suction cups & POV cameras
I've been using a GoPro Hero camera for some POV shots. I need to get a few more angles simultaneously for an automotive story, so I am looking for some advice:
1 - buying recommendation for another small POV camera or two. The Hero is great, and nice and small, but lacks any way of framing the shot. The field of view is wide enough that this hasn't been a problem, but still, I'd like to know what I'm getting.
2 - buying advice on suction cups, & advice on how to use the one I have. The Hero came with one, but I've had problems getting it to stick and stay stuck. I have seen devices from Matthews, Avenger, Manfrotto, and others. Anything stand out as one to use/avoid?
Can't recommend a camera, but I've had good success with vacuum mounts made by Woods Mfg. sold at Filmtools http://www.filmtools.com/sucuvcu.html
There's a very fine rib along the outer edge of the vacuum cup that tends to get nicks in it and then they fail. Rather than using the red and yellow hard plastic covers they come with (that's what damages them) I use buffing bonnets from a car waxer.
I'll second the vote for the industrial suction cup lines handled by FilmTools.
They're solid industrial grade units and are about the best mounting of this type I've seen or used.
Just remember to NEVER depend on a suction mount as your only support. Expect to lose or damage your gear beyond repair if you don't back this kind of mount up with safety cables and other appropriate "fail safe" backups.
[Bill Davis] "back this kind of mount up with safety cables and other appropriate "fail safe" backups"
That raises a question. Just how do you rig the safety cables? Is there any online reference re: installing safety cables? Most of the rigs I've seen pictured online either don't have cables at all, or have cables which would seem to allow considerable movement of the camera, assuming a suction cup failure.
1. Have you had any experience with Sticky Pods?
2. Vacuum mounts seem to require smooth surfaces: clean glass or metal. But what about textured surfaces like daskboards?
My experience with these are primarily to get driving shots on scenic road trip situations.
The last time we rigged one, we affixed the Film Tools suction mount which came with it's own simple 3 way camera head to the trunk of a rented convertible. The rise of the head itself gave us the correct height to frame a wide shot of both driver and passenger, most of the front window view, plus a lot of the surrounding scenery. Before we stuck the suction mount to the trunk lid, we wrapped two ratchet straps around said trunk lid and had two safety cables that ran from hard points on the camera to those straps. The idea is that if the suction cup fails, you want to keep the rig closely attached to the car body and obviously NOT let it fall off the moving car.
Later we moved the same rig to the hood in the same fashion.
There are complicated multi-rubber pad mounts with rails that are used on Hollywood style insert car rigs - but these suction mounts are a good quick and easy alternative if your shots are simple and you don't expect too much.
One issue to be careful of, tho, is not to drive too fast. Wind buffetting of the camera itself can start unwanted vibrations that will ruin an otherwise good shot.
YMMV. Good luck.
I've also seen three vacuum cups supporting a central camera platform.
Many of these rigs, no matter what the brand name, seem to be based on the same Wood's bases.
How do these devices handle curved mounting surfaces? For the very slight curve of a car windshield, I wonder whether a 4.5" or 6" diameter cup would be better.
Either size would work, depends on how much weight you want to support. They are very flexible, even in cold weather. If I mount a small cam inside the car, I use a 4" with a stud and a manfroto universal camera mount on that; so the mount actually hangs down from the windshield and the mount sorta cradles the camera. Clean the windows well.
Outside I use 3, 6" cups with standard grip gear and that hole-y plate called a "cheese plate" (a la swiss cheese)to mount the cam. They have a new oblong one that works well on narrow areas - this is good between roof rack decks or door jambs.
I then use regular ratchet straps and hook to whatever is available - fender, roof rack, bumper. TIGHT. Throw an extra one around the camera handle too.
Keep in mind till you do these a few times, it ain't fast setup. Because you're working with 6 grip knuckles in harmony. Here's a few pix on flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/finalfocus/sets/72157625282375101/
Hey thanks. Pix would be great. The oblong device sounds like a very smart idea.
