Feature Rich

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Time-poor but feature-rich: Sachtler Ace Accessories take the pressure out of DSLR shoots for Paul Cook

I’m a freelance lighting cameraman and editor based in Suffolk, UK. I work across the UK and Europe but predominantly in London and the east of England. I own a video production company which caters for corporate clients, design and marketing agencies. I also freelance for larger production companies as a camera operator and editor for commercial and TV shoots. To date, I’ve worked on a broad range of projects for the likes of Lloyds Bank, Volkswagen and Hard Rock Café at ‘Hard Rock Calling’ and ‘Hard Rock Rocks the Square’ in Florence.

I shoot predominantly with DSLR and large sensor camcorders. My model of choice is the Canon 5D Mark III and my favourite stylistic device is time-lapse. However, the projects I work on are generally faster-paced and often necessitate an off-the-cuff style with minimal kit.

I was able to put the Sachtler Ace Accessories through their paces in conjunction with a range of Litepanels LED lighting products, including a handful of Litepanels Bi-Focus 1x1s and the Sola 6, on some recent shoots. These included a music promo, a short film and a project for a charity.

The Ace Accessories package, consisting of the Ace Base Plate, Ace Follow Focus and Ace Matte Box, offered greater control of the camera to improve efficiencies on shoots, allowing me to be much more flexible in my approach.

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I first used the Ace Accessories for a short film project for which I was director of photography. The shoot was particularly demanding because we were working to a tight one-day shooting schedule. Thanks to the Ace Accessories the timeframe proved realistic and I was able to pick up every shot required. The Ace Follow Focus proved particularly useful here by alleviating any uncertainty from maintaining focus. I was able to use the Follow Focus’ hard stops to set my focus points and hit focus from A to B in every take; something that I have since achieved time and again using the Ace system.

I made use of the same technique on a promo for a pianist the following week and was able to pull focus from the keys to the musician every time, reducing the number of takes we had to do and wrapping on schedule. Litepanels’ LED lighting was also hugely helpful here by allowing the shoot to run hassle-free. The Sola 6 proved to be a particularly versatile light, which I also made use of on a charity promo shoot later this year. It gave me several options; from providing a soft but powerful fill to lift the room to dimming it down to act as a perfect key light for interviews, all whilst staying cool and quiet for us to capture the audio we needed.

The flexibility of the Ace Matte box and its intuitive rotating frames is another key feature that I love using and is yet another way that the system helps to keep a shoot on track. Its value was also made apparent on the charity project, by eliminating the need to remove the frame and manually rotate graduated ND filters or polarisers, it allowed me to maximise efficiencies. The fact that I can rotate my filters anywhere between 0 and 180° also meant that I was able to finely tweak the positioning of them and their effect on the shot, a major plus when time was at a premium.

I’ve found that unlike other rig systems I have used, the Ace Accessories isn’t fiddly or overcomplicated and therefore it actually made the use of a DSLR on fast-paced shoots much easier. Before using the accessories I thought I would never attempt a high pressure shoot using a typical DSLR rig, purely because changing between lenses (and lens gears) and adjusting each of the individual components typically took too long. Sachtler has realised that camera operators need to be able to adjust their rig at speed and without the use of tools on-set. The single adjustment levers on the Ace Base Plate and Ace Matte Box coupled with the one adjustment cog on the bottom of the Ace Follow Focus are incredibly convenient, strong and well-built. The friction wheel is such a simple part of the Follow Focus, but so effective. I can change to any lens and be confident the friction wheel will grip against it to give smooth control of the focus.

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