Polecam at the China Games

by Steffan Hewitt (founder and Managing Director of Polecam Limited)

Beijing was our third Summer Games. Conceived during a windsurfing shoot off Hawaii in 1996, the Polecam go-anywhere transportable camera rig was developed from the combination of a carbon-fibre windsurfing mast and a miniature SD camera. Two Polecam systems were fully up and running by the time of the Sydney Games in 2000, increasing to six at the Athens Games in 2004. This short article attempts to track the ten Polecams known to have been in used at the 2008 event.

Swedish cameraman Tommie Rekstad

Antwerp-based Alfacam, one of Europe’s largest and most active OB facility companies, took its two Polecam HD rigs to the China Games. Bruno Coudyzer is manager of Alfacam’s Eurolinx division:

“We covered a number of sport disciplines and the opening and closing ceremonies. The Polecams proved particularly useful during the fencing, pistol-shooting and show-jumping. Both rigs were used with Iconix 1080i HD cameras. One was connected back to our production vehicle via an RF link and the other via cable. Everything worked well, not least the Polecam’s splashproof cover. What we really appreciate about the Polecam rig is that it can be assembled quickly, used, relocated and dismantled, all by a single operator. Polecam’s operational versatility is outstanding and enabled us to deliver very high-impact shots without getting in the way of the athletes or blocking the view from other cameras.”

Swedish cameraman Tommie Rekstad (seen in action in Figure 1, below) was one of many Polecam operators active in during the summer games, with electrifying results. Broadcast coverage of the athletics track and field competitions was handled by Finnish Television (YLE) with Swedish Television (SVT) covering the vertical and horizontal jump events. Part of Tommie’s activity was with the YLE team, using a Polecam rig and an Iconix HD camera feeding an Alfacam mobile production truck to televise the long-jump event. His shots were mostly effects and crowd scenes, made using a wired system.

“We also used a Polecam FishFace rig working in wild water, covering slalom canoeing and swimming. The ladies’ swimming marathon lasted about two-and-a-half hours and the Polecam was on cue for about 50 minutes of that time. A thunderstorm added to the excitement during the canoeing as lightning struck one of the XLR cable connectors, taking out eight camera control units and my remote control panel. Fortunately everything proved repairable. Never leave a cable connected to an OB truck laying on the ground at thunderstorms! My thanks to Jim Daniels and the crew at Camera Corps who helped us out at very short notice.”

Camera Corps’ own involvement in the China Games was on a massive scale, described in a separate article in this issue. As well is its own huge inventory of equipment, the company took its own Polecam HD systems plus the two additional Polecam rigs dry-hired from Keith Harding. All three Polecams were equipped with an Iconix 3-CCD HD camera and the latest FishFace housing. The underwater rigs were used to cover swimming and diving, water polo and parts of the Triathlon. All worked well.

Another highly accomplished Polecam operator active at the China Games was Luxembourg-based Alexander de Backer. He was active with the Polecam at five locations, fitted with a 3-CCD 1080i Iconix camera linked to base by cable or more often via wireless link.

The finishing line of the 250 km cycling race to the Great Wall

“My first project was to cover the walking marathon. I was one of many other cameras covering the event so the directors had a lot of choice at their disposal. I got some very good shots and was very happy with what Polecam could achieve, especially the quality of the HD. The next location was at the finishing line of the 250 km cycling race to the Great Wall (picture above). This was followed by cycle time trials which started and finished at the Great Wall.”

“Third was the Triathlon. I covered the first 20 minutes of this, fielding the Polecam out from the deck of a catamaran (Figure 3, below). There were choppers around with Wescam systems but I found myself pretty much the main camera, working with a Polecam FishFace which meant I could lower the camera down to the water’s edge. This being a lake rather than a swimming pool, the water was not clear enough to contemplate pushing the head fully underwater even if I head wanted to. After this event, I carried the Polecam off the catamaran to an adjacent position for coverage of the cycling. I then moved to a third position for the medals ceremony, hanging over photographers and onlookers to get a wide shot.”

The Triathlon

“The Polecam rig and camera worked well, even through 14 hours of practically continuous rain. One of the other Belgian crews was using a Chinese copy of an American jib which gave him a lot of grief and sometimes knocked him off air. Now we are looking forward to the London Games in 2012.”

Christoph Ritter fielded his Polecam system, including a digitally interfaced 1080i Toshiba camera with 4 mm lens, at the China Games on behalf of ARD and ZDF German TV. The events covered were ‘Waldi & Harry’, a daily talkshow from Beijing for ARD, a daily infotainment production titled ‘ZDF Olympia Highlights’ and a Paralympics daily special for ARD and ZDF. Christoph is a long-time Polecam operator who was active at the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship just a few weeks earlier. His considerable level of experience can easily be determined from his website: www.griphouse.com.

Martin Mueller covers the German-rowing eight

Martin Mueller of Polecam-Deluxe covered the German-rowing eight in build-up phase (Figure 4, above) shortly before the team flew out to the China Games:

“We used the full five extension poles and a Toshiba TU61/63 SD camera with an anamorphic lens to capture some unique pictures for ZDF. The sequences were obtained during training on a branch of the Rhine and showed how the rowing team worked. I demonstrated this with moves around the boat such as from the bow close to the water to a top-shot. Polecam is ideal for this type of work as its own motion has no significant effect on the balance of the vessel you are shooting from. We also recorded female rowing on an Alpine lake close to St Anton as well as canoeing on the Mueritz, Germany’s second-largest lake.”

Keith Harding of video production and equipment-rental company TX-2 is one of Britain’s most successful Polecam operators with two HD rigs which he ‘dry’-hired to Camera Corps for their coverage of aquatic events,

“Both our rigs are equipped with 1080i Iconix cameras and full body armour, including the new FishFace underwater head. Our first Polecam was bought primarily to use on productions for our own clients but we were quite happy to hire both rigs to Camera Corps to help in their coverage of the China Games. The new underwater head has a 360 degree pan capability and the same fully unrestricted movement as a standard Polecam dry head. Electrical connection is made very easy by a split O-ring gland which can be used to seal cables without having to break existing connections. Pan/tilt control is via a fully sealed one-piece gearbox. Polecam is uniquely powerful for ground level up to high-angle overview shooting. FishFace adds enormously to that versatility and gives the impression that the camera operator is operating under water rather than controlling the camera from above.”

Last but not least, Hong Kong broadcaster TVB used its Polecam in its Beijing studio for the duration of the China Games. The rig (seen in Figure 5, below) provided a fast and efficient way to supplement the output from traditional cameras looking towards the stage set at below head height.

Polecam in the Hong Kong broadcaster TVB’s studio

And so to London

Four years is a long time in the television business. If the trends visible at IBC2008 are any guide, the British Games may well prove a testing ground for 2 megapixel 1080i 3D. We are ready for that. By the time my sons pension me off as Chairman, broadcasting and webcasting should be well on their way to 33 megapixel 3D Ultra-HD.


Polecam Limited is active globally from its Headquarters base near Bedford, England and is recognised across many different markets to include Broadcast, Extreme Sports, Medical, Military & Security, Industrial & Commercial, Corporate, Natural History and emerging markets for specialist Property, Wedding and Music environments; as the market leader for super lightweight, highly portable camera jib, minicams, lenses and remote control systems.