UK Production Stills Photographer » Film and Television Publicity Stills by Angus Young

Tech Talk – The Fatboy / Aquatech Blimp-off

A Fatboy and a Scout walked into a bar, but did anybody hear?

A Fatboy and a Scout walked into a bar, but did anybody hear?

Recently I finally had a chance to meet and chat with two wonderful UK unit stills photographer compadres, Liam Daniel (IMDB) and Giles Keyte (IMDB | Web Site).

Over a couple of hours we covered off on a range of topics relevant to camera nerds and unit photographers alike, but none so intriguing nor contentious as the side-by-side comparison of Aquatech and Fatboy sound blimps.

The short story is: Both products are excellent. Either will be welcome on any film set. The Fatboy is cheaper, but the Aquatech is slightly quieter. The real story, is more complicated.

The consensus among the three of us is that, were it economically practical you’d have one of each. The long version is that there are positives and negatives to both products. Read on for an epic geek out on the question of Fatboy vs Aquatech

Quietness

We all agreed that the Aquatech is exceptionally quiet. Marginally quieter than the very quiet Fatboy.

Both products have been proven on the sets of the biggest film sets in the world. There may be times when either or neither will be quiet enough for a given scene but those would be very rare instances indeed.

Price
Quoted prices are per the manufacturer’s web sites and are listed in are $US, converted to £GBP excluding taxes and current at June 2014.

Fatboy (www.fatboysoundblimp.com)
$685 / £400 for the body (same unit fits both 5D Mark III or D800)
$250-350 / £145-£205 for lens tubes (also compatible with Jacobson tubes)

Aquatech (www.aquatech.net/sound-blimps)
$1195 / £700 for a 5D Mark III or D800 body
$1295 / £760 for a D4 or 1DX body
$395-$495 / £230-£290 for lens tubes

Customer Service and After Sales Support

Both Aquatech and Fatboy have widely discussed reputation for excellent customer service in relation to their products. This was backed up by personal experience of Giles and Liam (Fatboy) and my own experience with Aquatech as well as from feedback of other unit stills shooters we have spoken to.

Aquatech is a larger (yet still not big) business, based out of Huntington Beach, California and really meets or exceeds the levels of customer service you’d expect from a US business that cares about their customers. Aquatech are on their third (or second and a half, depending on your perspective) revision of their blimp product. They have offered limited, but generous trade-in for upgraders and each revision has included welcome changes.

Fatboy blimps come out of Norway and Tamas Mack (the brainchild of the product) is an established unit stills shooter and has a solid and reliable product. Fatboy has been updated once and is a simple but well made product.

Simplicity of Design
The Fatboy shutter button simply pushes down the camera’s existing shutter button (there is a silicone screw within the Fatboy shutter button to enable fine-tuning of sensitivity) while the Aquatech relies on a user replaceable two button electronic shutter release button (external to the blimp) and a camera connection cable (inside the blimp).

The Aquatech also provides control over the “quick control dial” (the aperture controlling circular dial around the “set” button”) and the playback button to initiate review of images captured (once enabled the quick control dial can scroll through your captured images without opening the blimp)

The down side to the Aquatech system is that this level of complexity means keeping a spare of the user replaceable parts is a good idea. Greater care is required when you install the camera to ensure the connection is sound. Also, there are three separate connection points that can fail or require troubleshooting.

Aquatech

Aquatech’s replaceable shutter and shutter cable

Remote Firing

The complexity of the Aquatech trigger system brings remote firing opportunity of your blimped camera. I’ve done this with my set of Pocket Wizard transceivers (TT5 for Canon) and a 3.5mm to 3.5mm connector cable from the blimp transceiver to the input for Aquatech’s two button shutter on the front.

The Fatboy’s simpler mechanism leaves the shutter release connector free but this hasn’t been tested.

Ergonomics

The ergonomics are great for both. The Fatboy is noticeably less bulky and less heavy (750g/1.65lb Blimp only). This goes logically with the issue of quietness where we agreed the Aquatech (1.10kg/2.4lbs Blimp Only) is slightly quieter.

Lens Tubes

Consistent with the blimp, the Fatboy tubes are slimmer, lighter and cheaper than the Aquatech tubes. There are a couple of other subtle but significant advantages to the Fatboy’s tubes:

  • Easily user changeable filters (standard screw-on circular 95mm x M1.00mm thread pitch) these are not included in the purchase price.
  • Because the filters are easily interchangeable, and presumably stackable, you have the option of any compatible 95mm lens filters (UV, Polarising, Circular Polarising, ND)
  • Lens caps can be put on the front of the tube, protecting your filters when the camera is not in use.
  • Jacobson Blimp tubes are 100% compatible with the Fatboy, which is a benefit for users moving on from the tried but true Jacobson system

Aquatech’s filters are user replaceable but not as quickly or easily done. You could more than likely obtain filters other than the basic (but super high quality) Schnieder UV to add to your tubes, but it is a more fiddly job than a simple lens filter swap.

While there is no option for a lens cap for Aquatech len tubes, I have discovered that Optech USA’s XL sized “Lens Hood Hats” are the perfect between takes and transit solution for protecting your expensive front element. The XXL version will cover Aquatech’s rubber lens hood while attached to the lens.

Lens Tubes and the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L

The Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L has been a very topical issue for blimp makers and users alike. The version 2 24-70mm f/2.8L was released in 2012 and is a massive step up in optical performance for this workhorse of a lens. Because of the fact that this new version is physically longer when set to longer focal lengths than when set to wider focal lengths any blimp tube has to vary in length accordingly to avoid massive vignetting.

