Support Accessories for 
Digital Camcorders
by Steve Smith
Last month, we talked about the wide range of optical and audio accessories available for miniDV camcorders. Now, we'll take a look at some of the products which provide "support" for these marvelous little video wonders. 

Support ancillaries can be roughly divided into two categories: those products which enhance the stability of the camera, and those which enhance the movement of the camera. 

Most miniDV camcorders have built-in image stabilization-- either optical or electronic (the optical is much better). But, there may be times when you need to make an even steadier picture. To achieve this you can use some sort of "shoulder pod." There are several to choose from. 

Bogen and Video Innovators both offer simple, inexpensive bent-metal-style shoulder pods that work with a variety of cameras. The latter has a pistol grip at the front, which makes the unit more comfortable to use.   Both have rubber pads to cushion the weight on the shoulder. Neither are elaborate, but they should get the job done. 

Elite Video offers the Steddi-Eddi, a simple pod made from lightweight tubing (instead of the flat bar used to fabricate the rigs mentioned above). Eddi has a sliding camera platform and a non-adjustable, cushioned grip. 

I am partial to Videosmith's own Mightywondercam Classic. This shoulder pod offers five axes of adjustment, and will work with a wide range of cameras, from Sony's tiny PC-1 all the way up to the Canon XL1.  The "MWC" has a cushioned grip in the front, which can adjust through an arc of over 90 degrees. The camera mounting platform slides back and forth on the central rail, as well as up and down and left to right. The shoulder pad itself can be rotated to fit your personal morphology. The MWC also offers a variety of mounting points, to which additional accessories may be attached-- batteries, radio mikes, outboard mikes, flat-screen monitors, ad infinitum. The pod is precision-machined entirely from aluminum (though it does have a stainless steel foot, to stand the unit upright when you're not using it). 

Also in the Mightywondercam line is a difficult to describe product we call Rover. The Rover was designed to provide a place to put a radio mike receiver and an external shotgun microphone, without lots of annoying, dangling cables. It consists of a horizontal rectangular box (which will hold many different makes of radios), and a vertical arm with a mount for a shotgun mike. The Ultimate Rover even has a BeachTek DXA-4 XLR audio adapter built-in. The great thing about Rover is that it's self-contained and handles just like the bare camera.  

Moving on to the "movement enhancers," we really have to start with the Steadicam Jr. Designed by the creator of the original Steadicam, Garrett Brown, the Jr. was introduced in the late 1980s for use with 8mm and Hi8 camcorders. It is an ideal "floating" rig for the smaller miniDV cameras. Jr. is a folding "V" with a built-in, black and white LCD monitor at the apex. Below the camera platform is a gimballed grip with which the unit is controlled.  The weight of the camera is offset by a similar weight at the bottom of the V. 
The result on tape is a very steady, fluid motion, as if the camera were flying through the air. 

Watching a skilled Steadicam operator perform is a sight to behold.  I know one chap who can walk a full circle around his Jr. without moving the camera! The Steadicam takes some getting used to, but is a marvelous production tool when you seek really smooth moving shots. 

The Jr. has one major limitation-- about the biggest camera you can fit is a Sony VX-1000. So the Steadicam people recently introduced the DVS Steadicam, which will work with cameras like the Canon XL1 (though only with the Canon 3X wide-angle and not the standard 16x zoom). The DVS looks like a beefy Jr., but otherwise works identically. 

In a similar vein, Glidecam offers the 3000 Pro. It will accept heavier cameras (up to 10 pounds) because the Glidecam uses an "exoskelatal forearm support brace" to better distribute the increased weight. Again, the effect is as if the camera is flying. 

For smaller camcorders, Glidecam has the 1000 Pro, which works on cameras 
up to 6 pounds and is very inexpensive.  

Unfortunately, the two different styles of pods are not cross-functional. That is, a stability pod makes a lousy movement enhancer and vice versa. Depending upon your requirements, you may need to have one of each.   

Life could be worse. 

Steven T. Smith 

Steven T Smith has been a television photojournalist for three decades. Currently based in Philadelphia, he works with his sound recordist/wife Martha for clients like "60 Minutes" and the Discovery Channel. In 1980 Smith created Videosmith as a full-service video production and post-production company.  In 1996 he sold off the editing and graphics units to concentrate upon equipment rentals and retail sales.  Smith is the developer of the Mightywondercam line of support products for small camcorders.  An unusual assignment was to play himself in James L Brook's 1988 hit film, "Broadcast News."  Future columns will look at trends in digital video technology and review new products, especially accessories that extend the capabilities of digital camcorders.

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