Digital Cinema Camera manufacturers spend a lot of time and effort crafting the designs of the cameras that we buy and use. The ergonomics, layout, design workflow and usability are a significant part of the camera design budget. Yet how many times have you bought a digital cinema camera or even a mirrorless/DSLR camera and NOT accessorized it?For me, I rarely shoot with any camera without third party accessories. Here’s why. It’s all about purpose and deployment. Case in point, mirrorless cameras are designed and executed as still cameras that also happen to shoot pretty good video as well. For those of us who buy them mainly to shoot video, we aren’t using the cameras for their primary purpose. To make a mirrorless camera more appealing for video shooting takes accessories. Sometimes a lot of them. To deploy a mirrorless camera on a gimbal, handheld, off the shoulder or mounted to a tripod, there’s a huge array of accessories available that allow the camera to perform better in each situation.
Let’s take a look at what I use as my main A camera, the Canon EOS Cinema C200. The C200 is great for clients who want to shoot RAW (yes, they do exist, we have at least a few of them), clients who care about shooting 4K60p and for clients who like a relatively small footprint in the camera used while still retaining an extremely high-quality level with Cinema RAW Light recording. For broadcast clients who care more about a mid-range codec than RAW or 4K60p, we shoot the C300 MKII or the FS7 MKII. For accessory purposes, the two Canons are basically similar, the FS7, a bit different but a lot of our various camera accessories are also adaptable to the Sony.
Let’s start at the bottom of the camera. While you can attach a tripod plate directly to any camera, pro users often utilize a baseplate. The camera baseplate can offer a variety of additional functionality to the camera. Here are just a few reasons we use a baseplate: we’re often required to shoulder mount the camera for long-term handheld shooting. Small digital cinema cameras are rarely very shoulder mount friendly unless you attach them to a baseplate designed for shoulder-mounted shooting. The baseplate we chose is the Zacuto VCT Pro. There are many others from SmallRig, Tilta, Wooden Camera, Arri and others, but we chose the VCT Pro for some specific reasons, primarily because it mounts to the ever-popular Sony VCT14 tripod plate, the same model we have been using since we started in the business with Betacams and other larger Sony broadcast-type cameras like the F900. The VCT Pro baseplate also has a sliding adjustment that lets us customize the center of gravity balance point of the camera/lens/accessory package mounted on it.
The VCT Pro also allows the use of 15mm rods, two sets, one in the front (useful for mounting handles, follow focus or FIZ controls, lens supports and other accessories) and one set in the rear (useful for attaching outboard recorders, battery plates and wireless video transmitters). The gel-padded cells on the bottom of the VCT Pro are fairly soft and comfortable, allowing you to shoot shoulder-mounted longer without pain. Lastly, the Zacuto VCT Pro is fairly universal, allowing us to use it with almost any camera we own or rent. Few things in our business are usable with lots of different cameras, so it seemed to be a good idea when we bought it.
Moving up to the top of the camera, we bought a Zacuto C200 Top Plate and Recoil Handle. Why do you need or want a top plate and/or handle? It varies from user to user and camera to camera, but for us, we wanted to specifically mount the accompanying Zacuto Recoil handle so that we would have a place to mount the C200’s touchscreen farther forward that the stock handle allowed.
The top plate also gives us a variety of ¼” 20 and 3/8” mounting options should we need to mount other accessories to the top of the camera. The top plate is rock solid and allows for more configuration options.
What about rods? There are two basic flavors of rods for digital cinema cameras, 15mm and 19mm. 15mm is definitely the most popular, but 19mm is popular on large, heavy-duty builds more commonly used in features and episodic work, the 19mm rods are more rigid and can support more weight without flexing. We use 15mm rods on the front of the VCT Pro for lens supports for longer, heavier lenses and the occasional follow focus. We also mount a Wooden Camera dual Arri Rosette mount for handles when operating shoulder-mounted. We occasionally use shorter 15mm rods on the rear of the camera to support a V-Mount battery plate or sometimes an Atomos recorder.
When operating shoulder-mounted, most cameras have the grip handle placed too high and too far back on the body to be useful. We have two Tilta skeleton camera grip extension arms that we use on the C200, usually only one on the C300 MKII. The Sony FS7 comes with its own grip arm extension, but there are third-party accessory arms from Shape that allow single-handed adjustment of length, unlike the stock Sony unit, which requires two hands to adjust.
Moving away from shoulder mounting, cages are extremely popular for mirrorless and DSLRs as well as for small cameras like Blackmagic Pocket 4K and 6K cameras. These smaller-bodied cameras tend to be more fragile than their larger digital cinema cousins, so placing a metal cage around the camera body gives you more points to mount accessories like monitors, handles, lights and microphones as well as offering protection against impacts against the camera body. A mirrorless or DSLR type camera can be mounted and usually left in a cage permanently unless you need to configure your camera in a way where the cage adds too much bulk or weight.
So far, we’ve covered a bit about why we accessorize our cameras in various ways that have mostly been about physical dimensions and functionality for shooting. Two areas we haven’t yet covered are audio and time code accessories. Neither our C200 or our Fujifilm X-T3 offer time code inputs so we purchased three of the Tentacle Sync E, a Bluetooth time code generator system that allows us to sync up to three audio sources with each other wirelessly. The C300 MKII has time code inputs so it can easily be hard wired to a pro sound recorder, but we even use our Tentacle Sync E with the C300 MKII because going wireless for timecode sync is always easier than running long BNC cables all over the floor.
Other audio accessories that are popular for all types of cameras are onboard shotgun microphones. There are a lot of different models on the market, but the Røde line seems to be one of the most popular with mirrorless/DSLR/phone users. We use an Audio Technica AT-875r on our C200, C300 MKII and FS7 as a camera mic for scratch audio, but we use a Røde Video Micro on our Fujifilm X-T3 because it’s smaller, lighter and outputs a 3.5mm signal versus an XLR output like the pro mics have to better match the Fujifilm X-T3s 3.5mm microphone input.
Other popular camera audio accessories are audio interfaces like the Panasonic DMW-XLR1 XLR Microphone Adapter, a popular addition to the Panasonic DCGH5 and DC-GH5S mirrorless cameras that allows pro-phantom-powered microphones to be used with a consumer/prosumer mirrorless camera. I wish all mirrorless camera manufacturers offered a similar adapter.
At the end of the day, stock mirrorless/DSLR and digital cinema cameras have to appeal to a wide audience of users who use them in mind-bogglingly diverse ways. I never cease to be amazed at how many people hang their cameras from drones, take them underwater, mount them on motion control sliders, jib arms, shoot handheld or on a gimbal or Steadicam-like devices. Many users need these accessories that allow them to use their cameras in so many different ways. We live in a time when there’s a wealth of aftermarket manufacturers, from budget to high end to fill our every need for rigging, mounting and shooting, we’re truly spoiled for choice.