Movement is where most ninjas fall prey to their appetite for sizzle. For many of us, we can see in our head the stories we want to tell, but when they come out of our computer they just don’t feel right. They don’t live up to our expectations. And so the natural instinct is to try to beef up our shots, add more big, epic, sweeping camera movement.
Not because that’s easiest but because it comes to mind first. The much harder challenge is stepping backing and learning how to develop your story, let that lead the way, and try and use everything else to support that.
Remember, how you move the camera is how you move the viewer.
Ninjas always wants to be intentional about how they’re moving the camera so that it pushes their story. Don’t fall into the trap of shooting everything with a drone just because it’s cool. A ninja doesn’t succumb to peer pressure. While that Movi is tempting, sometimes the story is best told with nothing more than your hands.
These tools are the ones that we’ve found to be incredibly versatile; they work in a variety of situations and environments. And they are one of the biggest factors in letting us stay a step ahead.
- MANFROTTO MVM500A MONOPOD
- KESSLER STEALTH SLIDER + PARALLAX/SECOND SHOOTER
- KESSLER POCKET JIB TRAVELER
- MANFROTTO 504HD TRIPOD
- MANFROTTO MVH 502A TRIPOD
- FREEFLY MOVI M5
- CINEVATE DUZI + ATLAS 30
One of the most versatile and must-have tools out there for a ninja filmmaker. If we had to choose just one, it would be this monopod.
Why is it perfect for a ninja?
The ball joint at the bottom paired with the adjustable height of the monopod allows you to move quickly, wether you need to get closer, lower, or higher.
With practice, and becoming a ninja surely takes practice, you can get some awesome slider and crane-like shots with nothing more than a monopod.
This new model replaces our longtime favorite BDHV-561-1. With a slightly larger head, this redesign allows for more weight and a top loading plate. That means you can clip your camera in from the top instead of needing to slide the plate in. An awesome addition to be just a little quicker.
We use these for commercials, weddings, and they are a HUGE player on documentaries. They are perfect for beginners as you can use them out of the box, but even an advanced ninja can find new ways to make the monopod move.
- Low cost, easy to use, and incredibly versatile
- One tool that allows for a variety of shots that mimic a tripod, handheld, slider, or crane
- Quick to adjust and adapt in different environments, letting you always stay a step ahead
- Very durable and works for a long time with very few tune-ups and adjustments
- We use these for weddings, documentaries, and commercial work
- The majority of an Emmy Award-winning doc (Game Of Honor) was shot with this monopod
Here is a tutorial from 2011 on working with the older version of this monopod:
The ultimate ninja slider, one that we’d recommend for all filmmakers no matter what stage you’re at.
With a name like Stealth, this one is built with ninjas in mind. And much like the katanas that are made in different lengths for different samurais, the stealth too comes in a variety of different configurations for filmmaking ninjas, easily making it one of the most versatile slider systems out there.
It can be used manually if you want to be quick and strategic with a minimal setup, or it can be kitted up with their Parallax system. This allows for inward and outward panning shots in conjunction with linear movement, in both manual and motion control—a great intermediate slider kit. And when you graduate to advanced ninja you can pair it up with their Second Shooter 3-axis motion control setup. It has a second camera operator built into the unit, allowing you to do wildly precise and repeatable motion time and time again, without even having to touch the camera!
We don’t do much of that here but a lot of filmmakers out there use it for incredible motion time lapses, and it sure works well. On top of that, for those who need to move quickly or travel often, the Stealth comes in a carbon fiber version that weighs a mere 3.8 lbs.
- Most versatile system out there, and can be setup as a manual and motion control slider
- Comes in a small, lightweight version—perfect for mini and travel ninjas
- Has a 15 lbs. load capacity, holding DSLRs as well as the might Red Epic
- Relatively quiet operation, even in motion control mode, a must-have if you’re running on set where sound is a priority
- Can be mounted horizontally, vertically, and even at an angle on a tripod, allowing for tons of configurations suitable for just about any small dolly shot
- Fully customizable based on your individual needs and can grow and expand as you do
The Kessler Second Shooter in use — behind the scenes of Chess for Success:
The ideal addition to your camera movement kit for those looking to add a lot of production value without a lot of gear.
