The smaller and lighter that hybrid movie/stills cameras become and the more they settle into their niches in professional moviemaking, the more the need for rigging them up for securely attaching accessories like microphones, monitors and recorders.
One form of rigging, the cage, is becoming more common with the popularity of cameras like the GH4 and the A7S. I discovered another virtue of camera cages recently – safety. My brand new Motionnine Cube Cage saved my almost brand new GH4 from being smashed to bits on a pavement during a fall.
My GH4 and I go to ground…
I was heading off to my partner’s workplace north of the Harbour Bridge after a productive location scouting day in the city. I had a tight grip on my lensless GH4 camera body in its cage. I was just about the other side of the road when it happened.
My camera was lensless, in its cage and in my hands because my camera backpack, like the other camera bags relegated to my discards closet, was designed for stills photographers toting the DSLR camera systems of the ever-retreating past, not contemporary mirrorless cameras with all their video-oriented accessories. Even fewer camera bag makers seem to account for the fact we need to carry more than just cameras and lenses – water bladders, clothing, tripods, monopods, monitors, recorders, cables, light stands and more.
So far I have not come across a camera backpack that can be configured to hold my GH4 plus standard zoom lens ensconced in its handle-topped cage. Not to forget the other gear I tote almost every day. I have hopes that one of the more innovative bag designers will come up with something appropriate soon and that it will be available in Sydney one day for a good old try-before-you-buy. Meanwhile I am hand-carrying my caged GH4 in the streets more than I would like.
I was almost at the kerb when a shotgun blast of wind suddenly blew up and threw my hair across my eyes. I was blinded. My foot hit the kerb. I fell, my chin, right arm, right shoulder and right knee taking the impact onto the kerb and pavement beyond.
I brushed my hair aside, blinked and saw my camera in its cage in front of me, on the concrete, the back of the cage in contact with the ground. The GH4’s rubber eyepiece cup had flown off during the impact and was half a meter away. My otherwise rather useless camera backpack was, reassuringly, still firmly and safely attached to my back, lenses safe inside.
I picked myself up along with cage-mounted lensless camera, rubber eyepiece cup and dignity then headed for a nearby wooden bench.
I analyzed the damage. My GH4 was fine aside from a slight scrape on the body where the eyepiece cup had come off. The Motionnine cage had hit the ground in three places on its rear – screw-in right-hand finger support, the lower left of its main frame and on the rear of its round handle. The subtly-textured black-anodized aluminum was roughened where it hit the concrete and tore at my skin and the cloth I was using to clean it. The Crumpler Noose had helped too.
The Motionnine cage had, it seems, absorbed most of the impact of the fall and not the camera inside it. Get the cage into the hands of a metal craftsman when I can find one and the cage will look almost as good as new again. I don’t trust my own repair skills, such as they are, and I don't have the tools.
Another virtue of the Motionnine GH4 cage
My gratitude goes to the folks at Motionnine for having crafted a cage that not only protected my precious Panasonic GH4 and by extension my budding independent moviemaking career but for making it so functional, such a pleasure to use.
I had stumbled across the little-known Korean company Motionnine via a report at News Shooter earlier this year. I wasn’t in the market for a cage back then and, I must admit, I really couldn’t see the point of them at the time. My Panasonic GH4 was not yet on the horizon – my seed funder for They Called Him Mr B had not yet come to the party.
Earlier that year I had read Sol March’s cage overview article at Suggestion of Motion. I had never seen camera cages of any kind back then so their true usefulness had not sunk in. Besides, none of the cages reviewed looked appealing enough to add to my wish list.
It was only when I received a Beachtek DXA-SLR ULTRA audio adapter immediately after picking up my Panasonic GH4 that the advantages of cages for attaching accessories became clear. As a solo operator, setting up and using essential gear, like carrying it through the streets, needs to be easy and straightforward. I am limited to what I can carry in a backpack and, sometimes, also a roll-along case.
I may never have assistants and I cannot have equipment strewn all around a location. It must be centralized, within easy reach, mounted on my video tripod or attached to the camera itself. The Panasonic GH4 and similar mirrorless hybrid cameras are wonderfully lightweight but attaching everything onto their tripod mounts and hot shoes is just not possible. I confirmed that when I needed to attach a tripod, a stereo audio recorder for ambient sound and the Beachtek adapter.
Extra weight, extra stability
It is early days for me and my Motionnine GH4 cube cage and all the other gear above. But this beautifully-designed, clearly lovingly-made little device has already proven its worth many times over. I no longer want to use my GH4 without it, whether I am shooting movies or stills, handheld or mounted on a tripod or monopod.
The only fly in the ointment is the current lack of transport options via backpack. I most certainly do not want to dismantle the camera, cage and lens combo each time I need to walk through the streets to my next destination. Much of my work involves shooting in the streets anyway so hand-carrying and easy backpack ingress and egress is a must.
