In this new age of composite camera systems with integrated lenses, built-in filter wheels and electronic stabilisation, is there still a market for the accessory shop?

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These shops are run by crafts people able to adjust and set up lenses, offer filters for every occasion and use, create custom mounts for specialised applications and provide the hundreds of small items that were once part of the operators' trade.

It is a difficult one to answer, as new technology has made many camera systems the "pick up and go" type, designed to cater for the top end of both the feature and commercial market.

But the debate as to which camera provides the ultimate in origination imaging continues, and while the technology maybe old - over 100 years old, in fact - film is still the first choice of the discerning user, assuming the production budget allows.

If a film camera is used, accessories become part of the kit - and this is where The Camera Platform, based in Witkoppen, Johannesburg, will, in all probability, come into play.

The Camera Platform was founded by Tink Minster and the late Bram Jeavons, both previously of Logical Designs - a well-known camera-rental company that merged with the Movie Camera Company several years ago.

Having worked in the industry for more than 30 years, Minister knew what he wanted when he formed his own company. He created three departments within The Camera Platform, which include rentals, sales and service.

"The rentals department offers a unique range of equipment for both features and commercials," he says. "We are fairly niche, so we offer equipment that the larger rental houses often do not stock.

"On the sales side, we are the South African agents for Fujinon lenses, Fujifilm Motion Picture negative film, Pelican cases, South London filters, Aaton and Kenyon gyro stabilisers.

"Our service department is extremely busy. We have vast experience in motion picture cameras, lenses and video-lens repair. We also repair support equipment, and included in this department is a design team specialising in one-off items,"Minister says.

Stabilising systems

He says sales of the Kenyon gyro systems are good. Cameras have been mounted to nearly every imaginable form of transportation, and while most cameras can also be hand-held - meaning that the camera operator literally holds the camera in his or her hands and moves from one position to another while filming the action - the resultant images will be inherently unsteady.

Personal stabilising platforms came about in the late 1970s through the invention of Garrett Brown, and the device became known as the Steadicam. Most people will be familiar with Steadicam rigs, which are often seen with their operators as they run up and down the touchline during a rugby game, providing us with incredibly stable, clear images of the action.

The Steadicam is a body harness and stabilisation arm that connects to the camera and allows the operator to move naturally, completely isolating the movements of his or her body from the movements of the camera. After the Steadicam patent expired in the early 1990s, many other companies began manufacturing their concept of the personal camera stabiliser.

But gyros have become popular more recently. "Although Gyros have always been around, the software that now makes them user-friendly has improved their popularity greatly. They are now an integral part of steadying an image - they are used in most lenses and helicopter mounts," Minster says.

They can be bolted onto lenses and cameras, and are even used for Steadicams. Camera operators can run up to their subject and stop dead, and the camera image will remain rock-steady.

"The only drawback is the noise from the gyro, which spins at a high rate. As far as I know the Kenyon, which we supply, is the only commercially produced gyro."

Filters

Filters, such as diffusion or colour-effect filters, are also widely used to enhance mood or create dramatic effects. Most photographic filters are made up of two sheets of optical glass glued together with some form of image or light manipulation material between the glass.

In the case of colour filters, there is often a translucent colour medium pressed between the two pieces of optical glass. Colour filters work by preventing certain colour wavelengths of light from reaching the film.

With colour film, this works very intuitively. For example, a blue filter will cut down on the passage of red, orange and yellow light, and create a blue tint on the film.

In black and white photography, colour filters are used somewhat counter - intuitively: a yellow filter, which cuts down on blue wavelengths of light, can be used to darken a daytime sky. It does this by preventing blue light from hitting the film, thus greatly underexposing the mostly blue sky, but leaving most human flesh tones unaffected.

Filters can be used in front or behind the lens for different effects.

"We are the agent for Tiffen and Schneider filters," says Minster. "It's amazing that we didn't sell a filter for two years, but suddenly people have realised that it's better to do the colour corrections in camera than in post production. Remember the old saying: 'Let's fix it in post'?. The directors of photography now want to do the correction in camera, so we're selling an increasing number of filters."

Matte boxes

Another popular item is the matte box. In still photography and video, this is a device used on the end of a lens to block the sun or other light sources to prevent glare and lens flare. Essentially, it performs the same function as a lens hood and also mounts in front of the lens, but usually includes adjustable fins called French flags. Another purpose of a matte box is to hold glass or plastic filters in place in front of the lens.

Today matte boxes perform the same function for video and high-definition cameras as they do for film cameras. Some are supported by two rods that run the length of the camera - this type is called the "bayonet mount", while others are supported by the lens itself.

A matte box can have a bellows, a rigid sunshade, or both, where the bellows is positioned within the rigid sunshade and has a mask which can be adjusted forward or back to suit the focal length of the lens.

"We are also the agent for True Lens - a British-made product," Minster says. "The range includes the Falcon, Kestrel, Hawk, Raven, Genus and Matte Box support systems and accessories. I wanted this agency as these are truly high-quality items that exceed the specification of a similar offering from the East.

"Over and above this we do unique lens mounts and bracketry for various applications, especially wildlife. Of course the service side is mainly lenses, but we are able to do all film-related and support equipment, and a substantial amount of the video equipment. It's a unique place, its customer base has grown a lot, and it's the only company in Africa that offers this type of service."

The Camera Platform is somewhat of an institution and Minister is definitely a hands-on professional. If you visit there, he'll greet you in his work apron and proudly show you around his immaculate workshops and showrooms.

With the type of dedication and professionalism offered by people of his ilk, the film and television industry remains in good hands.