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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 YouTube reduces the overall quality of the posted video). I haven’t seen the videographer’s work, so I can’t provide a direct comparison.
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.
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.