Cool Tools: Hot New Gadgets and Gear on Display at WEVA EXPO

By Stuart Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants © 2004

Originally published in Camcorder & Computer Video Magazine Camcorder & Computer Home Video Magazine Logo

Each year thousands of event videographers descend on Las Vegas for the Wedding and Event Videographers EXPO. Now in its 14th year, WEVA EXPO conducts over 60 seminars and workshops for event videographers, and the exhibit floor has become the showplace for hot, new camcorders and cool accessories for videographers on the move.

Low-light capable camcorders, wireless mikes, camcorder stabilizers, portable soft lights—these are some of the tools that event videographers demand, and the sharpest and smartest are on display at WEVA EXPO’s tradeshow.

We combed the WEVA tradeshow floor for cool tools—unique accessories that will help extend the capabilities of your camcorder and stretch your imagination, so you can make creative videos without limitations.

Cool Matte Box Gives Camcorders the Cachet of Hollywood

You may have seen those large, square lens hoods on pro camcorders. They make video cameras look almost like big motion picture cameras. Called matte boxes, the ones used in Hollywood are costly and heavy. CoolVideoStuff.com showed a folding matte box ($150) that fits on any camcorder with a 58mm or larger lens filter diameter, and it attaches to your camcorder lens with elastic straps and Velcro. It makes the camcorder look larger, but more importantly, it acts as a shade to keep stray light off the lens.

Studio matte boxes usually come with a French Flag, an extension of the top of the matte box that further eliminates lens flare when lights are aimed toward the camera, or outside when the sun is low in the sky. The CoolVideoStuff matte box has an optional French flag that attaches with Velcro and folds up for storage.

Professional matte boxes also accept special rectangular glass filters to modify the colors or diffuse light. The lightweight CoolVideoStuff matte box is designed to accept those same filters, opening up a world of opportunities for unique filters not available as screw-on filters.

Get Your Camcorder High, Really High with HI-POD

Event videographers frequently need to get shots from over people’s heads. HI-POD came up with a unique invention: a 15-foot monopod that allows you to pan, tilt and zoom your camcorder from the ground. With the $2995 HI-POD you can capture shots from over fences and above barricades, and never be limited by crowds. The unit includes an eye-level LCD monitor, and an optional $300 harness lets you operate the system hands-free.

On the HI-POD, the zoom is controlled by remote buttons, and the tilt by the handle mechanism. When you turn the wheel on the handle mechanism, the tilt head responds correspondingly. This design makes it possible to have total tilt plate control of your camera at any height – from 6 feet to 15 feet or any height in between.

Two years ago the HI-POD guys made their debut at WEVA. They went all around Bally’s hotel with their HI-POD—so much so that attendees were distracted from visiting other vendors at the trade show, and the HI-POD reps were asked to return to their booth. This year, at the opening night party, they got some amazing high-angle photos on the dance floor that they played back the next day at their trade show booth.

Advanced Remote Control of Your Camcorder

Some churches don’t want videographers on the altar—frequently the only position where you can get a good shot of the bride’s and groom’s faces. However, many churches will allow you to place an un-staffed camcorder on the altar. That’s where camcorder remote controls come in handy. In the mid 90s, videographer Vic Rader designed his own pan-tilt-zoom remote mechanism for camcorders, and he has been showing them at WEVA EXPO ever since.

The CR-2002 remote system ($1425) allows you to pan, tilt, focus and zoom with any LANC-equipped camcorder. Rader took a standard camera pan-tilt mechanism and modified it to be more responsive. If you already have a remote pan-tilt mechanism, the company can incorporate yours into their system, saving you a little money.

The remote system includes a small control box, which may be handheld or placed on a table. It comes with 100 feet of cable, and you can go up to 300 feet with the system. You can monitor your moves with an optional LCD monitor ($275) that mounts on a hot shoe on the control box. Video and audio is supplied from the controller to feed that monitor.