Both manufacturers have done remarkable feats of engineering to get around Canon’s curve ball. Put in the simplest terms, Fatboy’s implementation is better. It just works. The only quirk is that you need to simultaneously rotate and push out to zoom towards 70mm or rotate and pull back to zoom towards 24mm. Very easily learned.

Aquatech’s 24-70 tube (The BT-145) comes in two parts and also requires a thick rubber band around the zoom ring in order to operate. The BT-415 does work, but has several tricks in order to work and when not done correctly can result in the front section falling out with gravity’s gentle assistance. See Tech Talk 31 on how best to address this issue.

Conclusion

I’d really like to be able to say that we had a clear opinion on which blimp product is the best. Unfortunately we don’t. Both are very, very good products. It is as tough and as personal choice as deciding between Canon and Nikon (possibly not quite so religious however!).

Giles Keyte I liked how the New Scout has ironed out all the things I wasn’t so sure of with the original Aquatech. But I’m still happy with my Fatboy.

Angus Young Personally, I’m inclined to think that the price benefit of the Fatboy make it a compelling choice. I still don’t regret my Aquatech investment as I have the confidence it is quiet enough for almost any circumstance I could reasonably find myself.

I admire those Fatboy advantages and wouldn’t rule it out as a back-up system to run alongside my Aquatech.

If you love it, show it!
Film publicity and marketing resources
Production Stills TECH TALK

  • Simon Ridgway - July 7, 2014 - 10:25 am

    Great information. I’ve got a very old, very beat up Jacobson and have been considering the Aquatech, but the Fatboy looks good.

    So the question I have is, how does the sound damping of the Fatboy compare to a Jacobson? I’ve not had any problem so far with the Jacobson being too loud, so if the Fatboy can match it, then that would be enough for me!

    Thanks,
    Simon

  • PSbyAY - July 7, 2014 - 3:41 pm

    Good Question, Simon. I’m told the Fatboy’s sound dampening is comparable to the Jacobson. Unfortunately we weren’t able to include one in our comparison on the day so I can’t speak for the Jacobson personally in relation to the Fatboy.

  • Larry Horricks - July 14, 2014 - 8:39 pm

    Hello lads…seems like good way to pass some time and have a few pints. Wish I was there. I have never laid my hands on an Aquatech but I find my Fatboy somewhat less quiet than my old Jacobson. That being said I would never go back…there are many things to like about the Fatboy….love the quick release tube clamps, the overall ergonomics,weight,viewfinder,like that I can just slide my camera body in without messing with a cable connection…so I would say I’m quite satisfied with the Fatboy. I have my the depth of field preview button on my 5D mkIII programmed to toggle back and forth between servo focus and regular autofocus so it would be great if Tamas could design a button on the front that would allow me to use this vital function while the camera is blimped. Its very useful to able to track a moving subject with servo then revert to regular autofocus when the subject is no longer moving…I use this al the time shooting scenes.

    Well good shooting chaps…maybe we should have a meet up in Prague or Budapest.

    Cheers
    Larry

  • Bill Matlock - July 15, 2014 - 1:50 pm

    I bought my Fatboy a little over a year ago and have never looked back. Have shot features, television and a few stage productions with never a problem. I still have my Jacobsen (2 button version) but only keep it as a back-up in case a complete disaster strikes the Fatboy. As for relative silence, while I’ve read a couple of comments about the Jacobsen being marginally quieter, I’ve run several informal tests with sound guys on set and if there’s a difference, so far we haven’t heard it. Almost forgot, I shoot with the Canon 5D MKII

  • PSbyAY - July 15, 2014 - 2:32 pm

    Bill, thanks for piping up! I’m glad to know you’re having a good experience with the Fatboy and appreciate you providing your thoughts! I do hope to do a relatively scientific test at some point across all three, but it can be very hard to get so many blimp owners together at the same time! Angus

  • Simon Ridgway - July 15, 2014 - 10:23 pm

    Good to hear the positive comments about the Fatboy. definitely on my wish list. And good that i can use the tubes I already have for the Jacobson! just wish the Fatboy allowed you to scroll through images on the screen – I believe the aquatech allows this?

  • PSbyAY - July 16, 2014 - 8:56 am

    My Aquatech Version 2 has three controls:

    1. Two button electronic shutter trigger on the front
    2. Image Playback
    3. Dial to adjust aperture via the quick control dial (the bit around the “Set” button)

    Aquatech did scale back the number of exterior controls based on user feedback.
    Angus

  • simon mein - August 2, 2014 - 7:38 pm

    Why the bother when the Jacobson blimp is fine without any hassle with the 24-70mm
    …..

  • PSbyAY - August 7, 2014 - 8:59 am

    Hi Simon, I guess because not all unit stills shooters are still using the Jacobson. Among the UK photographers that I have regular contact with Jacobson shooters are now the exception rather than the norm. Anecdotally it seems to be a fairly even split between Aquatech and Fatboy these days.

  • Joerg - August 18, 2014 - 11:20 am

    Great test which confirms my experience. I am using the Fatboy with a Jacobson lens tube together with my 5D II and a 24-105 zoom lens since two years. I also need a thick rubber band for the zoom ring – but works well. Mostly I shoot TV-Shows and classic concerts here in Germany. The noise level never was a problem as the combination Fatboy / Jacobson lens tube is just perfect.

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

*

*

n a v i g a t i o n
q u i c k   f i n d