7 Great Camera Rigs for Different Gigs
JULY 28, 2014
By Dan Havlik
Yes, your camera can shoot high-def video (or even 4K). No, you can’t simply hit the record button and expect to get professional-looking results. In particular, that high-resolution footage is going to look extremely shaky if you plan to handhold your HD-DSLR for more than just a few seconds. To capture crisp, steady clips, you’ll need to attach your camera to a rig or stabilizer. Rigs have come a long way from those clumsy, cumbersome setups of just a few years ago. Here are our current favorites for a range of cameras and assignments.
Freefly MoVI M5 and MoVI Ring
Freefly Systems responded to criticism that its gyro-based MoVI M10 camera stabilizer was too expensive ($14,995) by releasing the slightly stripped down and less expensive MoVI 5 ($4,995) at the NAB trade show this year. The lowerpriced M5 also seems to be responding to some of the cheaper, MoVI knockoffs that have hit the market in the last few months. The M5 uses the same 3-axis digital stabilizer as the M10, but it can only support a 5-pound payload and is designed for smaller cameras, including the Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D800, Panasonic GH4 and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. The 4.75-pound M5 employs Freefly’s proprietary software and brushless direct drive system to stabilize footage even in challenging shooting environments. It can be run by a single operator in the M5’s Majestic Mode or with a second operator, who wirelessly controls the framing of the shot with an optional radio controller. At NAB, Freefly also showed off the MoVI Ring (pictured above), a carbon fiber, hoop-shaped handle for the MoVI that provides multiple places to hold on to the stabilizer. The Ring is also designed to easily hand off a MoVI from one operator to another during a complex sequence, such as when passing the rig through a window.
Price: MoVI M5, $4,995; MoVI Ring, TBD
Freefly’s original MoVI M10 caused such a stir last year that there were bound to be imitators. One of the more interesting MoVI-like rigs is the DJI Ronin Handheld Gimbal System, which is smaller and less expensive than the original device. The DJI brand name might sound familiar because it’s the same company that makes the popular Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter imaging drone, which we review in this issue. Since brushless gimbal systems are often used in flying drones to keep cameras steady, it’s not surprising to see DJI branch out with this type of rig, which is based around the company’s 3-axis stabilized Zenmuse technology used in some of its copters. The Ronin will support a range of cameras and lenses from small, mirrorless Micro Four Thirds shooters to big Red Epic-sized models. Setup is simple and most photographers should be able to put it together and get it balanced in five minutes using the rig’s tool-less adjustment system. Features include Smoothtrack Control, which gives a single camera operator the ability to turn rapid tilting and panning into smooth, stabilized movements. If you want to split up the duties, an included remote control lets a second operator wirelessly pan and tilt the Ronin as the first operator physically moves the device around for a shot. An Upright Mode lets you flip the gimbal over so you can bring the camera closer to eye level for a different perspective on a scene.
The Ghost from SIC Visuals is another MoVI knock-off, but it’s one of the smallest and least expensive brushless gimbal rigs on the market. It was launched as a Kickstarter project by filmmaker Jesse Spaulding and quickly met its goal. Like other models in this burgeoning category, The Ghost is a 3-axis camera stabilizer, but it’s designed to support smaller cameras, including DSLRs, Micro Four Thirds models, Blackmagic cameras and small camcorders. The Ghost is made from carbon fiber and weighs just 39 ounces, and this model can support cameras of up to 5 pounds (a new model was on the way as of press time). The reported battery life in this motorized rig is impressive: 2.5 hours of runtime on a full charge. You can purchase The Ghost with a pre-programmed mode switch, which lets you choose between several different modes, including a Lock mode, where the camera stays in a fixed position; a Follow mode for tracking movements; and a Set Tilt Angles By Hand mode, for getting artsy, canted shots. The Ghost can be programmed to operate either by joystick or remote control.
