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CPMhead - a Geared Head That Aims to Bring Smooth Pans and Tilts to HDSLRs

03.19.12 @ 6:10PM Tags : , , , , ,

Geared what?  In case you don’t know, a geared head is a tripod head that lets you perform precision, fluid pans and tilts.  It’s the big brother to your more common friction and fluid heads, the kind of head bigger budgeted films will use to achieve their camera moves.  Now, these things are usually pretty expensive — they are designed for much heavier cameras.  But CPM Camera Rigs has recently started offering a smaller, relatively cheaper, geared head aimed at HDSLR filmmakers — the CPMhead.  Want to see one in action?  Check this out:

So smooth… so geared…

Now, the bad news — yeah, it’s cheaper, but it will still run you $2500 (or $1900).

Here’s the thing — historically, the reason geared heads were introduced was because the cameras started getting so big and unwieldy that it was difficult to achieve smooth pans and tilts using traditional means.  So, yes, it’s a bit ironic that this item should be introduced for HDSLRs.  In most cases, through practice and proper adjustments you should be able to achieve very smooth pans and tilts using your fluid head.  That should be one of the advantages of using a smaller camera like an HDSLR.  At the same time, given the choice between a fluid head and a geared head, all else being equal, I’d take the latter — gears just make it easier to achieve those even, precision moves.

If you have the money, and your needs justify the price, this would be a very nice addition to your filmmaking tools.  If you don’t — don’t sweat it.  For most of us, this will be a rental item at best.  In the meantime I’ll keep practicing pans and tilts on my fluid head.

Have you gotten a chance to use a geared head?  How smooth are the pans and tilts on your fluid head?

[Via NextWaveDV]


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Description image 25 COMMENTS

  • Gear heads are great tools and can create beautiful movements – but it takes a skilled operator to move it.
    I got to work one a couple of times but still don’t have it figured out…

  • Geared heads are fun, they certainly slow you down to the point where you have to stick to more traditional moves in comparison to more erratic whip pans and so on.

    For HDSLR we are using a Manfrotto 500 series head and sticks (501 or 503 if I remember correctly) and for our Red Epic we’re using a much pricier Sachtler Video 60 head and sticks (purchased used from David Lynch’s production company).

    On a side note, I operated a Red One on an O’Conner head from the 80′s for a recent job. While no doubt that fluid head was great for its time… I wanted to kill myself. It was unbalanced, jumpy, and had issues locking.

  • What fluid head does the author use?

  • John Jeffreys on 03.19.12 @ 9:44PM

    1900 can get me a damn good, immortal quality fluid head kit.

  • I got to operate a fully kitted out arri-camera with a huge 24-300 angenieux lens sitting on a beautiful geared head… all thanks to CVT here in miami… man that thing was smooth and awesome to play with… The guys who are really good at operating them have been compared to wizards… they spend hours zoning in and programming themselves to get the best most accurate results.

  • Like a lot of technology out there, the geared head was a re-design of military technology – in this case the two wheel pan/tilt mechanisms used in anti-aircraft guns during WWII.

    Similarly, the piston technology behind a good old fashioned Fisher dolly (for booming up and down) together with the chassis itself was inspired by heavy carts originally designed for loading bombs into WWII planes.

    Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have sliders based on stealth technology! :)

    • Actually most of the original JL Fishers were re-appropriated from military surplus. Once they started running out is when they started R&D on their own stuff.

  • The first thing I got rid off on my slider is the hand crank, since you can never make smooth, consistent rotary turns on them. Although I have no experience with geared heads, I’m sure it takes about as much effort to run that dial smoothly as you need to get your pan/tilts right in manual fashion. If you need control, using a moco pan/tilt head from KesslerCrane will do the same job, plus you can program it…

    • If you have no experience how can you say “I’m sure it takes about as much effort” – A geared head is nothing like the crank handle on a slider. A crank wheel isn’t smooth because it’s running on a flexible belt – there’s no real tension with a system like that. A geared head on the other hand has tons of friction since it’s moving on precisely connected gears. There’s is zero play in it.

      The challenge of a geared head is training the body to be able to sync up both pan and tilt moves into one fluid shot. It’s kind of like being a drummer where one hand is usually having to do something completely different than the other. A friend of mine spent many, many hours practicing with a laser on top of the head and tracing out various shapes on a wall across the room using a 200mm lens.

      Once you make that coordination breakthrough in operating a geared head you’ll never want to go back to a fluid head because of the silky smooth and complex moves you can achieve no matter what lens you have on the camera.

      • Fair enough. But I still prefer to use my pan/tilt head instead.