A large part of being a ninja lies in being stealth and staying small, and being able to bring in majestic crane shots certainly helps create a lot of production value without a lot of setup. The Pocket Jib is Kessler’s ultimate travel jib—yep, you read it correctly—a jib so compact and lightweight that you can fly with it. Weighing in at 5.5 lbs. it collapses down to just 27” in length and provides up to 6’ in circular travel, making it the stealthy ultra-portable jib solution.
It can hold cameras up to 10 lbs., which covers most small to mid-range cameras, giving you the option to use it with the smallest DSLR all the way up to a Canon C100 Mark II. In addition it can be setup on any sturdy tripod with a standard quick release plate in no time. Add the same release plate mounting system on the other end and you got yourself a super speedy jib setup.
And as you move up in camera size you can scale up to the Pocket Jib, which is the bigger brother and can handle cameras from 20 to 40 lbs.
- Best travel-friendly, small jib solution
- Easy and quick to setup, even if you’re a solo shooter
- Well built at an incredibly affordable price
- Compatible with most small to mid-size cameras, from DSLRs to the Canon C100 MarkII
- Mountable on any study tripod
- With a boom of 6’ it provides a fair bit of travel with a rather small footprint
Check out this video on the Pocket Jib Traveler by Kessler Crane:
A foundational tool for any filmmaker, this tripod offers way more than just a static shot.
The base of any good system needs to be solid, and often a cornerstone for more to be built upon. The Manfrotto 504HD tripod is that rock solid key piece to our ninja toolkit. It’s lightweight carbon fiber legs offers a 6’ range and payload up to 16.5 lbs, making it a stealthy suitable solution for most cameras out there. It can also go as low as 16” off the ground, almost eliminating the need for a hi-hat if you have the space to spare.
Filmmakers sometimes think of a tripod as a tool to get a locked in static shot, or maybe a pan or a tilt move to bring the viewer in or follow a movement. And while it can certainly do those things really well, it doesn’t always fit the story—especially when we want it to be a little more human like, with a just a tad of movement, so it feels more authentic. The fluid ball head with counterbalanced, ball bearing drag design from this tripod is what helped birthed our (not-yet-patented) J.T.- hover camera move. By dialing in just the right amount of drag in the pan and tilt directions based on the camera’s weight and then moving it in a random, figure-8 type motion we are able to move the camera slowly in a controlled yet fluid move to track the subject. We often use this in interviews to really help move the viewer through our camera movement.
Bringing this also gives you the option of mounting a slider, like the Stealth, to get linear motion off the ground or even a Pocket Jib Traveler to bring vertical movement into the mix.
- Solid tripod you can grow into as you sharpen your skills and upgrade your camera
- Allows for everything from solid static shots to advanced camera moves
- Great overall weight to payload and height trade-off, making it an all-around awesome solution
- Sturdy enough to give you the option to mount slider, jib, and even an iPad teleprompter to it if needed
We don’t yet have any videos about the Manfrotto 504HD but check back soon.
Fewer options than the 504HD, but at half the price.
If all the options of a 504HD tripod is more than you need, check out the MVH502A tripod. It’s a tad heavier, doesn’t go quite as high or low vertically but still has a fluid head for normal movement. What it doesn’t have is the counterbalanced drag feature so you won’t be able to do advanced moves like the JT hover but it will get you 80% of what the 504HD does at 50% of the price.
- Great starter tripod that still gives you all the essential features you’d need on a shoot
- Bowl feature for quick adjustment and leveling of the camera
- Relatively compact in size, great for travel
- Solid build quality for a reasonable price
No videos for this tripod yet—but check back soon!
One of those tools that makes you look like a master ninja, yet performs even better. An incredible tool once you get into moving the camera.
