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Zacuto ACT Recoil System Review

Zacuto went back to the design table and made some changes to its popular VCT Recoil system to be more mirrorless and DSLR friendly, especially when using one of the Zacuto camera cages. Not to say that the new ACT baseplate is a lightweight because it definitely is not. The new Zacuto ACT Recoil system can be configured with all new ACT Recoil components to build a shoulder rig with the least amount of parts possible. I do feel Zacuto achieved this very well.

The ACT recoil kits are primarily designed to shoot handheld with the camera properly balanced. One big difference in the baseplate is it’s no longer using the ENG style VCT tripod plate for mounting to the fluid head. Instead, it’s all working around the Arca-Swiss quick release system from mounting the camera to the baseplate to mounting to a tripod.

I can’t stress how important it is to have a balanced rig on your shoulder. It’s hard to hold a camera that is front heavy and not balanced. It makes getting steady shots near impossible. Not only that, but the stress on your body when a camera is either front or back heavy is just plain dangerous on your back and shoulder. I have lots to share, so let’s break this down for each individual ACT Recoil component.

ACT Baseplate doesn’t replace the VTC

Zacuto ACT Baseplate

The ACT Baseplate is a fresh design that builds off the VCT baseplate; however, it doesn’t use the ENG style VCT mounting system, so a $300 VCT plate on the tripod is not needed. In its place are the Acra/Swiss type plate and clamp systems. For me, this is a good thing as I live in the Arca-Swiss ecosystem with all my cameras and tripods. This makes it very simple to go from the ACT rig to just a simple camera on my tripod. Quick note. The Zacuto cages also have Arca-Swiss plates already attached, so no need to add a plate to them.

Zacuto ACT Baseplate gel pad

The ACT Baseplate is very solid, just like the VCT model. It does lack additional mounting points on the baseplate; however, I see three small taps on the side that is probably for another accessory like an ARRI rosette? The shoulder pad is a soft but firm gel. It feels good on the shoulder, and no metal from the ACT baseplate is on your shoulder.

On the front is a vertically adjustable 15mm rail mount, and on the back, there are also two 15mm rod mounting points for kit or counterweight. The ACT baseplate only comes with a set of 8″ rods. You will need a second set for the back to balance the rig properly. The ACT Baseplate retails for $495.00 US

Working with Manfrotto QR Systems

I know a lot of shooters have the Manfrotto QR system, while this option isn’t as simple for you a Manfrotto QR clamp can be attached to the Arca/Swiss plate on the Act Baseplate and the Zacuto camera cage; however, I feel that isn’t ideal as you would be adding a plate on top of the ACT Baseplate making it taller. In this case, it makes more sense to stick with the Arca-Swiss setup.

ACT Recoil Systems Main Features

  • Arca-Swiss compatible 
  • Compatible with ALL Mirrorless and DSLR cameras
  • Quick and easy to configure in various unique shooting styles 
  • Ready-to-shoot/out-of-the-box rigs with an EVF 
  • Universal rig plus ready-to-shoot options with Zacuto camera-specific cages for:
    • Sony A7RIV
    • Panasonic S1H
    • Z CAM E2 Series
    • Blackmagic Pocket 4k/6k
    • Fuji X-T3
    • Nikon Z6/Z7

The ACT baseplate is hefty and very solid, with plenty of adjustability for different cameras. It’s essential to be able to get the camera in the right position, and the ability to position the camera practically the full length of the baseplate is very nice.

Zacuto ACT Baseplate Arca Swiss

The camera with an Arca-Swiss plate slides in from the back of the ACT Baseplate. There is a safety catch to prevent the camera from sliding off accidentally. The camera locks in place with a lockdown from the rear of the baseplate. The design is a good one. Instead of clamping from the side, it clamps from underneath. This works very well to secure the camera in any position on the ACT baseplate.

Zacuto Camera Cage

Zacuto XT 3 Cage

My primary mirrorless camera is the X-T3, and Zacuto has a cage that was released a bit ago for it and several other cameras. Like I mentioned earlier, all the cages that are compatible with the ACT system all have an included Arca-Swiss plate attached. Other cages might fit so it will be trial and error.

The camera is mounted in the cage from the main tripod socket on the bottom of the X-T3 and also uses one of the camera strap mounts with the small strap mount removed. With both points locked down the camera is nice and secure with no movement. The cage is light and has an included hand strap. On the right side, the grip is enlarged with metal. This is a good thing as the X-T3 is a small camera, and holding it with the extra grip is pretty great.

On the same side of the cage as the camera inputs is a NATO rail that is peppered with 1/4 20″ taps. No safety stops on the rail mount. The Tactical Handle sides the full length of the NATO rail.