Bogen, the US distributor for Manfrotto tripods and accessories, showed a new design in wired remote zoom controls. The Manfrotto 521 Series Remote Control ($353) allows the shooter to easily find and manipulate zoom, focus, record/stop and power controls. The 521 is designed for LANC-equipped Sony and Canon camcorders, and the 521P works on Panasonic cams. Unlike other camcorder wired remotes, the 521 and 521P do not have built-in cables, but come supplied with 10-inch camera connection cables that plug into the remote controller and video camera via a 2.5mm stereo connector. Optional cables come in a variety of lengths, up to 98 feet. The remotes include small clamps that enable them to be mounted in any number of places, whether it be a steering wheel, tripod, monopod, tabletop or hang glider. The 521 is small enough to fit the palm of the videographer’s hand.

Scorpion Support Takes the Sting out of Handling Camcorders

While small camcorders are light in weight, after holding one for an hour, your arms get tired. Several shoulder-mount devices have come on the market, but most don’t let you put the camcorder down on a table or floor when you take a break. Scorpion Support, a small company started by event videographer Tom McTeer, manufactures the Scorpion rack ($124.50) that steadies and supports the camcorder, not on the shoulder, but by resting the unit against the videographer’s chest. You hold it the same way you normally hold the camcorder, with the added stabilization of two front grip handles. Scorpion sells a tiny remote zoom control that clips onto your choice of locations on the bracket.

When the Scorpion system rests on a table or floor, it holds the camcorder horizontally. The unit works with an optional monopod and swivel head for easy pan/tilt operation. For better support and mobility, the monopod may be placed in the optional Kangaroo Pouch—a belt with a cup to hold the base of the monopod, much like the belt cup that parade marchers use to hold a flagpole.

LED Light Technology Available for Camcorders

You may have seen LEDs used in flashlights, automobile tail lights and even traffic signals. Now the technology has migrated to the video production industry. Lite Panels showed an LED array camcorder-mounted light ($749) that weighs nine ounces, consumes only seven watts of power and is said to last for 100,000 hours. Emitting light equal to that of a 30-watt incandescent bulb, the unit includes a full-range dimmer and a kit of 16 filters that attach with Velcro. The filters can balance the daylight colored light to indoor color temperature and can be used to add diffusion for a softer look.

LED Ring-light Takes Chromakey to a New Dimension

Chromakey is the technique that TV stations use with weather-casters to electronically display maps behind them in studios. Event videographers use portable chromakey systems at parties to create music-video backgrounds for guests to lip-sync. Standard chromakey backgrounds require very even lighting for the effect to work.

Bogen’s Reflecmedia Chromakey system ($2250) is designed for on-location chromakey production. It utilizes a unique green or blue LED ring-light that mounts around the camera lens. Rather than having to worry about balanced lighting for chromakey on location, the videographer simply uses the colored illumination from the light-balanced ring-light to create the key effect. The system includes a collapsible Chromatte made of a special highly-reflective grey cloth, available in a variety of sizes. Also included is Mattenee, a software plug-in available for many popular video editing software programs. This enables users to perform the chromakey effect during editing. Mattenee works with any blue/green screen, but is specially tuned to spot the frequencies of the Reflecmedia Chromatte system.
Helmet Cams, Wireless Monitoring and Hard Drive Recorders

Laird Telemedia showed their Helmet Cam ($435) popular for point-of-view shots from motorcycles, race cars, hang-gliders and sky-divers. Tested to speeds in excess of 180 MPH, the water-resistant camera features a Sony image pickup chip and a clear lens cover to protect from bugs, mud and debris. The shock tube mount is made of lightweight, aircraft aluminum and may be mounted on a vest or vehicle. The system comes with a clip-on microphone, a rechargeable battery and charger and AV cables. You’ll need a portable VCR or camcorder to record onto.

If you want to do a two-camera shoot, you can now monitor what your second camera operator is getting with Laird’s Waveshot ($495), a wireless video monitoring system with a 300-foot range, according to the manufacturer. The camera-mounted omni-directional transmitter sends the video signal to a handheld TV set so you can direct your second shooter. Canon or Sony camera batteries clip on to the WaveShot bracket to power the miniature wireless transmitter, and the WaveShot transmits the image wirelessly to any UHF ready pocket or table-top TV. The transmitter features exclusive FastPanâ„¢ technology that allows smooth transmission of the video image during rapid camera panning, eliminating image lag found on inferior systems, according to Laird.

The system comes with a molded carrying case, an integral camera battery clip (Canon or Sony style), an adjustable aluminum camera bracket, cables and instructions. Users may choose from among six UHF channels, based on the unused TV channels in your area.

