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Tag Archives: bk atkinson photographic

One of the most significant products that I have come across in my examination of stabilizers for hslrs is the U-Boat Commander.  The Commander, as I will refer to it, is an innovative product developed by photographer/director Bruce Dorn, a Canon Explorer of Light, writer, and gadgeteer extraordinaire.  I call him a gadgeteer because Bruce has a wonderful ability to craft solutions to meet his shooting needs.  A visit to his site www.idcphotography.com/blog/  is extremely enlightening.

 

I consider the Commander significant because it is, to my knowledge, the first stabilizing rig developed from scratch to accommodate the Canon 5D Mark II for video capture.  The other rigs which I looked at were existing products.  I have had use of the Commander for the last five days, and I will admit that as I boxed it up this morning to send it back to Arizona, there was a bit of mist in my eyes.  Nikon D90 users do not feel slighted:  I encourage you to read on.

Canon 5D Mark II mounted on the U-Boat Commander

Canon 5D Mark II mounted on the U-Boat Commander

 

The Commander offers something for lots of people due to its modular nature:  In its most basic form it is a two-handled platform; the intermediate configuration adds a plate on top (bridge) as well as a handle and cold shoes, which allows you to mount a microphone and/or lights, as well as facilitating low angle shooting; and in its most complete form it adds a shoulder stabilizer, which can also aid in table top stabilization and or panning and tilting movements.)  The anodized aluminum plates and bars are beautifully finished.  I do want to note that the knurled handle grips come without handle pads:  They will take standard bike handle grips (I used weightlifting grips.)

 

In many respects, the Commander reminded me of shooting with the Fig Rig, in that the unit is held out in front of you and the body acts as a shock absorber when moving. I also found that there was tremendous mobility although the Fig Rig does enjoy an edge here due to the circular frame.  Unlike the Fig Rig, since the bottom plate of the Commander is flat, the camera can be safely placed on a flat surface when not in use.  The 5D Mark II can be mounted directly to the commander base or attachment can be achieved via an optional quick release assembly.  Either way, you have access to the 5D Mark II battery door.  u-d90For those shooting with the Nikon D90, the battery door of the camera is also fully accessible when it is mounted to the Commander base.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The modular nature of the Commander brings together the best aspects of many of the other products I own/have used and/or considered, both less expensive and more expensive.  It offers good range of motion, and shoulder stabilization on demand, the ability to mount accessories such as lights, microphones and monitors.  The low angle shooting ability is a functionality that can be very costly with other systems.

Low angle shooting with the Commander

Low angle shooting with the Commander

 I found setting up the Commander pretty intuitive.  There is, however, an excellent video demonstration on Bruce’s site for those who want an understanding of how all the pieces fit and work together.  While I spent most of the time with the Commander in the intermediate configuration (Kit 2) with the bridge and handle attached, there is a lot to be said for attaching the shoulder stabilizer.  I found it much easier to access camera controls while moving around with the shoulder stabilizer than without it.  I liked the option of being able to use the stabilizer either over my shoulder or pressed into my shoulder.  I also “pimped” the Commander and discovered that with the addition of small furniture gliders on the bottom of the base plate that I could achieve similar action to a dolly and track system on flat surfaces.

 

As I was mulling over my thoughts, I realized that most equipment reviews/commentary are written by men.  I asked my sister to try the stabilizers out and share her reactions.  Of the three pieces of equipment, her hands down favorite was the Commander.  For her use, the Commander offered the best balance, was lighter than it looked and than she thought it would be, and she liked the over the shoulder stabilization option as opposed to the into the shoulder bracing.

 

The Commander kits are not inexpensive:  While the intermediate configuration (Kit 2) exceeded the $300 budget I set by $69, the basic configuration (Kit 1) at $239 would have been within the parameters.  The Works (Kit 3) would have been way out of range.  The good news is that very soon there will be upgrade modules available for purchasers of Kits 1 and 2 so that you can add on as you need to and/or grow.

 

In looking at the options for products, I always suggest to the extent possible that consumers not only look at how they think they are going to use a product, but to try to look at the versatility and the range of applications for which a particular product can be adapted or used.  I think that this is the most appropriate way to consider a tool like the U-Boat Commander.  When I look at its functionality, and modular nature relative to the universe of available tools and add ons, the U-Boat Commander looks very, very good. 

 

Don’t be surprised if you see one of my cameras mounted to my own Commander in the near future!