On top of the cage is more 1/4 20″ taps but no ARRI accessory mounting points. In the middle is a NATO rail perfect for mounting accessories or a handle like the new Tactical Handle that will also hold the Axis Micro and ACT EVF Pro. On the other side is a cold shoe mount.

One issue is the dial to change the video to stills is slightly obstructed so it takes a little work to switch modes.

HDMI Clamp

HDMI Clamp

A nice included feature is the HDMI clamp. It’s simple and locks down tight on the included angled micro to full HDMI adapter. The clamp is only compatible with full-sized HDMI connectors. When a micro HDMI cable is used the clamp doesn’t get small enough to secure. For me, this isn’t an issue since I use micro to full adapters on my camera. Another issue when using the clamp with full-size HDMI connectors is the USB-C port is blocked. This makes powering the camera with an external battery impossible.

I like the cage as it’s light and has plenty of mounting options. I am a little disappointed in the HDMI clamp as the X-T3 has a micro HMDI port, and the clamp should be compatible with it. The HDMI clamp looks to be removable, so hopefully, it can be updated for a micro connector. The included angled HDMI adapter does solve the problem for the most part. The X-T3 Cage retails for $295.00 US.

Tactical Handle

Zacuto ACT Tacticle Handle

In order to mount the EVF, you need a way to get it on the rig. The new Zacuto Tactical Handle ($250.00 US) is designed to work with both the Zacuto cages and the Axis Micro.

I have to say I like this new handle a lot. It’s not bulky and has plenty of mounting options for other pieces of kit. The grip is made of wood and has a nice feel in the hand. On top, you have several 1/4 20″ taps and two 3/8″ ARRI accessory mounts. I love these! They have the two pins on each side of the screw to prevent twisting. I’m thrilled to see more hardware include these great mounting points. The entire top of the handle is a NATO mount. This also is a very nice option for people that have invested in NATO clamp hardware.

On one end are two cold shoe positions and a 15mm rail mount that is perfect for mounting the Axis Micro.

Zacuto ACT Tacticle Handle on side

The handle mounts to the Zacuto cage with a secure NATO clamp. This can be rotated 360 degrees on the handle for different options. When rotating every 90 degrees is a soft stop so you know when it’s level. You can tighten it down in any position you desire. The Tactical Handle an also be used as a side handle due to the adjustability. Plus the Zacuto cage left side is a full-length NATO rail. The clamp isn’t removable. Therefore you need to use a NATO rail to mount it outside of the ACT Rig ecosystem.

Trigger Grip

Zacuto ACT Recoil Trigger Grip

The new Trigger Grip comes in left and right versions. With the kit, you get a right Trigger Grip. They use the same lever design as the Wooden Handle that is very easy to use to make adjustments. Push the lever, and the arm unlocks and can be rotated 360 degrees. Let go and it locks in place. It makes getting the arm in a good position or out of the way simple without fumbling with a locking thumbscrew.

One downside is the Trigger Grip can’t be extended or the grip portions angle be changed similar to the Wooden Grip. The Trigger Grip retails for $300.00 US.

Axis Micro

Zacuto Axis Micro

The Axis Micro is a bargain at only $150.00 US. It’s a simple very lightweight mounting solution for the ACT EVF Pro but I could also see it being used with the Gratical line of EVF’s as well. The mounting knob on the male rosette is nice and big, so you can get a good hold of it. No ratcheting thumbscrew here. It has a fairly short range of 3-inches, but if you find you need more, then swing it around, and you get another 3″ of adjustment. This mount is a winner!

Axis Curve

Zacuto ACT Recoil Axis Curve

Zacuto got creative with this one. If you don’t want to rock a cage, then go Axis Curve. The Axis Curve mounts to the inner 15mm rod on the ACT Baseplate and puts the EVF in the right position without blocking the lens. This is due to the curve design. Plus it has another adjustment point to get the EVF in the proper position. This is an excellent option for cageless setups. The Axis Curve retails for $275.00

ACT EVF Pro

Zacuto ACT EVF Pro 2

It’s good to see a more affordable EVF option as most are very expensive and for many out of reach. Zacuto decided to include the ACT EVF Pro for free when you purchase the full or cageless ACT recoil kits.

The new ACT EVF Pro is also available a la carte for $499 and while that still is an investment it’s less than a quarter of the price of the Graticle HD that retails for $2,450 US.

