What became immediately apparent is just how solid the Striker’s locking mounts are.
HD-DSLR rigs come big and small. Edmond Terakopian looks for the ideal balance when he roads tests Zacuto’s accessories.
Author: Edmond Terakopian
05 Jan 2011 Tags: Photo accessories
The Canon EOS 5D MK II opened my eyes to a new revolution in filmmaking, putting high-quality video with shallow depth-of-field into the hands of photographers and Hollywood studios alike, both of whom have been experimenting with the compact form and access to a wide array of quality lenses this affordable convergence technology allows.
There are some obvious shortcomings to shooting video on HD-DSLRs, however, and form factor is a major one. Although many filmmakers are willing to compromise to make the most of their small size, affordability and, perhaps most important, the filmic qualities achieved with the huge DSLR sensor chips, there’s a growing market for accessory rigs that make it easier to use the camera handheld, replicating the form of conventional video cameras.
Redrock Micro and Zacuto are ahead of the game in pioneering these rigs, producing devices that range from minimalist handheld accessories all the way up to full-on, shoulder-mounted cinema rigs with follow focus units and balancing weights.
As I began to get more serious about HD-DSLR filmmaking, the challenge was to find a rig that packed quite small, yet gave maximum support. I needed something compact I could take on assignments as a photojournalist alongside my stills kit, but that would also be suitable as a standalone system for short films.
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. A long-term road test began in July.
Another shortcoming of DSLRs is that the rear LCD screen isn’t ideal for checking focus or exposure on the fly, especially in bright conditions. One answer is to use a finder that attaches to the rear screen, and Zacuto is the leader in this field.
Its original Z-Finders required a frame to be stuck to the back of the camera and the finder attached to this. The new versions, the Z-Finder Jr and Pro, attach onto a frame that is held in place by a plate that screws into the tripod bush. I personally welcome this new adhesive-free method, as it overcomes many of the associated problems.
At £220.18, the Z-Finder Jr is cheaper than the Pro, which comes in ×2.5 and ×3 magnification versions, by £108.02 (both prices including 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 to attach itself to the camera. The Pro version come with this 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 simply snaps on and off when needed. This is a huge benefit in the field, especially when you regularly need 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 they have a very neat focusing ring, allowing you to tailor it perfectly to your eyesight. The Pro version also has an anti-fogging eyepiece.
I must admit to being shocked by the prices for Zacuto gear at first. On the face of it, these rigs are just bits of hollow piping with a few locking mounts, plates and handles.
But what becomes immediately apparent is just how solid these locking mounts are. The last thing you need is for your camera gear to loosen and wobble, or worse, crash to the floor while filming. Having seen many lesser-made rigs, I’ve come to appreciate the difference – the Zacuto rigs are extremely well-engineered.
I took the Zacuto Striker onto the set of a short film by Samuela Memmo (Sten & Stef Films), which we shot over four solid days. The filming was mostly indoors, with some outdoor work, including balcony shots looking downwards and some captured 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 that 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 ×2.5, using this instead of the ×3 version after reading reports that it magnifies images a little too much to the point where you can see pixels. The mounting method is so much better than the Jr, and this alone is worth the extra money.
The next outing for the setup was a wedding I filmed alongside the legendary 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 operation, especially after I changed the positioning of the downward handle on the Striker, moving it from the side to directly under the camera, which makes it better balanced and even allows one-handed operation.
The 5D Mk II opened my eyes to the possibilities of video, and the Zacuto accessories have allowed me to explore them further.
Most Popular Articles
Updating your subscription status
We have a vacancy for a Key Account Manager working on The British Journal of Photography
Magnet Harlequin, one of the UK's leading Creative Production Agencies is seeking a new Head of Photography.
We have opportunities for two experienced photographic, audio or video technicians.