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
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.
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.
$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)
$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.
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.
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.
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.
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.