PART 3 OF 3,



Why can’t we have both camera forms?  To be clear, some cameras can be changed into either form, but no camera can be two forms at once.  Some Box cameras can be made bigger, and a few Balance cameras can be detached into separate elements and made smaller.  This either-or scenario is determined by the Laws of Physics and the bounds of Ergonomics.

There is only one Center of Gravity (CG) for a rigid body, and in a state of equilibrium this CG will be above the pivot point.  A box is a box, and to make it balance on a shoulder we have to add more mass laterally, i.e. make the camera longer and heavier. We also need to see into the box and control the box which means adding even more mass and size in the form of multiple accessories.

Increasing the box’s mass leads us to an operational inefficiency: we prefer the operation, but now carry more weight than we need to perform the primary functions of record and display.  The accessories added for enhancing operation on the shoulder work directly against the camera operating efficiently in one’s hands.  Optimizing one form has immediate consequences in operating the other.

As for the larger camera, reduced to a smaller head and lens, it too will need modification to make the smaller version operational.  It will also need to remain connected to its larger self via cable, leaving its overall footprint ultimately no smaller. This process of modification, parts taken away or parts added on, may or may not be a problem for us.  It will not be a problem if have the time, specific parts, and desire to stop and make this change when needed.  Some of us may simply have both forms on hand.  Some will only want one.  Whether dual form, modular, or modified cameras are more or less efficient and elegant than cameras engineered for a single purpose will be determined by their users.  The market will generally meet demand.




With Mead and Bateston, there is no right or wrong, just different ways of trying to capture something.  Why does walking through a rural village with a large camera on my shoulder produce a different effect then carrying a smaller camera in my hands?  Is it a matter of size equals authority, does a bigger camera make people take us more seriously?  Do simply less people notice a smaller camera?  I get the same reaction in New York City.  Different cameras have different effects on people.

Camera operators are trained to be actors.  We are trained to ignore the subject, and simultaneously put all of our attention onto the subject.  We ignore a subject’s interaction with us so they may continue to do whatever is they were doing as if we were not there.  We have this strange instinct that we can capture things as they would be if we were not there.  If we could just be very quiet, and stay out of the way, we could films things as they really are.  Yet the camera of course is there, its physical presence undeniable. When we look at this odd situation it is the camera person, not the camera, that is continually trying to disappear.

We hide behind the camera because we feel it’s the best vantage point to capture from.  Camera operating is an intimate relationship with objectivity and operators end up living in two realities; one in the frame, one outside it.  Evidence is in a camera operator standing next to a subject and speaking about them in the third person, as if they were not there, standing right beside them.  The operator’s point of reference is still within the reality of the frame.

Hiding my face behind the camera helps the subject forget I am there, not the camera mind you, just me the person.  Having been on other side of the lens, and I came away thinking that people never forget the camera is present.  Many, many times after filming I’ve heard subjects say, “oh I forgot the cameras were even here.”  It’s very hard for me to believe it.  We can accept the camera’s physical presence, deeply accept it, even ignore it, but once we’ve seen the camera, part of us always knows we are being recorded.  We are influenced.

The act of recording creates the camera’s presence, or camerapresence; what we feel when being recorded.  Like switching on a heater or air conditioner, camerapresence is a change in atmosphere, it influences behavior.  In quantum physics, the instrument of measurement changes that to be measured.  Same with a camera, we will never know what it was like if the camera were not there, we want to believe we do, which is interesting, but it will never be so.  No matter what the camera’s form once it’s there, it’s there.  Making a camera smaller in size does not reduce its presence.  The question is strangely not whether the camera is there, but whether I am still there.

In the scenario of me ignoring the subject, and the subject ignoring me, it’s easy for us both to occasionally lose sight of each other’s humanity.  This is where camera form may play a role.  People can be overwhelmed by the sight of a lens being pointed at them.  Positively, or negatively.  They do not tend to see a person holding a camera; they see a lens and they think about it recording them.  For the subject, lens and operator merge into cameraperson, which they regard as neither person, nor camera, but as that which is recording them.

Taking the camera down, exposing my eyes, my face, and my expression to subjects has the distinct effect of making me more like a person and less like a cameraperson.  I am like you, we are here together, along with this camera.  This process of humanizing the camera person may produce a different interaction and reaction from subjects.  It is an effect.  Whether you want this effect is another matter.  Can we take a Balance camera off our shoulder and get the same result?  Of course.  The question is, will we tend to?




Form is the shape, volume, and mass of a camera.  Capture power is limited by form, and form limits the way we use the camera.  Changing form changes the process of capture; the way the camera moves through space, the way the subject regards us, the way our project looks.  We should think about how much capture power we need for a project, and how we want to carry it.  We should stop and think about what it is we are trying not to miss.  What we should not think, is that a small camera in our hands is like not being there.  Because we are there, holding the thing.


“There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.”  -Erwin Schrödinger, “The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics”   

Center of gravity is identical to center of mass, which is sum of masses X distance to center, divided by sum of all masses. Meaning we must balance the box with more weight closer to the box’s center, or less weight much further away.

The Cat and the Box experiment highlighted a paradox in quantum mechanics where a body could not be in two states at once.


Are The Variables Really Blurred?

The camera manufacturer Aaton claimed that their camera bodies were so ergonomic it was like “a cat on the shoulder.”  

They are much loved by documentarians.


  • love the last quote. 

  • Daniel Solaris Melguizo

    This is not just a brilliant essay but a show of respect and love for our profession. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it, specially in this time and age when more and more people tend to think that operating a camera is just pressing the rec button.

  • Jeff B Bush

    I like your observations, Zach, but I have to think about it.  Does this apply to every shoot situation? I would like to think so but I don’t know yet.  
    I do believe it is true that just by shooting behavior changes that behavior and that is true if we are just observing even without a camera.  Should we try to minimize or should we change the goal of what we are shooting and have the camera become just an extension of ourselves and say “this is what was happing when I (the camera) was there?”