Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Handheld Filming


I have a project coming up that will very likely have me shooting handheld for the entire project. It's a low-budget feature, 35mm, with some interesting dogma95-like parameters.

I'm not that keen about having a BL on my shoulder for 25 days but what are the options? Aaton35 with a barney? Compact SL with a barney? How quiet is the Panavision lightweight?

The one shining light is a carbon fibre BL that may be available since it comes in at 18 pounds, not including lens. Unfortunately, it is a rare beast and I'm guessing we might not have the clout to get it.

David Perrault

I'm just about finished a 32 day show where we were handheld at least part of everyday. The camera was an Aaton 35 and it was a dream. There were one or two times where we needed a barney but for most of it, we were fine We had a few tech problems on the first few days so I had to revert to handholding the a-camera (GII) and I was in pain.

As for the Panavision Lightweight, I don't think they make a viewing system for that camera. I've only used it as video only.

BTW : Who makes the carbon fiber BL? What is it based on (BL1, BL3)?


A friend of mine, Louis Schwartzberg, owns an Aaton 35-III. I took it to Europe for three weeks last year, and used it on a doc in the US for about 3 weeks. Shooting mostly exteriors, we never needed a barney.

The camera is a "dream" for handholding. The mags are hard to load and you don't want to introduce them to a new assistant while you are waiting on a mag to shoot. First few mags take a while. Then after they get used to it, it still takes longer than any other mag. But if you are willing to put up with it (get more mags), I loved the camera.
Using it next week for a week.

Jim Dollarhide

How "loud" was it? I've read it's somewhere around 30db.

Although that's a bit high, a good soundman should be able to put the camera in the mics dead zone. I've gotten away with that outdoors using a IIc and those can sound like a food processor.

Feliciano di Giorgio

As a camera assistant, I have used the Aaton and the Movicam SL. The Aaton is a dream to hand hold.

I must admit however, my vote goes to the SL. Very small, light, simple, and a dream of reliablity. It ALWAYS turned over.

Dennis Livesey

>Who makes th carbon fiber BL? What is it based on (BL1, BL3)?

It's based on a BL4. It was built by Scott MacDonald at WFWhite for WFWhite here in Toronto. It's 18 pounds (naked) which is close to the weight of the Panavision Lightweight camera.

There is only one of these things built, to date. Unfortunately, for me, I think it's going out soon on a picture that will overlap mine.

Aaton 35 for synch sound, location interiors, really? I've always thought those cameras were way too loud. The director of my project is mandating *NO ADR* so I need to provide a quiet camera.

David Perrault

I own an aaton 35-III.

About the mags :

Once you have a picture in your head of the threading diagram, I think it's pretty fast to thread since everything but the loop happens in one place under one door, all in the bag. and setting the loop takes a second. I think I can load a 35 mag faster than i can an aaton 16 mag, and i'm not an ac. and even if the threading did take longer, the loading is instantaneous, which is when speed counts.

About the noise :

It has been said that the frequency of sound that resonates from the 35-III is easily filtered-out in audio post-production. still, even with a barney and optical flat, it may not be quiet enough for all interior dialogue scenes.

For me, clincher between the sl and the aaton is the on-board battery of the aaton. what good is a compact, lightweight, hand held camera if you're wearing a battery belt or being trailed by an assistant with a block battery attached to you?

My 35-III was used on a diet coke commercial last week shot by Harris Savides. There were also two moviecam sls there as well, but I was told the operators wanted to use the aaton.

On the subject of 35 mm hand-held work :

1- Yes, make sure the camera is the quietest you can lift, so that the loudest sound from the camera's perspective is your heavy breathing (and occasional groan!)

2- Make sure that the most important person on the set, (Your ASSISTANT!) is at your shoulder too! Be sure he/she is aware of the bulk you are swinging around and ready to relieve you of it between EVERY TAKE! If this means insisting on an extra person on the camera crew, I'd make the argument!

3- On "The Messenger" (a 35 mm feature shot 90% Hand-held with a BL2) I cut a piece of 3/8" dense foam rubber (a backpacker's sleeping mat) into an hour-glass shape about 20 inches long, and stuffed it under my shirt for the duration of the picture. I walked around like Quasi Modo between takes, but it really helped take care of the bruises I was suffering with.

