Currently I’m working as B-camera operator/Steadicam on a feature film shooting in Sonoma, CA. We are using 2 ARRI Alexa Plus cameras for our main shooting unit. In addition we have used Si-2k on a RC helicopter and Indicam cube cameras in other rigs.
On the last day of prep we upgraded the camera’s firmware to the new 4.0 release.
link to release notes: click here
With many new upgrades and features one of the ones that excited me besides the LDS display was also the Adjustable Digital level!
Most steadicam ops are very familiar with digital levels as we use them on a regular basis. GPI PRO makes one, XCS makes one and both Tiffen and transvideo include them on thier monitors as features.
Steadicam digital levels XCS and GPI are highly adjustable in a variety of settings. This coupled with optimal placement on the rig enables purpose built digital levels more accurate and therefor more usable than built in monitor and camera level.
more info on the XCS PDL plus click here.
To quote XCS website on level placement;
“It is critical to all digital levels that they be mounted as close to the center post as possible. The worst place you could mount a level is out on the monitor or in front of your sled. When you mounting any level that far out in front or back it will be reading the panning and tilting inertial forces induced into the level by movement and even though you may be perfectly level, your sensor will be telling you that you are off level.
You can easily demonstrate this to yourself by taking the level and temporarily Velcro it out further and further away until you reach the furthest point on your monitor. You will immediately see why level placement is critical for accurate readings.”
I’m not sure were in the PLUS camera they have placed the electronics for the level but as stated this can have an adverse affect on readings. My PDL is mounted exactly where they recommend with manufacturer mounting bracket.
Either way, I use a XCS PDL plus regularly on my sled. I absolutely love it. I hesitated for a long time on spending the money on a digital level but i’m so glad I did. For me it helps especially on very slow moves. The level is made even more effective by allowing me to chose it’s placement on screen the graphic style of the level and other great features.
I usually have my XCS PDL displayed on the top portion or my monitor luckily the ARRI digital level appears on the bottom center. So I could see how they both performed at the same time!
Initially as you can see the reading were way off!
Then I dug into the Alexa menu’s and adjusted the sensitivity to match my level a bit closer….
After a few takes and more fine tuning you can see I got them to respond pretty close..
I found it most useful when I’m operating handheld. Since my PDL is mounted on my sled….I can replicated an off angle start for each take or if I’m trying to be as smooth and level as possible while handheld it can help me a great deal.
My biggest complaints/suggestions to ARRI would be: (most of which are already provided by XCS PDL so now I’m used to them)
-Ability to ZERO the level at any angle
-Ability to move the “level” anywhere on screen.(even vertical on either side)
-Ability to choose from different level graphics or display methods
-Ability to have more control over the level settings like I do with my PDL….
-Ability to enable it for viewing on 1 MON-OUT only instead of both. A little bit of information is a dangerous thing in video village! you don’t want to be getting feedback on how level you are from village!! Especially since the level is not the end all of your horizon choice. Keystoning due to camera placement to certain architecture…in the end your BRAIN is the best level, these are assists ONLY! So broadcasting it to village can be problematic because they can fail to understand all the factors involved in your choices etc….
That said …..ultimately it’s no replacement for a high end level on my steadicam rig. Maybe because of the algorithm they use, the placement…..but most definitely the lack of adjustability and control. In the case of you steadicam rig not having any digital level it is a very useful tool you can use.
Let me say that I applaud ARRI for putting such a innovative device inside their camera. If anything it give AC’s tilt and roll information for VFX shots without having to pull out any tools or your iphone!
One of those idea’s that you wonder aren’t on all digital cameras!
My point is that it can be made even more useful if they take some input and give the feature more attention and make it even more useful.
So cheers ARRI!!!
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