A Matter Of Balance

Earlier on, I mentioned that small size is not everything, or always the best thing, when it comes to m4/3 cameras and lenses, especially lenses. A few months ago, I did a favour for a friend that at the same time enabled me to do some aerial photography from a helicopter (Jayrow Helicopters), which I hadn’t done for some time. The job involved specialist equipment being lowered onto the rims of the Yallourn Power Station cooling towers by helicopter, so that maintenance work could be undertaken on the tower surfaces.

Yallourn Power Station - Yallourn Victoria

Yallourn Power Station – Yallourn Victoria

The task involved two helicopters, one for the lifting work and the other acting as the camera platform. I was the stills photographer for the day, accompanying a videographer, but did a few video bursts to see how the in-body stabilisation worked under these conditions.

Jayrow Helicopters - lifting helicopter in foreground, camera helicopter arriving on site - Yallourn Victoria

Jayrow Helicopters – lifting helicopter in foreground, camera helicopter arriving on site – Yallourn Victoria

I was using my E-M1, 14-35mm f2 and 35-100mm f2 lenses hand held. The videographer was using a Canon 5D Mk II and gyro stabilisation attachment and equivalent angle of view Canon 24-70mm f4 and 70-200mm f4 lenses. The videographer had the choice seating position, given the bulkiness of his gear, and I was relegated to the rearmost seat, shooting between the gap in the fuselage and videographer’s seat. It wasn’t ideal, but with appropriate guidance to the pilot, I was able to get reasonable visibility of the activity.

Yours truly in camera helicopter rear seat, videographer in middle seat (just a small addition required for the Canon 5D MkII) - Yallourn Victoria

Yours truly in camera helicopter rear seat, videographer in middle seat (just a small addition required for the Canon 5D MkII) – Yallourn Victoria

The job entailed the lifting and positioning of three frames onto the top edge (400mm wide) of each of the towers. The frames were slung individually under one of the helicopters by a 100 foot cable and the pilot had to manoeuvre the frame into position over the lip and then release the hook, a very tricky operation considering the nature of the frame and the conditions on the day. Some might think that leaning out of a helicopter is scary, it’s actually a lot of fun, but what the Absafe guys do is on another level entirely.

Jayrow Helicopters and Absafe - work crew disembarking onto framework - Yallourn Victoria

Jayrow Helicopters and Absafe – work crew disembarking onto framework – Yallourn Victoria

Getting back to the thrust of this post, using the 4/3 lenses with their extra weight, I was able to maintain excellent balance and stability under the prevailing conditions. When there is unpredictable movement, vibration and gusting wind entering the doorway, a camera lens combination with some mass makes it much easier to keep things stable, regardless of in-body sensor stabilisation. Camera holding technique was also important and that meant not leaning against any part of the airframe or other fixed points; so my seating position made camera holding doubly difficult under the circumstances. Other than being on a rolling, tossing, ship, aerial photography tests stability to the extreme. In this case both the heft of the lenses and in-body sensor stabilisation helped immensely.

Jayrow Helicopters, camera helicopter, and cooling tower - Yallourn Victoria

Jayrow Helicopters, camera helicopter, and cooling tower – Yallourn Victoria

While in the air, I took the opportunity to do some video, just to see how the camera performed compared to a professional level gyro stabilisation unit that the videographer was using. Not too bad, given the awkward seating position (note also that Vimeo reduces the overall quality of the posted video). I haven’t seen the videographer’s work, so I can’t provide a direct comparison.

Helicopter operations - Yallourn Victoria

Helicopter operations – Yallourn Victoria

The operations went fairly well overall, but the third and final frame lowering had to be aborted, as the conditions above the operational cooling tower became too hazardous for continued attempts to position the framework. There was a fair amount of awkward movement of the camera, because of helicopter angle and jostling about, but as far as the stability of the video goes, again it’s not too bad.

Jayrow helicopter operations - Yallourn Victoria

Jayrow helicopter operations – Yallourn Victoria

So when you’re contemplating camera equipment, don’t always think that small and light is the answer, often it could be the problem when you’re trying to get stable shots. This applies not just in extreme conditions like I experienced, but even in seemingly benign environments.

2 thoughts on “A Matter Of Balance

  1. dalen

    Great video, the camera stabilization really take care of all the annoying vibrations. Now if only the operator could keep the camera perfectly centered as as well, that would be magic =) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ray Post author

      It was surprisingly effective, all things considered. A better seating position would have made stills and video much easier.

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