4- Lie on your back between set-ups, no matter how many wise-cracks you get from the Grips! I trust you exercise regularly. Make sure to do your abdominals. They help keep you back limber too!

Joe "Mister Hand-Held" Di Gennaro

You lot are a bunch of cissies!

I was brought up as a cinema newsreel cameraman (British Movietone News, and proud of it) schlepping around a 30lb Newman Sinclair camera all day, every day, on my own, without an assistant, loading my own magazines, with no director to tell me what to shoot next or how, driving myself to and from location, doing my own shipping when abroad, for £15 ($23) per week, without overtime, and loving every moment of it.

And no exposure meter.

It made me what I am. (A silly old sod with lots of wonderful memories.)

I would not have missed those years or that experience for anything. It taught me far more than any film school or university ever could.


David Samuelson

David :

I was wondering if you had any recollection of the Samcine Compensating Link movement for the 35BL. I know of one that's for sale, and was wondering if it would be a sensible upgrade for my trusty (but not exactly silent) 35BL1. Is it significantly quieter? Will it run at 100 fps? Does it have adjustable pitch? Any notable problems?

Thanks for any info.

Best regards,

Jeff Kreines

Yes. We modified the intermittent movements of our early Arri 35BL ls and lls, and maybe even later ones, to have a full Mitchell/Panavision type adjustabe pitch, knocking a significant amount off the db level.

The guy who did it was our chief camera maintainance engineer, Karl Kelly.

I met him at lunchtime to-day (the BSC Ladie's Lunch) and he says he thinks he still has a copy of the Patent we got for it at the time but said that the engineering drawings are probably with Panavision UK who inherited all of Samuelson's engineering archives.

It was good to see so many old and legendary faces at the lunch ... Jack Cardiff, Freddie Francis, Ossie Morris, Dougie Slocombe, Gil Taylor (still mumbling about Star Wars), among others.

Incidentally, this coming Tuesday evening at the Playhouse Theatre, Hampstead, Freddie Francis is introducing and talking about the filming of Elephant Man. Followed by a screening. For anyone who loves B&W photography it's a must.


David Samuelson

I am a big fan of the Aaton 35III. I have used it on several features including a film called CUBE where it was the only camera. We had very few problems, but we did have to design our own custom barney.

Only 2 shots outs of about 1,200 had to to have there sound replaced due to camera noise. And that was using quite a few wide angle lens ie. 10mm & 14mm very close to the actors. I love the way it feels on the shoulder. Good center of gravity. It feels like 16mm but its 35. Its important to pick the right rental house.

Clairmount Camera in Toronto supplied the CUBE camera. Aatons from other houses tended to have noise problems. Picking a camera assistant who is familiar with the Aaton also seemed to be a factor. I love this camera but you have to treat it with care.

Derek Rogers CSC

Tell us a bit about your barney, and what's different about it.

BTW, the carbon-fiber BL is apparently top secret, according to those who built it. Kudos for the CML spy team...

Subject : 25 Days on my Shoulder

Two years ago I worked as an operator on a movie which 75 % was shot hand held. It was shot with an Arri BL IV. I noticed that using 1000' mags made the camera more balanced, in fact it was leaning a bit to the back. This was nice because the camera wasn't putting any weight on your arms. It gave more weight on you spine, but when you take good care of the position of your back it doesn't matter so much, because all the forces are straight down. I found it harder to use the camera with 400' mags then the 1000'.

The nice thing about a heavy camera is that it is behaving smoother, when the camera is in motion it almost pulls you with it.

I used a double handgrip made by Technovision which was very useful. Both handgrips could be adjusted in all ways to get the most comfortable position.

Benito Strangio

That's an interesting note to discuss -- I hardly EVER use handgrips as they seem to be in the most inconvenient spots and I never feel that I have a good grip on the camera that way. -- Granted I have a slight bias here as pretty much all of my handheld work has been either a GII or a Platinum (never had Moviecam or Aaton). Very rarely an Arri III or even once or twice a 2C ... But I find that the iris rods are actually a much better grip for me (right hand) -- better centered, better control and left hand usually is on the mattebox. My 1st turned me on to that position and it's MUCH more comfortable than the handgrips (which we hardly ever even put on anymore).

