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Reviewed by Stewart "Lenslinger" Pittman

There’s no two ways about it, my current tripod sucks. It’s one of those old twenty-five pounders, covered in duct-tape and scarred beyond repair. It has a lurching, bone-dry head and loosey-goosey shoulder-joints that’ll give you one crippler of a pinch, even if you ARE careful. Not only is my three-legged antique cranky, but it just doesn’t stand-up like it used to. I’m not saying you can’t trust it but wasn’t that sickening crash your brand new fancy-cam? Don‘t say I didn‘t warn you. Just remember, that busted set of camera legs is as old as some of our overnight editors - and about as useful. Yes, if my ’pod could walk under it’s own power, it’d limp straight to the nearest open grave and die the quiet death it‘s long dreamed of.

So you can imagine my delight when Gus Harilaou of Miller Camera Support offered to loan me their newest tripod for a few weeks of generous field research.

“I’ll send you the SOLO VJ with the Arrow 30 head - the total package…”

He wasn’t kidding. A few days later, a padded nylon carrying case - itself a thing of rugged rectangular beauty - appeared on my desk.

“The RPG you ordered is here”, said a fellow shooter, materializing out of nowhere. Funny how idle colleagues gather whenever large boxes with industry brand names appear. By the time I pulled the heavy-duty zipper down its stainless-steel track, three more photogs emerged from their hiding spots to offer assistance. The moment called for a little flourish, so I raised the glistening black broadcast tool above their heads.

“Gentlemen, I give you the future of tripods!”

It sure looked that way. With its lightweight carbon fiber tubing, aluminum die-cast concentric locks, and retractable foot spikes, the three stage telescopic tripod looked every bit the highly designed precision instrument it was. But looks aren’t everything; performance is. And while I was itching to get it out in the field for a proper test-drive, the assembled lensmen insisted on a closer look.

“Dude, this foam won’t last,” said one, squeezing the soft protective leg cover.

“What happens when you ruin the Governor’s floor with these spikes?” asked another as he extended the pointed steel tips out of the ends of the rubber feet.

“Yeah - when can I borrow it?” a third shooter asked, eyeing my new baby with unbridled photog lust.

Sensing my grand experiment might be in peril, I gathered up the goods and slithered off to my next assignment, determined to put the sleek new camera legs to a real-world test. Which, thanks to my ever-demanding assignment desk, was not a problem. After all, the folks with the scanners in their ears didn’t care what I was using to hold the camera up, as long as I continued to crank out the usual amount of packages, vosots , bumps and assorted re-cuts. Within days, I had dragged Miller’s newest baby through a litany of flash floods, bloodmobiles and meth lab busts. Along the way, I grew increasingly impressed.

I for one have always been partial to the three stage telescopic tripod. Others might champion the longer-legged two-stage version, but not me. I like the infinite height and pitch positions you can employ with three independent legs, without a cumbersome spreader to trip you up. Trouble is, they old three-stagers usually outweigh the thin-legged models by many painful pounds. Not any more. With the Arrow 30 fluid head attached, the carbon fiber SOLO VJ tripod weighs around 16.5 pounds. Not too shabby for a full-out ENG ‘pod. Of course, every pound counts when you work alone like me. Very often, the hardest part of my assignment is getting there. That is why I like the well-designed shoulder and leg straps designed to keep the tripod ultra-compact during everyday transport. They may only be carrying straps but when you’re loaded down and trying to negotiate three sets of double doors at the county courthouse, every bit of thoughtful engineering counts..

