Going Handheld with the Panasonic AG-AF101 (AG-AF100)

Panasonic AG-AF101 body image.

Having been delayed in being able to order my camera kit, my mind was wandering to other cameras. Especially the current internet sweetheart with all the buzz surrounding it: the Panasonic AG-Af101. This was actually my initial list-topper and has never left my mind, but there are a couple of drawbacks. One of these is the ability to go handheld, which is a must for a portion of my work.

The box shape of the AF101 is not very ergonomic and its petite size, whilst being very convenient in some (small area) situations, can hinder things that are not tripod shooting or shooting from the hip. One way to circumvent this problem is to invest in a shoulder-mounting system. There are many options out there and the ones listed below are merely to show the range and differences available.

The Premium Option

Handheld kit from Abelcine.com

Panasonic AG-AF100 (AF101) Handheld Kit from Abelcine

If your source for handheld mounts is limited to video production shops, whether online or physical real-life, you are likely to encounter only the premium kind. These are usually built very precisely, counter-balanced appropriately and more-or-less ideal for the camera and job at hand.

That’s all fine if you can afford to pay 150-200% of what you already spent on the camera. Wait, what? I have always been confused by the extraordinary high prices of items like this (although the fact that many people do buy them does suggest that people who can afford more expensive cameras are using the same models that we do because the quality is that good – and big money isn’t required for amazing visual results now).

However, there is a lot to this kit, many individual parts from different manufacturers to make one all-powerful handheld kit. I have no doubt in my mind that if you can afford it, there is no better kit available (generally speaking – specific projects may need different requirements). Additionally you can add to it for different projects, or remove parts when unnecessary.

I am aware that the process involved in making these isn’t easy, they use strong, lightweight and not cheap metals and work hard to create amazing products – but, you know, I could buy a few second hand cars for that price and they all have combustion engines. The bottom line is: this kind of system is not appropriate for a £10,000 camera kit budget, which is where I stand (and I’m not alone). But if anyone wants to buy me one, I’d be delighted.

The Amateur Professional Option

Amateur Panasonic Shoulder Mount from West Side AV

Panasonic AF100 (AF101) Shoulder Brace and Battery Support from West Side AV

So if you’re anything like me, or Olof here, you will have stared at the first rig option for a while, stared at the price, back to the rig, back to the price.. Eventually you would have decided that you could make something along those lines for about 1/500th of the price and some advice from the biggest DIY person you know.

People with a passion for video and some know-how are more and more often coming up with solutions to problems that arise in the expensive world of video. With the cost of cameras and media coming down, the need for cheaper everything else is rising.

This mounting option was made by a video guy, for video guys and is pretty basic but maybe that is all that some users will require. It has a nice NanoFlash bracket and a padded shoulder area to get you up on your feet.

Personally, I don’t want to be holding the lens the whole time, scared I would knock a setting or something. Also, I am not initially going to be mounting an external battery or using an external recorder and, although this product is about 1/35th of the price of the above one, I’m not sure I could justify paying for what is essentially a shoulder pad and base-plate – on the setup I’d be using.

The Cheapskate Option

Image of Spiderbrace

Spiderbrace from spiderbrace.com

So what if you wanted to pay, say, £50?

The Spiderbrace from (funnily enough) www.spiderbrace.com is $69.95 and looks – well – sort of like a good example of what I would make for myself. It might be cheap metal, it might not be counterbalanced correctly and it might look a little weak in the shoulder support area but it’s cheap.

If you are only using handheld minimally and for nothing of great importance – maybe you’d just like to get a few cutaways where you are moving around or for some personal/family stuff – you could do at lot worse. This system will make handheld easier with a camera like the AF101 and take some of the pressure off holding it awkwardly (or having to carry around a tripod).

You might not look like the coolest guy at your son’s football game though.

The Homemade Option

If this is all still too expensive or you fancy some weekend DIY, then why not take a look at YouTube. Videos like the one below are plentiful and there are lots of different options. You should probably be aware that you’re never going to get the same results as you would a professional system, but each to their own.

The Cinematography of ‘The Black Swan’

This has been a good couple of weeks for cinema-going, after seeing 127 Hours and The King’s Speech, I managed to get tickets to an advanced preview of The Black Swan. The film has been out for quite a while in the US and was in film festivals last summer but is only being released to the UK audiences proper today.

I really enjoyed the dark tale and found the handheld style to really work with the film. There are some debates on the internet about the merits of this kinetic style, but I felt closer to the action and felt like I was getting in Natalie Portman’s character’s head and was struggling along with her. It had touches of Cronenberg about it and was totally different again from the two films I mention above and some visual similarities to Kieslowski and Repulsion/Rosemary’s Baby. This different world that they created was one of the main things that I took away from the film; so familiar yet so alien.

The Cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, used a 5DMKii to shoot the rehearsals and have reference footage for how he would later shoot (on 16mm) – which I think is a great use of a camera that I have and want to maximise its potential. They ended up using 7Ds and 1DMKIVs for some shots where smaller set-ups and crews were necessary. He shot with a “Canon 24mm lens at 1,600 ASA to get as much depth of field as possible at a stop of T81⁄2” and pulled focus by hand. It’s nice to see the big guys doing stuff that is comparable to independent and tiny operations. I couldn’t tell the difference between the film and digital, but I didn’t know then – maybe if I went back to it and focused less on the story. Usually, my first watch is to take in the story as much as possible.

Find out more, including what a Texas switch is and its origin, in this interview with Libatique.