A review of cheap generic clapperboard

[photo of clapperboard}
Slightly modified clapperboard

I've wanted to get a clapperboard for some time, but never got around to it.  I've been doing picture to sound syncing, over and over, without needing one, for many years.  It would have been a useful convenience, but with a lot of our filming work, there wouldn't have been a chance to insert a clapperboard before you started filming something, anyway.  And when filming live work, that's filmed in sequence, and can only be shot in one take, there's not a great deal of need for a slate, either.

There's a number of clapperboards very similar to this one being sold on ebay, at the moment (2012/2013).  They're a generic thing, with no obvious identification of where they're actually made.  If you can buy one for around $20, they're reasonably okay.  However, there's a number of objectionable things about them, and I'd be very cautious before buying any of the more expensive ones.

The build

The hinge section is two plastic plates, either side of the slate; there's hex screws, on both side, that screw into a threaded sleeve that passes through the sticks, with washers between the sleeves and the plates.  The holes in the plate are bigger than the screws passing through them, giving you some range of movement, for adjusting things.  Or from another point of view, it's sloppy.  And the screws on the moving stick, the top one, kept on undoing themselves.

The sticks are wooden (it looks like MDF), painted black on all surfaces, with inadequate white stripes painted on one side (they don't go all the way through to the edge, and the paint comes off too easily).  Some variations on this model have stripes on both sides of the sticks, sometimes coloured on one side, black and white on the other.  There's magnets embedded in the end of the sticks, which aren't really needed for clapping, though will help with end slates, and should stop the sticks flopping about during transport, but would be a worry for anybody still using magnetic media (tapes or hard drives).

The slate is glued into a slot running through the bottom of one of the sticks.  The markings on the slate are simply printed on top of the plastic, despite the advertisement saying they were engraved.

Firstly, the pros

It's cheapish, and saves you from building your own.  The slate is translucent white plastic that could be backlit, and this one does leave you a reasonable amount of writing space on the slate.  It's lightweight, general purpose, and you can easily modify it without wrecking it.

Then there's the cons

There's a gap between the sticks, and the white stripes don't go all the way to the edge of the sticks, making it harder to see when they've closed, properly.  This is a fundamental error with most of the clapperboards I've seen on ebay, and I just don't see how they can get that part of the design so wrong.  The point of the black and white stripes is so that you can see them touch together, when the sticks are fully closed, under any lighting conditions.  You can fix that up, but you shouldn't have to.  The gap can be adjusted, but you'd need to round off the edge of the stick within the hinge, so that it doesn't rub against the other stick as you raise the upper stick, forcing the two of them apart, creating that annoying gap.  You can see the first set of the original white stripes, near the hinge, with a very large gap between them.  I've put white tape over the rest of them, that reaches all the way to the edges of the sticks, as a simple improvement towards eliminating the huge gap between them.  Later, I'll repaint them, as a more permanent solution.

There are other clapperboards with colours on some of the stripes, but I suspect that they're not standardised colours (ones that you could actually rely on as part of colour tests and adjustments), looking at some of the examples I saw on ebay (they had some odd colousr).  So, I'd avoid them, unless you knew they were proper colour test strips, and put some standard colour test chips somewhere on the clapperboard, yourself.  Or, just some simple red, green, and blue, sticky tape would be good enough to quickly check for PAL or NTSC encoded video phase errors, or for component video cabling errors, and use a proper test chart for your colour correcting.

The sticks are just crudely glued onto the acrylic, and after about a year, or so, fell off.  And that's not through excessive use, either.  It's actually had very little use, and has spent most of its life sitting around in the edit suite.  It'd be easy enough to glue them back on, though.  But I've left them off, I rarely need a slate, and just the sticks alone are a useful tool.  Not to mention being a small tool to tout around.

The slate is quite thin, and ordinary plastic, so I don't know how robust it will be; though a sheet of plastic ought to be very easily replaceable if you weren't going to simply get a new clapperboard, if you broke it.  The edges of it are annoyingly sharp.  Not dangerously, but it'd annoy you after using the slate for the day.  Again, that's something that you can easily sort out yourself, with a file or sandpaper, but you really shouldn't have to fix up brand new products.

This particular slate was advertised as having engraved lettering for longevity, but it's not engraved.  It's just simple printing on top of the plastic.  It'll flake off, eventually.  That's not too much of a worry on a cheap slate, that will probably wear out in another way, first, but I'm sick of false advertising.  Thankfully it's not plastered with too much useless text, wasting space that you might want to use for writing on, yourself.  In the end, I deliberately rubbed off most of the stuff on the lower right.  I don't need most of it for video shoots, it's easy enough to put the same information on with texta or tape, and do it in a way that wastes less space on the slate, so I can add one or more two things that might be useful to me.  So the lack of engraving was a blessing, in my case.

If I were being really picky about the preprinted writing on the slate, I'd point out that there's a few things that stick out as bad printing:  The abbreviated “production title” label has a full-stop after it, rather than a colon, yet some of the other labels have a colon, and the colon after “camera” has slipped down from where it ought to be.  That's untidy, and no punctuation is really needed, here, anyway, so I've rubbed off all of the punctuation.  The dot between “day” and “night” makes no sense.  There's three either/or selections in that spot, none of the others has any punctuation between them, where there could be (it doesn't say “day/night,” “int/ext,” and “MOS/sync”).  And the positioning of the words “director” and “camera,” within the box they both occupy, is unbalanced.  It all looks like someone without any clue about clapperboards saw a bad photo of one, and crudely threw together some words to be printed on it.

In summary

I'd describe them as being a toy or souvenir clapperboard, that is usable as a real one.  A couple of simple modifications would have made a tangible improvement, without having to make it significantly more expensive:  Slightly more rounding of the sticks inside the hinge, and painting the stripes all the way to the edges.  Rounding off the edges of the slate, using thicker acryrlic, and actually engraving the text, could improve it, even more, though would increase the cost, a bit.

It's certainly good enough for amateur productions that would like to record a slate for ease of identifying shots and takes, and record a clap to make sound syncing easier.  It may be good enough for prolonged use with professional work, but it may wear out too quickly for your liking.  I suppose you could buy a new one for each job, and give the client the clapperboard at the end of the shoot, as a keepsake.  For $20, it's not too bad, and even basic professional ones are a lot more expensive than this.

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