Build Quality

The ACT EVF Pro reminds me of the original Zacuto Z-finder EVF Pro that was released nine years ago. However, the build isn’t as good. The original was designed to take a beating. I remember the drop test from on top of a ladder and the guys kicking it around the shop. Well, this one won’t take a good ole Zacuto beating. Not to say the build is bad on the new ACT EVF Pro. It’s designed more for value and being lightweight plus it’s free with the full and cageless kits. The original Z-finder EVF Pro retailed for $1000. The ACT EVF Pro retails for $499. If you need an EVF that can take a beating look no further than the Graticle lineup.

The body is all plastic with simple buttons and a power switch. The EVF is powered by a included single Canon type LP-E6 battery. An AC port is located on the side however I don’t feel it’s usable as the mount for the Axis Curve is in the way.

Rosette Mount

Zacuto ACT EVF Pro mount

The fluid saucy rosette mounting system on the ACT EVF Pro is very slick. I think this might be the best fluid locking tilting mechanism I’ve ever used. It’s so fluid and smooth. Holds in place and is adjustable. Impressive. It uses a standard ARRI rosette with 1/4 20″ female tap for mounting. Zacuto has a new Axis Micro ($99) that works perfectly with the EVF. The mount is similar to what Zacuto uses on the Axis Mini.

LCD Screen & Loupe

Zacuto ACT EVF Pro

The LCD screen size is fractions larger than the original that is 3.2″ and the new is a 3.5″ LCD screen. The resolution is 800 x 480 and supports input resolutions up to 1920 x 1080. You cant feed a 4K image through the HDMI input. You will need to set the camera to send an HD signal in order to use the ACT EVF Pro.

The image looks pretty good. I had a hard time with the original because I felt the pixels are a little big when using the loupe, making it harder to focus. Same issue with the ACT EVF Pro. This is a side effect of versatility with having both a monitor and an EVF in one.

The color looks good so I can trust that I have a good white balance but I really need some kind of exposure tool.

The loupe is held in place with magnets when closed and open. The hold is good. The loupe on the ACT EVF Pro is not removable. It comes with two drop-in diopters for us that need to wear glasses. The diopter ships with a 1x and 2x lens.

ACT EVF PRO features

  • 3.5″  LED-backlit screen
  • Resolution of 800 x 480, and supports input resolutions up to 1920 x 1080. 
  • Audio monitoring via 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
  • HDMI input and loop-through output
  • Wide viewing angles of 160° both horizontally and vertically
  • Daisy-chain live displays without affecting original video quality
  • Peaking focus assist (red highlight over parts of the monochrome image in focus)
  • Check field (red, green, blue, and mono) assists in adjusting the camera color settings
  • Pixel-to-pixel with 1:1 mapping without scaling
  • Center marker
  • Safe marker (80%, 85%, 90%, 93%, 96%, and 2.35:1) assists with composition
  • Image flip (horizontal, vertical, and horizontal/vertical modes)
  • Battery Meter
  • Image freeze
  • U/D and L/R zooming, and zoom-all mode
  • Custom color temperature
  • Zacuto anti-fog Optics 
  • ¼ 20 Rosette for EVF Mount 
  • Powered with LP-E6 Battery 
  • ¼ 20” thread on the top, bottom, sides
  • Power Requirements 6 to 14 VDC
  • Power Consumption  <3W 

The menu system is not very impressive. It looks like the factory menu. While it takes a few buttons pushes to navigate, once you figure out the right combination of +, -, MENU and EXIT to select settings it’s not so bad. The EVF has three presets that are user-defined. The -, + and EXIT buttons.

Assist Features

Zacuto ACT EVF Pro mount peaking

The EVF has some helpful features such as pixel-to-pixel with 1:1 mapping for focusing and an HDMI output, but it lacks exposure tools altogether. You do have two focus assist features such as the 1:1 mode and peaking focus assist where red highlight appears over parts of the monochrome image in focus. That is really it. I would hope that some exposure tools like waveform or zebras could be added. Something as nothing really isnt helpful. Also, no audio VU meters are offered.

Kits Available

You have a few options when purchasing ACT kits.

Full ACT Recoil Kit

Zacuto ACT Recoil Full Kit

The price for the full ACT Recoil kit is $1,450 US. The kit comes with one of the following Zacuto camera cages. Sony A7RIV, Panasonic S1H, Z CAM E2 Series, Blackmagic Pocket 4k/6k, Fuji X-T3 and Nikon Z6/Z7

  • ACT Baseplate with two 15mm 8″ rods $450.00
  • Right Trigger Grip $300.00
  • Tactical Handle $250.00
  • ACT EVF Pro $499.00
  • Axis Micro $150.00
  • Camera Cage

Cageless ACT Recoil Kit

Zacuto ACT Recoil Kit 2

The Cageless ACT kit is $1,050 and includes an ACT Baseplate, Right grip Axis Curve, and ACT EVF Pro.

