Looking forward to the future of journalism

Review of the SteadyTracker UltraLite and tips from company owner Rene Kropf

I have kids. Which means I own a video camera. Which means I chase my kids around with my video camera, trying to catch them in action. And the footage always looks shaky and horrible.

So I’ve read more than my fair share of reviews about stabilizers, Glidecams and Steadicams. They rely on gimbals and counterweights to produce smooth, dream-like shots. But they’re often expensive, and some customers complain it takes forever to balance these contraptions.

About 15 years ago, Rene Kropf and his colleagues were experiencing the same frustration as they worked in his garage trying to design a tool that could help stabilize shaky film footage for light cameras.

“We went down the same route of counterweights and all that,” Kropf told me. “And we saw that as a nightmare. It’s like, the sun went down and we still haven’t balanced it, so forget that.”

The SteadyTracker UltraLite doesn't rely on a gimbalKropf, the owner of Cobra Crane, a camera gear company in California, abandoned the gimbal system altogether. Instead, he helped devised something called the SteadyTracker Ultralite, a crowbar-like device with two adjustable weighted ends and a balancing pad in the middle that rests on top of your hand.

I recently bought the SteadyTracker UltraLite on Amazon. The SteadyTracker is touted as a simpler, inexpensive option compared to other stabilizers. I’ve been using it for a few weeks and produced some sample shots in this video review. When I called Cobra Crane with a few questions about the SteadyTracker, I was surprised to get a call back from Kropf, the company’s owner. He offered insights and tips that aren’t in the instruction manual.

“It’s relatively inexpensive,” Kropf said. “It’s pretty easy to use. And the biggest thing, the number one thing that people comment on, is it’s a super-quick set up, so you don’t miss shots.”

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How to make stunning time-lapse videos: Q&A with photojournalist Tamir Kalifa

Freelance photojournalist Tamir Kalifa spent two days working on this stunning time-lapse video of the Texas Legislature’s opening day for the 83rd legislative session. Lawmakers convene in Austin every two years and the event is widely covered by the media. But Kalifa, an intern at the Texas Tribune, captured the energy of the day in a unique, compelling way. I called him to ask how he did it.

Q: This is actually the second time the Texas Tribune has done a time lapse of the opening day of the Texas Legislature.

A: Yeah, that’s correct.

What were you trying to convey in this particular video and how does time lapse help you do that?

Tamir Kalifa
Kalifa
Well, I think that during the off year, the Texas government is sort of hibernating and waiting for this huge burst of energy that happens in the first few months of the year. So really what I wanted to show was the Legislature sort of waking up and coming to life and the excitement that everybody — from the legislators to the lobbyists to the lawyers to everyone’s families — I wanted to get across how people are hugely involved. I just thought doing a time lapse was the most efficient way to show the enormous scale of it. There were thousands and thousands of people swarming around the Capitol. There was an enormous line waiting to get into the House chamber to hear Joe Straus, to see him sworn in again.

It was amazing. I’m a musician in Austin. Free Week is just coming to a close now. You had all these free shows and everybody is clamoring to get in. It’s one in, one out when it gets to capacity. I realized, as I was desperately trying to get into the House to just get a little glimpse of it, there are a lot of Texans who get that kind of enjoyment and excitement out of the government. And that’s awesome. I really wanted to show that and kind of show the grandeur of it. There aren’t that many things in Texas that are as old as the capital. So it’s also cool to showcase it in that way.

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Life at a stock show: Winning is bittersweet

When you work the weekend shift at a newspaper, you never know what you’re going to cover. Yesterday I witnessed a shy, hard-working girl named Caeley Cody win a record $112,000 at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo for her grand champion steer, Rabbit. But winning can be bittersweet.

How to use time-lapse photography to take viewers on a journey

When Jen visited New York to write about San Antonio’s ties to High Line park, she called me and wondered if it’d be a good idea to make a time lapse-video of a walk through the mile-long urban park.

Abso-freakin-lutely.

Time-lapse videos are full of awesome sauce. Most I’ve seen involve the placement of a camera in a stationary location. But another cool method is taking the camera with you and snapping a photo every few seconds. It creates a cool first-person view of a journey or event.

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