The Chicago Way

Weiss and Bogehegn discuss a shot with cinematographer Nancy Schreiber, ASC, for The Great Camera Shootout 2011.

"And then they had to ruin it for us by releasing the HVX200," adds Bogehegn, on Panasonic’s compact fixed-lens, file-based camcorder. After the VariCam, the HVX200 was the next digital camera to transform Zacuto’s business, with many producers opting to rent the smaller and lighter HVX200 over the VariCam. "At that point, we either had to get out of that business or figure out a way to make money to accessorize them so cameramen could use them more professionally," explains Bogehegn. "You couldn’t just show up on a set with a little palm camera and have it look and act like a professional camera system."

Weiss’s and Bogehegn’s extensive background in ENG- and doc-style shooting helped them design much needed camera accessories. Although the HVX200 was much lighter and more compact than the VariCam, Weiss and Bogehegn immediately realized it was more about having proper balance than having a lightweight camera body. They soon started producing baseplates and 15-inch rods to help balance the camera on both your shoulder and a tripod head.

THE BIG SHIFT

After the short-lived trend of depth-of-field adapters for cameras like the HVX200 and the Sony EX3, it wasn’t until the arrival of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II that "blew the doors off of everything," says Weiss. The 5D Mark II was the camera that started the DSLR revolution because it gave low-budget filmmakers the ability to create cinematic images at a low price point. Weiss received an early version of the 5D, and the first thing he realized after checking out the Live View was that you were going to need some sort of a viewfinder. Bogehegn quickly grabbed a loupe from a 4×5 camera and, voilà, they were able to properly monitor their footage.

Bogehegn sets up a shot for Critics, which featured Weiss and Philip Bloom.

"At the first NAB, the 5D was there; we had the first version of the Z-Finder, which was just a Schneider loupe that we Velcroed® on," explains Weiss. "I was walking around the NAB floor with what we called our Run-And-Gun rig and people were laughing at me. But this was right before Vincent’s video came out." Photographer and filmmaker Vincent Laforet’s video Reverie was one of the first movies shot with the 5D Mark II and wowed the filmmaking community on the power of a full-frame sensor.

Shortly after NAB, Zacuto produced the Z-Finder, an optical viewfinder that lets you properly monitor your shots, especially when shooting in bright sunshine. What’s also great about the Z-Finder is that it’s also a magnifier (2.5x or 3x) for achieving critical focus. "It’s the largest-selling item in our company and it put us on the map," explains Weiss. "It’s definitely our background that led us to that device. It was obvious. We looked at each other and a light went off, although we didn’t know at the time it would become our de facto item."

Another camera innovation that Weiss and Bogehegn anticipated is the whole concept of having rods coming out from the back of the camera. "We used these rods in the old days so we could change lenses," explains Weiss. "But nobody ever thought about attaching a device in the back. Now you have a massive recorder and a giant Anton/Bauer brick in the back. That’s why we designed something to stick on the back of the rods."

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