July 01, 2011 — The fact that HDSLRs are primarily designed for still photography is never more evident than when you begin to use the camera for motion capture. Good camera handling, which has always been essential for producing stills, takes on a whole new level of importance when it comes to video.
This has resulted in a whole new industry of camera rigs, which help provide stability as well as precise manual focus. The disadvantage of many of these systems is both their expense and the complexity of their configurations, especially with respect to the gear systems required to manually control the focus rings of the attached lenses. Their adaptability and precision are definitely an advantage. However, for photographers, for whom portability and speed are important, such systems do have their disadvantages.
iDC’s System Zero rig system offers a low-profile alternative that provides both stability and effective focusing capability. Designed by the company’s founder, photojournalist and cinematographer Bruce Dorn, the new design builds on the strengths of the company’s original Run & Gun System.
Where the original design was camera specific, making it unusable with a different camera body, the new design now only requires a camera-specific baseplate to which its various accessories can be attached. The pin-registered baseplate attaches securely using the camera’s tripod socket with a supplied Allen wrench. The baseplate can accommodate a modified Hoodman 3.0 finder or a Zacuto Z-finder, and can be secured using large red knurled knobs.
A rail that contains a series of dovetail slots is attached on the baseplate. The standard rail provided four dovetail grooves that allow for the use of the gearless focusing system, which is at the heart of the system’s unique design. Rather than using gears, the system is based on friction. A knurled focusing knob gently positioned against the lens focusing ring provides the ability to rack focus smoothly and precisely.
The simple, but effective design, makes switching lenses and the rig’s configuration both quick and easy. The increase to four slots from the original three, and the ability to make fine adjustment of the rail makes it compatible with a wider range of lenses than the original Run & Gun.
The ability to quickly configure the system using different lenses was greatly appreciated during a recent shoot where we used the Canon 60D and various lenses. In a matter of a few minutes, and with nothing more than the supplied Allen wrench, we were able to change the camera’s configuration, which was especially important because of the limited time we had with the subject.
If there had been any concerns with the precision of the friction-based focusing mechanism, they were quickly swept aside when we reviewed the resulting footage on the camera’s LCD and later on the computer screen. The magnification provided by the Zacuto Z-finder (not included) and the smooth action provided by the rig’s focusing wheel made it possible to achieve critical focus and produce shots when the lens was being wracked smoothly in and out of focus.
Its standard configuration is compatible with most fixed focal lengths and moderate zoom lenses, while a longer rail is also available to accommodate longer lenses such as the 70–200mm f/2.8.
The system is handled by holding the camera body with the right hand, while the left handles the focusing knob. When the finder is pressed against the eye, the rig provides three-points of contact that help improve the camera’s stability and prevent camera shake.
For photographers who desire greater options to accommodate additional accessories such as a monitor, shotgun mic or digital recorder, the base system can be configured with a wide selection of other affordable additions.
Having the ability to store the unit’s various components in the pockets of my existing camera bag, rather than another secondary bag was a definite plus for those times when I am working alone and traveling. With greater weight and baggage restrictions being imposed by the airlines, a camera rig that starts at a weight of only 17.4 ounces is an obvious advantage.
My production team and I were very pleased that we were able to configure and use the system within a very short time of receiving it. As many our productions involve limited time and access, the ability to work quickly served both our productions and our bottom line.
The system is ideally suited for wedding photographers and photojournalists, but it’s also a viable and affordable option for photographers interested in making motion capture a part of their repertoire.
The base kit which is currently available for the Canon 5D Mark II, 7D, 60D, and the Nikon D7000 is available at a base price of $399 without the modified Hoodman Loupe (which is available for an additional $130). Unfortunately, if you already own a Hoodman Loupe, it lacks the attachment assembly necessary to securely attach the eyepiece to the camera.
You can find out more about this and other IDC Photo and Video products by visiting their Web site at www.idc
Ibarionex Perello is a photographer, writer and educator and the author of Chasing the Light: Improving Your Photography Using Available Light from Peachpit Press. He is also the host and producer of The Candid Frame (www.thecandidframe.com), a bi-weekly interview show that features conversation with established and emerging photographers.