Online Videos

  • Review of the SteadyTracker UltraLite and tips from company owner Rene Kropf

    I have kids. Which means I own a video camera. Which means I chase my kids around with my video camera, trying to catch them in action. And the footage always looks shaky and horrible.

    So I’ve read more than my fair share of reviews about stabilizers, Glidecams and Steadicams. They rely on gimbals and counterweights to produce smooth, dream-like shots. But they’re often expensive, and some customers complain it takes forever to balance these contraptions.

    About 15 years ago, Rene Kropf and his colleagues were experiencing the same frustration as they worked in his garage trying to design a tool that could help stabilize shaky film footage for light cameras.

    “We went down the same route of counterweights and all that,” Kropf told me. “And we saw that as a nightmare. It’s like, the sun went down and we still haven’t balanced it, so forget that.”

    The SteadyTracker UltraLite doesn't rely on a gimbalKropf, the owner of Cobra Crane, a camera gear company in California, abandoned the gimbal system altogether. Instead, he helped devised something called the SteadyTracker Ultralite, a crowbar-like device with two adjustable weighted ends and a balancing pad in the middle that rests on top of your hand.

    I recently bought the SteadyTracker UltraLite on Amazon. The SteadyTracker is touted as a simpler, inexpensive option compared to other stabilizers. I’ve been using it for a few weeks and produced some sample shots in this video review. When I called Cobra Crane with a few questions about the SteadyTracker, I was surprised to get a call back from Kropf, the company’s owner. He offered insights and tips that aren’t in the instruction manual.

    “It’s relatively inexpensive,” Kropf said. “It’s pretty easy to use. And the biggest thing, the number one thing that people comment on, is it’s a super-quick set up, so you don’t miss shots.”

  • How to do a confrontational interview: Bob Costas grills Jerry Sandusky

    Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    Bob Costas’ grilling of accused Penn State child molester Jerry Sandusky should be mandatory viewing for all journalism students who want to learn how to handle a confrontational interview.

    How to do a confrontational interview  Bob Costas grills Jerry Sandusky   John TedescoCostas wielded a strong command of the facts. Listened intently to each answer. Asked focused questions and follow-up questions. And he wasn’t satisfied with vague proclamations of innocence.

    Years of cable news have brainwashed viewers into thinking a confrontational interview involves talking heads bullying and yelling at people.

    Not true. Costas shows you can be polite — and tough — at the same time.

  • Tips for shooting better video of anything

    Angela Grant at News Videographer has some fantastic tips for anyone who wants to improve their skills in shooting and editing video. If you’re tired of uploading shaky cell phone videos to YouTube, these pointers are for you.

    Angela was our online video guru at the San Antonio Express-News and she saved my butt when I was in Portland doing a story about light rail. I had a point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix with me that takes QuickTime video. My boss, David Sheppard, suggested I take some video of the rail system to show San Antonians what it’s like.

    Great idea. Just one problem:

    I had no idea how to take good video.


  • Stumpy’s story

    Stumpy the Zombie

    Meet Stumpy. This pale zombie was the subject of a video I shot during a daylong class at the San Antonio Express-News offered by Angela Grant, our online media producer.

    Angela gave us tips about how to shoot video. Then she sent us out to film whatever we wanted for a few hours. After that, we returned to the office and she showed us how to edit our clips using Final Cut Pro on a Macintosh.

    I love the power of the written word. But some of the best stories being told at my newspaper have never appeared in print.

    Thanks to Angela, the Express-News has produced interesting online videos that are essentially mini-documentaries. Most are about two minutes long. Unlike many annoying TV news broadcasts, the reporters don’t inject themselves in the middle of the story.

    Angela announced that she’s moving to Houston, which is great for her but bad for the newspaper. Angela helped us produce professional videos that anyone — not just journalists — can learn to make. Angela blogs about the finer points of videos at

    There’s a debate in newsrooms about whether online videos are worth it. Angela blogged about her frustrations with building a loyal audience — most of the paper’s videos don’t muster more than 1,000 web hits. I’ve wondered if this is because people are only interested in YouTube videos of laughing babies, or if it’s because we make it difficult for readers to find and share our videos. (Notice how my video in this blog isn’t actually embedded? That’s because our web site won’t let me.)

    I hope we figure it out. When they’re done right, online videos compliment news articles by showing readers information in a way that written words can’t.

    In August, the Express-News sent me to Portland, Ore., for a story about that city’s light-rail system. I shot some video while I was up there.

    The finished product won’t win any awards at Sundance. But the goal of the trip was to see what light rail is like in Portland, and share that information with readers in San Antonio, many of whom have never traveled on light rail.

    By that standard, I think the video worked. It showed people how a light-rail train looks and sounds, and it might help them decide if it makes sense for San Antonio.

    If it helped people make an informed decision, then the video served its purpose.

    Thanks Angela.