Price: $2,495 (pre-assembled); $1,995 (unassembled kit)
If you’re looking for a twin-grip camera stabilizing system but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on gyro-based digital stabilizers like the MoVI, Comodo makes a solid, handheld rig called the Orbit. Unlike some competing devices, the Comodo doesn’t use any weights, motors, or batteries to operate and balance. What you see is basically what you get, so setup is a snap. Just mount your camera, the Comodo can take up to an 11-pound payload, on the center support of the 4.4-pound rig and adjust as needed to get the right balance. (There’s a video on the Comodo website to help you correctly balance your camera.) Having two foam grips on the Orbit versus one on some competing, stripped-down rigs not only helps reduce arm fatigue; it also makes it easier to pass the stabilizer to another operator to create a seamless shot, such as when moving through windows, doorways, or other tight spaces.
Tiffen Steadicam Solo
A venerable name in stabilizers released its first DSLR-specific product at NAB: the Steadicam Solo. The device’s tall, monopod-like design looks similar to one of the company’s rivals, the lower-cost Glidecam (which is an interesting twist, considering that Glidecam has been knocked for imitating Steadicam in the past). While it may not win any originality contests, the Steadicam Solo is a simple, reliable and surprisingly versatile device. It can support a 10-pound payload (which means a basic DSLR setup but probably nothing as big as a Red) and can be used three ways: as a handheld, 3-axis gimbal stabilizer; as an adjustable monopod; or with a traditional arm and vest setup (as an option) that will allow you to hold your camera steady for longer periods of time. The Solo comes equipped with a foam handle and grips along the shaft, which let you adjust the four-section telescopic post. There’s also a quick-release camera mounting plate, push-on lock, push-button release, positioning clamping and a dual knob for fore-aft verniers adjustment. Cameras attach to the top of the Solo via standard 1/4-20 and 3/8-16 mounts.
Price: $499 (base); $1,500 (with arm and vest)
Redrock Micro Retroflex
Redrock Micro’s Retroflex rig may have a throwback look, but it serves a very modern purpose. The Retroflex is designed to stabilize the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, the RAW-video shooting compact model I reviewed in the May issue of PDN. The Retroflex is functional and also adds an old-school style to the Pocket Cinema Camera that’s reminiscent of the Super 8 days. With the cult popularity of the Digital Bolex, it’s no wonder Redrock Micro has gone retro with this small, gun-style rig. There are three pieces to the Retroflex: a pistol grip with a run/stop button at your fingertip, the throwback style (fake wood!) viewfinder with the loupe and the protective cage that wraps around the camera. All the modules attach easily to the Pocket Cinema camera, with the grip screwing into the base of the camera and the loupe connecting magnetically to the back of the LCD. Along with offering protection, the cage gives you additional mounting and cold shoe options, while keeping the camera’s doors, cables and functions accessible. If you own a Pocket Cinema Camera, this rig not only looks cool, it keeps your shots steady.
I reviewed the Zacuto Marauder in the May issue of PDN and loved its foldable design, which makes it a highly portable, run-and-gun-style camera rig. While a folded-up Marauder isn’t small enough to fit in your back pocket, as Zacuto claims, it’s quite compact and will easily slide into most camera bags, even when not folded. The 2.3-pound aluminum rig comes with Zacuto’s Gorilla Plate, which you screw to the bottom of your camera’s tripod mount and attach to the Marauder. The rig has a basic “gunstock” brace design and an adjustable handgrip, giving you multiple points of contact. Just put the gunstock to your chest and place one hand on the grip and the other on the camera to create a steady, stabilized fit. And that’s pretty much it for the Marauder, which is designed for use with anything from a lightweight, mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera to a tricked out digital SLR system with a professional zoom lens attached. One thing you should know about using this rig with a heavy camera setup, though: since it has only one handgrip and no balancing weight, it’s not designed for long, sustained shoots. Guerrilla filmmakers, however, will dig the Marauder’s portable and unobtrusive design.
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