You’ve seen the polecam in action in the last post, in this post we’ll take a closer look at the polecam rig, the parts I used and the factors I considered for each part.
1. A Pole
Well, you can’t do pole photography without a pole! The pole I used was a telescopic fibreglass pole by Hastings. The pole extends to 30′, and has a collapsed length of 66″. The pole weighs about 11lbs (5kg) which is not too unmanageable, especially if you attach a strap to the body and haul it over your shoulder. I even managed to carry it onto a city bus and also in to a Perodua Kancil, one of the smallest cars in Malaysia. The individual sections of the pole has little pegs that lock in place, which was one of the main reasons I got it, but on hindsight that might not have been such a good thing (you’ll see why in my next post). The other appeal for the Hastings Hotstick was the customisable heads that can turn at 30-degree angles. This allows me to tilt the camera 90 degrees to take portrait shots, as well as angle the heads to take the overhead aerial shots. The other poles I considered was the wonderpole (no head), this telescopic antenna mast (too long when collapsed), an a giant Manfrotto tripod (at 24′ it was too short for my requirements, a little heavy at 24lbs, but it had a built in tripod which would have been really useful).
The other important component of the polecam of course is the camera – in this case, a Canon G11. The G11 is a prosumer compact camera that has many of the functions of a DSLR. What I was really looking for was the ability to shoot in raw (as in raw data recorded by the camera’s sensor, opposed to the JPEGs that are pre-compressed). I also appreciated greatly this model’s articulating LCD screen which in some cases stood in for an external video monitor. The movable screen was really handy especially because it was hard to move the entire camera when it was being tethered to the end of a 6-foot pole. The downside of this camera for me was the not-wide-enough angle of the lens; compared to other cameras of its class, it was relatively more heavy (13 ounces). Other cameras you might want to consider using for your polecam is the Lumix LX3 by Panasonic, which is about half the weight and apparently a favourite among pole aerial photographers, or the Pentax Optio which has the advantage of being both light and waterproof, and also the Nikon Coolpix P6000, that at 28mm is even less wide than the G11, but has the advantage of inbuilt GPS.
The camera was attached to the pole in two parts – first, I used the GPS antenna attachment for the hastings pole, which had a 5/8″ head. I the connected this attachment to the camera using this 5/8″ to 1/4″ adapter.
3. Wireless Remote
The wireless remote was a little more tricky, because the usual infra-red remotes only have a range of five metres or 15′. For a period I was toying around with the idea of a really long USB cable, but the maximum effective distance a cable can carry a signal is also about 5 metres. Fortunately, there are quite a few third-party radio-frequency wireless remotes out there, with far longer ranges than the IR ones. This remote that I used has a range of 80m – more than adequate for my 10m requirement – and can be attached to the camera’s hotshoe or another 1/4″ screw thread.
4. Video monitor
I guess the video camera and monitor is strictly optional – if you didn’t mind adjusting the camera, raising the pole, shooting, collapsing and rechecking the shot every time. I think given enough practice, it would be possible to use the pole without a visual aid. I didn’t have this luxury, so I found a baby monitor and wireless camera from an electronics store. The camera was about the size of my finger and had a narrower frame of view than the camera; so if I could see it on the monitor, I could definitely capture it on the camera. There were still a couple of drawbacks with this system; if I used the camera zoom, the accuracy of the video feed was less effective so the video cam was only good for the wide shots. The second drawback – a major one – was the battery life of the camera itself – it only lasted half an hour! With that amount of time, you might be able to get one or two different locations, maybe three if you’re experienced. I might consider powering the camera directly with batteries, but this would add extra weight onto the rig, which would make it harder to control at the higher elevations.
Finally, the glue that holds everything together – or making sure that your thousand-dollar investment doesn’t fall off and shatter to pieces! I used a number of small gadgets to fasten the entire rig to the main pole, all of which I got from the hardware store. You probably would have noticed that the video camera was attached to the main camera using nothing but blu-tack and rubber bands. I was quite surprised that it held as well as it did, but it was pretty steady throughout the whole field test. Because the hotshoe space was used up by the video camera, the receiver for the wireless remote was attached to the side of the pole using a small gorillapod and then wired to the camera. Finally, the wire and the camera strap were fastened onto the pole using a ring clamp. The ring clamp acted as an insurance policy just in case the 5/8″-1/4″ adapter ever got dislodged. In reality, nothing in the rig ever came apart during the field test, although the adapter had to be tightened every now and then.
And that’s how I assembled my polecam. In the next post, the last of the series, I end off with some evaluative notes about the operation of the polecam, how it measured up against my requirements and show off my bleeding fingers. =D