Geoff Nelson began his freelance camera operating career back in the nineties and is now a hugely experienced ENG broadcast and news cameraman with the gear to get the job done in any weather. “In the Pacific North West you get a lot of rainy weather. But I have the gear to get through those weather extremes.”
One of the most important parts of his armoury is the tripod and head combination, especially when the news agenda is fast moving and time is definitely of the essence. Geoff uses the Sachtler aktiv14T flowtech system, he explains how the cutting edge elements of the system improve his workflow.
It’s much faster to level and a much more convenient way of working. Having done things differently for 23 years there is some muscle memory retained for the old way of doing things but I got over that in less than a day.
“When I go back to some of my old heads I know have the aktiv muscle memory and reach for the front latch.” aktiv works with a single lever to release, level and lock the head on to the tripod. This is Sachtler's unique SpeedLevel technology, it allows you to level in an instant without ever taking your eyes off the action – perfect for the news arena and for Geoff.
The Sachtler aktiv14T head has been designed for heavier pay loads. That suits Geoff’s cameras including his Sony Z750 and his Sony FX9 with which he uses with a range of lenses with a range of weights that the aktiv 14T deals with easily.
But talking with Geoff you soon realise that the SpeedLevel technology is where the aktiv heads really shine. “The speed is really the key because in news we are not changing lenses, we are not micro-managing our set-ups. If you’re in an environment where you’re picking off B-roll shots that are happening as you see them, you’ve got to be able to quickly get to that next location, level up on your tripod and grab the moment.”
Geoff makes the point that news gathering is different to narrative cinematography. Capture of B-roll for news isn’t a rehearsal setting, you have one chance of capturing something so you better be ready. “The speed at which aktiv levels is a real game changer. It’s fast, the illuminated prism bubble is really easy to see and it’s at the same level as where you’re doing your levelling. It shaves off lots of time from a fairly menial and routine part of news shooting but it makes it so much better and so much quicker.”
Geoff's shooting rig is substantial and benefits from the balancing features of aktiv. He carries his LiveU media streamer in a backpack but on the rig he stores a large battery, a SmallHD 7 inch on-board monitor with an arm and a heavier and longer zoom lens – for his Sony FX9 camera he twins it with a Canon 17-120 which is quite a weighty cinema zoom.
Geoff’s aktiv14T gives him the confidence to load the varied gear on to his rig. “The 14T handles all those different configurations whether it’s a cinema broadcast set-up or an ENG broadcast set-up. I’ve had no problem whatsoever with aktiv14T handling the weights that I throw at it."
For Geoff, the combination of flowtech and aktiv is a killer blend. Even now, he sees cameramen struggling with their tripod and heads to balance them and is often asked about his tripod and head. “I usually say, ‘well you should get one, I don’t know what you’re doing’. They’re not looking like they’re ready for the day with the way they are fighting their tripods. I believe in just working in a different way. I have a tripod head which is innovative and new and works in a particular way but matching it with the flowtech makes for a winning team.”
Once you’ve got the camera balanced on the 14T, you’ve got your drag set and you do some tests for your pan and tilt movement and so on, it’s just there and doesn’t change throughout the day. It’s fantastic.