No one can deny the revolution that was started by Canon when it launched the 5D MkII. It certainly is a great stills camera but it was the quality of the video which stunned the world of video; everyone from the film student to the Hollywood studio.
There are some shortcomings of DSLRs for video though. The form factor being one. The image quality though is so stunning that most film makers are willing to make compromises in order to harness this unbelievable quality. To help overcome the form factor and make it easier to use the camera when handheld (or ‘run and gun’ to borrow a phrase by TV cameramen), several companies are making rigs to allow the camera to be held in a more conventional way, resembling the way a video camera is traditionally held. The two main companies making these rigs are Zacuto and Redrock Micro, with their ranges starting with minimalist hand held rigs, all the way to full on shoulder mounted and cinema rigs with follow focus units and balancing weights.
Part of the challenge for me was to find a rig that packed quite small yet gave maximum support. It needed to fit into my main work as a photojournalist yet feel at home on a short film set. After a lot of research and trying out equipment at trade shows, I had a long chat with Dave Beck at the Flash Centre and finally settled on the new Zacuto Striker as probably the ideal solution and a long term road test began in July.
Another shortcoming of these DSLRs is that the rear LCD screen is used when shooting video, making it awkward to check for focus on the fly or the checking of fine detail; these problems get even worse in bright conditions. The answer is to use a finder which attaches to the rear LCD. Zacuto are by far the leaders in this field. Their original Z-Finders required a frame to be stuck to the back of the camera and the finder attached to this. The new finders, the Z-Finder Jr and Z-Finder Pro, attach onto a frame which is held in place by a plate which screws into the tripod bush. I personally welcome this new adhesive free method as it overcomes many of the associated problems.
At £214.42 (inc VAT), the Z-Finder Jr is cheaper than the Z-Finder Pro which comes in x2.5 and x3 magnification versions, costing £326.75 (inc VAT). The main differences are the way the finder is held to the camera, with the Jr using a metal plate with a prong to clasp the eyepiece hood. This plate then needs either a tripod plate or a Gorilla Baseplate (not supplied) to attach itself to the camera. The Pro versions come with a Gorilla Baseplate which fits to the camera and then has two bushes for attaching the frame, with thumbscrews, to the back of the camera. The hood then snaps onto this frame. Whereas the Jr version is a more fiddly affair to attach and remove, the Pro versions simply snap on and off when needed. This is a huge feature in the field, especially when needing to switch to using the camera’s eyepiece for stills photography.
I found the Jr finder’s optics to be absolutely fine, but the Pro’s are better still and have a very neat focusing ring allowing you to tailor it perfectly to your eyesight. The Pro version also has an anti fogging eyepiece which is extremely useful.
I must admit that the first time I saw the prices for Zacuto gear I was shocked. On the face of it (forgetting R&D for a moment), these rigs are just bits of hollow piping with a few locking mounts, a plate, handles and so on. What becomes immediately apparent though is just how solid these locking mounts are. The last thing you need is for your camera gear to loosen and wobble around or at worst crash to the floor whilst filming. Having seen less well manufactured rigs, it became obvious why Zacuto charges the way it does; it’s an extremely well engineered product.
I took this kit onto the filmset for a short film by Samuela Memmo (Sten & Stef Films) which we shot over four solid days. The filming was indoors, with some outdoor work, balcony shots looking down and even some shots inside a cramped car. The four days certainly gave the gear a proper workout. Although the majority of the shots were locked on a Gitzo tripod, the Striker really helped me use a second camera and do additional footage which enriched the film.
I didn’t once find a need to tighten any of the mounting clamps and the Striker worked perfectly. I wasn’t as happy with the Z-Finder Jr which had a tendency to move around when placed down in between shots. This led me to swap it out for the Z-Finder Pro x2.5.
There have been reports about the x3 magnifying the screen a little too much to the point that one can see pixels; these reports helped me in my choice of the x2.5 version which works perfectly. The mounting method is so much better than the Jr and this point alone is worth the extra money.
The next full-on outing for the setup was a wedding I filmed along with legendary wedding photographer Jeff Ascough. The compact nature of the rig meant that we could work very quickly and cover the entire day without issue. Shots were rock solid and the gear allowed for smooth working.
On the Striker I changed the positioning of the downward handle, moving this from the side to directly under the camera; this makes things better balanced and even allows one handed operation.
The Canon 5D MkII opened my eyes to the possibilities of video; the Zacuto Striker and Z-Finder Pro have given me the ability to explore these possibilities even further. For any kind of hand held shooting, a rig is absolutely essential. My choice is definitely the Zacuto Striker.