AbelCine's Development Center launches a cage intended to be the last cage you ever buy.
As filmmakers, we're always trying to stretch the boundaries of what our gear can do and a camera cage is designed to help us do just that. Want to simultaneously mount an external microphone and an external monitor to your camera? How about a follow focus without setting up a rail system and dovetail plate? A camera cage is going to let you do that in the simplest way possible.
AbelCine has rolled out Fathom from its Development Center, an accelerator program that was launched to help filmmakers with good ideas for gear get the resources and support they need to bring it to market.
- 4x NATO Rails
- 57x 1/4-20" Mounts
- 7x 3/8-16" Mounts
- 3x Cold shoe Mounts
The cage is the creation of Sam Sielan, a director of photography and camera operator with more than a decade of experience who was frustrated with the cages on the market and was looking for a more flexible solution. He started by building his own prototypes, initially out of just bent and ground aluminum, before working with the development center to prepare the product for larger production runs.
Fathom is designed to not only be flexible in terms of what you can mount but also the number of cameras you can use with it. Most cages are designed for a very specific camera body since it lets them be very secure and mount in various places. The Fathom does something similar in two key ways. First, it has a top shoe mount that is adjustable side to side, front to back, and through height, which allows it to move to fit the top shoe of pretty much any camera that you put it in. You could even use a long 1/4"-20 screw to fit it in a camera without a shoe, like the Sigma fp.
The other key feature for flexibility is the bottom plate. In addition to having two screw slots (so you can mount the camera to one side, which you might want to do for counter-weight purposes if you have many accessories on the other side), there are top screw pins that hold the front of your camera body in place. This lets the cage hold your camera more securely than just a single screw. Since the camera can't rotate against those pins (there are settings for most major camera bodies), it's a tight connection. In fact, some users report using Fathom just to get a tighter connection to their tripod plate. Since they can then use two screws on the bottom of Fathom to mount to the tripod and avoid having the camera get "slippy," which sometimes happens when you only have one hold on the bottom of a camera, as is common with DSLRs.
The biggest perk is how well it's designed to work with the cameras of today and of the future. By making it compatible and flexible with a variety of cameras the goal with Fathom is to be future proof. When it's time to upgrade or change out to another camera, you ideally should be able to bring this cage, and your accessories, right along to the new camera body. With Fathom, as long as cameras don't go through a massive revision in form factor, it seems to have you covered for the foreseeable future. The cage has a ton of mounting slots on the bottom for different camera types and you can easily position the camera body to make sure you can open vital doors and access points.
One thing we worried about was taller cameras or cameras using a battery case but Fathom has options to extend its height. We frequently use the external battery case with our XH1 for timelapse shoots and wondered if it would fit in its normal setup and we would require extenders. However, when using a cage you might want to consider moving power to the outside of the cage, not using internal battery grips, as with an external battery that will be easier to swap out while shooting. This eliminates the hassle of unmounting the camera to swap out its battery. To be clear, you can get to the battery around the cage on almost any camera, but if you mount it to a tripod, you will likely run into interference just from the tripod body itself, not the cage.
When mounting to a tripod or a gimbal, you should consider something like the Blindspot power junkie attached to the cage and running to a dummy battery to the camera. External power is going to make set life easier regardless. Since cages allow for multiple accessories, that external power might It might even power your lights as well.
One thing we especially appreciated about the design was how flexible it is for a variety of mounting positions. While built from NATO rail, which allows the use of standard NATO accessories, it also has a variety of cold-shoe mounts built in, including 1/4-20" and 3/8" mounts placed all over the unit. It has a curved right-hand side to make it easy to handhold the grip of your camera. And when shooting vertical video, it has 1/4-20" mounts on both sides which is something we're still shocked isn't standard on all camera cages. Having recently worked on jobs that deliver vertically, and having many colleagues doing the same, the ability to easily mount in a variety of vertical positions is a must for any cage going forward.
The primary concern with Fathom is price. It is an amazing cage and does do just about everything, but to do that, it comes at a higher price point that people may find surprising. $495 to be exact.
There are a few good reasons behind its higher cost. Its made in the USA. It's made from cold forged 6000 series aluminum, which costs more than the lower grade materials used in other products, but it's is going to last longer because of it. The thread mounts will take longer to strip, there will be less flex in the unit, and it's built to stricter tolerances.
Think of this cage more in the category of something like a good tripod. We all have been on jobs where the tripod costs as much as the camera or we're on our third camera body working with the same tripod. There are some things in a film kit that keep getting refreshed, but Fathom wants to be part of a kit for a long time.
The key consideration is how much flexibility do you need. If you have a locked down workflow where you know 100% of the accessories you will need, and don't foresee vertical video or other formats upending your workflow, it might not make sense for you. But if you book a variety of gigs where you often don't know what's coming, shoot vertically, or frequently find yourself trying to squeeze in another accessory onto your camera, Fathom deserves consideration.