Zacuto Recoil Rigs

HDSLRs and large-sensor video cameras have become today’s most popular cameras for shooting video. But, straight out of the box, they’re still notoriously uncomfortable to hold when shooting video for longer than a few minutes. From the beginning, even early adopters of these cameras asked, “How can we shoot comfortably for longer periods of time, keep the camera stable, and not give up mobility?”





There is a tried-and-true way of shooting handheld. It’s by putting the camera on your shoulder, “where it should be,” many veteran camera operators will add. An entire industry has sprung up around the idea of getting the camera back onto shooter’s shoulders. Zacuto was one of the first to offer motion-picture-style shoulder supports. Camera manufacturers like Canon, Sony, and RED have now come to depend on third-party companies like Zacuto to design and sell the accessories that complete the ergonomics of their digital cinema cameras.

Hundreds of variations of shoulder rigs now exist to suit nearly every shooting style. Many of these supports position the camera out in front of the operator, keeping the camera’s screen viewable and the controls within reach. These rigs are front-heavy and require long rods connecting to a shoulder pad and a counterweight to balance on the operator’s shoulder. The use of a lightweight monitor allows some rigs to place the camera in-line with your shoulder and slightly further back, but most setups still keep the camera and monitor in a forward position to maintain a comfortable viewing distance and for access to camera controls and focus. The advent of small electronic viewfinders, like the Zacuto EVF, that are used up against your eye like a traditional eyepiece, has made it possible to move the camera further back and even directly above the operator’s shoulder, thus reducing or eliminating the need for a counterweight.

The Zacuto Recoil rigs capitalize on this concept. Without the need for long rods or a counterweight, they are light and compact. They are, in many ways, a simpler and more traditional form factor, one that many news-camera people will find familiar. The Recoil rigs can be configured to feel like ENG (electronic news gathering) shoulder cameras, which are intrinsically balanced for the operator’s shoulder with their integrated shoulder pads and eyepieces off the left side of the camera. Zacuto has recreated that feeling of your eye against the eyepiece and the camera perched on your shoulder for digital cinema cameras and HDSLRs. Recoil rigs place the camera body directly above an ergonomic shoulder pad that can be adjusted forward and backward along the included dovetail plate to fine-tune the balance.

Since the camera sits directly on the operator’s shoulder, the Recoil rigs rely on the use of separate electronic viewfinders for framing shots. Mounting the EVF to a rig usually involves using articulating arms, commonly referred to as Israeli arms. Originally not designed for viewfinders, these arms can be frustrating because all joints are loosened and tightened together. As soon as the arm is unlocked, it will fall limp like a marionette puppet’s arm, requiring both hands whenever repositioning the viewfinder. Yet, most of the time, it's only the tilt of the viewfinder that an operator wants to change. The Zacuto Axis Mount is a solution. In operation, it’s more like tilting a traditional built-in viewfinder, because it features separate tilt locks, so an operator can quickly and easily change the tilt to match their eye position. The L-shaped mounting arm of the Axis keeps the EVF balanced so it is less apt to fall inverted when unlocked. Also, a double-sided rail allows the mount to be used upside-down if the setup requires it.

To mount the Axis to any accessory shoe use the Zotshoe. Cameras equipped with ¼”-20 mounting holes can use either the 3” Z-Rail, the 5” Z-Rail, or the Zacuto Z-Rail T-Mount to attach the Axis EVF Mount. The Zacuto Half Cage, available soon, will have a long rail along the top and provide the most secure way to attach the Axis to LWS 15mm rods, while also adding a wooden handle near the camera body.

Essential to a complete rig are the handles for holding and operating the camera. The choice of which handle option to use is often dictated by the type of video you are shooting. A traditional news setup might want a single operating handle on the right side of the lens, thus pointing the camera with the right hand, leaving the left hand to focus and zoom directly on the lens. A motion-picture setup might include double handles for slower and smoother movements. Dual-handle setups are more common in the motion picture industry. Handle solutions like the Zacuto Zgrips V3 are highly adjustable and allow nuanced control over the camera rig.

These handles extend the grips down closer to the operator’s waist. Many camera operators find keeping their arms in a lower position is more comfortable and allows them to be more focused on following the action and framing the shot.

The right-hand grip for many new cameras, like the Canon C300, is often the one that came with the camera, but repositioned. The ENG Grip Relocator is a popular accessory that positions the handle of the Canon C100, C300, and C500 cameras onto 15mm rods, and it has a 24-inch cable connecting the handle’s controls back to the camera.

For users with a Canon Cinema camera wanting an ENG camera feel and operation, the Zacuto Recoil for Canon kit features this handle relocator together with the Recoil shoulder support. Similar grips exist for the Sony FS100 and FS700 cameras; they are the Zacuto FS100 Grip Relocator and Zacuto FS700 Grip Relocator, respectively. For those who prefer the longer extended handles, the Zacuto ZGrips V3 are bundled with the grip relocator.

For Canon HDSLR shooters, the Okii MC1 offers camera control at a remote handle position. Connecting to Canon SLRs via USB, the Okii controller allows you to operate record start/stop, aperture, ISO, and image magnification. Mounting it to the Zacuto Zgrip handle with the Zacuto Okii adapter creates a convenient, easily accessible control handle for the most-used camera functions.

In addition to camera operation, anyone who has shot with larger-sensor cameras knows that maintaining focus is a challenge, and a good follow focus can be an invaluable tool. To complement the Recoil rigs, Zacuto created the Z Drive Follow Focus System. It features a direct-drive follow focus that is angled at 60 degrees to the lens. A single U-jointed shaft connects the focus wheel to the lens gear, so there is zero play in the system, unlike other systems which use a gearbox. The 60-degree angle of the marking disk and wheel is ideal for operators to view marks and pull focus themselves. It also features an Arri standard whip socket.

Zacuto also created the Tornado Handgrip for the Z-drive follow focus, which gives the operator full focus control while keeping their hand on the handle in a comfortable operating position. The Tornado can be thought of as a rigid whip with a strong handle for operating. It is a horn-shaped handgrip, capped with a focus ring that you can turn with your first finger and thumb to control the focus. The grip is curved to fit in the palm of your hand with a strong straight shaft connecting securely to the Z-drive follow focus system. The grip rotates freely, independent of the focus ring, so you can keep it firmly in hand and rotate your hand position without altering the focus.

Whether you create a two-handled motion-picture rig or a single-handled ENG rig, the Recoils remain small and compact. Without a counterweight, the rigs are a breeze to travel with and transport. Porta Brace makes a line of bags for rigs that can easily fit most of these configurations with minimal disassembly of the rig and components. The Porta Brace Rig-35R is a size that can accommodate most Recoil rig configurations.

The size and complexity of rigs may have hit a plateau. Reversing the trend toward larger and more complex shoulder rigs, Zacuto made the Recoil line to minimize size and weight, yet at the same time, maintain and even improve stability and camera control. Placing the camera body back on shooters' shoulders is a traditional way of shooting, which not only keeps the camera package small and close to the operator’s body, but also places the image plane on the axis of rotation, so a tilt-up does not boom up, and a pan does not travel forward and back. Designed for, but not limited to, HDSLRs, Canon C Series, Sony F Series, and RED Cinema cameras, the Recoil rigs by Zacuto offer a compact shoulder rig with traditional feel and look that can be appreciated by nearly all types of video shooter.

1 Comment

Excellent intro article on Cinema Cameras.