I think it's funny how every supplier seems to say, "It's so easy - it takes TEN MINUTES to set this up."
I'm sure that is absolutely right - as soon as you have it all figured out after a ton of trial and error. And a 30-second spot in one continuous take, takes only 30 seconds to shoot. True, and yet so very very wrong.
We bought this stuff 2 years ago, so my pal Greg & I were newbies when the pix were taken. My suggestions: keep the "tripod" legs as far apart as possible for better stability. Use at least 2 straps. While a polarizer does work, don't make any turns to avoid color shift. If you use longer rods putting the camera farther away from the vehicle, that increases the torque on the camera end SIGNIFICANTLY. If the cam is more than 12" off the car hood, don't expect to punch it to the floor or go 60 to 0 in 100 feet. It hasn't happened to me, but I expect the whole rig to go bye bye. Varying success with motion stabilizers on small cams, choose smooth roads. I think there was a thread in Cinematography about cameras in cars, basically you want it mounted rock solid.
Pretty much everything you already know about setting up a shot, there's now 2 axes of torque (I guess a 3rd if you're flying over hilly roads) on the camera while in motion and you need to keep it in one place in relation to the vehicle.
Grinner may have some ideas, but the race industry also has some neat stuff; gooling race car mounts:
Onto the camera issue: I own a GoPro Hero. Poor battery life, inability to see the LCD frame -- it's great for what it is, and the support has been terrific -- but I want something higher quality, which I can rely on to work for a long unattended session, even it if it's slightly bigger.
I've been looking at small HD camcorders (Canon Vixia, Sony HDR's). If you have suggestions, or suggestions for other criteria I should apply, I'd appreciate hearing them.
One of the amazing things about these camcorders is Face Recognition. You select a face and the camera allegedly tracks the face for exposure and focus. This might help -- and it might also totally screw up - one of the problem shots I'm trying to solve: a driver silhouetted by a sometimes-very-bright window. I need to expose and focus for the driver while still having at least a tiny amount of detail in the window. I probably will not be allowed to add interior lighting. I may be allowed to put ND on the window glass but am not sure. Have you used any of these little prosumer cameras with Face Recognition?
Thanks for the great responses. Very valuable. I'm leaning toward a FilmTools mounting kit (tripod-esque) for the rig, based on your advice.
Here's the Manfroto with a 4" vacuum mount. You have to go outside to view the LCD to set up your shot or use the video out to external monitor. Get a 12V power inverter to run the camera on AC if you don't want to worry about battery life.
ND is a good idea to experiment with; I've never done it. Obviously I use an ancient Digi8 camera for the stuff I play with. The Vixia gets great reviews. On any camera I'd make sure of total manual control for iris, WB, and focus along with an mic in jack and get a JuicedLink cheapie mixer for XLR mics. Also, you can get a cheap zoom control on ebay for $29 that works with lanc control or that new multi-pin roundish connector. You can sit in the back seat with a video monitor, headphones and the zoom control. If you drive in one direction (controlling the sunlight direction), I'd opt for a fixed iris and let the bagkground does what it does. Also see if you can mount filters on the lens, some you can't if you want to use a wide angle.
I'm looking into a new camera and will let you know what I come up with; probably going to be in the $7-800 range. I like the one Sony that puts GPS data on the still images it takes, won't do it on video though. Also want it to shoot to SDHC cards and not just an internal hard drive. The face tracking does work amazingly well from what I've heard.
The earlier comment about cleaning the window is 2-fold: if the cam is outside you want a clean window; but also clean glass on the inside will make sure the mount doesn't come off.
Check out the Drift HD camera. Has an LCD monitor built in.
I've used the panavise 809 suction mount with the GoPro on exteriors of race cars going 130 mph with no loss of cameras. Clean the surface and the cup and make sure the surface and cup are dry. Gaff tape over the cup as an added security.
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