I've done handheld with both a 1000' and a 500' Panamag and either way it can be a bear. The 500' is, of course, much lighter -- but the 1000' seems to have a better balance (it really depends on how fast I've got to move...) What really is the life saver is the extraordinary attentiveness of my first. I never have to ask -- every take the camera is gone. He's great about getting it back on in a very comfortable manner for me as well -- I don't have to lift and heft it up -- he simply places it on my shoulder and we're ready to rock. If I didn't have that support -- Handheld, especially with a beast like a GII, would be an absolute nightmare!

Jay Holben

Can you outline how that barney was put together? I think this camera (Aaton 35III) may be a contender for this shoot so the barney issue is quite real for me.

BTW, congratulations on the nomination for *Best Cinematography - Feature* for the CSC awards. That was the same project, right?

David Perrault

Hmmm. They weren't too coy about it over the phone. This thing is fresh out of R&D but, apparently, has passed muster, reg test and other testing. They are letting it out on a six-month feature and I'm guessing they feel good about it. The question is: will they make more and sell them?

Now, where is that secret decoder ring is used to have around...?

I think the concept of using the rods and the mattebox is pretty sound but I think I can shoot with less rolling action when I have a grip that is a bit further away from the rotation axis of the camera.

What I mean is... Most handgrips work well for stabilizing tilt and pan motion. When the camera is moving rotationally about the optical axis, though, most handgrips are to close to the center-point of that motion and, as such, do not work very well at stabilizing THAT motion.

Naturally, when I say tilt, pan and rotational motion I mean UNWANTED motion, slight back and forth.

Try taping a short gobo arm, or a short piece of broom-handle, at 90 degrees to the bottom rods (less simple with Panaflex) so there is an *outrigger* to stabilize the rotation. Sounds kind of weird but if you have the time, and the space, this is quite effective.

Those Technovision handles look quite nice but I prefer a more stripped down set-up as well.

David Perrault

Ditto that on the Compact, in my opinion. I find the 400's leave too much on the arms.

I'm looking into making a molded shoulder *block* that is molded to my shoulder and will fit to the camera on top. Anyone ever try this? I'm just thinking about it at this point but I'd be curious to hear any thoughts on this.


I have shot lots of hand held, and here are a few things I've are improtant...I use only New Balance 1700, list at $185, but $125 on the net. Very comfortable and you need good stability when going backwards, and when trying for a rock steady look. I can hold a camera as steady as a sticks shot, or several different kinds of HH.

It depends on the look, or what the director wants. Practice, and most important, good breathing, so as not to transfer lung motion to the hand. I practice breathing every day, a good steady inhale, and steady, gravity led exhale. I like the Aaton 111, but really prefer the Arri BL with either a 400 or 1000' mags. I like the center of gravity close to the eye, and the other cameras are different, and therefore the operating is different. Figure on using some Series 9 or 4.5 round filters sometimes, as I usually strip the camera of bridge plate, rods and follow focus. I made a shoulder pad with elastic straps, a piece of foam, and some black duv. It works better than other expensive ones.

Most important, I use a motorcycle kidney belt, as a brace for the lower back, and also for resistance...

I have used the two handle systems, but I find I usually like to have one hand on the lens, and so I just like just the right hand Arri hand grip. A good tight fitting eyepiece is a must, as well as a heater eyepiece, because always the first shot after lunch it will fog up, as your body temp is higher then before...Another option is to go with a jib arm, like a porta jib...I have put a Moviecam America, 18-90 zoom, 1000' mag, and dutch head on it and it works great for achieving several kinds of looks, either swooping shots, pseudo hand held floating, and rock steady. I usually put it on a center post pee wee, but it can work on a wheeled tripod. Again, it depends on the look desired, but the jib gets it off your shoulder, so you can tweak a barn door or reach for your meter, which is hard to do when hand holding. With the jib you can move very quickly, getting lots of set ups fast.

