October 10, 2015 at 11:27AM
What should a camera cage do for you?
Quick little background info - I have been using the GH series by Panasonic since the very first GH1 that I purchased in 2009. My footage since then has been used for programs on Discovery, Animal Planet, New York Times, Netflix, and more as well as shared on news sites all around the world.
Just before that, I had sold my Panasonic 3CCD standard definition camcorder just before that after acquiring access to HD gear, though held off on purchasing a new camcorder-style camera, as there was the announcement by Red of their $3k Scarlet that was supposed to be just around the corner. That never came to fruition, so I continued to see what might come after that. Nikon released the D90 - the first DSLR to shoot HD, albeit a poor 720p, then Canon with the 5DII and Panasonic with the mirrorless GH1. All of these cameras had some inherent flaws when it came to shooting video, though when you looked at their functionality and image quality as a whole, there's a good argument to say the GH1 took the lead. Sure it maybe didn't have the build feel of the others, though it was super easy to hack to super high bitrates 75+ Mb/s at true 1080p thanks to Vitaliy Kiselev of Personal-View for providing the means. A pretty decent little camera that actually held up better than expected in pretty rigorous conditions, though still early in the technology.
Now the GH4 and GH3 with the weather-sealed magnesium bodies, modern codec implementation, and huge feature set, have really evolved into a pro form and build, though still in the small SLR-sized form factor. While some may see the small size of this camera as a negative as it necessitates the need of a rig, I see that as a positive in many ways. I travel a lot. And I like to travel as light as I can. Though often, I have to pack a lot of gear for a lot of different scenarios. So anything I can do to minimize what I have to carry, I see as a huge plus.
When I am out shooting, sometimes I need multiple channels of audio and external monitoring, so the rig, of course is necessary. But other times, I am going out on foot to get some b-roll from a lookout, or need to be very discreet. I can easily un-rig my camera, attach a camera strap, and have a super-light, touristy-looking camera that can still shoot 4k at 100Mb/s and allow any lens to be attached and run all day on just a couple batteries. Then when I need more options, transform the camera with the rig into any configuration I need.
After using various camera cages already on the market (Varavon, Swedish Chameleon, Walimax, Honu, MovCam, and some no-name ebay makes), I found each had some really nice features, though all left me wanting a bit more. The Varavon, while my favorite of the above, still has some flaws which necessitate workarounds, and often left me going back to cages I made by hand from aluminum for the GH1 & GH2 that I retrofitted to work with the GH3 and GH4. Without getting into too much details, the big issues I encountered with all cages I could get my hands on were:
poor ergonomics / tactility - metal between the hand and your camera / too many sharp edges in the way / difficulty reaching buttons
lack of mounting points that can be used simultaneously. Many cages advertise all these mounting options, though the moment you add one accessory, you’ve nearly used up your mounting options, or blocked access to other mounting points.
very left-heavy - When the Swedish Chameleon half cage (soon later the the Skier too) came out, I was super excited that there was a mass-produced cage that allowed access to the camera’s native grip. While the design looks great (and even demonstrated the usefulness of some extra space above the camera), it very quickly becomes quite left-heavy. In fact, as most cages so tightly wrap the camera, they leave you no option, but to mount everything to the left of your right hand. There are some universal full cages that can be configured to allow access to the grip yet still give you mounting points on the outside of your hand (Chrosziel, Arri, and various knockoffs and cheap junk), though these tend to be so large and heavy, they are not really intended for handheld use without a shoulder rig and counter weight of some sort.
poor cable locking or lack of - I was stoked when I saw the images of the Varavon hanging by the HDMI cable - and thought, finally a way to feel confident using external monitors in high paced scenarios. That was not really the case, as the jack itself is still unprotected, left prone to bumps that can loosen, damage it, or disconnect. Other designs that actually lock the jack itself, either are quite effective, though so large, you risk hitting your LCD screen into (if you can even open your LCD with it installed) or are simply just not that sturdy (think D-cage).
funky top handles that are too big for the cage, yet offer little to no mounting, single mounting point on the cage usually, and sometimes sketchy attachment that's not overly secure.
single-camera design. Most cages will only work with exactly one camera model and offer little to no way to upgrade it to work with other makes of cameras.
lack of standardization. With each new cage/rig that comes out, there are always new ways of doing things. Unfortunately most cage accessories will never work with other rigs.
Wanting a better cage for my GH4 and GH3, I decided to start designing a new cage, though this time, not to be made by hand, but rather by CNC milling and 3D CAD. I still started with paper drawings initially and took inspiration from the cages I initially milled myself as well as started doing research.
I watched and read many reviews on cages/rigs from Clinton Harn, Emm from CheesyCam, Matt Allard and Dan Chung over at Newsshooter, Caleb Pike, and Cinema5D among many others, who all do a very thorough job in critiquing the latest options and have provided some incredible insight as to what makes a good cage. In addition to reviewing their reviews, I have researched all possible camera cages I could come across - not just for the GH4, but for all cameras out there - and created a database highlighting each make and their features.
You will see some aspects of my design take inspiration from others out there, though each component is quite unique and original - while at the same time very compatible with other-brand rig components. This is possible due to using stand 9mm center-to-center spacing for all of the ¼” x 20 components and a modular design. Anti-twist is integrated into the design of each component as well, eliminating having to try to over-tighten everything to keep it from moving.
Perhaps it’s not as obvious until you are holding it, though by being able to mount accessories on the outside of your right hand actually makes holding the camera for long periods of time significantly easier. It’s putting the center of gravity closer to inline with your right hand as opposed to several inches to the left of it. What this does is relieve the left hand from having to help bear the weight of the camera, which in effect results in smoother focus pulls and zooms.
Even with larger pieces of equipment attached such as 4k 10-bit recorders, this cage remains very well balanced. Imagine you have a 7” monitor and then you place a pistol grip handle underneath it - that would feel rather well balanced, as opposed to holding the monitor by one side. With the TrueGrip, you are allowed access to the camera’s grip, so your right hand can be more closely below the center of gravity, rather than way off to the side of it.
A rig is like good sound in a film, you shouldn't notice it. It should simply be there to do it's thing and do it so well, that it's simply a part (or an extension of) of the greater whole - and in the rig’s case - an extension of the camera. That is some of the philosophy behind the design of the TrueGrip that I have launched on Kickstarter. It may not be for everyone, though for those of us that need the options it offers, then it’s there as a tool for us - that is, if we reach our goal in Kickstarter!
While the design may look unconventional, form and function of this cage is the result of multiple generations tested in the field producing epic content for television, web, and cinema - see an example here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/samsielen/true-grip-a-revolutionary...
We are currently designing an optional universal base-plate to allow many different cameras to work with this cage. It can easily be swapped out with a few allen screws and various sizes of the flash shoe mount piece will be available to accommodate different camera makes.
Director of Photography, Videographer