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B&H Spotlight: Zacuto Professional Video DSLR Rigs

By David Flores

In the past 12 months, the market for HD Video DSLR cameras has diversified with expanded manual control, focusing options, and frame rates. While innovation in this market continues to grow, the SLR form factor remains largely unchanged. DSLRs are, from a design standpoint, still photo cameras. While capable of incredible video quality and compatible with a vast library of optics, current form factors are no less than debilitating for dedicated video shooters. To answer this issue, Zacuto, the Chicago-based support systems company, offers a variety of high quality, well-considered products to meet the demanding needs today's video professionals.

The Z-Finder

Truly the must-have of the latest Zacuto accessories, the Z-Finder creates a professional viewfinder experience with the latest video-enabled DSLRs. Schneider optics provide 3x magnification for critical composition and focus. A generous, oversized eye cup blocks extraneous light and can be adjusted for right or left eye dominant shooters. The Z-Finder features fine diopter adjustments using a tightly threaded focusing knob. This control, easily identified by its Zacuto Red color, offers an unusual amount of resistance and for a good reason. Once set, the diopter is more or less parked where it should be. Unintentional contact won't compromise a shooter's ability to rack focus.

Installation is a simple process. Attach the mounting frame to the DSLR using the included 3M adhesive. Zacuto recommends allowing 24 hours for the frame to cure to the camera LCD. Next, snap the optical skirt to the mounting frame. Then, focus the diopter to the eye. It's best to find an optimal setting by focusing on text from the camera menu. Your video DSLR now sports a professional real-time viewfinder that snaps on and off as needed.

Modular Rigs

Zacuto offers a variety of modular camera rigs specifically designed to meet the needs of video DSLR shooters.Dubbed "Gorilla Kits," all of the rigs provide multiple points of contact to improve balance in hand held shooting scenarios.

The ultra-compact Zacuto Rapid Fire with optional Z-Finder attached

Weighing in just under a pound and a half, the Rapid Fire is the lightest of the Gorilla Kits and is the best choice for field reportage. A compact gunstock presses into the shoulder or chest enabling the user to comfortably hug the camera. Despite its diminutive size, the Rapid Fire offers significant support for simple camera movements and walking shots. Journalists will love that the unit disassembles quickly into two components that can easily be tucked into the side of a camera bag.

The Zacuto Rapid Fire with optional Z-Finder attached

For independent filmmakers requiring more precise control of a hand held camera, Zacuto offers the Tactical Shooter. While its gunstock and vertical camera support components are identical to the Rapid Fire, by adding a balanced horizontal support rod and dedicated vertical handle, this kit absorbs more shock and provides a much greater degree of control than its little brother. The simple addition of a handle makes this a must for steady reveal shots, tilts, and pans. The horizontal support rod properly distributes the weight of the rig for active running shots and chase sequences.

Custom Contact

Zacuto touts multiple points of contact as the number one advantage to their Gorilla Kits. While the number of contact points certainly adds stability to hand held work, the quality of these points is equally, if not more important. Every camera operator is built differently. Height, eye level, and other proportions vary from person to person. To address this, Zacuto makes every point of contact on a Gorilla rig fully customizable. As with the diopter adjustment on the Z-Finder, a proprietary Zacuto Red color indicates points of customization and adjustment. From the tilt of a handle to the placement of the gunstock, a series of levers make customizing a rig quick and easy. It should be noted that the lever system is not screw-based. All points of contact and articulation are held in place with vice grips. This means no stripping or significant wear even under heavy use.

Because the Gorilla design is modular, it's easy to add and take away components as needed. For instance, if two-handle support is required for a chase sequence, an operator has the option of adding a second handle

to the Tactical Shooter Kit. On the flip side, if a certain shot or reportage assignment must be achieved with the minimum amount of gear, the Tactical Kit can be stripped of its horizontal support rod and vertical handle to become the Rapid Fire. The simplicity and flexibility of the system is fantastic. Just remember to pick up a Z-Finder. Not included with the Rapid Fire or Tactical Shooter, it creates the pro viewfinder experience and offers another point of contact, as well.

For the pro shooter that wants a complete rig with the ultimate in flexibility, Zacuto boasts the Sharp Shooter. This kit just about has it all: the Z-Finder, dedicated vertical handle, and shoot-all-day padded shoulder rest. While a comfortable carry strap and angled adjustment for the shoulder rest are certainly welcome, the stand out bonus of the Sharp Shooter is a twin-rod base plate with support for optional follow focus units. Why not include a follow focus with the kit? This would almost double the kit price.

The fully loaded Zacuto Sharp Shooter

Z-Focus (follow focus) units are expensive, but indispensible tools for precision applications especially when employing shallow depth of field characteristics. The Gorilla Kits are compatible with all Zacuto 15mm rod follow focus systems. These units are completely gear-driven and feature dry-erase discs for marking fine focus adjustments. While the Z-FF-1DS offers double-sided controls, the best value for the money (and for those that favor focusing with the left hand) is the Z-FF-1. Compact and light, this unit does the trick for under $1100.

Zacuto Z-Focus Units are compatible with all 15mm rod systems

All Zacuto Gorilla Kits feature Manfrotto Low Profile 394 Quick Release Assemblies. If production requires multiple cameras or tripod shooting, it's a good idea to have extra plates and assemblies at the ready. Completing a Zacuto kit with all the bells and whistles is not an inexpensive exercise especially for no budget productions. But the intuitive control and outstanding comfort gained by using the Zacuto system is priceless. For professionals that demand the maximum flexibility with the minimum amount of fuss, the latest offerings from Zacuto should more than satisfy.

All Zacuto products come with a limited lifetime warranty.

David Flores is photographer and filmmaker based in New York City. He is a member of the B&H Web Creative Content Team.

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