Shooting in the streets in our all-too-common grey summer daylight and indoors in available darkness has produced another revelation. The added weight of the camera, lens and cage combination reduces apparent camera shake. Yesterday I shot a series of stills under indoors practical lighting at 1/3 of a second and the sharpness was within the bounds of acceptability. This morning some snapshots at breakfast shot at 1/8 of a second looked even better.
A little Sharpen/Shake Reduction… in Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 improved the images even more. Similar improvements came when stabilizing footage via software in the NLEs I use. My current go-to zoom lens does not have optical image stabilization when used on the GH4 though my current telephoto zoom lens does thanks to its Metabones EF to MTF Smart Adapter.
Extra hand holding, extra grips
I love all three handles provided by the fully-assembled Motionnine GH4 Cube Cage – the handle-cum-cable-block at left from behind the camera, the screw-in finger webbing support rod at right and the carrying-cum-mounting handle at top. All three handles are optional and can be removed as you wish.
My favorite top handle for carrying and general use is the Cube Cage Round Handle. I have damaged hands from a workplace accident and enjoy the firm grip on my rig that the round handle provides from top, front and back.
I recently bought the Cube Cage Classic Handle and it has already come into its own for attaching heavier accessories above the caged camera’s center of gravity. The Classic Handle will doubtless prove itself again when I try out an Atomos Shogun in future or Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q+, mounted via a Cube Cage Hot Shoe 1/4 – really a cold shoe as it is not wired up to the camera.
Full access to all the camera controls
Before my Motionnine GH4 Cube Cage arrived I was apprehensive about full access to all the camera’s many rear and top-mounted controls. As Sol March is ably demonstrating with his current article on function buttons and the coming one on customizing the GH4’s function button-accessible Quick Menu, full and easy access is critical to operating the GH4 with speed and precision.
My fears were unfounded. I have unimpeded access to all function buttons and dials. The only one where I have to approach it a little differently is the Menu/Set dial at rear, now using finger instead of thumb on the right side.
Using my Panasonic GH4 has become even more pleasurable since purchasing my Motionnine Cube Cage – which I bought in its extended Cube Mix iteration given my tendency towards future-proofing production gear acquisitions. The rig sits on a table in my workroom and I often find myself unconsciously picking it up, playing with it, becoming more and more familiar with its options, itching to go out in the field.
Future-proofing with raiser, rods and battery
I opted for the Cube Mix because I want to do my own focus-pulling some day now that Ryan Avery has successfully Kickstarter-funded his Veydra MTF cine prime lens project. Which follow focus unit best suits my future needs remains open to question. Might it be Edlekrone’s FocusONE Pro? Will Motionnine come up with something of their own?
The other benefit of the Motionnine Cube Cage Rod Raiser unit is that it houses the Cube Power battery. I have taken the precaution of purchasing several batteries for the GH4 – experienced operators say they use at least four of them on day-long shoots – but some serious extra battery power may prove itself useful some day. It is great to have that option available in a convenient and portable form.
Other Motionnine gear released or on the way
A natural question, given how well-made the Motionnine GH4 Cube Mix cage set is, what else are they releasing and will it be worth considering too? A jib system, the MONOJIB, has just been announced on their news page.
As to supporting other cameras, the Motionnine Cube 5D3 cage was announced on December 27. Cages for the Sony A7S and Blackmagic Design’s Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera were released earlier this year. I don’t have either camera but if I did then I would seriously consider these cages now.
The News Shooter team was “impressed … with the build quality [of] their cage for the Panasonic GH4 at the IBC show in Amsterdam”. So am I, as well as by their responsiveness, pricing and positive attitudes. I am now more than inclined to invest in future Motionnine products.
Another, far more famous cinematographer came to grief with an earlier model in the Panasonic GH series when he was shooting near the cafés outside the Sydney Opera House in 2011. Philip Bloom reported on the loss to wind of his beloved camera and Gitzo tripod in Death of a beautiful camera…
With the very obvious, often dramatic climate change that is going on here in Sydney, wind has become an almost constant feature especially in conjunction with the all-too-common cold grey days we are seeing throughout the year. Today is an incredibly rare sunny, windless, almost cloudless day of the sort that used to be commonplace here.
North Sydney, where my accident occurred, is not as subject to constant winds as the area where Mr Bloom lost his GH2 over a wide concrete barrier. Sudden shotgun blasts of wind can be experienced in certain streets and especially street corners of the Sydney CBD but they are rare north of the Harbour.
I implore other cinematographers planning on shooting anywhere Harbourside to take appropriate precautions. Bring weights with you to hang beneath your tripod-mounted cameras. Use heavy tripods if you can (I can’t carry big ones any more due to injuries). Have assistants stand close by as wind shields if possible.
Shooting by the Harbour and Bridge demand patience especially if outside Luna Park on the boardwalk – often plagued by runners galumphing away its whole length, making steady tripod shots impossible.
Be prepared to spend plenty of time getting your shots, in between the joggers, the constant winds, the rare aerial shotgun blasts and the odd, local little old lady who simply cannot see the point of shooting the spectacular views all around this ever beautiful city and demands an explanation from you. No such explanation is needed. The beauty is obvious.
(cover photo credit: snap from Karin Gottschalk)