Elizabeth Pollock, Blue Marble Productions
I used a Vinten 3 system with my Sony PD150 digital camera while making a documentary out in the South Pacific, working mostly in the countries of Tuvalu and New Zealand. The Vinten tripod was absolutely fantastic. It make my life so much easier to have a top-quality tripod out there, particularly in the tiny and remote island country of Tuvalu, where the shooting conditions were already very challenging. When you’re already worrying about salt water, dust, rust, and convincing shy and retiring Polynesians to give you their frank views about climate change, you really don’t want to have to worry about spending hours to level a shot or fussing around with your tripod.
Vinten to the Rescue
During my first visit to Tuvalu on a scouting trip, I was alone and had a very limited luggage allowance on the plane, so I figured I wouldn’t bring along the Vinten tripod. Instead, I decided to make do with a very cheap, very light plastic tripod. While this did make it easy to get around the island on a motorcyle with all my gear in a backpack, it was terrible for shooting. I wasted so much time trying to get the shot level by adjusting each leg separately that one subject actually yelled at me (from his perch up in a coconut tree where he was “cutting toddy”, a traditional activity that I was trying to get some footage of) “Hurry up! I can’t wait up here forever!” Argh. Also the small cheap tripod shivered in the wind, creating shaky shots, and made for jerky pans and tilts.
When I returned later to Tuvalu for the real production period, with an associate producer and the Vinten tripod, the difference was incredible. The Vinten tripod is solid and dependable, a gem to shoot on. My PD150 camera clamped filmly right on top and the weight of the tripod meant my shot never shivered in the wind. The fluid head makes pans and tilts are smooth as silk, and levelling the shot was a breeze. You can set up in seconds, get the horizontal line correct, and not miss whatever is about to happen. For instance, we were shooting some toddy-cutting again, but this time with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu. This time the shoot went smoothly and the PM never had to wait for us to fiddle with the leveller like I had to before with my cheap tripod. In fact everything went so well and he had so much fun during this shoot that he actually invited us into his home for a glass of toddy (a drink made of coconut sap) afterward and regaled us with tales of behind the scenes political intrigue.
The Vinten tripod’s adjustable double-stage legs made it a snap to set up in difficult, uneven terrain, like the rocky seashore where we were often setting up shots. The carbon-fiber legs made the tripod very lightweight for its size (so it was easy to carry around). In a pinch, I was able to carry all the gear myself on a small moped while zipping around the island: a backpack with camera and sound gear, plus the tripod in its soft carry case slung over my shoulder. It’s obviously better not to be alone carrying all that gear, and to have another crew member to help … but I was surprised to find that the tripod was light enough that I could carry it myself at the same time as the rest of the gear.
Another reason the carbon-fibre legs were great is that I could set up shots right in the ocean and not worry about them rusting. We rinsed off the tripod in freshwater right after the shoot so the screws and so on wouldn’t rust, of course. But we had a couple of shooting situations that needed to be placed out in the water, and this wouldn’t have been possible (or at least would have been much more nerve-wracking) with a metal tripod.
I had no complaints at all about this tripod. I kept discovering cool features of the tripod while we were out shooting—for instance the little button that lights up the leveler bubble so you can see it when shooting at night. Overall, the Vinten 3-series tripod was solid, dependable, and a wonderful aid to filmmaking the entire way through.