This COVID-19 lockdown prompted me to set about upgrading much of my equipment for when things, hopefully, return to the ‘new’ normal. I have never been much of a kit ‘collector’ despite the impression you might have gained from my website. For me kit has to do the job I ask of it and I’ll only upgrade or replace it when it fails to do what I want. At the end of the day all my equipment is there to translate my vision into what the client wants - no more, no less. I'm afraid that I also included the dust on my kit, pulled straight from the bag for these photos!
Firstly I decided that I wanted to shoot more video than in previous years so my first buy was prompted by an email from Wex Photo-Video highlighting the new gimbal from Zhiyun, the Weebill-S. Stabilising hand-held video sequences has always been a bit of a hit and miss affair so I thought that this would be a good time to explore further. After a visit to Wex in Bristol I came home armed with the new Weebill-S after parting with £369.00. However my new purchase proved to be a three trick pony; for the first week of ownership I loved it and really explored its capabilities, but by the second week I became troubled by my lack of skill and the Weebill’s apparently odd way to doing things. However by the third week I had begun to find ways around the limitations by upgrading the equipment so that it would work seamlessly with my Nikon Z6 and the way I preferred to work. Initially I added the Zhiyun TransMount Servo Zoom/Focus Controller, the Zhiyun TransMount Quick Setup Kit and the Zhiyun TransMount Phone Holder, along with the Zhiyun TransMount Wireless Image Transmitter which would allow me, or a remote director, to watch and/or control the camera on an iPhone or iPad using WiFi. Next I discovered that all the HDMI and USB-C cables were far too long and inflexible to allow the gimbal to work properly, so a long-winded hunt on Amazon enabled me to track down super short ones. Finishing the kit I added a UURig L Grip to make it easier to hold the whole kit and caboodle with two hands.
Having accomplished that, I decided that a cage and/or an L-bracket for the Z6 would allow me to easily add or remove both the camera and items hooked up to it, so I first bought a SmallRig L-Bracket 2258 which is beautifully designed and engineered and has an Arca-Swiss mount on both its sides. However I then discovered that it wouldn’t fit my Manfrotto tripods without some new adaptors!
In terms of equipment longevity my heavyweight Manfrotto 058B Triaut tripod must take some beating. I bought it new in 1980, along with a pan and tilt head which has a hexagonal quick release plate, and it has served me well for 40 years. It’s been all over the world, including an unplanned trip to Norway when it was mistakenly loaded on to a flight there although I was bound for Newcastle upon Tyne! Luckily it was returned undamaged and in fact in its life it has never been serviced and has only lost the spirit level and had one pin on the leg supports replaced, I am embarrassed to admit, by a bent nail which was all I had to hand at that time. Thirty years have passed since that one quick fix so I decided that the time had come to replace the worn pan and tilt head with its 'non-compatible with pretty much anything' plates with a modern one incorporating an Arca-Swiss plate for wider compatibility. Another trip to Wex enabled me to purchase the Gitzo GHF3W head for £369.00 which is superb; light but rock solid and with retractable handles that means the whole tripod is much more compact when transporting it.
Of course I then I was forced to upgrade my lens plates for the two long ‘uns; the NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/4G VR which is, so far as I’m aware, the only Nikon lens designed to take an RT-1 rotating collar mount that is not actually supplied with it - that being a £210.00 extra from Nikon! To be honest I was really annoyed that I should be expected to pay so much for what is essentially a relatively simple piece of engineering, so I spent a little time hunting on-line and eventually found a Chinese-made mount for £30. For that price it was worth a gamble I judged and I was not disappointed. Beautifully made in aircraft-spec alloy, not only does it add the rotating collar to the lens but it also has an Arca-compatible dovetail. I then had to replace the foot on my NIKKOR AF-S 200-400mm f/4G VR and after some more hunting emailed Kirk Enterprise Solutions in the US, asking whether their replacement LP-63N foot was Arca-compatible. Almost by return they answered that it was and within ten minutes I had ordered one. It only took four days to get to me and for $140.00 I received an exquisitely designed and manufactured item, being a direct replacement for the Nikon foot, with an Arca dovetail as standard as well as incorporating a carry handle that is twice the length of the Nikon one (easier for carriage) into the bargain.
However I found that the SmallRig L-Bracket was incompatible with the SmallRig HDMI/USB Cable Clamp 2297 that I had ordered as I hadn’t bothered to read the compatibility details properly! So I then ordered the SmallRig Z6 Cage 2972 for my other Nikon Z6 that would be mounted on the Weebill-S. Once again it’s a brilliantly made bit of kit, coming, as they all do, with Allen-headed screws and the correct Allen keys, so the SmallRig clamp now fits perfectly. Finishing off my gimbal setup is a new Røde VideoMicro microphone, complete with pop-shield, that runs off the Nikon battery, all mounted on a SmallRig Mounting Plate 2283 which is also Arca-compatible, replacing the existing Weebill one, although this item hasn't arrived yet. This will allow me to remove the whole Weebill mount complete with camera and fit it to a tripod without having to de-rig anything or rebalance it when putting it back on the gimbal.
Returning to the subject of tripods for a minute, I decided that it was high time that my Manfrotto, now retailing at almost £550, had a proper service so I stripped it down completely, cleaned and greased all the moving parts and reassembled it to factory specification in less than an hour. The only cost was for a new spirit level for which Manfrotto stung me an eyewatering £7.00 and a pin to replace the 30 year old nail!
I was also looking to add another GoPro to my arsenal but quite frankly the cost rather put me off. Once again I did some on-line research and discovered the Akaso range of action cameras at a fraction of the cost of the GoPros. £60.00 got me the EK7000 Pro which shoots 4K video, 16 megapixel stills and comes with a spare battery, remote control, dual battery charger, a plethora of mounts and straps and other goodies. Examining it this morning it seems to be every bit as capable of the GoPro, but at a fraction of the price. Ah, the power of Amazon! Finally a couple of LaCie Mobile 5Tb USB-C hard drives to store everything on completed the spending spree.
I’ve used the Weebill-S on two jobs so far, the first shooting video for the ground element of a Tiger Moth flight video, where I also used three GoPros on self-constructed mounts on the aircraft, whilst the second was to shoot a dusk video of a tin smelting session in Devon at the only surviving smelt house left largely unchanged since it was built in 1849, for the upcoming book ‘’, co-authored with my friend Neil. The results are really astonishing with every shot looking as if it was done on a mega-bucks SteadiCam!
Links to all the products or sites mentioned above:
Lockdown Inspires Equipment Upgrades