The shape of the NEX-5 and the availability of 180° (fisheye) and 99° (ultrawide) converters for the 16mm pancake lens persuaded us that with a suitable harness or secure housing, we would get permission to make a unique high definition film on the famous Volo dell’Angelo, one of the most dramatic zipwire experiences in Europe.
While the operators make helmet-mounted low resolution video cameras available, it’s forbidden to carry your own camera (or indeed any other possessions) as the flights reach speeds up to 120km/h suspended high above rocks, forests, roads, mountain paths and one or two houses. Though you can move your arms when suspended horizontally in the body harness, crosswinds and the deceleration ‘catapult’ (like an aircraft carrier landing) add a real risk of losing anything hand-held, or hitting your own face with it.
We arrived in Matera, famous for the rock-hewn Sassi inhabited from neolithic to modern times, and used for many Biblical movies as a location (see above, Shirley does Monty Python – but in Matera, The Life of Brian is considered blasphemy, and not even mentioned in the city’s exhibition about movies and TV shows made – it’s as if it never existed!).
The panorama of the urban Sassi from the facing caves of the Gravina gorge did us a big favour. I was loaded with a SanDisk Ultra II 8GB 15Mb/s card in the A55, quite OK for normal still use (Class 2, and not fast enough for video – the A55 warns you about that on insertion). But I did not realise it would fail to capture sweep panoramas, and certainly did not expect what happened – my card was corrupted trying to save a sweep pan, losing the entire directory structure and rendering it unusable without reformatting. Of course, I had spare cards including SanDisk Extreme III 30Mb/s, Delkin 22Mb/s and my favourite sub-£20 super reliable Transcend 16GB Class 10 SDHC cards (just click on our Amazon search box, lower right sidebar, and enter this as a search – I just bought two more for £35 posted, it’s not worth EVER being without large fast SD cards!).
The fact that the card could be corrupted – not just lose a shot but lose everything – had not hit this camera before and I was taking no risks with the NEX and the Volo shoot, so the Transcend was thoroughly re-tested – just in case. Back at the office, SanDisk RescuePro was sitting on my Mac but I had never installed it on my laptop. The 8GB Ultra II was out of action until we got back and could recover the images taken before the fatal sweep panorama.
Our hotel was chosen for its amazing photogenic qualities, not its location (a rather tedious 1.6km trek to the city square and restaurant territory) – the little Hotel Nazionale, razed to the ground and rebuilt in 2010 as an oasis of Italian design and stunning architecture:
With one week to cover a set of target photo destinations in Puglia, the Basilicata and the Amalfi coast we checked out the Volo dell’Angelo with a field visit before booking. There was only one choice of the day to take the flights and make the video – our last day there, a Sunday. The zipwire was only operating Sundays in May.
As arranged with the operators, we booked the times for the outward zip from Pietrapertosa and return zip from Castelmezzano (both about 100km from our Matera base), and liaised with the ground crew to ensure my Sony NEX-5 filming rig was safe to use. Originally, I planned to use the camera’s strap plus a Sunsniper shockproofed tripod-bush strap to secure the camera. After realising how much wind there is at over 1000m altitude in the Lucan ‘Little Dolomite’ peaks, I decided to use my LowePro Sideline Shooter belt-pack instead.
The Sideline Shooter is my favourite, go-everywhere camera bag. It is like a giant bum-bag (fanny pack, for American speakers) and can hold a compact DSLR with three lenses, or in this case the NEX-5 with 16mm, 18-55mm, Alpha converter, 30mm macro, VCL-ECU1 and VCL-ECF1 adaptors in their cases, and a few odd items like sunspecs and wallet, batteries, mini tripod, memory cards and air blower.
The air blower bulb and 18-55mm in a soft pouch were used to support the camera while the flexible legs of the mini tripod secured its orientation. The top access zip of the Sideline Shooter was opened just enough to allow the lens and converter to poke through, then both zipper tags were tied together using their cords, to ensure the bag could not open. The regular twin zipper of the complete lid of the bag was used for rapid access to the On/Off switch and Movie actuation button, and closed as soon as filming started.
With a 29 minutes recording time and a 16GB Transcend Class 10 SDHC card, there was no need to worry about starting the camera up just before the ride. It was set running before walking to the departure platform. Though I could not aim the camera or see the screen, guesswork provided some useable shots taken on the ground, helped by the all-seeing view of the fisheye lens. The LowePro padded bag fabric covered the NEX stereo mic, which we thought would reduce otherwise impossible levels of wind noise. It did so, but still recorded voices clearly and gave enough impression of wind and zipwire sound to be effective. This was not expected; the plan had been to remove the ‘live’ sound entirely. In the end, we left it in place behind a music track.
For the outward ‘flight’ I used the VCL-ECF1 fisheye, and for the return, the VCL-ECU1 ultrawide. These are equivalent to a 9.8mm lens and a 12mm lens respectively on APS-C. I am not aware of too many alternatives to this rig which would have allowed filming safely and to the same quality. The staff checked the rig, phoned back to base to check that I was indeed an accredited journalist with permission to film, and we were off!
This is full size, HD1080 video. There are plenty of Volo-vids on YouTube but this is a new view thanks to the large sensor size, unique lenses and video quality of the NEX. To view full HD just click on the resolution – you can also open it full screen.
Everything went smoothly for the filming, but in retrospect the exposure correction (+0.7EV) applied to allow for bright sky areas getting into shot was not necessary – very little sky area found its way into the composition, even with the fisheye. However this setting improved some of the ground and setting-up shots. It would have been good to have done the entire ride twice or more to get better takes, but this was not a freebie (we paid the 40 euros per person for Shirley and myself, which is a very reasonable price for the return flight and the ground support including minibus transfers).
For information on the Volo dell’Angelo, visit volodellangelo.com
– David Kilpatrick