By technical editor Matt Allard:
As a news and documentary shooter, the camera lives on my shoulder a lot of the time. So I’m excited to see the new products Zacuto have just given Newsshooter the low-down on.
Most large sensor video cameras are designed in a way that leaves a lot to be desired for hand-held shooting. They are usually unbalanced and don’t make proper provision for shoulder mounting.
Only the Arri Amira, with its adjustable shoulder pad, has a design that actually works. Sony comes close with the F5/55 but none of the current third party shoulder rig designs are truly comfortable and balanced on my shoulder. A poorly balanced system does not handle so well and can cause early fatigue. In extreme cases, it may even cause injury over time. There is a reason the ENG cameras were designed the way they were.
There is also a serious lack of high quality electronic viewfinders (EVFs) on the market. My OLED EVF for the F55 is spectacular but I can only use it on that camera or its sister F5. I’ve got so used to the resolution and clarity that I really struggle going back to lower quality EVFs to with other cameras I use. For me it would be far better to have one high quality EVF that works on all cameras and has a degree of future-proofing should I change system.
The other gaping hole in the market is for cine style lenses that feature a zoom rocker. There are the Fujinon Cabrio lenses which have an ENG-style servo grip – but they come at a very steep price and each lens in the range has its own servo. There is currently no option on the market that can be swapped between various lenses. With large sensor cameras like the Amira, F5/55 and the new Panasonic 4K Varicam being pitched by makers to broadcasters as dual purpose ENG/Cine look solutions, there is a huge need for servo zoom control.
Zacuto has been paying attention and its new products address all the needs I’ve just listed above. We’ve been given early access to information on the new line-up, so here it is:
The VCT Universal baseplate:
The new Zacuto VCT-14 base plate and shoulder pad system is exactly what a lot of news and documentary shooters have been looking for. The Sony VCT-style locking system is widely used by broadcast shooters all over the world. Strangely there are very few third party VCT-14 compatible shoulder mounts out there – only Movcam and Shape to my knowledge. Unlike the others, the Zacuto sversion incorporates a sliding dovetail on top of the VCT plate so you can rapidly position the camera for perfect balance. Just release a lever and slide the plate forward or back to adjust the weight distribution. This is very important when changing lenses or camera configurations as your centre of balance will always change.
Also important, the baseplate tries to keep the camera as low down as possible on the shoulder – a lower centre of gravity meaning greater stability. The baseplate is only 1.4 inches from camera base to shoulder.
The system features light weight 15mm rods which are height adjustable. Most baseplates are camera specific, but Zacuto has made this one universal so it can be moved from camera to camera. This can save you the cost of buying multiple plates for every camera you own, or buy in the future. It also features a 4″ low profile soft gel shoulder pad. If it is anything like the one of the Recoil system then it will be very comfortable. Arri style rosettes can be added to the baseplate if you have accessories that mount that way.
The Gratical EVF:
Solving another problem is Zacuto’s new range of OLED EVFs, which Newsshooter previously reported on.
The Gratical EVF will come in two flavours both using new micro-OLED technology. The more expensive Gratical HD offers a 1280×1024 pixel resolution (which can display a 1280×720 HD image in 16×9 and additional info on top and bottom of the display). The lower cost Gratical LT offers 1024×768 pixel resolution (which displays a 1024×576 image in 16×9 with additional info).
Pixel-to-pixel focus checking, waveform, vectorscope, histogram, peaking, zebras and false colour are all offered. Audio meters are also included and the ability to load and create custom Lookup tables (LUTs). These give the operator a gamma adjusted version of the image, that makes it easier to focus and view when shooting in Log or RAW modes.
To ensure there is virtually no image lag Zacuto have opted for a FPGA dual-core processor. Older EVFs can have a several frame delay which can be extremely annoying. The optics in the EVF have a built in -1 to +4 adjustment range and Zacuto’s anti-fog coating.
Custom cables will be available for a range of cameras such as the Sony F55, Alexa, Red Epic/Scarlet and Canon C300/500. These will plug directly into the camera’s dedicated viewfinder ports and display the same info as the manufacturer’s native display would. On a Canon C300 for instance this means you should be able to engage the camera’s own focus magnification function using the button on the control grip. There are HD-SDI and HDMI in and out options as well, with a facility to cross convert between the two if needed for wireless transmission or additional monitors on set.
Having a high quality option that can be swapped between all the different cameras is a fantastic. Most people overlook the EVF or viewfinder, but for me it’s one of the most important pieces of kit I own. Think about it: it’s how you perceive and view everything you shoot. Would you buy a cheap pair of glasses at a gas station or prescription glasses from an optometrist? Sure, both will work, but I certainly wouldn’t be trusting my eyes with gas station glasses. EVFs are the same. Up until now just about ever third party EVF has been a real compromise. Most are based on screens designed for smartphones. We haven’t had a chance to use the Gratical HD yet, but on paper it looks to meet a lot of my requirements.
This is not going to be a cheap EVF, but if Zacuto’s quality rivals or beats the almost $5000 US Sony DVF-EL100 OLED EVF then it will be a serious contender. A high quality EVF is worth its weight in gold.
The Control grip and Z-motor:
The last new product we have details on is the Zacuto Control grip and servo zoom motor. This is another product Dan previously reported on and I’m very excited about it. There are a lot of times where I would kill for a servo zoom.
The system is in two parts, control grip and motor unit. The grip runs off a single Canon LP-E6 battery or an optional power tap adapter. There are two seven pin Lemo connectors which can be hooked up to two separate motors – one for zoom and one for iris. The is also a ten pin Lemo connector that allows camera control using dedicated cables. In the grip there is a Microprocessor controlled unit that is software upgradable. In addition to a start/stop trigger there are five programmable buttons and a full menu control joystick (similar to the one on the Canon C300 handgrip)
The motor is compact in design and mounts to 15mm rods (19mm rod adapter optional). It is said to be powerful enough to drive all standard cine lenses. There are three different torque settings per motor.
I’m lucky because I already have a couple of large sensor Sony Servo zooms that work with my Sony FS700 or F3. The compromise is that these lenses are not optically as good as Cine glass or even some pro stills lenses (although many of the latter are not parfocal and so don’t hold focus through the range). I want the ability to put a servo zoom control on a quality zoom lens such as the Zeiss 28-80mm or 70-200mm Cine Zooms (which I’ve been using this week). The Fujinon Cabrios are way out of my price range. Putting the Zacuto system on a Zeiss Compact zoom comes out much cheaper and I can use it in on any zoom lens that has cine gears.
It is also mountable anywhere, so you are not limited to having the servo zoom control right on the lens itself like an ENG lens or Cabrio. Having the grip right on the lens works well for broadcast cameras, but with the modern crop of digital cinema cameras with smaller lenses this would mean placing your hand and arm in an awkward position.
Even a Fujinon Cabrio on a F55 is not well balanced unless you load up the rear of the camera with accessories for weight. The servo zoom and lens placement just isn’t far enough forward to be comfortable for me. Zacuto has identified this problem and thought carefully about how to solve it. Kudos to them.
I look forward to checking out these products at NAB and I think they will meet the needs of a lot of higher end news and documentary shooters.
Full disclosure: Newsshooter is an affiliate partner of Zacuto