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the mighty light!!Ask most people about on-camera lighting options for their dslr, and the default response is usually a dedicated flash unit.  And certainly the ttl capabilities of these units make them a natural.  But over the last six months I have been exploring alternative on camera lighting options and have found myself genuinely excited over the new generation of LED continuous lighting options.  They are small, don’t give off much heat, and what you see, is what you get.  They also don’t give that obvious “flash” look image that can result with speedlights .

 

With the arrival of the Nikon d90 and the Canon 5d Mark II, both of which have hi def video capability, continuous supplemental light sources are going to grow in popularity as they can be used for both still and video capture. While there are several manufacturers who have led lighting available.  I have been using the Litepanels Micro units.  I found my units at the Calumet Photographic Store, here in NYC, but they are available at other major photo retailers as well.

 

What I like about the Litepanels Micro specifically, are the following:

  • They are daylight balanced( about 5600k)
  • They can be mounted in the hot shoe or off camera. They are a little over 3”x3”x1.5” in size and weigh about a quarter of a pound.
  • No power tap compatibility issues.
  • They are fully dimmable and flicker free!  You can dial in your desired fill easily.
  • There is an integrated filter holder and you get a tungsten conversion gel, as well as warming and diffusion gels in the kit.
  • The run time using lithium batteries is about 7 hours.
  • They can be run off ac with an optional adapter.
  • They allow for quick location shooting without drawing the kind of attention that flash use often does.

While Litepanels doesn’t indicate the power rating, I suspect that at full power the micro is equivalent to about 25-30 watts. The 3”x3” panel configuration results in a pretty wide beam coverage area, and can impact scene illumination up to 10 to 12 or so, feet away.

 

If you are interested in continuous lighting options, such as LEDs for your still or hybrid (still and video capable) camera, make sure the unit is fully dimmable.  You definitely want this level of control.  Some products offer it while others do not.  Try to buy a unit that has gels/filters available.  If you do not buy one with gels, you should fashion them on your own.

For still and video work, the latest LED products are definitely worth exploring.  As LEDS go, I have been extremely pleased with the performance of the Litepanels Micros.

Here are a few samples of images taken where one or two Litepanels Micro units:

Outdoors:

jian

Two Litepanels Micros were mounted on a dual light head cross bar and oriented vertically to the right of the camera. A silver reflector was used camera left for additional fill.

Indoors:

Micro placed above camera and angled down towards model

A single Micro was placed above the camera and angled down towards model. The balance of the illumination in the scene is provided by one shaded lamp, camera left.

When I decided to blog on photographic equipment,  I did not want to end up doing what is becoming  typical in reviews,  where products are evaluated as if they are an “Immortal”  from  “The Highlander” movie or series, “where there can only be one!”  Frankly some of the language used by reviewers such as “category killers” or “brand/product  slayers”  is plain juvenile!  The state of equipment reviews and previews, had a lot to do with my decision to move forward here.  I also did not want to write lenghty pieces  which combine lots of information,  diagrams, and images available through the manufacturer, with  impressions after using something on a limited basis, to come up with  sweeping endorsements or pans.  Far too much of what is in print and available on the internet already does this. 

   I think you can effectively take great images with just about any camera or using just about any brand of lighting.  And frankly, control, layouts and ergonomics is a very personal thing:  While some prefer how one brand works over the other,  so many reviews are written with a sense of one company’s approach being definitively better than another!   The fact is that there is a lot of variety out there, and consumers have tremendous choices.

The real key is learning how to use your imaging  equipment, and learning what its’ strenghts and limits are.  Often reviews  talks about what the equipment  can’t do, or what it should have done as opposed to what it can do.  A 21 or 24 mp dslr is a very different animal than a 39 or 50 mp digital back, but there are lots of situations where the operating environment would make the dslr a more appropriate choice than the resolution king: a dslr with video capability is not a replacement for a dedicated high definition video recorder.   There are very few all in one solutions in imaging!  In fact the all-in-one printer where fax, phone and printer functions have been combined, is the exception rather than the rule. 

So with tremendous excitement I am launching this blog, HDHD, which stands for High Definition-High Drama, to discuss aspects of imaging products that I find interesting and discussion worthy.  Sometimes I will discuss products which are well known, and sometimes they will be less recognized, but all in all I am hoping to provide you with an informative read on a regular basis.  The first product post will be up on Monday,  January 26.

Regards,

Byron