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Experience with the DS 10 and Compass 12 Heads with a Miller Solo Carbon Fibre Tripod

Written by on February 7th, 2012.      0 comments

This from Peter Donaldson of JUPE Productions Australia - spoken to Miller Tripods Australia.

For the past four years, I have been making a major documentary retracing the explorations of Sir Joseph Hooker, a great botanist, major contributor to the Theory of Evolution and  a significant Himalayan and Antarctic explorer.  The documentary aims to bring to light to the importance of this little known 19th Century scientist as well as show how his work on how plants vary with climate is particularly relevant to todays rapidly changing world through Climate Change.

I have had access to all of his meticulous notes and sketches of the eastern Himalayas which are in the Archives at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew UK, and using them it is possible to see how the country has changed over the past 160 years. By delving deeply into his relationship with his best friend, Charles Darwin, I have been able to gain an insight into what I call Good Science. That is the testing of ideas with an open mind even when they may not agree with the personal beliefs of the scientists themselves. As an ex-scientist this aspect of the project has been probably of the greatest interest.

When he was in the Himalayas, Joseph Hooker discovered over twenty new species of rhododendrons and I have used these as a vehicle to show how plants change with altitude. As I wanted to gain an insight into the man I needed to first film in the Himalayas under the identical conditions and time of year that he experienced which was postmonsoon with winter approaching and then revisit  premonsoon when it was warmer, and moister and when the rhododendrons were in flower.

The first expedition was to the very remote Gunsa valley near Mt  Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain. This expedition involved a crew of four plus 21 sherpas and porters covering 350 km on foot during  a  six week shoot. To get to the starting point at Suketar, the gear was trans shipped several times by air through very rough airports and then finally by Twin Otter STOL aircraft. After that the gear was carried by porter in  open head  baskets the entire way. At night it shared my tiny tent. The major issue was power and two 60 W solar cells were carried with an inverter and recharging was done during the lunch stop each day. Two laptop computers were used with the data being backed up daily onto ruggedized external hard drives. As hard drives are not guaranteed to work above 4000m one of the laptops was fitted with an older 80 Gb drive that had a large air gap between the head and the disk to cope with the reduced air pressure at high altitude. There was tremendous interest in the laptops from the porters and local villagers who had never seen themselves on video.   The equipment was set up several times per day in conditions varying from –20 Deg C to + 35 Deg C, so very rapid unpacking and packing of gear was the norm.

The only problems we encountered apart from the cold were that one of the crew got shingles and we had a porter collapse at high altitude. Both made full recoveries.

The subsequent Himalayan expedition encountered conditions varying from, hot and cold premonsoon in Sikkim (+ 40 Deg C ) on the lowland plains of India to below freezing in the very high regions bordering Tibet. Following that filming was done at the Botanic Gardens in Kolkata (+45 deg C and extremely humid monsoon).

A third expedition to the Great Atlas mountains in Morocco encountered dusty, hot weather.

Finally a fourth trip to the very windy  subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Island groups 700 km south of New Zealand’s south island was done to film beautiful unusual plants called megaherbs that Joseph Hooker had found there and also to cover his participation as Botanist on the Ross Antarctic Expedition. These island groups are amongst the most oceanic and windy islands on earth with constant Roaring Forties and Howling Fifties westerly winds, drizzle and snow showers.  Other filming has been done in New Zealand, Australia and the UK.

Weight, simplicity, and build quality of the equipment as well as unobtrusiveness due to security issues in some areas were  major factors in my choice of the DS-10 head and carbon fibre Solo tripod for the early Himalayan expeditions.

To counter the high winds in the subantarctic the tripod was anchored with suspended rocks. The rigidity of the carbon fibre legs was quite sufficient, even on western  cliffs which receive the full blast of the Southern Ocean winds. In the windiest locations I did not extend the bottom third section of the tripod legs to eliminate any wind vibration.  The ability to widen the legs right out was also extremely useful when shooting plants low to the ground.  Even shooting in sandy conditions in Morocco did not produce any issues and in fact no problems were encountered with the Miller equipment at any time.

The cameras used were a Sony PMW-EX1 and a Canon 5D Mark 2. As well as normal sequences using a presenter, extreme close-ups of plants as well as long exposure time lapses and pans of mountain scenery were successfully gathered.

On my return I heard about the new Miller Compass 12 head. This interested me for the following reasons. I was intending to use a heavier setup such as a large Autocue and wanted to be able to do very controlled pans particularly whilst on a dolly. I also wanted to do some very slow closeup pans of plants, and  details in rare books and paintings.

I have now used  the Compass 12 head in those situations and have been completely satisfied with the results.  In particular I am extremely happy with the smoothness of the tilt and pan mechanism.  The ease of adjusting the drag through the dials is a great advance and the easily adjustable counterbalance dial also makes setup much faster.
I will continue to use the DS-10 head when weight is a critical consideration, particularly when combined with the Canon 5D in “guerrilla” type shoots in security prone areas. When additional smoothness of pan plus extra weight handling capability is more important then I will use the Compass 12 head. So for most daily uses the Compass 12 head will now stay on the tripod.

I congratulate you on making such wonderful equipment which is perfect for  mobile requirements such as mine and would definitely choose Miller equipment again.

Peter Donaldson
JUPE Productions Australia

About Jupe Productions
JUPE Productions specializes in quality documentaries preferably combining expeditionary format with historical scientific content. Present plans are to extend the Hooker project to other great exploring scientists.


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