The company also demonstrated their 3.3 hour capacity Capdiv hard disc video recorder ($995). Prior to shooting, you can program the hard disc to record in AVI-2 or Quicktime.mov so you can incorporate the footage you shoot into your nonlinear editing system, eliminating the need to capture the footage on your computer. The $1195 CapDiv records 4.5 hours of video.

Become a Rolling Video Professional

Not shown at WEVA, but innovative nonetheless, is the Laird Wheelchair Video Production System Physically disabled, wheelchair-dependent videographers can now adapt their wheelchairs to mount prosumer video cameras, monitors and more. You don’t have to be wheelchair-dependent; this also makes for a stable and low-cost shooting platform and dolly for dramatic rolling video shooting.

The Laird system consists of a clamp and swing bar system that comes with a choice of a fluid-effect tripod head ($795) or a motorized remote control camera head ($1695) for people who have limited arm use. This configuration includes an arm rest remote control panel with full push-button swivel control of the camera as well as push-button camera start/stop/record/focus controls for Sony and Canon prosumer cameras.

The clamp bolts on to standard 3/4″ wheelchair tubing. The swing arm is locked in position when shooting or, if needed, may be disengaged and quickly swung out of the way. An optional 5.6″ color LCD monitor ($289) and swivel clamp enables you to view the image you are shooting at a fixed and comfortable eye level which would be hard to see on a panning camera. Full assembly instructions and a toll-free installation help number are included.
The Solution for Viewing LCD Screens in Sunlight

LCD screens are one of the best inventions for camcorders, however looking through them on a sunny day is a lesson in futility. Enter Hoodman–a line of LCD accessories for camcorders and digital still cameras. Hoodman demonstrated their camcorder LCD hoods in two models for camcorders with 2½ and 3-inch LCD screens ($19.95) and the Magnifier Kit ($19.95) that provides 2X magnification. The Hoodman attaches to your camera with simple Velcro straps. It has a soft lining on the side that is placed against the camera to prevent damage, and it folds flat for storage in your camera bag. The Magnifier Kit consists of a lens and plastic clips that attach the lens inside the hood. The lens enlarges the LCD image so you can view the LCD from a distance.

Hoodskins ($9.95 per dozen) are clear, protective overlays designed to protect LCD screens, and Hoodwipes ($9.95 per dozen) are special wipe kits for LCD screens with a wet and dry wipe in each kit. The company also makes hoods for a variety of sizes of auxiliary LCD screens and field monitors in both 4:3 and 16:9 formats.

Photo Montages on the Fly

Edirol showed a unique photo-audio player called the P1 PhotoAudioMIDI Presenter ($1595). This box lets you create a photo montage of up to 80 still pictures or video freeze frames, with wipes and dissolves, even chromakey; and show it at an event, such as a wedding reception. You load images directly into the P-1 from the PC Memory card adapter, allowing you to quickly import pictures from your memory-card equipped camcorder or digital still camera.

The P-1 has a built in virtual keyboard for creating titles. You can key them over your pictures for captions, without the need of a computer. The unit has an LCD touch-screen interface that even lets you create hand-drawn graphics. The unit can trigger up to 30 images per second, making it ideal for stop-frame animation, according to the company.

The P-1 has a microphone input and an audio line input to get audio from a camcorder, MP3 player or CD player. You can record audio directly into the P-1 without the need of a computer. The unit also lets you link audio to picture files, allowing the P-1 to playback appropriate music or commentary for the selected image source.

Innovative entrepreneurs have recognized a market among camcorder enthusiasts for feature-laden accessories carrying modest price tags. The lines have blurred between professional and consumer camcorders, and that trend is also evident in the accessory field. Now, you can make nearly any camcorder look professional, act professional and deliver imagery as good as those fine folks in Hollywood.

For more information on these products contact:

CoolVideoStuff, www.coolvideostuff.com
Bogen/Manfrotto, www.bogenimaging.us
Edirol, www.edirol.com
HI-POD, www.hi-pod.com
HoodWipes, www.hoodmanusa.com
Laird, www.lairdtelemedia.com
LitePanels, www.litepanels.com
Rader Video Products, www.radervideo.com
Scorpion Rack, www.scorpionsupport.com

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