Not so long ago, one of the big reasons camera owners got and used rail support systems was to be able to mount a follow focus or matte box, or to tame an otherwise unruly gang of needed accessories (monitors, batteries, external recorder and the like). With the advent of DSLRs for video shooting and the rise of a plethora of—shall we say—non-traditionally shaped video cameras (Red, Black Magic Cinema Camera, Arri all come to mind), rail supports and shoulder rig systems are pretty much mandatory for hand holding, shoulder mounting, and/or tripod mounting, as well as for matte/filter boxes, view finders, and follow focus.
Adorama Camera, a camera, video, and audio equipment store and online merchant, has been representing the Flashpoint line of tripods, lighting equipment, hard cases, and various camera gear and recently introduced the DSLR/DV Cinema Bundle. This is a reasonably priced combination shoulder/tripod mount rail system with follow focus and matte/filter box, along with a Z connector to provide offset configuration. It comes complete with all the pieces necessary to provide mounting and support for small, lightweight, and/or strangely shaped cameras.
The base of the rig consists of two sets of 8.5-inch long, 15-mm diameter rods, a transverse rod and rubber grip handles, a hard rubber/plastic shoulder pad, a height adjustable base plate with a quick release plate, and a Z shaped connector, which allows the user to offset the shoulder pad from the base plate (for better ergonomics and visibility). The shoulder pad slides along the rods and stays in place by friction. All the other connectors lock in place, tightened by anodized blue thumbscrews.
The Matte Box component—plastic with anodized aluminum fittings—features, in addition to the matte box itself, two 4-inch filter holders (one of which rotates a full 360-degrees), a French flag and two side doors (both anodized aluminum), along with three neoprene donuts for the interface of lens and matte box. The unit mounts on the rails, is height adjustable, and very lightweight yet solid feeling.
The Follow Focus unit is solidly constructed, with no slap or slack in its knob and gears. The unit itself is all aluminum, with a rather large knob and stop to set focal points, which attaches to both parallel rails, with a thumb screw to tighten. The knob and gear both slide perpendicularly to the rails to allow adjustment for differently sized lenses. The unit comes with one adjustable gear ring that fits onto the lens’s focus ring, with a thumbscrew tightener to keep it in place on the lens.
I used the Flashpoint rig in several situations and with several cameras. First up was my Sony EX3, a camera notable for being almost (but not quite) comfortable to shoot with from the shoulder. No instructions come with the Flashpoint rig—just photographs on the packaging. The kit is pretty self-explanatory, but there could be a fair amount of trial and error involved before an inexperienced user got it all together and adjusted properly.
Using the quick release plate’s height and forward/back adjustments made it very easy to get the camera on the rig and aligned to the specific geometries of my anatomy. Since the EX3 has both an integrated small sunshade and a servo lens control, I didn’t mess with either the Matte Box or the Follow Focus for this installation. Weight balance was just fine, making the Flashpoint rig a definite improvement over the EX3’s shoulder mount ergonomics. I did have some issues with side-to-side balance though, owing mainly to how the front handles are set up along a single bar anchored to the rig at the center. Due to the design, it was difficult to get a single handle to the center for balancing, although I eventually worked things out with the handle offset to the left counterbalanced by my right hand on the servo grip.
The bigger rigging challenge came when working with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, which could be likened to the “ground zero” of handheld ergonomics. I was very grateful for the Z-connector, as it allowed me to get some breathing and vision space between my face and the camera back (no EVF in my kit), though I would definitely use some extra lengths of rod if I had them. The offset also made the balance issue easier to resolve, in that it was easier to balance the rig one-handed (leaving the other hand free for focus adjustments and counterbalance). No matter how you cut it, the Cinema Camera takes a lot of wrangling to make a handheld shoot feasible, and the Flashpoint rig helped to ease a difficult situation.
Attaching, setting up, and using the Matte Box and Follow Focus were pretty straightforward and successful operations; but there are a couple of caveats. The Matte Box is solid and easy to set up and line up with the camera lens, although the amount of adjustment makes it a slow process—somewhat trial and error, forward and back. The Matte Box uses the donut system to interface between lens front and matte box opening, which works fairly well in preventing lateral light leaks. However, I far prefer the hood system. This is where a hood comes off the back of the matte box and attaches to the circumference of the lens front, making a much easier connection with more latitude for adjustment. That said as personal preference, changing lenses would be easier when using the hood system than the donut.
I found that using the Follow Focus with the Cinema Camera to be a bit more of a challenge. Getting the gear ring onto the lens was a more fiddly business than I would have liked, mainly because of the thumbscrew fastener, but even through my clumsiness, I eventually got it in place. (If I had several lenses that I regularly used, I think I’d want to have several rings and keep them installed on the lenses, rather than have to remove the gear ring off and reinstall it whenever I changed lenses.) The knob and gear assembly was also fiddly and tight getting onto the rails and aligned with the lens, but it got done.
All in all, the Flashpoint DSLR bundle is great value for an entry-level kit. It provides all the basics of functionality and solid material build quality, occasionally sacrificing ease of use and adjustment for cost.
Application: shoulder, tripod, and/or accessory mount for small cameras
Key Features: follow focus, matte box
Price: MSRP $599
Contact: Adorama, 800-223-2500, www.adorama.com