fluid head and this was when I splashed the cash on my £100 tripod. The improvement was appreciable and when you are one of a team shooting a gig, if you have rock steady static shots and smooth pans then you can give the editor the maximum possible footage.

So the bottom line is - spend a small amount on a tripod and add a great deal of value to your stills and videos.

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