Of course, the SOLO VJ offered more than mere portability. The thing really stood up (and crouched down) under pressure. A simple twist of the well-marked lock collars and the carbon-fiber legs deploy with a highly satisfying hiss, making it feel almost spring-loaded. The shoulder-mounted adjusters offered the three usual leg angle positions, from spread eagle to fully stowed. At lowest squat, Miller’s newest ENG offering hugs the ground at just under nine inches. At fullest height, it towers over seventy-three inches. Collapse the extender legs and the tripod stands at what I consider its natural height (you know, press-conference level). I’m 5’10” and at its natural height, the tripod’s camera plate sat just below eye-level. With one hand draped around its shoulders, I could daydream the pressers away in comfort while the firmly mounted camera towered over me like a protective big brother. Pardon if I doze off…

But photogin’ isn’t ALL about sleeping upright. Days later, I was on safari - picking my way through a rural river town freshly ravaged by flash flood. The water had come and gone (in a flash, you might say), but the remaining mud, debris and sewage gave me plenty to shoot. As the SOLO VJ and I did a reluctant two-step through a mud-covered field, I started thinking about its feet. Does that make me weird? Perhaps, but the retractable steel spikes housed within the tripod’s tiptoes fascinated me from the beginning. Soon I understood their full potential as I clung to the banks of rain-swollen Matrimony Creek, leaning into a hastily chosen camera position and gathering footage for my story. The fully extended steel spikes made for far better purchase along the crumbling bank, or at least it felt like it. Just remember to retract the spikes before planting the ‘pod on more delicate floor-coverings. It might save you a chewing-out from the Governor’s PR flack after all. In addition, it might do well to wipe the mud out of the grooves in the tripod’s rubber feet, before the Guv’s staffers notice that smelly brown stain on the State Seal rug.

Miller’s Arrow 30 fluid head deserves its own review. With its seven position rear-mounted pan and tilt controls and four selectable counterbalances, the taut fluid head cradled my aging betacam with loving care. Lining up the bubble was also a breeze, as the leveling handle underneath the head lacked the gritty warble I’ve become so accustomed to. One twist of the wrist and the head shifted easily between state trooper flat and disco-tech Dutch-angle. Also, simply being able to park my aging lens at the intended coordinate was a joy I’d just about forgotten. And as proof that the proper tools go a long way to improving the overall product, I noticed a funny thing happening. My stories improved, or at least the visual stability did - as I chose repeatedly to use the tripod on shots I would never have attempted with my own prehistoric sticks. Now if only I could remember to keep white-balancing…

Overall, I came to love Miller’s SOLO VJ. But I wasn’t the only staff shooter to give it a go. Josh Newton, better know as Anton Sauer to b-roll message board readers, took the new tripod on many an evening stroll, and as always, used his critical eye to point out it’s many pluses and a few minuses. Anton didn’t seem to be a big fan of the protective foam on the top leg’s exterior, but I noticed it didn’t stop him from snaking the ‘pod out of my Ford Explorer every night. Other photogs pitched in as well. One in particular thought the Arrow 30 was too heavy a tripod head for the upcoming generation of newer, lighter cameras. Of course, the mention of ‘new cameras’ cracked everyone up, one guy shot chocolate milk out of his nose and we were soon asked to stop loitering in the hallways. I love high school.

No, it didn’t take long for my love affair with the carbon-fiber temptress to really heat up. Perhaps it was because I’ve dated so many of her ugly step-sisters. Considerably lighter than my old sticks and infinitely more stable and accurate, Miller’s finest had me at hello. I’d like to think the feeling was mutual. Having long ago mastered far trickier three-stage tripods, I worked the SOLO VJ like a seasoned baton twirler - minus the tights, of course. All in all, it was a perfect summer romance. My only concern lies in how the pretty young thing will hold up over the years, but I suspect its all in how you treat the lady. The era of treating your tripod with less care than your other gear is over. Today’s tripods are lighter and stronger than ever before, but the new carbon fiber breeds require more tender loving care in return. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for such an integral tool as a state-of-the-art tripod. After all, like tires on a car, everything rides on those three legs. Including possibly, your career.

So check out Miller’s new SOLO VJ tripod and Arrow 30 fluid-head. Chances are, you’ll come away with a new appreciation for carbon-fiber and three stage legs alike. I know I did. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be back in the prop room - picking scraps of duct-tape off my antique sticks and trying not to dwell too much on my torrid summer romance with another woman - I mean, tripod.

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