At the recent show biz, I did see an intriguing hand held item which you can find at ProBand Film and Video, in North Hollywood. It was a backpack frame with a retractable tension line which actually supported a camera slightly off the shoulder...very neat.

Hand held can be a definite look and can add to the story, or it can be very annoying, as I'm sure your aware. Video village becomes more important, and more of a pain, so set up the look and have the communication open with the director. Or hire an operator and work together until its great.

also, get a good chiropractor...

i find it advantageous to have a double hand grip configuration for long handheld takes so that i can release my grip and give each hand a turn to rest without losing control. i fact i can keep the frame the same.

i also find having handgrip extensions useful so that your elbows can rest against you abdomen, rather than sit high in the air supporting the camera only your muscles.

Darren Lew

I had seen the dp alex zakrewski, who shoots the television show "homicide: life on the street," use a custom made shoulder pad for his aaton 16. I based my design on his, also for my aaton 16, when having a front heavy configuration with a zoom, production mattebox, and handheld microforce.

It consists of a sony betacam shoulder pad attached to o'connor small european quick release platform. it can be adjusted fore and aft depending on the balance I want, and I can easily snap it on and off, just like setting it into the quick release on the head since the head has the same platform.

For the aaton 16, it positions the shoulder not in the usual place but rather underneath the base, which enables better balance with a front heavy rig.

It also puts the camera a little higher, which is an advantage for someone on the shorter side like me. the consequence of this is having to orient the viewfinder so that i'm looking up, rather than straight ahead, but it's perfectly fine for me.

Bob Dorsey of Chesapeake Camera ( ) made the shoulder pad for me.

Darren Lew

A few years ago, I bought a hand held belt/pad combo from a company called Jib Jobs, here in Hollywood. It is a wide waist belt that supports the back with a contoured shoulder pad of some high tech gel stuff that clips into the belt with straps and fastex buckles. The straps are all adjustable, and the shoulder pad can be adjusted to tilt the camera toward your head, or away, or level by adding little wedges of the gel stuff. It was pretty inexpensive, ($100 or so) and supremely comfortable. I don't have their current phone number, but it seems a worthwhile investment for so long a job.

-- Ed Colman-SuperDailies

When I 'inherited' a IIC, I had an engineer friend (who loves a challenge) do some machining for me... He came up with a way to mount a set of 15mm rods (which he machined) to the camera, so I can use the Chrosziel 4x4/4x5.6 matte box from my Betacam kit. I think I paid him 200 dollars... add a few bucks for a prime lens gear and I had a functioning follow focus, too.Then he got really carried away and machined another set of rods long enough for an old Cooke 25-250 zoom, which strangely enough actually works with the 4x4 matte box....

George Hupka

On making our own barney for the Aaton 35111 on CUBE. We tried everything.

I became quite obsessive about it because I was out to prove to all the nay sayers in Toronto who thought the Aaton was a wimpy camera. We used 2 glass filters in front of the lens at all times. We made foam covers that covered the sides of the lens. They were akward for the focus puller but they did reduce noise escaping from the lens mount area. For the actual barney, there was several versions. We began by cutting up a sound blanket and shaping it to the camera. Than we packed the insides with dense foam pieces. This worked out okay, but I was not satisfied, so I experimented with differnt types of foam and on a whim tried a liquid foam that expands when expposed to air. That was interesting! Than I found some very thin pieces of lead and had them sewn into a sound blanket. That worked quite well but it did not go over well with the crew, so we ended up using version #1 for the bulk of the shoot. Crude and not pretty, but effective!

I hear that Aaton has made a new (with lead??) barney for the Aaton 35 that it supposed to be quite good, but it is expensive.

On another note. What is your most favourite or most challenging hand held shot? Mine was on a short film called ELEVATED where two people are traped in an elevator by a third who is convinved the building they are in has been taken over by aliens. In the shot, a women is screaming. The camera turns upside down and the womwnen runs full force at the camera. We end up in a low angle looking up at the womwen as she pounds on the elevator door.

Fun stuff!!

Derek Rogers CSC

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