Cables, Adapters and Converters Oh My!

Quite some time ago, I published a post on what basic items you should have in your camera assistant kit. You can find that post here. A number of folks just getting into the camera department found the post useful, so I thought I’d build on that.

Do you know how many times I need just the right connector or cable to make a camera or monitor build work? Many times. All the times. Some of the times.

The fact is, sometimes when you’re working with someone else’s gear or renting a kit from someone, you might be surprised when one or more cables is missing, or you need a special connector to make something work.

I’m going to introduce you to my tackle box of connectors and useful screws and well as the common cables I keep in my kit.

One of the great things about working with other AC’s, camera operators and DP’s is I can see what they have in their kits and ask them what works best for them. Shop talk like that helps everyone build on their knowledge and slowly add in new pieces to their kit that will help them on future gigs.

The Tackle BoxScrews and Adapters

Many, many times I need a specific size screw in order to mount the camera on a pair of sticks or a Steadicam. I’ve slowly been adding to my pile of screws, but the basics will always be 1/4″ 20s and 3/8″. Having a couple short and long ones, as well as a washer for that rare occasion when there’s a gap between the screw and the mounting plate is crucial.

I got this little box at a craft store, but you can find a similar one in the fishing section of Walmart, so I call it my tackle box. It helps keeps things organized and neat, and when I need to send a 2nd AC to grab something, I only need to say “find the clear tackle box” and they find it right away.

Some items I have in the tackle box:

  • SDI Splitter
  • barrel connectors
  • Screws of various sizes
  • washers
  • HDMI to micro HDMI adapter
  • Double ended screws, different sizes

Cables

Wires are essential to get a video signal from Point A to Point B. There are many ways to keep and organize your wires. For now I’ve settled on different colored pencil cases. I usually have three cases with me: 1 for SDI cables, 1 for HDMI (on Blackmagic shoots) and 1 for “Other” – for me it’s Steadicam related wires.

My commonly used wires include:

  • SDI cables – coiled and regular, several sizes
  • PTAP splitter
  • HDMI

I recommend not buying the thin “spaghetti strand” SDI cables. I’ve had them several times and they always fail. A thicker gauge wire is a safer bet.

Also good additions to this are:

  • HDMI to SDI converter. I use the Blackmagic HDMI to SDI Microconverter. I’ve seen a larger version used on bigger shoots to provide a signal to off-site directors. Keep in mind this needs power. A cell phone power cable to USB can work on a camera with a USB power input. Another option is mounting a portable cell phone battery charger.

  • Arms for mounting – Noga arm or Smallrig or similar. All useful for mounting a Teredek, monitor or whatever else you need.


  • There’s no shortage of things you could add to your kit to make your life easier, but this list should get you off to a good start.

    What’s in a Camera Assistant’s kit?

    When you start out in the world of camera assisting, you soon find out that just showing up to set with yourself is only half the story. If you’re really serious, you bring a kit.

    What’s in this kit? a voice from nowhere asks.

    Glad you asked, hypothetical listener.

    In this post, I’ll cover the basics in your typical kit for a 1st or 2nd AC.

    Tools

    If you’ve been in this business for longer than five minutes, you should already be aware that tools are necessary to make equipment fit together as intended. At the very least, you need a flathead screwdriver to secure a camera to a tripod baseplate.

    Part of the AC’s job is to troubleshoot the gear you’re using. You might find you need to take a bracket apart and fit it together in a new configuration. A screw that’s too tight to loosen by hand that needs pliers. You find you need to add new attachments to the camera. Or perhaps you’re working with old gear that’s had a rough life.

    The AC doesn’t need the same tools as an electrician or gaffer or production designer. They will, however, get a lot of use with the following:

    • Screwdrivers – Flat and Phillips in a variety of sizes
    • pliers
    • Multi-tool (fulfills several requirements on the list but I wouldn’t trust their screwdriver attachment often).
    • sharp pocket knife and/or razor knife
    • allen wrenches – metric and standard

    Tape

    On-set production requires a lot of tape. This is especially true for the camera assistant, who needs several varieties of tape in various sizes, types and colors.

    • Gaffer’s Tape (Black: 1 inch wide and 2″ wide; White: 1″ wide – also dubbed “camera tape”).
    • Painter’s tape – might come in handy, especially for times when you don’t want to use up your expensive gaff tape.
    • Spike Tape – essentially a thin line painter’s tape but not quite. You should have 3+ colors of this as you use it to mark locations of actors and camera. Each lead actor gets their own color.

     

    Cleaning Supplies

    Cleaning and maintaining the gear in top condition is so important. You don’t want a take ruined by a dirty lens.

    • Kimtech wipes – use these dry cloths to clean lenses, monitors, etc.
    • wet lens wipes – use when needed, often the dry wipes do the trick.
    • microfiber cloths
    • Rocket Blower
    • Canned Air
    • Pancro or similar lens cleaner

    Other Camera Expendables and Tools

    • Markers – Black sharpie, dry erase markers in black and other colors
    • Pen – for taking camera notes
    • Camera Reports
    • bongo ties – very useful to secure loose wires around the camera.
    • Measuring tape – to measure focal distance.
    • Slate and insert slate
    • Color checker card – an ideal thing to capture for your editor to use later on.
    • penlight or headlamp – very useful if you’re in a dark location.
    • scissors – you don’t even know how many times I’ve needed scissors on set.
    • T-marks – easier than tape marks, just throw ’em down and remember to pick them up later.

     

     

    Carrying Gear

    So you’ve got all this stuff, right? Where exactly are you going to put it?

    If you’ve got a lot of gear, you might want to invest in a good sized, sturdy bag. I’ve got a common bag for a lot of camera assistants — the Cinebag. When I first started out, I just toted a cheap tool bag from Harbor Freight. I eventually upgraded to a nice Husky toolbag which I still sometimes use.

    cinebagYou also should keep common tools, such as your multitool, some cleaning stuff and writing utensils close by. Many camera assistants will have some sort of utility belt – a la Batman – to accomplish this. I went Cinebag on this too and got their AC pouch, but there’s plenty of great brands out there to check out, such as Setwear and Portabrace. Get one that works best for you.

     

     

    Ready to gear up?

    That covers the basics (and that’s a lot of basics). Your kit will likely grow and expand and change from job to job, as you realize what you really need and what might be provided already on set.

    You’ll find this gear and other useful supplies at places like Filmtools, B&H, Amazon, eBay and home improvement stores such as Home Depot, Lowes and Harbor Freight.

    Oh! And one more thing. When you start buying this stuff, you’ll notice the cost adds up. Especially when buying $20 rolls of gaffer’s tape. So price shop amongst as many sources as you can and most of all – label your gear. I, for one, put my name on tape especially, as it can easily be lost and picked up by another department on set.