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High definition video from today's DSLRs is nothing short of incredible. Whether you're a professional journalist, a wedding videographer, or just capturing HD clips of friends and family, the high-quality look and breathtaking depth of field control are far superior to anything that you'll find in most dedicated pro camcorders. Big sensors, huge lens selection, manual exposure control + selectable frame rates -- it's easy to sing the praises of the new revolution. But it only takes a few minutes with one of the cameras to discover a major drawback -- ergonomics.
Hand holding a video-enabled DSLR with a decent lens, shotgun mic, and other accessories can make stable shooting a rather trying experience. While camera shake can certainly be embraced as an esthetic of documentary-style recording, it's unlikely that a client will pay your day rate for bouncy, amateur-looking video.
To resolve the stability issue, the Dallas-based Redrock Micro offers a complete line up of professional DSLR video rigs. The company knows that every videographer is different -- in both proportions and preferences. The Redrock Micro system features fully customizable adjustments to fit the height, eye line, and balance of the end user. Easily identifiable blue levers allow the equipment to adapt to the operator for a truly custom shooting experience. If you see something in blue (levers, handles, gears), it's adjustable. The Redrock line is capable, well made, and professional by design. So what's missing? The high price of ownership. Redrock Micro rigs are typically 50% lower in cost than rod-based kits from other manufacturers.
DSLR Hybrid 2.0 Rigs
For less than $450, the Ultraport DSLR Bundle transforms your camera into a highly stable, wide grip video rig. Handles on either side of the camera allow for stable handheld shooting without extraneous bounce or rotation. An excellent choice for journalism and on-the-go documentary work, the Ultraport is truly ultra-portable and assembles and disassembles in seconds. The components are all reasonably compact and won't rob your camera bag of precious real estate.
If you like the idea of the Ultraport, but require greater control of your camera's focus, you should consider the Captain Stubling Bundle. Designed by filmmaker and video ninja Stu Maschwitz, this unit provides the portability and stability of the Ultraport, but with the added control of Redrock's newly developed microFollowFocus v2. Stu's concept came out of playing with the components of all the major offerings from Redrock and boiling them down to the essentials. Unlike the double handlebar rods of the Ultraport, the Captain Stubling employs a single handlebar and a single rod grip. Tilting the rod grip towards the follow focus allows the user to adjust focus with a finger or thumb.
If you've never used a follow focus before, prepare to fall in love. A series of fine gears provides silky smooth movement from minimum distance to infinity focus. Redrock's microFollowFocus v2 even features a 3D marking disc. This allows focus marks to be viewable to both the focus puller and the operator. The unit has a standard port for focus whips.
The Event Rig shown with an optional viewfinder.
Ask any videographer about the dance floor of a wedding and you'll quickly find that keeping your rig compact is more than just a convenience -- it's a requirement. A video setup that extends beyond half an arm's length will get bumped left and right if you're shooting from anywhere other than the outside of the dance floor. With the perfect balance of size and stability, the Event allows you to get right in the middle of the action without worrying about the size of your rig.
Like the Ultraport and Captain Stubling, the Event features twin handles to minimize rotational movement. The unit also employs a microBrace body pad to keep your camera from rocking forward and back. With your hands on the handlebars and the body pad against your chest, the setup is extremely stable. The Event was easily my favorite of the non-shoulder-mount units I tested. Walking, running, and panning the camera were all vastly improved with the Event rig. Though built for event shooters, this kit is also a must for independent filmmakers requiring handheld movements in a limited space.
In the professional realm, shoulder-mounted cameras are still the norm. In addition to the sizzle of showing up for work with a serious and sizable piece of hardware, shoulder-style cameras distribute weight evenly -- providing better camera movement and enabling the use of other accessories without compromising balance. Using one of Redrock's eyeSpy units, shooters can enjoy all of the benefits of a shoulder-mounted rig with a DSLR camera. The eyeSpy is available in 3 flavors based on user preference.
The eyeSpy Standard DSLR Rig features a comfort foam shoulder pad for all day shooting. A set of carbon fiber rods gives the unit optimum extension and provides a base for optional accessories. For shooters working with minimal equipment, this is an economical way to bring shoulder-mount shooting to your productions.
The eyeSpy Balance is essentially the same unit with the addition of Redrock's microBalance Starter kit and an additional weight. These counter weights are particularly helpful when working with a slightly heavier setup. Remember, your camera can bulk up quickly with a fast lens, mic kit, and other goodies. The proper counterbalance will keep you comfortable and in control all day long. If you're working with an extremely dense camera kit, additional weights can be purchased to keep everything in harmony.
For the shooter who wants it all in one box, the eyeSpy Deluxe Bundle comes complete with the standard rig, microBalance Starter kit + additional weight, microFollowFocus v2, and 4 lens gears.
Working with the eyeSpy kits, my opinion was generally positive, but I often had trouble balancing heavier equipment. Adding the Double Handgrip Accessory Kit made life so much easier. If you're going to the shoulder-mount thing, add this option for superior balance and confidence.
The eyeSpy kits sold through B&H are equipped with a microLink4 Offset Riser. This is perfect for any video-enabled DSLR without a vertical grip. If you use a camera with an integrated grip (Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, Nikon D3S, etc) or you use an optional battery grip with your camera, you'll need to order a microLink4 Flat.
Some Final Thoughts
Left: The $79 HoodLoupe. Right: The somewhat dangerous microFinder Loupe Accessory.
While the eyeSpy rigs can be positioned far enough away from your eye to compose off of the camera LCD, a proper viewfinder really makes shooting with all of the rigs much more enjoyable. The units that I tested, with the exception of the Ultraport and Captain Stubling, included the Redrock microFinder Loupe Accessory. This piece is designed to support an optional $79 HoodLoupe. Because the Loupe Accessory holder is an exceptionally thin sliver of metal, it's a bit dangerous to the touch. I sliced my right index finger when installing the piece on one of the rigs. No one ever enjoys an on-the-job injury, so exercise care with this component. If you're afraid of hurting yourself, a better choice might be the Zacuto Z-Finder. At $375, this accessory is noticeably more expensive than the HoodLoupe, but with 3x magnification and an easy-on-easy-off mounting frame, you're getting what you pay for.
Redrock Micro's DSLR support solutions are among the best that I've ever tested. Compact design, intuitive control, and a confident and comfortable shooting experience place Redrock value head and shoulders above their price tag. Dollar to value, Redrock Micro offers some of the best equipment I've seen in the market place. If you're looking for a great way to maximize productivity without draining your bank account, put down your lantern.
All Redrock Micro products include a 1 year limited warranty.