by Michael Liu
With a plethora of camera choices available, it is now harder than ever to select the right accessories for your camera. Even if you find the perfect solution for your current camera platform, what happens when you upgrade your current system? Will your accessories still work with the next evolution of cameras?
Zacuto developed a unique solution to this problem with their Next Generation Recoil concept
. No matter your camera, it all starts at the VCT Pro Baseplate
How we all got started
I started my career as a freelance cinematographer right out of film school with the ubiquitous, Canon 5D Mark II
. It was an amazing camera. It achieved beautiful results and gave low budget filmmakers a cinematic look that otherwise would be very expensive to achieve. But it also had drawbacks. The camera was hard to stabilize and with the rolling shutter, it was necessary to rig it up in order to get amazing results.
I was on the search for a solution. At that time, Zacuto developed a DSLR baseplate that was far above the rest. It allowed you to rig it practically any way you wanted, not to mention it was one of the highest quality rigs out at the time.
As camera technology got better and better, Zacuto’s products also changed as well.
The first (non-Zacuto) shoulder rig I owned was heavy and cumbersome. It needed counter balance in order to operate smoothly. It was around this time that Zacuto came out with a brand new concept that I absolutely bought into, the RECOIL CONCEPT. Having the camera sit directly over your shoulder meant that you no longer needed a counterbalance. Instead, you need an eyepiece (EVF) and a way to control the camera’s start/stop and focus.
Where are we now?
As a filmmaker, my needs continue to change. We all strive for better imagery, and for me, that means a shift from small form factor cameras to RED cameras
. These cameras are heavier and require a lot of support.
There are tons of options out there for a shoulder rig, but I continue to choose Zacuto because as evidenced before, the gear from Zacuto grew with me. The newly updated VCT Pro Baseplate is designed to do the same as well.
The first generation Recoil baseplate was very versatile but as great as it was, there have been some major updates with the VCT Pro that came out in late 2016.
Now I’m going to dive a bit more into my three favorite features...
VCT Pro adjustable/removeable 10” top camera balance/sliding plate
With the improvement of a detachable sliding top plate, Zacuto has completely transformed the way we approach how we coordinate our shoot on location / on set. This one feature alone warrants an upgrade in my opinion!
There is absolutely no doubt that a production will need some form of stabilized/gimbal shot. The same is true for a handheld shot. In the past, to save on time, we would simply forgo the rig and pull the camera off the sliding dovetail of our Steadicam and operate it handheld. The tradeoff is significant but most productions don’t have an additional 15min to re-rig a camera setup, not to mention the additional time needed to rig it back into a Steadicam setup. The sliding plate eliminates that frustration altogether.
If you have an extra plate or two, you can easily go from a handheld shot to a Steadicam, to a slider/dolly shot, to a tripod shot in minutes. It is truly a professional solution that makes you look good in front of your clients.
The sliding camera balancing plate is great but when paired with the dedicated Arri Rosette on the side, it’s an absolute game changer.
Arri Standard Rosette on right side
The addition of an Arri Rosette seems like a basic upgrade but in this case, Zacuto has really thought through the design with the VCT Pro baseplate by also creating the Zgrip Trigger handgrips that attach to the baseplate with this rosette.
While many accessories manufacturer will offer a hand grip with the rosette, Zacuto’s new Zgrip Trigger in combination with the VCT Pro truly offers something unique.
The ability to quickly adjust the arm to any direction as well as folding the arm up means that you are able to keep the camera at a low profile when performing low mode shots. It makes it easier to set the camera down on the ground without having to worry about it tipping over. It also makes it a more balanced camera when set on a tripod. I can’t mention how many times I’ve witnessed the camera tipping over on a tripod because the arm protrudes out while set on a tripod.
With the arm folded away on a tripod and not on the rods, it also gives clearance for more accessories such as a lens support or follow focus.
Single knob 15mm rod quick release / Adjustable Rod Riser
The 15mm Rod Riser is another element that at first glance seems unimportant but majorly makes my life easier. The original rod riser already had quick release knobs and they worked great. The new update builds upon the older system by stripping away one knob, making it easier to build and break down your rig. This is especially welcoming at the end of a long shoot day.
So, what’s next?
Overall the VCT Pro baseplate is an amazing update to the already very well-thought out previous version. I don’t have any real concerns with the plate itself but since it’s part of the greater whole Next Gen Recoil concept...I wish that Zacuto would create a shorter top handle that accompanies cameras like the RED SCARLET-W and EPIC-W.
The SCARLET-W camera features a cableless monitor setup that sits at the top of the camera. With the extra features the Zacuto Top Handle provides, it protrudes out in both directions, blocking the monitor as well as not offer enough clearance in the back when working with V-LOCK batteries.
(Zacuto note: this is actually in the works! Stay tuned…!)
To recap, I love the VCT Pro baseplate
. The new design not only makes it more comfortable to shoot with but also very convenient to switch your setups. The ability to shave off precious minutes during setups allows you to offer more time to your clients as well as look more professional on set. It’s a must have piece of equipment.