In light of the growing affordability of professional video cameras, an exciting new trend is gaining momentum. Freelance videographers and aspiring cinematographers are amassing—and making their living with—large, personal collections of filmmaking equipment. New products from trendsetters like Zacuto and Blackmagic Design have done a great deal to push the industry forward into this new era. In particular, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera seems to have inspired a generation with previously untouchable imaging capabilities such as 2.5K RAW recording and 13 stops of dynamic range.
Zacuto was quick to recognize the appeal of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, and they now offer a whole new line of support gear and other accessories designed for the BMCC. As with most things in the Zacuto universe —or Zuniverse, if you will—these products are available as individual components or bundled in a variety of signature rigs. We’ll take a look at the Striker Rig, the Blackmagic Tripod Rig, the Stinger Rig and a few of the notable components that make these rigs well suited to the BMCC.
The Blackmagic Cinema Camera is a model of clean industrial design, so it seems only fitting that we start this review with the rather modest Blackmagic Top Handle. Zacuto designed the Blackmagic Top Handle to mount on the top of the camera with a 5” Z-Rail. The Z-Rail is Zacuto’s take on a NATO accessory rail, which was originally developed as a standard for firearm manufacturers. Instead of mounting a riflescope, Zacuto uses the Z-Rail to mount a quick-release handle. Expect the NATO interface to enjoy continued and increasing acceptance in the film industry, as the standard has already been adopted by Zacuto, RED and Wooden Camera.
Zacuto’s Blackmagic Ultra Lite adds a pair of 15mm rods to the Blackmagic Top Handle. The two 7” rods each thread into a Z-Rail Slide Mount, which in turn each features a quick release with a ratcheting lever. Users can then add optional accessories like a follow focus or matte box to the top-mounted rods. It’s a design that literally turns the concept of a camera support rig upside down.
Both the Blackmagic Top Handle and the Blackmagic Ultra Lite fulfill one of the very basic needs of BMCC shooters—a way to hold the camera. For all its beauty, much has been said about the camera’s ergonomics, or lack thereof. Of course, the philosophy behind this design choice is simple. It’s a camera. You fit a lens to it and it records a series of pictures. The minimalist design lets a third party like Zacuto be the ergonomic experts. Instead of a form factor that suits a specific shooting style, like handheld or shoulder mount, the BMCC’s form factor accommodates third-party accessories for practically any shooting style.
So, one handle is essential, but many camera operators insist on three points of contact. This is where Zacuto’s Blackmagic Striker comes in. The Striker is a dual hand grip rig with a gunstock-style shoulder brace, which gives the rig a third point of contact for improved stability. The rig is a variation on the Target Shooter and utilizes the same Gorilla Plate. The nice thing about the Striker rig is the ability to remove the camera from the rig with the flip of a lever. This makes for an easy transition, especially when using the Striker in conjunction with the Blackmagic Top Handle.
The Blackmagic Cinema Camera’s internal battery is another feature that has drawn some criticism. An external power source like an AC adapter or an external battery can extend run times indefinitely, but the internal battery alone limits run times to approximately 90 minutes. However, in a certain respect, the BMCC’s internal battery seems rather convenient. If you can make do with the limited run time, the internal battery gives you the option of a lightweight, stripped-down mode, which is a feature that many other cameras that rely on external power sources do not have. The internal battery also lets you essentially “hot swap” the external battery. Plus, the camera won’t power down if the external battery accidentally comes unplugged.
In order to accommodate an external battery, Zacuto’s Blackmagic Tripod Rig incorporates a Horizontal Zwiss Plate. The Zwiss Plate provides an array of 3/8”-16 and 1/4”-20 threaded holes for mounting third-party battery plates and other accessories. Despite its name, the Horizontal Zwiss Plate can be mounted horizontally, vertically, right-side-up or upside-down. The kit also includes the Mini Baseplate, a pair of 12” rods, two 4.5” male/female rod extensions and the Blackmagic Top Handle.
Building on the basic components of the Blackmagic Tripod Rig, the Blackmagic Stinger is perhaps the most versatile of Zacuto’s Blackmagic rigs. Like the Tripod Rig, the Stinger includes the Blackmagic Top Handle, a Horizontal Zwiss Plate, a Mini Baseplate, a pair of 12” rods and two 4.5” male/female rod extensions. It also adds a set of Zacuto Zgrips V3 Short and an inline Shoulder Pad with 7” rods. The Stinger is designed to be an inline, shouldermount support rig, but like all Zacuto rigs, the components can be configured in virtually limitless permutations. For instance, the Zgrips V3 are designed for quick release, so with the flip of a lever, the Stinger essentially transforms into the Tripod Rig.
Of course, each of these rigs can be modified with additional components to suit your specific needs. Adding a Z-Finder EVF and a Blackmagic Design SDI to HDMI Mini Converter is one of the most cost effective external monitoring solutions for the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Zacuto also offers an 18” Right Angle D-Tap Power Cable for connecting the BMCC to an external battery.
The companies themselves, Zacuto and Blackmagic Design, make a smart pairing. Their products have really struck a chord with a burgeoning “audience,” namely, freelance videographers and aspiring cinematographers. In a notoriously expensive industry, they’ve managed to produce relatively affordable products that are, nonetheless, thoroughly professional tools.
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