Serious Video Production: the walimex Pro Apatris Universal XL Action-Set Kit
Getting your DSLR or mirrorless camera ready for serious video production work often means building a rig around it. A good place to start is to add a camera cage and 15mm rod-based support system. With plenty of options available on the market, deciding on a solution that works best for you and your camera can be daunting. To make your life easier, German manufacturer walimex Pro offers the Aptaris Universal XL Action-Set, adjustable to fit a variety of DSLR cameras, and provides the flexibility to switch quickly between handheld, shoulder-mounted and tripod setups with ease, giving you the opportunity to achieve professional results without hindrance.
All Aptaris gear is made from aircraft-grade aluminum and stainless steel, with a sleek black anodized finish and German industrial look. The Aptaris Universal XL Action-Set comes pre-built with the Universal XL Adjustable DSLR Cage, Rod Module, Shoulder Module with 4-piece foam shoulder pad, and dual rosette Handle Grip Module―all supported on a pair of 15mm rods. The first thing that struck me when I picked up the rig for the first time was how lightweight it is. Together, all of the components only weigh 3.2 pounds, which is pretty impressive for an all-metal cage and support rig. Now, let’s take a closer look at the various components, starting with the camera cage.
The Aptaris Universal XL provides added protection for your camera, as well as a top handle and multiple 1/4"-20 threaded mounting holes for adding a variety of accessories. Perhaps the greatest feature of the cage is that it’s height adjustable to fit a wide range of DSLR and mirrorless cameras, so long as the camera isn’t greater than 5.27" tall―suitable for commonly used models such as the Panasonic GH3/GH4, Canon 5D Mark III, or Nikon D800. For my test, I mounted a Nikon D600 with no issues.
For taller cameras, or when shooting with a battery grip, an XXL Adapter is available. This is great for videographers who work with different cameras from shoot to shoot, or for single-camera owners who don’t want to have to replace and buy a new cage when they acquire a new camera. The height of the cage is adjusted by loosening a top and bottom set of screws using an included hex key. Another useful accessory worth adding to the cage is the optional Cable Protection, which protects all cables connected to your camera and the associated ports from damage. It attaches to the side of the cage with two 1/4"-20 screws, making it compatible with the Aptaris cage, as well as other cages and systems with ¼" threads.
Your camera attaches to the cage via a 1/4"-20 screw. For a secure fit, there is also a hot-shoe stabilizer on top of the cage that slots into your camera’s shoe mount, provided that it is vertically aligned with its mounting screw. The cage has a minimum inside height of 3.19", so any camera shorter than that won’t be able to benefit from the hot-shoe stabilizer. There are, however, two stoppers on the back of the mounting surface that will prevent your camera from twisting during production, even without using the hot-shoe stabilizer.
Included with the cage is a handle and cold-shoe mount, which can be mounted on the top or the side of the cage. The handle attaches using a 1.25" rail, giving it some lateral adjustment, as well as the ability to be removed quickly from the rig for easier storage or when a handle isn’t needed. The handle clamps onto the rail using a spring-loaded lever. In most cases, you’ll be mounting the handle on top of the cage, useful for shooting handheld with just the cage, or when moving the entire rig between shots. I did find the handle to be a tad short for my taste, at barely over 3.5" long. Another inch or two would’ve been nice.
The Rod Module supports a pair of 11.8" 15mm rods and provides a quick-release interface for attaching the cage, using the supplied quick-release plate that screws into the bottom of the cage. A spring-loaded lever secures the plate (and cage) onto the rod module. Having a quick-release interface makes it easy to switch from handheld and shoulder-mounted setups without wasting precise time on set having to screw or unscrew the cage. For mounting on a tripod or quick-release tripod plate, there are 1/4"-20 and 3/8"-16 threaded holes on the bottom of the Rod Module. Another useful feature of the Rod Module is that it is height adjustable, letting you achieve the proper lens-center-to-rods height for use with a matte box. To adjust the height, you need loosen two screws with the supplied hex key, position it at the desired height, and then re-tighten the screws.
Now that we’ve look at the cage and rod module, we’ll move on to the shoulder mount accessories―namely the Shoulder Mount module and Hand Grip Module. The Shoulder Mount Module includes a pair of 11.8" 15mm rods and an offset bracket that brings your camera forward and in toward your body, placing the LCD screen in a better position for viewing. The bracket features spring-loaded levers for tightening onto the rods, and can be flipped for use on the right or left shoulder.
For resting your rig on your shoulder, a unique 4-piece foam pad is provided. The four pieces can be pushed together for a smaller padded surface, or spread out for a larger surface, albeit with gaps in between. When I first saw the design, I was a bit hesitant, as it didn’t looking overly comfortable. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the foam is quite dense, providing a nice, cushioned support, even with the sections spread out a good 1.5" from each other. The bottom of the foam is tapered, letting your rig sit more naturally on your shoulder. Personally, I still prefer a more traditional shoulder pad, but the foam pieces do a good job and keep the weight of the rig down. Of course, you can also add a different shoulder pad to the rig if you so desire―one of the beauties of 15mm rod support systems.
The Handle Grip Module consists of a 15mm rod rosette bracket with left and right aluminum handles. The rosettes on the bracket are angled, providing an ergonomic grip that felt really good on the wrists. Though the handles are slightly grooved, I found them to be slippery once my palms got sweaty. An interesting design decision was to have the rosette handles adjusted via a thumbscrew, rather than the spring-loaded levers found elsewhere on the rig.
As with most DSLR shoulder rigs, they can get very front heavy once you add accessories such as a follow focus, matte box, and monitor. This puts a lot of strain on the wrists and forearms. In these situations, I would recommend adding a counterweight plate (with batteries, or just weights) to the back of the rig to help place the center of balance closer to your shoulder, rather than on the wrists, letting you shoot longer and with less fatigue.
If you’re in the market for a versatile cage and shoulder support system, then the Aptaris Universal XL Action-Set Kit is definitely one to consider, especially if you want a rig that is lightweight, highly customizable, and can fit a variety of DSLR or mirrorless cameras.
|Aptaris Universal XL Cage|
|Material of Construction||Anodized aircraft aluminum|
|Tripod Mounting Holes||1 x 1/4"-20|
|1 x 3/8"-16|
|Accessory Mounting Holes||1/4"-20|
|Min: 3.19" (81mm)|
|Max: 5.27" (133mm)|
|Min: 3.98" (101mm)|
|Max: 6.10" (155mm)|
|Weight||With handle: 13.1 oz (370 g)|
|Dimensions (H x W x L)||2.5 x 3.7 x 9.8"(6.3 x 9.3 x 30 cm)|
|Weight (Approx.)||11.6 oz (330 g)|
|Handle Grip Module|
|Dimensions (H x W x D)||4.7 x 9.4 x 1.1" (120 x 240 x 29mm)|
|Weight||Approx. 0.8 lb (370 g)|
|Dimensions (H x W x D)||2.5 x 7.5 x 0.6" (63 x 190 x 16mm)|
|Rod Diameter||0.6" (15mm)|
|Rod Length||11.8" (300mm)|
|Weight||Approx. 0.9 lb (400 g)|