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Camtrol DSLR Video Stabilizer Review

Reviewed by Keith Tharp -- May 2010

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While out at PMA, an annual photography trade show, I ran into the Rowens, a father and son team that have created a new camera stabilizer called the Camtrol.  After our meeting at PMA I received a camtrol to review and have put it through the paces on a few gigs since then.

The first thing I noticed was the packaging; very crisp looking and well designed, there was a feeling of quality as I opened the package. I liked that it didn't come with any printed manual, just a notice to download and view the PDF from the Camtrol website. I'm not perfect with being green but I do try and I take notice of things like this. Build quality is superb, everything felt like a finely crafted tool, smooth and solid.

I quickly tried a few different cameras on the Camtrol right out of the box, including my wife's Nikon D90 with a giant Tamron 18-270VC lens, this is when I first became impressed with how easy the device was to set up and balance. Even with that tippy out of balance camera, I was able to set up the Camtrol so that it was well balanced and comfortable to hold in the "prime" configuration.

I used the Camtrol while filming a line search training scenario a week or so ago, this ended up being my best application for it. Most of the filming I did was with the Canon 7D, the Camtrol handled the 7D very well and was easy to balance. Having the tool with these kinds of possibilities on a shoot added creativity and a bit of production value. I used the stabilizer in multiple configurations throughout the morning, starting off in the prime position. With the camera balanced perfectly on the Camtrol this was a very comfortable set up and provided a fresh perspective for the shoot I was doing. I realized that as I was using it in the prime config I was crouching and bending over a lot trying to get lower, this had nothing to do with the equipment just me wanting to get an even lower angle, so it seemed like a perfect time to try the ground up configuration.

Having multiple possibilities with a rig like this keeps the creative juices flowing and keeps you open to new ideas and angles. After getting into the ground up configuration I got some cool angles and started turning ideas for additional unscripted configurations. One point of note on these lower angle set ups, I was using the 7D HDSLR so framing was often a "feel" thing when shooting from the hip, without an articulating screen on this particular camera, a wide angle lens helped with this. Going to the second configuration was where I first realized that re-configuring wasn't going to be a quick on the fly process. With literally infinite possible micro adjustments available reworking the configuration is definitely a 2 hands plus point of contact process, meaning I realized quickly that I was better of taking the time to drop to a knee and either use the ground or my chest to assist with the setup, rather than trying to adjust on the fly. As long as you are aware of this and take the appropriate time then it's smooth sailing ahead.

From there I went outside of the box and fashioned a configuration to simulate a gunstock sort of rig, to this point this has ended up being one of my favorite set ups for the Camtrol. It's not as comfortable as an actual shoulder stock rig, but it definitely provides an excellent level of stabilization. This configuration worked well for me with the 7D because it gave me access to the functions of the camera most notably focus.

Between gigs, I haven't been able to find a simple and quick way to incorporate "packing" the camtrol up with the rest of my gear. It does fit into my larger bags but I have taken to flattening it out and carrying it along. Knowing that resetting the rig is simple enough makes flattening it a reasonable option for transporting the rig.

I only briefly tried the overhead configuration while at another shoot where the same SAR team was undergoing Helicopter landing zone training (this was less exciting than it sounded like). Again the over head configuration would probably be better suited for a camera with an articulating viewer and more comfortable with a lighter camera.  Balancing in this configuration was tricky with the 7D, but I was able to get the Camtrol tweaked to an adjustment that worked, thanks to its near limitless adjustability and a little bit of experimenting. During this same gig I also reverted back to the shoulder stock configuration that I had experimented with while doing an interview segment, as well as trying the ground up configuration again for some interesting angles of underneath the helicopter.

Overall Assessment
I think that the Camtrol is a tool that will evolve with a user and become more useable as the owner gets more aquatinted with the device. So I think some of the nuances that had me scratching my head would become second nature after continued use. The Camtrol is without a doubt clearly designed, crafted, and constructed with a very high level of quality - everything is smooth, solid, and fluid. Nothing jumps out at me as being a point of concern needing caution in use for fear of breaking. What I mean is, when you're done with the camtrol you could literally "toss" it in the back of your car without worry of it falling apart (it's worth noting that I don't toss my gear I'm just saying you could if that was the sort of thing you do.) The Camtrol is easy to set up provided the proper time is taken.

Once the unit is set up comfortably it is very easy to use and provides availability of camera angles not as easily captured without. I can see how if care and time are not taken during the initial configuration set-up the device would be out of balance and not as enjoyable to use. Like a lot of things in film making / videography the Camtrol, to me, seems like a tool that you would grab to complete a specific task - and there are a lot of tasks that it is capable of handling efficiently, but it wouldn't be something that I would keep attached to my camera all the time.  I would definitely bring it along to my shoots knowing that I can quickly have the tool for the job set up and ready to capture the shot.

Keith Tharp

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