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TVRPhotography – If it moves, Shoot It!

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Taming a GoPro

TVR_9028

Pictured above are two complete GoPro Hero 3+ Black systems and a range of accessories organized using three Cocoon Grid-it boards.

Pictured above are two complete GoPro Hero 3+ Black systems and a range of accessories organized using three Cocoon Grid-it boards.

Recently I ordered a bunch of GoPro stuff hoping to dive into video. Instead I ended up diving into a heap of random parts. As someone with a mild case of OCD, I needed to find a practical solution to not only organizing everything, but finding a system where I could account for each and every piece out in the field. I thought of old camera bags, Pelican cases, tool boxes, whatever, but none of those choices seemed like a solution to me.

Both GoPro kits are set up in an identical fashion so if only one set up is used, the other can provide reference insuring every piece is accounted for. Additionally, the pocket on the opposite side of the Grid-it board can hold a photo of the items and their placement for reference should both kits be needed.

Both GoPro kits are set up in an identical fashion so if only one set up is used, the other can provide reference insuring every piece is accounted for. Additionally, the pocket on the opposite side of the Grid-it board can hold a photo of the items and their placement for reference should both kits be needed.

Since I began photography back in the ’80’s, I’ve always had some sort of system. Making sure everything had a place and those places were occupied by everything meant that I should leave an event with the same number of items I arrived with. As aviation photography became more my forte, it became even more crucial that nothing gets left behind. If a random part were left on a tarmac or taxiway after a nighttime shoot, that part could easily get swallowed by the intake of an aircraft resulting in a very expensive mistake.

The third Grid-it board is used for random or one-off accessories such as spare backs, miscellaneous clamps and extensions as well as the touch display and charger.

The third Grid-it board is used for random or one-off accessories such as spare backs, miscellaneous clamps and extensions as well as the touch display and charger.

I had heard of a company called Cocoon and these boards with webbing aptly named ‘Grid-it’. On one side was a random series of straps used to secure small items and on the other side was a pocket perfectly sized for an iPad…or perhaps, instruction manuals, pens, lens cleaning tissues or whatever else you could fit. I ended up purchasing three of these for $25 each; one for each GoPro set up and one for the remaining oddball clamps, housings and other components.

An unexpected benefit to the system is the ability to cover the lens of each GoPro with the webbing meaning no scratches. Once all three boards are set, they can be stacked and placed in any bag safely. Removing a single board enables a complete set up to be used without messing up everything else.

Once everything is organized on each board, they can be stacked and placed in just about any bag.

Once everything is organized on each board, they can be stacked and placed in just about any bag.

There are no doubt other ways of organizing your system, hopefully this will just be another tool in your belt. And if this system ends up not being the best solution, the Grid-it boards can be used for just about anything.

As for a useful bag or carrying case, check out Sporty’s or PilotMall’s collection of flight bags. These bags are specifically designed to carry books, charts and other paperwork where the Grid-it boards will fit perfectly. Additionally, the exterior pockets will provide plenty of additional room for larger accessories and components that wouldn’t otherwise fit on the Grid-it boards.

Sporty’s Flight Bags

Cocoon Grid-it

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Gyroscopically Speaking

An example of a Kenyon-Labs KS-6 gyroscope kit, sans Pelican carry case.

When most of us make large purchases aimed toward our craft, it’s difficult to justify the uncool things like tripods, batteries, strobes, filters and the like. So imagine how difficult it was when I plopped down $2800 for a gyroscopic egg thingy that will only make my camera heavier.

Kenyon-Labs, the most well known, and probably only manufacturer of portable cinema gyros, offers six different mainstream models; the KS-2, KS-4, KS-6, KS-8, KS-10 and KS-12. Photographers and DSLR videographers will most likely narrow this selection down to three, the KS-4, KS-6 or KS-8.

The KS-4 unit falls on the smaller end of the gyro scale and is designed to support a camera and lens combo weighing up to 4lbs. This may prove to be quite limiting and not allow for your gear to grow if not already using slightly heavier pro-level equipment. The KS-6 will support up to 6lbs which should fill the need of the average user. Even bigger is the KS-8 which can support a fairly heavy mass of 8-12lbs, but weighs over 5lbs by itself. With all that in mind, I chose the KS-6.

The Kenyon KS-6 gyro comes complete with a massive battery, AC and DC adapters and of course the gyro, all contained within a hard Pelican travel case. Lightweight, it’s not. At almost 3.5lbs for the gyro itself, it weighs more than most cameras like the Nikon D4 at 2.6lbs and the Canon EOS-1D MkIV weighing 2.7lbs. The battery is just slightly smaller than the one you’d find powering your car and comes with Scoliosis-inducing shoulder strap. Holding the entire unit can be a bit unwieldy with it’s combined weight, including a lens, reaching 8lbs or more.

Despite these rather small drawbacks, a gyro is an amazing tool and contrary to physics, it enables a camera to float in your hands.

Although you can certainly use your camera vertically with a gyro attached, a much better solution would be to take advantage of a camera-rotating flash bracket such as this and then cut off the grip, which will end up only getting in the way.

When you first attach the gyro to your camera you’ll find it a bit difficult due to the lever-type rod and its inability to rotate a full 360 degrees continuously. Add to it the slight fumbling of joining two bulky objects. A good solution is to add a quick release plate right off the bat so the gyro will simply snap on and off the camera.

Another limitation you’ll notice is that the gyro is intended to remain beneath the camera  aligned perpendicular with the lens. If you plan on shooting verticals, this could prove to be a little awkward. A simple solution is to add a rotating flash bracket and cut off the flash bracket part. A basic bracket that won’t set you back too much can be found here. A slightly more advanced bracket can be found here, but you may want to think twice before breaking out the hacksaw.

Now that everything is assembled and the gyro has been turned on, it will take about 20 minutes for the unit to spool up to its working speed of approximately 20,000 RPM. The first thing you’ll notice is the gyro wanting to fight you with every sharp movement you make. One of the most important little tidbits about using a gyro is its rate of turn limitation, in this case about 20 degrees per second. If you swing the camera with a gyro attached any faster than that, the spinning motion of the gyro will try to stop you. There will be a slight learning curve toward avoiding this effect.

An example of a Nikon D7000 video rig utilizing a stability grip with over sized focus ring, 7″ HD monitor, shoulder support and KS-6 gyro. The gyro alone doubles the overall weight of the set up, not including the external battery pack not seen in the image.

Another issue to be aware of is fatigue. As you’ve probably noticed, I repeatedly mention the combined weight of things. Holding a camera/lens/gyro combination may not be a big issue for the first 5 or 10 minutes, but eventually it will begin to weigh heavy on your mind, pun intended. If there is a means of supporting your rig through a series of bungee cables or other creative method, it may be worth giving a try.

And finally, bulk. While it’s an incredible tool and definitely makes a difference in the final product, it can be rather large and at times, impractical. Photographing from a tight cockpit or at an unusual angle, like in a contorted position, may illustrate its limitations. Photographing from a designated camera ship with a large door and a comfy seat, would be ideal.

Despite the limitations; price, bulk and weight, once you’ve used a gyro it’s difficult to imagine not using one. It’s a necessity for video work and can save the day during those turbulent evening aerial shoots. Undoubtedly one of the best investments in uncool things I have ever made.