Shoot Review: Sachtler Artemis DV Pro

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The Sachtler Artemis DV Pro operates silently—an important factor when using the camera''s onboard mic.

What's the number-one thing that separates a professional video production and an amateurish one? Apart from basic image and sound quality, what is the first thing you'll notice about a particular shot if it's simply not right? Unintended movement and shakiness. It's a pet peeve of mine, and, perhaps like you, I've edited around my fair share of bad handheld footage and pans or dolly shots that are just too damn rapid. But what can you do? If you are a serious video- or filmmaker, Sachtler has a solution called the Artemis DV Pro. With this new camera stabilizing system (and some practice), your shots will capture that smooth-motion, “money shot” feel that's the hallmark of good network television and major studio films.

Some history

Video image stabilization has always been important — that's why the tripod was invented. Video equipment manufacturers have tried to address the issue with both electronic and optical image stabilization, both resulting in varying degrees of success. And the quest for jitter- and vibration-free footage is sort of funny (if expensive) when one looks at the popularity of shaky handheld footage such as that found on today's reality TV shows and in news footage. More than 30 years ago, cinematographer Garrett Brown invented the first Steadicam for the Hollywood film industry. It's been used so much that it's become a generic verb: to Steadicam a shot.

Steadicams, Glidecams, and other similar products have one goal: Keep the shot steady while the camera and the camera operator move in a variety of ways, including running, climbing stairs, and shooting from horses, cars, or helicopters. While a video shooter with the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet Combat Camera Group 25 years ago, I was one of the first shooters in that branch of service to be trained with the Steadicam for shooting from a helicopter. Since that time, the technology has matured, and a lot of products have since tried to match the specs and results of the original. Few have. The main difference between a professional unit and a wannabe product is the arms. The more expensive stabilizers have two articulating arms and an adjustable, reinforced operator's vest with a hard frame.

A new contender

Having used several different stabilizers, I was familiar with the concept: Isolate the camera from the movement of the shooter by means of a vest attached to a long arm, with the camera balanced upon a pole at the end. A monitor attached to the unit allows the operator to keep his or her eyes out of the viewfinder yet still on the shot, while moving in almost any direction. While there's a stabilization solution to fit any budget, my experience is that I won't get a smooth “running shot” without a double-articulated arm. The single-arm stabilizers simply cannot absorb the motion as much.

Designed especially for professionals using small DV and HDV cameras, the Artemis DV Pro showcases the fine engineering, functionality, and downright ruggedness that German manufacturers have become well-known for. The unit looks like a close cousin of the original Steadicam, and from outward appearances, it operates like one too. With lightweight construction, “tool-free” adjustment, a telescopic main post, and a high-precision gimbal, the Artemis is solid in both design and function.

Form and function

Artemis is actually part of a family of Sachtler stabilization products for ENG, pro video production, and film. Each entry has internal wiring capable of carrying an HD or SD signal. The DV Pro version ships with an iKan V7000, an NTSC/PAL TFT monitor that's able to display a 16:9 or 4:3 signal, as well as a small, color LCD monitor. At the base of the pole unit near the monitor arm is a second video out. (The first is used for the LCD monitor.) This second out could be used to mount a small wireless transmitter. All connectors are of the BNC variety, which ensure secure connections. That's reassuring, because the Artemis will be in almost constant motion.

The Artemis hardware is made out of lightweight aircraft-grade steel and aluminum, which weighs in at less than 10lbs. (plus the weight of whatever camera you attach to it). While the Artemis comes pre-configured from the dealer or company, the spring arm's “dynamic balance” can be adjusted via exchangeable spring sets for cameras weighing from 3lbs. to 20lbs. (The spring sets look like small canisters.)

At the end of the “articulating dual parallel-action spring arm” is the center post, which is adjustable vertically from 16in. to 27in. This allows you to change where you hold the balance. The height of the grip should allow for an easy bend of your elbow. You can also adjust how the height of the monitor. The post has rough grip, which makes the unit easier to hold and to maneuver. With a perfectly balanced unit, you can move it with one finger.

There's an adjustable camera plate that you can move forward or aft and left or right. These adjustments help you reach true balance for the particular weight of the battery and your camera. A lighted level bubble is built into the rear of the upper module, right below the camera plate. It's always in the camera operator's view, indicating the camera's orientation. The gimbal, attached to the hard skeleton of the vest, is also integral to the unit's balance and ensures self-centering and easy movement with a perfect center of gravity.

