Getting Off the Tripod and into the Action with Camera Car Mounts.
Getting Off the Tripod and into the Action with Camera Car Mounts.
Remember those movies from the 50's and 60's where a couple of young lovers would go for a drive in the country? The "scenery" behind them moved. Every so often, a gust of wind might blow back their hair, but the lighting rarely changed and it seemed like they would pass the same country fence or lofty oak four or five times before the scene came to an end. Now, however, you can capture even the most difficult driving shots with some rather uncomplicated equipment and at a price that won't break the bank.
There are a number of reasons why directors from decades ago opted to keep their driving scenes confined to a studio interior rather than take the scene out on the road. The cameras in use back then were quite heavy, and picture stabilization and audio capture were far more difficult to control in an exterior setting with a moving vehicle.
Audio complications not withstanding, advances in camera technology and the introduction of a wide variety of inexpensive camera vehicle mounts have opened the door for video prosumers. This article will cover some of the more useful stick and suction mounts on the market, designed for basic camcorder use and for heavier cameras.
What's Out There?
The type of vehicle camera mount you use will depend a great deal on the type of shot you're attempting to accomplish. However, the most popular types of video camera mounts for moving vehicles work by using the same basic materials. Unless you're mounting a camera to a roller coaster or a vehicle destined to crash, heavy-duty screws and steel brackets and plates are no longer required. Monopod legs, industrial suction cups and a standard fluid head make up some of the most basic vehicle camera mounts on the market today.
This type of vehicle mount comes under a dozen different names, but the same basic technology still applies. Built specifically for interior vehicle shots, the monopod is just as its name implies, a single leg support for your camera, but with a few alterations to make it work inside a moving car.
The basic monopod system typically has one or two adjustable support arms or struts, built with small suction cups at the end. The arms extend out and adhere to any non-porous surface in the vehicle for support. The main leg adjusts the height.
While simplistic in its design, the monopod type of camera mount is an often reliable and cost effective way to get a stable shot from a moving vehicle.
Do you remember the old vice in your dad's workshop? Clamp mounts work along the same principle. These industrial clamps are fully adjustable to fit just about any thickness. From something as thin as a car window to the thickness of a car door, the clamps can be tightened and locked into place without damaging the surface underneath.
A fully-adjustable flex arm and camera plate attaches to the clamp. The flex arms on these types of mounts are usually kept short. Over-extension of the arm would cause the camera to bounce once the vehicle starts to move.
Using clamp mounts limits the camera position. They're obviously not meant for attaching to the hood or windshield of a vehicle; however, if you're looking for a way to stabilize a driver or passenger shot while moving, clamp mounts are tough to beat.
Small camcorders weighing 6 pounds or less typically use single cup suction mounts. They attach to any non-porous surface, which makes them ideal for mounting to windshields, side windows and flat surfaces on the exterior of a vehicle.
Often comprised of a single industrial suction cup, a reversible camera plate and a ball bracket with a locking handle for securing the camera plate into place, section mounts allow the camera to be placed on almost any non-porous surface, at almost any angle.
The industrial suction cups are fastened to the vehicle surface by pumping a lever that creates a vacuum, thus holding the cup firmly in place. The strength of the vacuum releases only when air is reincorporated into the suctioned area by releasing the crank lever. Once firmly in place, it can take 200 or more pounds of force to pull the suction cup from its place.
For heavier cameras, there are a number of suction mounts available. These mounts are a bit more complex in their design and operation than their single suction cup cousins. However, their complexity only adds to their strength and versatility.
Fully mountable from a vertical or a horizontal position, these mounts sometimes rely on a three-cup mounting system, complete with adjustable brackets on the suction pads and on the camera's mounting plate. Use of the three arms allows for complex canted or "Dutch" angles and a more rugged use.
There are suction mounts that incorporate the use of even more than three cups for even greater stability. Multiple suction cups are fixed to steel or polymer triangle or rectangular plates. Those plates are, in turn, attached to adjustable legs and a standard fluid head. This type of system is ideal for mounting heavier cameras on the exterior of a moving vehicle. They're stable at high speeds and, because of their three-leg, multi-plate designs, can have plates fixed to surfaces on opposing angles.
Proper Mounting and Care for Suction Mounts
Regardless of the type of suction mounting system you're using, following a few basic rules will ensure trouble-free use and system longevity.
- Before you mount the cups, ensure the surface is clean. Any sort of ammonia-based glass cleaner will work well for removing dust and debris. Just make sure the surface you clean is completely dry before applying your suction mount.
- Never wet your suction cups. These aren't like the plastic suction darts you used to shoot from your toy gun. Industrial suction cups will not adhere well to wet surfaces. Therefore, in addition to being free from dust and debris, your surface must be free from moisture due to rain, frost, or even fog.
- Temperature is everything! Extreme temperatures will make proper suction more difficult. If your surface is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you can use a hot blow dryer to warm the area. If the area is too hot, placing an ice pack on the area and then wiping away any excess moisture will result in better suctioning.
- Despite the number of suction cups you're working with, it is imperative that you make sure all cups are mounted firmly on the vehicle surface. Once the mount suctioned in place, you can jiggle it or even take a drive along your intended route prior to fixing the camera into place.
- Proper storage of your mounting unit will help to insure your investment. Never store the unit on a surface where the suction cups can be warped, and be sure they're stored in a moisture-free, temperate area.
This article, while informative, is in no way comprehensive. Moving vehicle shots are tricky, thus they require the proper equipment to accomplish. They also require a lot of skill to use the equipment and an understanding of the motivation for a moving shot. Before purchasing your vehicle mount, do your research. Find the model that best suits your camera and your creative needs. While getting your driving shot is certainly a goal, safety should always be the top priority. Only after digesting the instructional materials that come with your unit should you attempt to use it.
Michael Fitzer is an Emmy award-winning commercial and documentary writer/ producer.