I have worked with numerous tripods and heads over the past 18+ years, using the worst-to-the-best tripod heads. Some of my favorites are the O’Connor 1030, the Sachtler 7+7, Cartoni 120EX, Ronford Fluid 7 (a bit old school), Weaver Steadman 2 axis, and the Cartoni Lambda. Most DPs and camera operators choose a tripod and head they are familiar with because of past experience, word-of-mouth or brand loyalty. What do you do when your brand (Sachtler, O’Connor, etc.) doesn’t offer a solution for a specific type of shot? You need to look at complimentary gear or other solid foundations — enter the Cartoni Lambda nodal mount head. There are several nodal mount 2 and 3 axis heads currently in the rental world but none that have the versatility and the adjustment capacity of the Lambda. I think it hasn’t yet taken off due to the lack of education on how and why you would need a nodal head to begin with. The size and weight (46lbs) of the head can also be intimidating if you don’t know how it works. Many people assume it’s only for large film cameras like the Arri 535 or BL4s, etc., but this is not the case. You can use the Lambda head for two different, but similar situations. The first one is if you want a head for instantaneous moves using the mass of the head and camera weight, but on a zero gravity basis. This can be achieved by mounting the camera on the head by balancing the camera’s weight evenly on the horizontal and vertical axis of the head. Because the head is under slung and features numerous adjustments, you can also nodal-mount the camera on the horizontal and vertical axis of the camera’s sensor or film gate and use counter weights if needed for perfect balance. This is the reason why this head is great for SFX work, and it’s the main reason you’ll want to look at this head as an option for your next project. Why would you want to mount the camera on its nodal axis points? The main reason is that with traditional pan-and-tilt tripod heads, you cannot pivot on the horizontal or vertical axis of the cameras sensor or gate. You can achieve horizontal axis centering but only with an additional side-to-side camera adjustment plate. Vertical axis centering on the focal plane is impossible when tilting with a standard head as the camera sits on top of the head’s pivot point and therefore cannot be aligned. To get vertical axis centering on the camera sensor (or film gate), a nodal head or 2 or 3 axis head is required as its pivot point (axis point) can be aligned with the camera’s gate or sensor plane. Its can do this because the camera mounting plate sits below the pivot point.
What does pivoting on horizontal and vertical axis’ do? It allows for parallax free imaging, meaning you can remove foreground-to-background shifting that occurs with traditional heads. This is important when you need to isolate and lock up your foreground / background relationship. For any shots requiring forced perspective, a nodal mount head is required. If you look at a movie like Elf or Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, these were shot primarily with nodal mount heads. Mind you, for those types of shots, when you have something in the background and in the foreground that appear to be the same distance apart, you would also require either a split field diopter or a large depth of field. Outside of that, however, the Lambda allows for these types of pan-and-tilt shots where traditionally these shots have to be locked off. Using a nodal mount head also allows for focus retention when using a shallow depth of field as the distance on the sensor or the film gate does not change on pan and tilt. There is no shifting or movement (as with a traditional tilt on a standard head) to throw your focus off with regard to distance; and with sensors on cameras getting larger and shallow depth-of-field being popular, this head will allow for greater accuracy with even conventional use. A great aspect of the Cartoni Lambda head is that you can effortlessly tilt 360 degrees even with large cameras like the Arri BL4s including a large lens and 1000′ mag. You cannot do this on the Ronford F7, and it’s much easier to set-up the Lambda than a Weaver, for example. The Lambda features a small hand crank that allows for a large amount of overall vertical adjustment and a smaller crank for nodal vertical axis centering, all with indexing. This is built on solid dovetail plates unlike other nodal heads that use tubing. The head will also accommodate wide cameras or simply allow your 1st AC or video assist the necessary tech access to both sides of the camera with a fair amount of room on the right side to make adjustments. This is achieved by unlocking the sliding dovetail and extending the head horizontally. Again–all indexed. Once you have the camera centered and the head counter-weighted, you can achieve zero gravity panning and tilting. If the camera being used has a smaller-than-the-minimal adjustment allowance on the head, a camera riser or mounting block is required to match head pivot axis with the camera’s gate/sensor vertical axis. You will want to drop drag for both panning and tilting to zero for any camera lighter than 10lbs.
The Cartoni Lambda is built like a tank and can accommodate cameras weighing up to 88lbs. The head weighs in at 46lbs, but don’t let that dictate your camera choice. Because its a zero gravity head, there is no minimum camera weight. This isn’t exactly true as the camera either has to weigh equal to or more than the Cartoni’s multi-adjustable tilt/pan handle. I put several cameras on the head — an Arri BL4S (approx 45lbs with 20-100 and 1000′ mag), an SR2.5 Evolution (approx 18lbs with 50mm prime and 400′ mag), a Sony PMW-350 (approx 15lbs with 16x lens and dionic 90 battery), and lastly a Canon 7D (approx 5lbs with 24-70mm, battery grip, and batteries) — all of which exhibited the same effortless panning and tilting. The Lambda features several adjustments of drag on both pan and tilt which even the heaviest of cameras will stay where it is placed (as long as it was balanced properly when centered and counterbalanced). Overall, I would say that the Cartoni Lambda (which is very popular in Europe and on the West Coast) should be seriously considered when looking at a head to rent for your next project. The fact is — the Lambda is pretty much the standard nodal head out west. If you are shooting any type of special effects or force perspective — the head is a must. It should also be considered if you just want to be able to have unrestricted tilting that you cannot get from a traditional head. It’s heavy, but it’s well worth it. I shot with it for 6 hours of testing and it was completely effortless — tracking subjects regardless of how fast they were moving. There is a 3rd axis option with this head for adding roll or dutch, which we currently do not carry, but if you absolutely need a 3 axis nodal head, you’ll want to look at our Weaver Steadman with 3rd Axis option. We will be featuring the Cartoni Lambda in a future Learning Lab. Mention that you read this blog entry and get 10% off your rental of the Cartoni Lambda head. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974