The Artemis vest is made of a nylon-like material called Cordura, with nylon threads embedded for added reinforcement. The soft vest is attached to an aluminum alloy frame that attaches to the articulating arm and pivoting center post. The vest frame can be adjusted vertically based on your body size to achieve optimal balance. The vest can (and should be) optimized for each shooter, with various hard and soft adjustments to provide a perfect anatomical fit that will help to reduce camera operator fatigue. The comfort of the vest is critically important to reduce pressure on the shooter's back, neck, and shoulders. And because much of the unit's weight is carried on your hips, there's a well-padded and fully adjustable waist belt that helps you balance the unit on your body's center of gravity. (The shoulder area is also padded.)

In the field

Thanks to the well-written and well-illustrated manual, I was able to set the unit's initial fit with the included 4mm hexagonal nut wrench and then make basic adjustments without any tools at all. The balancing took about 30-45 minutes to achieve. I moved the camera and the battery and tweaked the other adjustments ever so slightly to try to achieve full neutral balance. I never did get it 100 percent, but I came very, very close. So with the vest adjusted for the best fit on my body, and the unit balanced out with the camera on board, I was off to the field.

Using a Sony DCR-VX2000 three-chip DV camera, I used the stabilizer to shoot a variety of projects over a two-week period. The Artemis operates with 12V or 24V batteries and offers brackets for Anton Bauer mounts and PAG and Sony V-mount units. Mine had one for Anton Bauer, and I used the company's HyTron 50 batteries to both power and balance the unit.

I was interested to see if the Artemis DV Pro would operate like one of the original Steadicams I used with 16mm film cameras. I was also curious to see if my 50-year-old body could, with the help of the unit, still deliver stabilized footage. And could the Artemis DV Pro's weight balancing allow me to do an all-day shoot?

I shot surfers riding the pipeline on the first swell of the year at Hawaii's Oahu North Shore. I shot while running up and down stairs and running alongside talent. I even shot video while facing backwards on the rear of a motorcycle. In all cases, the final footage was smooth and jitter-free. Using the Artemis DV Pro was great, and my Steadicam skills came back to me just as I remembered them. The trick is using your body as the pivot point. I was able to pan horizontally and vertically smoothly, as well as dolly in and out from my subject at various paces — all with no vibrations in the final footage. The Artemis was also silent in operation, which is an important factor if you're using the camera's onboard mic.

After a few hours of using the Artemis DV Pro, my body could feel the effects. It was equivalent to the way you feel after holding a camera or any heavy object at arm's length for several minutes. By the morning after the shoot, I felt muscles I never knew I had. One thing was readily apparent: If you want to fly a camera stabilization unit, it helps to be strong — especially in your lower back and thighs.

As well thought-out as the Artemis is, there are only a few items on my gripe list. Setup and getting the unit ready for shooting really requires two people. Nothing can be done about that, but perhaps solo setup and adjustment could be made a little easier. I also found that using the included monitor in sunlight was difficult. An adjustable hood would help shield the screen and provide greater visibility.

I liked working with this product. Sachtler deserves credit, because the Artemis is well engineered. In the right hands, it can deliver million-dollar results. It's worth every penny of its cost — and I've used both the pro-level and the “Jr.” versions of the Steadicam, as well as a few others (see my review of the Glidecam at digitalcontentproducer.com/cameras/prods/video_glidecam_pro). Once the Artemis DV Pro was optimized for my camera, it performed like a champ, with near-perfect balance and outstanding results. I found out why trained and experienced camera stabilization operators command big bucks — using the Artemis, or any similar stabilizer, is not for the out-of-shape.

For results that approach major-motion-picture quality and shots that would have been unattainable previously, the Artemis DV Pro is a pro-level device through and through. The near-total freedom of camera movement that it affords comes at a cost, and results are attainable only with balance and practice. However, I could see someone setting himself up as a specialty shooter for hire and getting enough work to pay for the unit very quickly. From independent video producers to major-market ENG or sports crews, the Sachtler Artemis DV Pro can achieve any shot that needs motion.

bottomline

Company: Sachtler
www.sachtler.com

Product: Artemis DV Pro camera support system

Assets: One of the best and most well-illustrated manuals, rugged design and precision engineering, facilitates smooth shots.

Caveats: To achieve professional results, practice is required.

Demographic: Handheld camera operators.

PRICE: ABOUT $8,900 AS TESTED (WITH MONITOR)

Contributing Writer Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a journalist, entertainer, and video creator who has been writing forVideo Systems/DCPfor more than 10 years.

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