  • ACT Baseplate with two 15mm 8″ rods
  • Right Trigger Grip
  • Axis Curve $275.00
  • ACT EVF Pro

Basic ACT Recoil Kit

Zacuto ACT Recoil Kit no cage
  • ACT Baseplate with two 15mm 8″ rods
  • Right Trigger Grip
  • Axis Curve

This minimalist set up is actually very doable due to the Axis Curve. Mounting an EVF is not easy without a cage to attach it too. The Axis Curve alone solves the problem, plus taking the camera off the ACT Baseplate and back in use as a camera is really fast with the Arca-Swiss clamp built into the baseplate. Minimalists will like this setup if they already have an EFV option. The Basic ACT kit retails for $850.00 US

Arca-Swiss ACT Mounting Plate

ACT Mounting plate

I like the ACT Mounting Plate a lot. It’s small and lighter than the Kessler and clamps down securely. The locking lever is on the side, making it easy to get to. I think I’ll pick up a couple of these and update my tripods with them as they are just a better mousetrap. The ACT Mounting Plate retails for $150.00 US.

Putting it all together

ACT Rig with X T3
Worst cable management ever! 🙂

To properly balance the rig, I had to add some counterbalance making the rig 23″ long. This does make the back a bit longer than I like but no longer thana an ENG camera with a broadcast zoom. To shorten the length, I would need even more weight closer to the ACT baseplate. This is with only the stock setup and a 155-watt Dynacore V-Lock with an adapter plus the added counterweights. In production mode, a wireless audio and video receiver could be added on and more. The best placement for all the accessories would be in the back to assist in counterbalancing. It’s all trial and error, but with some time and creativity, you can get a working rig up fairly easy.

The Weakest Link

For me, the weakest link is the ACT EVF Pro. I’m spoiled with the Gratical HD and its tiny pixels that make focusing much easier. The bigger display while doubling as an onboard monitor is not ideal with the loupe for focusing. It’s hard to focus due to the enlarged pixels from the 800 x 480 3.5″ LCD screen.

For the entry-level shooter or someone who doesn’t have another solution, I don’t think you will find a better solution at this price point. Better yet. It’s free with two of the kits. EVF’s are expensive, and the ACT EVF Pro is priced at an accessible level at $499.00 US. I don’t know of a more economical EVF/Monitor that out of the box works with the Act Recoil system.

The lack of exposure assist tools is disappointing. At least a histogram would be minimum. However, a waveform really is what we need or zebra stripes.

Record Trigger

Something to keep in mind with a hybrid or any camera really starting record is going to be an issue. You will have to use the cameras record button by either reaching over the top and hitting it or taking the camera off the shoulder and starting record. In a production environment, a focus puller or camera assistant could do this for you. As a single operator, it’s more difficult. Zacuto has options like the grip relocators for cameras that have grips with controls.

It’s also a good idea to run the cameras display through the HDMI so you know when you are rolling and other helpful information.

Zacuto ACT Recoil balanced rig 1
Balanced and ready. If you want the lens to be more forward a counterweight is needed

For me, I have to have the lens in a comfortable position to focus, so this means the camera will be at the front, or near to it on the baseplate. This puts the lens in a position that is easy for me to get too. The problem with having the camera so far forward is a counterbalance has to be added to the back in order to make it a balanced, workable handheld setup. With the small rail mount counterweight, this setup is perfectly balanced.

Final Thoughts

Zacuto Full ACT Recoil

Zacuto has done a great job in designing the ACT rig. It has very few parts, so getting the rig setup is very simple. The advantage of limited pieces is not losing them. If the setup requires a lot of pieces, you are bound to forget one or two on the way out the door.

I also like that you don’t need tools other than a screwdriver and one Allen wrench to mount the camera in the cage. The ACT Curve design is also very well thought out. and again so easy to use by simply attaching it to the front rail and putting the EVF on. Simple and effective. The whole EVF setup can be removed by unlocking either the Nato clamp on the Tactical handle or removing the ACT Curve from the front rail. I can see many just using the ACT Curve to add an EVF on any camera setup that has front rails. It’s a very smart design.

Zacuto priced this kit lower than most of the products they have released and I don’t feel the quality has suffered. Yes, I’m not a fan of the ACT EVF Pro, but I’m spoiled with my Gratical HD. If you don’t have an EVF it’s a good start, plus it can be used as a small monitor. All in all, I feel it’s a very good shoulder rig that goes from shoulder to tripod with ease.

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