If ten other filmmakers stood in the same spot, with the same camera, what will only I see? Challenge yourself to see what nobody else does.
Ninjas asks themselves this question before every shot.
As you embrace your unique perspective, you’ll start to challenge yourself to find new angles, unique places to put the camera, and powerful ways to move the camera.
The Movi is a key. It’s a key that unlocks unlimited creativity for ninjas, allowing them to move swiftly through an environment with an incredible precision and grace. It certainly may appear daunting if you’ve seen pictures of three operators to one rig–one for focus, one to control the head, and one to operate the Movi.
This is not how the ninja unlocks the Movi magic. The trick is to operate in majestic mode.
In majestic mode, you can operate it quickly and easily all be yourself. With the right lens choice, you can keep everything in focus, or stop down and try and keep a consistent distance between you and the camera. You can also control the responsiveness of the rig, so whether you are on the back of an ATV or walking through a crowded restaurant, you can tweak the Movi to respond how you’d like it to.
We love the M5 as it pairs well with cameras like the Sony A7S or the Canon C100, yet it is super light in your arms—because even a ninja gets worn out. It make look more complicated than other tools, but it is quick to get setup and running the first time, and gets even easier from then on.
If you’re using a larger camera, or you want to add nifty accessories like a remote follow focus, that may bring you over the weight limit of the M5. In that case, check out the Freefly M10 or M15. We use both the M5 and M10 depending on the camera and scenario.
Now, some of you may have seen the knock-off models of the Movi and be curious what is best for you. Our stance is to support great people making innovative products that are reliable and always at the front. That’s Freefly. Some of our friends have tried the cheaper alternatives only to return them and upgrade to the M5.
- Easier to use and more foolproof than a Glidecam or Steadicam
- Balance is step-by-step and easy to master
- Handles minor changes (adding a filter, slight zoom in) very well without rebalancing
- Plays very well with rollerblades and from inside moving vehicles
- Works in very rugged conditions and holds up like a champ (helicopters, ATVs, 4’x4’s, etc.)
- This is now the standard in movement for us. The trusty Steadicam has been retired.
Check out Why Less Gear is More–a case study from Namibia where we put the M10 through its paces:
A near-perfect slider when you’re starting out for its compact size, ease of use, and performance.
When it comes to the world of sliders, there are millions. So when it comes time for you to choose yours, it’s important to think about what matters to a ninja most.
The Duzi is lightweight, so it is easy to travel with and helps you get set up quickly. With the all-terrain legs, you can somewhat quickly adjust to get your rig level regardless of the ground you’re shooting on. The built-in spherical legs that come with the Duzi do allow some micro adjustments.
Since it offers a center mount ability, you can also get setup at just about any height or location quickly. And more than that, it is super smooth. It even comes with a simple strap to let you throw the slider on your back as you move through locations.
We use this as our just in case slider. When we’re on shoots and aren’t sure if we’ll need a slider, the Duzi is so small, light, and smooth that we throw it in with our gear. We use this with the MVH 502AH from Manfrotto and it pairs really well with the Sony A7s and Canon C100.
The Duzi’s bigger brother, the Atlas 30, is one of our all-time favorite sliders. It’s somewhat of a rebel as it uses two indestructible stainless rails and ball bearing system. This does create a bit of sound, but it is a one-take wonder in being able to get the shot and move on. We’ve had the same rig for 6 years now. And if you are shooting with larger cameras and on bigger commercial shoots, we bring the Atlas 200. This slider is heavy and large, not nearly as easy to travel with, but it handles an Epic with Cinema Primes and a ton of rigging in a very smooth way.
- Great low-cost utility slider
- Only 24” and less than 4 lbs. and easy to travel with
- Robust, reliable, and smooth
- Dead simple to get set up and running right away
- Center mount to run it on a tripod
- Consider the Atlas 30 for medium to large cameras and if you don’t need center mounting
- Consider the Atlas 200 if you’re using large and kitted-up cameras
Check back soon for our very own how-to Duzi Video. But for now, here is Cinevate’s promo: