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VDB boom poles: yay or nay?


Landon Johnson
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Hey Everyone,

This is my first post on here, so thank you to everyone who is part of the community, it's a great resource. I'm just out of USC and starting to put together my gear to be a boom op, and though there's been alot of talk about K-Tek and the new Loon booms, I haven't been able to find anything about VDBs. Any thoughts one way or the other? Thanks!

-Landon

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As a sound person, the fishpole is your axe.  Take its selection, setup and maintenance seriously.  If you have the money to buy new, make an appointment at the sound emporium of your choice (and count yourself lucky that you live in a place where this sort of thing is taken seriously enough that you have choices) and try them out while listening AND, if possible, recording.  See how they balance, see what kind of noise your boom technique makes, see how they "work" in a moving doco type situation.  Talk to the sales people about what holds up, and what they see the weak points of each are.  Let us know what you choose and why--booms are an endless source of fascination to location sound people--kind of like guitars for rock musicians.

Philip Perkins

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Stay away from VDB.  The newer style poles, although if constantly maintained were very nice to use, were loaded with knuckle problems that led to the demise of the sale of that pole.  The old style ones are very good, and I am not surprised that RVD's boom guy wants to buy his, but it'll be hard to find a good one used that someone's willing to sell.  I was never a fan of the K-Tek products, nor do I like the PSC Elite because I find the rough finish hard to "slide" quietly (Love their other products).  The loon pole is very nice, but it came out after I stopped booming, so I have never used it on set as a boom guy.  I own 2 internally coiled new style Wilcox poles.  I like the finish, they are reliable, quiet and fairly priced.  The internal coiled cable might give you trouble as a novice, but I like it.  As for external cables... I was forced into this situation once when my internal cable went down and I didn't have another pole with me.  What a pain in the ass.  I guess you can get used to anything, but I don't get it.

Give me a call, Landon.  I do some mixing favors for people here and there when I am not working, and it might be a good chance for you to get some good boom experience, and sometimes even a little pay.

Robert Sharman

(818) 304-3066

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  I'm cursed with an older K-tek short pole, totally sux.  Locks up all the time and also unexpectedly releases itself.  I've tried the newer ones and they are much better and people love them.

  I have chosen Ambient poles, they're cheaper than K-tek and they work great and are really heavy duty.  A little heavier than K-tek (they have a lighter model, the QL but i haven't tried them, I have only the QT) but damn they take a beating.  They also have that great ball-shaped bottom, so easy to hold and rest on the ground!

  If I had more money I would replace all my poles with Panamic poles.  Nothing's come close (except maybe the Loon) to its smoothness and amazing locking mechanisms.

  I have used the old VDBs and once you get used to them they're pretty great.  I had one on a 6-month reality job years ago where once it was set perfectly, all I had to do was pull and push, never had to tighten or loosen.

  Dan

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I have several LTM poles.  My first decent pole was a used doc length LTM, which I still have and use occasionally.  I believe there were 3 generations of the pole, and like the VDB, the later gen was the least liked.  The middle gen was the best IMO.  Some boom ops like it because it has the double knuckles, giving you a place to hold while twisting the above knuckle, esp when it is fully collapsed.  These are some-what difficult to find.  I had a few, and then a mixer friend of mine liquidated several more when he bought all new Ambients.

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Gotta agree with the suggestion to wait on buying and try out several kinds of poles under live-fire conditions.  Taken care of, that boom will be with you a long time.

I had  a VdB quick-lock pole that I loved--it was like an extension of my left arm.  Unfortunately, it got dinged up in transport a few months back so I bought a 12' Loon.  I haven't had any really intense run and gun assignments since getting it, so I can't really say anything either way about it yet.  I will say it is a much larger external diameter than my old VdB which just feels weird in my hand, I guess I will just get used to it.  The other problem with the diameter of the first section is it won't fit into one of the Fishing Pole style boom holders.

As for internal vs external, I think there are two benefits with an external cable.  First, there is less weight in the air with an external cable.  Second, I find I have much less GSM cell phone interference with an externally quad-cabled pole than when I use someone else's internally cabled pole plus curly cable to get from pole to mixer.  Guess the quad-cable makes the difference.  Unless you are in a situation where you have to extend or collapse quickly, my preference if for externally cabled.

Each to his or her own....

---Matt

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Thank you to everyone for your advice. I'm going to run with testing out some different brand poles and see what feels right to me (make sure I'm not blowing my month's rent on a fishpole without good reason :P). All of your advice on what holds up and what doesn't is invaluable, hopefully I can avoid those poor poles that will break down under live-fire. I'll post again in the near future to let you know what I went with and what I was able to find from trying out all the different fishpoles. Cheers!

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Managed to finish the day with it, but had to disassemble it, clean the collars and let it dry overnight.

It has always been my impression that boom poles need to be taken care of - general maintenance mode. I always take my poles apart once a month ( or sooner depending on the environment they were used in) and clean them properly...

best

-vin

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Hey Everyone,

This is my first post on here, so thank you to everyone who is part of the community, it's a great resource. I'm just out of USC and starting to put together my gear to be a boom op, and though there's been alot of talk about K-Tek and the new Loon booms, I haven't been able to find anything about VDBs. Any thoughts one way or the other? Thanks!

-Landon

Since no one's mentioned the PSC Elite boom poles, I'll mention that they should be considered a top contender. No boom poles are perfect, and they all have something they do better than the others, but Ron Meyer at PSC (Ron is VERY experienced with boom pole features) took the fortes from other designs and combined them into a very well-balanced feature set. Some prefer the other poles mentioned here, but I also know of many who prefer the PSC poles. Of course, decide for yourself, but you should definitely compare the PSC with the others before making a choice.

Glen Trew

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I'm a fan of the PSC elite, internally cabled with the side exit right angle adapter on the base. Works great for run and gun style stuff and I even prefer for all around applications. I know some of the arguments against internally cabled are that it makes noise, heavier etc., but I suppose its just a matter of preference. I've had extensive use with the vDbs, but the end of the day went with the PSC...

Curse the producer I once worked with who insisted I use the production companies 18 ft turd called a Gitzo as opposed to my own gear...

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VDBs also do not like getting wet. I was caught in a downpour with it and the collars went stiff.

Managed to finish the day with it, but had to disassemble it, clean the collars and let it dry overnight.

Ron,

sometimes the actual pole sections expand when wet.

a couple thoughts on the different boom pole options. - speaking from a rental dept. standpoint, after hearing the feedback from all the clients and mixers over the past couple years.

Ambient - very rugged, great rental dept. poles (can take a licking and keep on ticking)

K-Tek- terrific doc. or reality poles. light weight and sturdy. Note-if anyone ever has a problem or issue with there ktek poles, call them and Manfred will sure to fix them more times than not at N/C

Vdb- Old school style, rock solid. a few problems w/newer styles (as mentioned  from above posts)

Psc Elite-12' or 16' film poles are outstanding. they are very popular with the film & tv boomer's. collors, quiet cabling etc. is top notch.

Wilcox poles- probably economically speaking are fantastic and for all the reasons you want a great pole, the price point is hard to beat.

gd lk,

fs

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I will throw in my 2 cents here. I used old style vDB and loved them. Bought my own, new style, and do not like it. When the collars ceased up on me, I bought a PSC Elite, and love it. the vDB whistles when extended or collapsed. A larger hole at the base would solve this but, I shouldn't have to make mods on a $800 pole. The collars are not as good as the PSC, in my opinion. The PSC unlocks and locks with a quarter turn. Most of the time I would have to turn the vDB collars completely around, twice most of the time. Not cool under pressure while shooting.

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It's always been interesting to me that on the East Coast the majority of boom poles are exterior cables, that are then wrapped around the pole.  While here on the West Coast, we cable our poles internally.  I believe the argument is that with the cable wrapped around the outside of a pole there is less noise from the cable "slapping" against the pole.  With your cable wrapped around the outside, you control the cable more, this outside cable also used to be primarily a cloth cable.

I believe that lot of whether or not the internal cable makes noise is in the handling.  I've been working with a couple of guys over the last few years that have internally cabled poles, and I never hear any cable noise.  But these guys have been booming for decades, and moving in a way that the cable doesn't rattle around in there is just part of their instinct by now.  All of the poles I personally own are externally cabled -- this is because these poles are usually used by the utility person, who usually doesn't have nearly the kind of booming experience and know-how to avoid the potential noise of an internal cable.

.02 nvt

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I just became romantically involved with RoboPole.

The mixer on my second to last job had one.  I had handled one about a year ago on a UCLA thesis and at the time I just thought, "What a piece of junk."  However, since then I have handled many booms from Gitzo, K-Tek, PSC, and I must say RoboPole is awesome.  Easy to collapse and extend, there's only one knuckle.  More comfortable in my hands because of the wider diameter.  Totally silent.  I tried shaking and swinging it but the cable inside is held by these rubber washers.  There's not many parts really to rattle or get dirty.  It does have a curious side out where there's a big rectangular hole in the side where the cable hangs free.  I don't know, man.  It's unusual, looks kind of retro, and I really dig it. 

John E.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest Ken Mantlo

This is my first post on this forum even though I've been lurking for a few months.  I read this thread and felt that I should put my .02 cents in.  I've been booming for over 20 years and although I haven't tried every pole out there I really like my VdB.  I've owned just about every VdB model made with the exception of the thumb-locking-slide-knuckle version they put out for a short time (I think that was VdB, I used it for a few days though).  The old version was OK but had a tendency to creak with a heavy mic or long extention.  You had to put the pole in position and give it a quick shake to work that creak out just before they said "action" and hope you didn't have to do some radical cueing that involved major twisting of the pole. 

I think they came out with the thumb one next.  Can't comment.

The Newer style came out and it was great when it was new but over time the locking mechanism that pinched the upper tubes would have a groove wear in it from the cammed knuckle.  Soon it wouldn't lock down no matter how hard you tightened it.  The pole would last for about 10 months and then you would notice something funny.  Then total failure would happen within 1/2 a day. Booming a scene got real interesting then.  You just hoped you were using a schoeps.  PSC was real understanding and would replace the pole free of charge, which meant I got a new pole about every year.

VdB realized the problem and made newer poles with a harder metal on the pinching mechanism and they have worked fantastic since, HOWEVER, you must be diligent in maintenance.  Unscrewing the knuckles and cleaning them with scrubbing bubbles (or whatever) and a tooth brush is a must every month or so and thats with inside stage use. I then apply the smallest amount of oil with a Q-tip to the part of the pinching fingers mechanism where the knuckle cam touches.  Too much, and the oil gets on the tube itself and soon the cableman will be laughing in the corner of the set while you make an ass out of yourself on the next take. Three or four times a year I have to take the whole thing apart and clean it.  This brings up another great feature of the VdB, you can take the pole apart without un-soldering the XLR connector.  A HUGH plus in my book.  I'm not aware of another pole that can do that.  I have an extra boom cable already made up in case the one in my pole goes bad.  It's a quick swap out.  Another plus is the smooth finish on the lower tube.  Most of the time you can get away with a "handslide" because of this,  however, if you have clammy hands only K-Y is going to save you.  If you have clammy hands or "glazed donut hands", you will have to clean your VdB more often.  Something to think about.

If you keep your VdB clean, it works and feels like no other pole made.  It glides in your hands, light, smooth and quite.  Unclean and it will bitchslap you around the set, excuse the french.

With all that said, I won't use my VdB outside in dirty, dusty or wet environments.  I've got a 20' POS K-tek studio pole I use instead.  It cost me $900 and I hate it.  Fully extended, with a zeppelin, the pole is a perfect rainbow.  I have to build in lag time when cueing from one actor to another because of the whip effect, and, after the take is done and I put my pole vertical to rest, all the knuckles come collapsing down on one another like the twin towers (no disrespect).  You pray you don't have any skin in the gaps because you will lose it.

Don't count the VdB out, it's a great pole if you follow proper hygiene.

Sorry for the long first post.

Kenny

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Guest Ken Mantlo

Ron,

sometimes the actual pole sections expand when wet.

The sections don't expand when wet, it's the dirt on the pole that expands and causes binding on the tubes and knuckles.  Another important reason for keeping your VdB clean.

Respectfully,

Kenny

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Great post, Kenny.  And funny.  Thanks for coming out of the shadows (not boom shadows, of course).  I haven't tuned in to JWsound in a while and I'm glad I did.  I have several VdB poles and learned a lot about maintaining them properly.  Now I'll love them even more.

PG

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The sections don't expand when wet, it's the dirt on the pole that expands and causes binding on the tubes and knuckles.  Another important reason for keeping your VdB clean.

Respectfully,

Kenny

hey Kenny, nice 1st post.( you have the record for the longest 1st timer) thanks for ky tips with the donut glazed hands. but seriously good ideas  as to keeping the poles clean,

I try to keep reminding anyone who tells me, there pole is "acting up". I ask them, when was the last time they cleaned or had it serviced ? (insert long pause or embarrassed look)

nice to see you here.

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I didn't think those counter weights helped with the "rainbow" effect. I thought they were just to help with the large difference between pressures on each arm when on a fully extended pole with a heavy mic. The "back" arm has little weight to hold compared to the "front" arm - where most of the pressure is. I thought the counter weights, by evening out the weight distribution, made the pole more maneuverable. But I've never used one, so what do I know? josh

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