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Learning to operate on a geared head.


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#1 Stephen Whitehead

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Posted 29 November 2006 - 07:59 PM

Anyone have any advice to give on the best way to go about learning to operate on a geared head?

steve
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#2 Mike Panczenko

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Posted 29 November 2006 - 08:42 PM

Anyone have any advice to give on the best way to go about learning to operate on a geared head?

steve


I want to preface this and say that I do not know how to operate a geared head, but from what most operators have told me, a good way to learn is to put either a flashlight or laser pointer on it and draw circles and whatever other shapes you desire on the walls. Another suggestion I've heard is to put a camcorder on it and follow the action on the tv, or, if you can manage it without scaring people, to take it to the park and follow people walking by.
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#3 Jayson Crothers

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Posted 29 November 2006 - 09:05 PM

A flashlight and laserpointer are good starts, but that mostly teaches you how to repeat a similar action; the catch to a geared head is to react to movement and to do so smoothly. I learned how to operate by sitting in a rental house with a camera body and a long lens and following people around as they went about their day; if you call up Panavision or another large camera house and explain yourself, they'll probably be rather accomodating if they aren't too busy.

I also suggest learning on a longer lens in a lower gear at first; the lower gear is much more refined and allows for more subtle adjustments. Once you get up to 3rd gear, it's basically just a few spins of the wheel to do a 360, so it's more suited to fast action.

Also make sure the camera is properly balanced; if it's off balance at all, you'll be using the wheels to fight against the weight and it makes operating smoothly rather awkward.

More than anything, it just takes a lot of practice and then you finally have to take the plunge and just take it out onto set. Those first few shots on your first day with it will be a bit rough, but practice will make perfect.
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#4 timHealy

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Posted 29 November 2006 - 09:52 PM

I started to use a geared head on a short film that was not a difficult operating job. It gave me a great intro to using one on a film without much risk.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it and the extra control and sensitivity that a normal tripod head may not have.

Best

Tim
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#5 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 29 November 2006 - 10:22 PM

I've been curious about this, myself. Is there any real advatage to using gear heads now a days? I mean, after all, most modern cameras arn't that heavy (under 50 lb) and hand held is so prevalent, Isn't a fluid head a lot easier to deal with and basically just as smooth in the hands of an expirenced operator? B)
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 November 2006 - 10:34 PM

I've been curious about this, myself. Is there any real advatage to using gear heads now a days? I mean, after all, most modern cameras arn't that heavy (under 50 lb) and hand held is so prevalent, Isn't a fluid head a lot easier to deal with and basically just as smooth in the hands of an expirenced operator? B)


It's a partially question of inertia -- if you do a fast dolly-in with a typical 35mm camera (like a Panaflex or Arri-BL), or a fast whip pan, you can't stop the camera smoothly on a dime, not unless there is so much tension and counterbalancing applied that you can barely operate the fluid head. The inertia is transmitted through the camera and once it starts to move quickly, it doesn't want to stop (objects in motion want to stay in motion). When doing a fast dolly-in, you almost always have a bobble at the end as you try and stop the camera from bouncing. With a geared head, you can stop immediately with no bounce or bobble, because you've stopped the gears from turning.

Also, even with the bigger fluid heads, at some point the weight of the 35mm camera will overpower the head, unless (again) you apply a ridiculous amount of counterbalance. I once had to do a slow tilt looking straight down, and once I pushed hard enough to compensate for the counterbalance and tension and tilt down, at some point, gravity took over and pulled the camera faster downwards, at which point I had to grab the mag with my arm to pull back and slow down the tilt, then have the camera assistant help me lock the head at the end point.

With lighter cameras, this is not so much of an issue.

But there are simply some things that a geared head does better, and other things that a fluid head does better.

The basic difference in feeling is that a geared-head move is mechanical and precise, almost robotic, and a fluid head move is human, organic, "floaty", but to some degree, can betray the presence of an operator.
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#7 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 29 November 2006 - 11:13 PM

Very interesting. Well, would you say for a professional low budget operation, a gear head is a luxury or a nessesity
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 November 2006 - 11:22 PM

Very interesting. Well, would you say for a professional low budget operation, a gear head is a luxury or a nessesity


A luxury -- I've shot more than twenty features on a fluid head only. But certain types of moving shots benefit from a geared head.
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#9 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 29 November 2006 - 11:29 PM

Very interesting. Well, would you say for a professional low budget operation, a gear head is a luxury or a nessesity

Most low budget jobs don't have gear heads. Most jobs with a decent budget will pay for it if you ask. And the majority of network television and studio features will plan to have them from day one.
There are times (often quick dolly moves) when I've just about pulled my hair out because I don't have a gear head. It's frustrating to not have the right tool for the job. But can the shot be done with a fluid head? Sure. But nailing the shot becomes more of a challenge. The fact is, a bobble here and there isn't the producers main concern, and I guess it shouldn't be.
Incidentally, I have a friend that's working on a medium budget TV show, and he is currently paying out of his own pocket for an Arri 2 head. He traded his Ultimate head for a 100 and the gear head. Production could easily pay for it (it's $100 a week), but they don't even know what it is, so they won't. He got fed up and finally just decided to reach into his wallet.
Sorry, I got a bit off topic, but I thought this was interesting info.
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#10 Paul Bruening

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Posted 04 December 2006 - 04:37 PM

Hello,

I did the flashlight thing and thought I was doing great. Then, I put my video cam on and found out that the takes weren't so great. The video cam can give you the ability to objectively analyze your motion. I imagine that some operators learn in a short time, but it has taken me more than a while to get the coordination down. Practice with your eye to the veiwfinder as well as back watching a monitor.

Good luck with it.
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