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Why you need one
Steady shot
Hand held

Sony PD 150 camera workbookPART 12: TRIPODS

by Christina Fox

Steady shots are essential to make your pictures look professional and keep you friendly with the picture editor. Wobbly pictures limit the editors choice of usable shots and are difficult to edit into and out of. Plus if you intend to shoot for web broadcasting you'll find steady shots are easier to compress to a small file size.

With the Prosumer cameras you have the STEADY SHOT facility which compensates for camera shake but does not eliminate it.

The steady shot feature does NOT replace the tripod.

We have recently bought some tripods to replace our old battered ones. I had a look around the video forum held in Wembley recently and came up with a short list of two or three.

1) the Vinten Pro 5 list price £250
2) the Manfrotto 503/520 kit - list price £340
plus in reserve 3) Sachtler DV2 list price £520

Interestingly the Vinten Pro 5 is made by Manfrotto. Plus - Vinten, Manfrotto and Sachtler are owned by the same company (Vitec) - so, there is a lot of badging swapping. I think I'm right in saying that Manfrotto is badged as Bogen in the USA.

My top recommendation was for the Manfrotto - it was sturdy with a good pan and tilt head (with separate friction control for pan and tilt).

Next I'd have been happy with the Vinten Pro 5 - pretty much the same legs - but only one friction control for the pan and tilt combined.

I mentioned the Sachtler DV2 - but honestly I didn't like it - friction control had two gears - on or off. Which didn't feel like a lot of control to me. Especially considering the cost.

Libec were also at the show - the Heiwa TH650 was on their stand, badged as a Libec for only £150. If you want a lightweight tripod for occasional use then you should take a look at this one.

In the end the guy signing the cheques went for eight Manfrotto 503/520 tripod/head. For that number they got them for £275 each - a pretty good discount. When we used them for the first time, it was the first course I've run where no-one complained about the tripods. We've kept three of the old Heiwas for 'quick and dirty' jobs.

The things I looked for in a tripod were....

Price - with eight tripods on our shopping list - I couldn't go above £300 each

Weight - Not so heavy that our trainees would complain and stop using them. Not too light as to be ineffective. Remember weight gives your tripod, camera and shots stability. Most people like low weight tripods because they are easy to carry. The Heiwas we have been using were bought for that very reason. But, we've had a couple of cameras blow over in the wind because they were too lightweight. A good meaty tripod - will make you more tired at the end of the day - but your shots will be better. Carbon Fibre tripods are light weight, stable, expensive and beyond our budget.

Sturdy - our trainees give the kit a lot of abuse.

Quick-release levers on the legs - if it had been my money I'd have had the Manfrotto head with a set of Manfrotto ART legs. If you can see a demo of the 540 ART legs you'll be impressed . From packed down to full extension in 3 seconds. fantastic tripod invented by a cameraman called Daniel Sherwin.

Quick release hot shoe - to get the camera on and off the tripod quickly.

Removable spreader - that Y shaped brace that stops the tripod doing the splits! Mid level spreaders do add stability. But if you have a weighty tripod consider a tripod with a ground level spreader which is detachable/ extendable. This allows you to spread the tripod legs even further and get very low angle shots.

Spiked feet - great for soft ground like sports pitches, gardens even deep pile carpets etc. The spikes dig into the mud and keep the tripod stable. Why remove the spreader? 1) so it doesn't get muddy. 2) On very uneven terrain each leg may be set at a different length in order to get the spirit level spot on. You can also shoot on stairwells - two legs down - one leg up - if each leg can be adjusted separately. If the ground is only a little uneven then a tripod with a "bowl" should be able to cope. Again look at the professional tripods and they will all have a tripod head that fits into a bowl shaped socket. built-in spirit level - absolutely essential.

Built in spirit level - Essential, otherwise all your shots will be slightly off the vertical/horizontal. Rivers will run uphill and buildings will look like they are about to fall over.


  • Take steadier shots every time, especially at the narrow angle end of the lens.
  • Ensure smoother camera movement (panning, tilting and pivoting).
  • Keep the camera level by use of the spirit level.

The disadvantage is that it will take you a little longer to set up the equipment, but at least all your shots will look better for it.

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  • Make sure the legs of the tripod are spread out as far as they will go. This makes it as stable as possible.
  • However, for safety you can use a tripod as a monopod by bringing all the legs up together. This way no-one will trip over it in a scrum.
  • Check the spirit level every time you move the tripod.
  • Set the pan and tilt frictionís so that they are about equal.
  • How much friction is personal preference - However, too little and shots will still wobble - too much and you'll be fighting with your tripod for control of the shot!
  • Adjust the panning handle so that it is comfortable for you to use. Again personal preference - but usually just on the droopy side of horizontal.

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Hand held work takes a lot of practice and is easier for professional camera operators as the extra weight of the broadcast camera gives it some stability. The very light domestic cameras are easily affected by body movements, such as breathing in and out! However, there will be times when it is impractical to use the tripod e.g. in a crowded area. Use the steady shot feature.

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  • Use the wider lens angles whenever possible (Narrow angle shots will accentuate camera shake)
  • Try and brace yourself against a solid object like a wall, street lamp or a car.
  • Stand with your feet slightly apart to steady yourself.
  • Breath slowly and gently.
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Christina Fox