Tech Talk – Blimp me, baby (one first time)! Jacobson vs Fatboy vs Aquatech vs Pelican

I’ve been shooting production stills for over 4 years now. Over this time, I’ve had two aborted attempts at procuring a blimp from different suppliers due to insufficient information provided to me to settle my decision. In the mean time, I’ve managed to do my job without this bit of kit. That being said, the more I work, the more I realise that it is the single bit of kit that would result in better production stills. Being able to shoot during takes (not just the MOS ones) will give me 100% of every actor’s performance.

The time is getting close to me purchasing my first dSLR sound blimp, and what better time to consider the possibility than when there are at least 4 decent looking prospects on the market?

This article acts as a comparison of the available products, and is my first step towards choosing to invest in one of these systems.

UPDATE 13 October 2011 I’ve added a table based summary of the blimps in TT 26 Camera Sound Blimp Update (LINK).

The Contenders

Jacobson Photographic Instruments, Inc. Sound Blimp
This was invented (according to wikipedia) in the 1960s and the design has barely changed since but for a recent update to include an LCD viewing screen. This device is considered the industry standard in sound blimps. I’ve even heard that some productions kit require not just a sound blimp, but a Jacobson Sound Blimp. My brief experience of this piece of kit is – it does the job, no question. However, its a cumbersome 1.4kg (3lb) beast that has the ergonomics of a box and you lose access to all functions bar the zoom of your lens and the shutter (which is controlled by a cable release button.

15 October 2011 – Jacobson now uses B&W Schneider glass in their tubes.

Aquatech Sound Blimp

Aquatech Sound Blimp
It is a new product from the highly respected manufacturer of waterproof enclosures for cameras. This product appears to have the endorsement of superstar movie stills photographer Jasin Boland (www.jasinboland.com). This blimp is reportedly 19% lighter than the competition (presumably the Jacobson) and an overall reduction of 98% of the volume of a dSLR shutter. My initial impressions is that it looks rather space age in design and substantially closer to the ergonomics us dSLR users are used to. The Aquatech blimps are camera model specific in across both the mid-high end of the current range of Nikon and Canon dSLRs.

Update 27 July 2011 – The Aquatech system is now available from New York’s famous BH Photo Video. I’ve also been closely following some discussion about the Aquatech which is generating a lot of interest among my peers. Apparently Aquatech’s blimps will provide a range of functions including access to review buttons and will support camera upgrades with updates of the rear plate, which is very welcome news!

Update 8 September 2011 – Professional Photographer Magazine posts a pretty favourable review of the Aquatech Sound Blimp – Read the review.

Update 13 October 2011 – Frank Masi, Jasin Boland and Dave Friedman are all reporting that Aquatech will happily modify the blimps (at a price) to meet your requirements. Frank has had his shutter release cable upgraded and Dave has had the shutter button modified by Aquatech. Jasin managed influenced the inclsion of high quality Schneider glass on the lens tubes.

Fatboy Camera Sound Blimp
This is another very new piece of kit that has slowly been releasing details through its facebook page and youtube/vimeo videos. The Fatboy has been developed by Tamas Mack, unit stills photographer (www.tamasmack.com) it looks to me to be the sexiest sound blimp. Based on the information released so far it is compatible with the lens tubes from the Jacobson Blimp system which makes it a great contender for upgraders. I’m also impressed by the fact that it seems to be compatible across systems and therefore presumably models. The video demo shows a Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D700 being used within the same enclosure.

Update 1 October 2011 – Fatboy are reporting that it is tested and proven with Canon’s 5D, 5DII, 7D and 50D and Nikon’s D700, D300s, D200, D7000. The down side is that Canon’s 1 series and Nikon’s D3 series are not supported and it appears there are no current plans to do so. Latest news is that the Fatboy will be available out of Norway no later than early 2012.

fatboy demo 1 from Tamas Mack on Vimeo.

Shutter Bubble – is yet another blimp product about to hit the market. It is reported to be hitting the market in Late summer 2011, and the makers say it is both more ergonomic than the current options and at just over 2lbs (or 1kg) also the lightest contender. There is also some interesting talk about personal customisation and modular design courtesy of Larry Horrick’s contribution to Alex Bailey’s great blog buntyme.wordpress.com (click to link straight through).

Pelican based blimps

Pelican cases are an industry standard unto themselves. If you want shock-proof, waterproof and almost thermonuclear protection then the Pelican case is the go to for many industry professionals in storage of kit. This has lead to a series of sound blimps based on these cases. To be perfectly honest, I’m somewhat skeptical of these options on two levels – Pelican cases are not particularly ergonomic (although arguably comparable to the Jacobson) and less impressively they look to me, a bit ghetto and thus I question how readily they would be accepted on a professional set.

Advanced Sound Blimp Update June 2013 It seems that this company is no longer in operation as the website is now gone.

DIY Pelican Case Sound Blimp Guides: Silent Penuin (via Kyle Peters aka Silent Penguin) Blair Bunting
These are the best example of many DIY sound blimps based on the Pelican case.

Interim Conclusion
Believe it or not, all this research leaves me only slightly less torn. The Pelican based versions are ruled out for me based on ergonomics, my DIY deficiency and the relatively high price for the Advanced Sound Blimp which to my eye is not enough of a saving against indications of the competitors pricing. This leaves the proven workhorse that is the Jacobson and the new kids on the block in the Fatboy and Aquatech. At 29 July 2011 only the Aquatech has officially hit the market, but with the Fatboy and Sound Bubble due for imminent release.

Have you used any of these products? If you’ve used more than one, what’s your favourite so far? I’ll revisit this topic down the track, and hopefully after having the opportunity to review the products side by side.

UPDATE 13 October 2011 For more reading: I’ve added a table based summary of the blimps in TT 26 Camera Sound Blimp Update (LINK).

Please feel free to hit me with any comments or questions, I welcome your input (as well as any web traffic you can send my way!).

3 comments
  • Curtis CleggJuly 28, 2011 - 1:31 am

    Thanks heaps for the review of these products! I am in a similar situation as you… purchase of a Blimp or similar product seems imminent if I am going to advance as a stills photographer. However, I cannot help but think that a silent, mirrorless camera system (similar to the Olympus Pen E-PL3 or the Sony NEX-C3) is just around the corner. The Canon G-12 is supposed to be great in low light… I might check into that next.

  • AngusJuly 28, 2011 - 4:41 am

    Hi Curtis, Thanks for your comments. Its exciting times for us in the world of on set stills with this rush of new products to market. I just found out about another imminent sound blimp the Shutter Bubble which might be worth considering not to mention the fabled Nikon and Canon mirrorless 4/3 dSLRS. Its going to be a tough decision any way we cut it!

    Also, Alex Bailey who also blogs prolifically about movie stills has raised the possibility of another blimp, but I’m not quite sure whether he means the Shutter Bubble, or something else again by the sounds of it the answer isn’t far off. Exciting times, eh?

  • Curtis CleggJuly 28, 2011 - 12:32 pm

    Exciting times indeed! I won’t buy any enclosure while I am still using my old DSLRs without live preview. Robert Hanasiro (USA Today newspaper photographer) and Chris Large (Canadian stills photographer) both like the G12 on sets. Unfortunately I think the indie movies I typically work on aren’t lit well enough for even a G12.

    Even if the small mirrorless DSLR systems make some noise, but say 1/4 to 1/3 the noise of a mirror slap, the Camera Muzzle might even be sufficient on those systems. Keeping fingers crossed that an inexpensive option comes to market soon… thanks again for all your techtips!
    http://www.robgalbraith.com/bins/content_page.asp?cid=7-7894-8326