        • No, you don’t “prefer” to use your fluid head, you “only know how” to use your fluid head. There is no comparison for control and professional grade movements.

  • Giovanni Bertani on 03.20.12 @ 12:14PM

    Why not a nice and smooth remote head? You could use it on a tripod and on a crane…

    • A lot of remote heads also use the gear wheels on their control desks. Some do use control sticks, but I don’t like them as much since it’s more difficult to ease in and out of a move.

      For an HDSLR, you’re looking at something from Jimmyjib, about $4,000.

  • One of the best reasons to use a gear head is that you don’t have to keep your eye to the viewfinder while doing a move — you just count turns.

    Here’s an example, the camera is mounted on a dolly and is pulling back. The camera is at ground level, as the dolly pulls back the arm booms up. The operator starts out on his knees and as the arm comes up the operator stands-up. And yes, I’ve actually seen this done. You can’t do this with a fluid head.

    The classic way to learn was to use a flash light, on the gear head, and do figure eights on the wall of a darkened room.

    Check-out the GearNex gear head It’s meant for the small Digital Cine cameras.

  • Single speed = no thanks. The Gearnex is very very nice. Those guys have spent a lot of time making that head work properly. Much more in line with a Mitchell/Arri/Panavision head.

    • It is really nice to have a transmission just like the real PRO manufacturer’s do. I did a corporate video with an arrihead 2….it was butter! the advantage to having two independent transmissions with three speed each made the dynamics of each shot superb.

  • Just do an Ebay search every so often for “Quickset Tripod”. I picked up a geared head tripod for about 150 dollars. Very nicely made and originally made for telescopes. I’used it successfully on a couple of strange things, including mounting a video projector on it to get slow movign images over a subject and so on. Very useful and a cheap way to practice geared head movement if thta’s what you’re after. Not sure if the movements match those of the kind mentioned above though.

  • Kind of too bad the musical accompaniment distracts from the “weightiness” (pun pun yes) of geared heads, and why they offer a unique creative cinematic signature: the start and stops, for one, are completely ‘rock solid’ You can come very very close to that with fluid heads, but it just can’t physically match the mechanical ‘perfection’ of a well-executed geared-head move. And while I used to rail with exact opposite argument when I scrapped together enough money to buy a fluid-head, or later when using beautiful heads from various manufacturers (O’Connor, Sachtler, Miller, etc), once I saw an experienced AC operate one, and watched the footage…end of discussion! Also, the value to film & photo-DSLR filmmakers is the repeatability, so many tunes this way on tilt, so many on pan. Alas, I had just purchased an NCE geared head, and before I got a chance to learn to use it, it was stolen…

    In the end what’s on screen is what maters – if one could otherwise identical compare shots, one using a geared-head, the other a professional-level fluid head, I’m pretty sure the geared-head would be more “invisible”. more ‘objective’, letting the audience pay attention to the story on screen, instead of being distracted by the glitz & glamour of the camera operator!

  • Rusty Rogers on 03.22.12 @ 8:45PM

    Did quality control bonk on the wobbly wheel on the right?

  • Have you tried the variable speed fluid head attachment that works perfectly?
    I saw one being used on the net and so I got one too, a nice strong rubber band!

  • I know this sounds crazy – but try it. Add about 12-16″ extension on your fluid head handle – maybe a hard plastic pipe – who cares. Put a pipe insulation foamy around it for the handle. Trust me, that LONG handle gives incredible control, any speed, slow fast, controlled, extra following the action movements etc. TV stations use dual long handles for a reason – it works. Put your LANC controls on the handle and it is all there. Why make things complicated? Lets see – 24″ pipe – $1.00, foamy $2.00 . . . .intelligence – priceless!

  • Daniel Mimura on 03.24.12 @ 10:56PM

    Their site and video says nothing about the weight limit of this and I’m curious what that is… It’s designed for the HD-SLR, but of course, that could be taken to mean a million things, weight-wise when you include all the AKS.

  • I hope the wheels can be reversed because the direction of rotation in the video is the wrong way.

  • Russell Steen on 03.27.12 @ 9:35AM

    Gear heads typically have three gears for both tilt and pan, plus a built-in tilt plate. Pretty important features I’d say, but this CPM doesn’t seem to have them. I don’t see locks either.

    • LACameraGuy on 06.18.13 @ 7:39PM

      Yikes… not only that, but both pan and tilt on this are geared in OPPOSITE directions compared to all other professional geared heads (Clockwise is always UP and LEFT respective to their wheels). Decent little prototype, but it will train your muscle memory completely backwards. At least consult the basic concepts of tried-and-true designs (Arri, Panavision, Worrall, GearNex) before you go reinventing the wheel!