The Redrock Micro DSLR Cinema Bundle for the Canon 5D MKII
COW Library : Cinematography : Jim Harvey : The Redrock Micro DSLR Cinema Bundle for the Canon 5D MKII
"Oh the times they are a changin'" goes the old song, and never was that more true than today. The world has turned upside down with the advent of video cameras that take stills and more incredibly from a quality standpoint, still cameras that take video. Little point and shoots have had the capability to shoot video clips for some time, the image quality varying from absolute junk to fairly good, but only very recently has a high end DSLR been given the capability to shoot not just video, but HD video.
Nikon's D90 broke the barrier with their 720p function, but it was Canon who knocked it out of the park with a true Full 1080p HD in their ground breaking 5DMK II.
At 21.1 megapixels, the 5DMK II has the highest resolution of any standard DSLR on the market today. Yes, there are higher pixel counts available, but they are specialty digital backs that are out of reach of mere mortals such as us. The 5DMK II, at under $3000.00 (body only) is not only affordable, but an incredible performer in its own right.
The video capability of this camera is nothing short of spectacular. While there are some small points that need to be addressed, on the whole, the camera delivers performance that was unattainable without spending 6 figures just one year ago.
Ergonomically, a DSLR isn't the best choice for shooting video. Awkward positioning of controls and the inability to zoom smoothly, as well as some focusing issues might make you take a pass on first inspection. But as with any new technology, there is that rough initial learning curve that we all have to get over. Fortunately, there are companies and individuals that stay up late at night thinking about those rough spots and then putting the gears in motion to come up with solutions to them.
REDROCK MICRO is one such company. Located in Dallas Texas, Redrock Micro has been around for 5 years now working continually to develop affordable solutions to people who don't have Hollywood sized budgets. Their express purpose of bringing cinema quality accessories to the market has been very successful due in no small part to the company's dedication to high manufacturing standards and innovative design. Their original product, the M2 Cinema Lens adapter allowed DV and HDV cameras to use 35mm Cinema lenses to dramatically improve the quality of recorded images.
[Ed. note: depth of field adapters from Redrock Micro and others were covered "in depth" in this article from the Cow library, by Todd Terry.)
Continued work on the M2 brought the logical evolution of the microFollowFocus, microLensSupport and other high quality, low cost cinema accessories. In an unprecedented move, Redrock Micro also released the Redrock Micro DIY Guides that provides an even more inexpensive alternative to those filmmakers who had the desire to learn more about camera lenses, videography and the art of cinematography. To give the filmmaker / videographer access to tools that were formerly the domain of high budgets and specialized equipment houses is a breakthrough that democratizes the entire process of image acquisition. This idea has been one of the main tenets of Redrock Micro.
All this is dandy, but what we're going to look at today is Redrock Micro's entry into the DSLR arena and their vision of DSLR Filmmaking the Redrock Micro way.
Here is the important question; how do you take a still camera and make it a viable cinematic engine that can be used in a professional environment? As discussed before, shooting video with a DSLR isn't the most fun you can have with a camera from an ergonomic standpoint. Yes, the image is outstanding, but with such awkward handing, it becomes a logistical challenge to get that great footage that you see in your head. What to do? Well Redrock decided that to make the camera more usable, it needed a more stable platform to shoot from so they set out to build just that. The result is the REDROCK MICRO DSLR Cinema Bundle (ver.1.0).
This revolutionary system is completely modular and can be acquired in one fell swoop or put together piece by piece. But at under $3000.00 for the whole show, it's something that you might want to skip some lunch dates at the Burger Drive through to get the complete package all at once (and at the prices a "Fast Food" meal cost nowadays' you'll be paying off this unit in no time).
The basic package consists of the following;
*Comes with the DSLR Field Cinema Bundle
In the six minutes that you will spend watching the video (and following along) you'll have your DSLR rig assembled and ready to work. If you DON'T watch it, you may end up like a guy I heard about (who will remain nameless) who sat in to middle of his studio scratching his head for a couple of hours. Trust me, it's a very straightforward procedure to assemble, but there are some points that need to be clarified. Watching the video does just that.
So with our box sitting in front of us we open it up to find the following parts;
I also added the Shoulder Support Kit* ($350.00) to round out the setup.
(Note that there is now a Redrock Micro DSLR 2.0 Hybrid system. It is not intended to replace version 1.0. Instead, it offers a lower-price system, with a different approach. The DSLR 2.0 Hybrid brings much greater portability and lightweight to the rig. Using a special baseplate and industry standard 15mm rails, the DSLR 2.0 Hybrid eliminates the large cage and matte box. Incorporating a fully customizable selection of accessories, you can instantly tailor the rig to your personal shooting style while still maintaining a more discreet shooting style. The setup allows for more precise camera control without the need for a large rig. A Micro Follow focus can also be incorporated into the setup. Accordingly, the cost of this setup is much less than the full size DSLR Cinema bundle.)
Let's take a look at each component of the system.
The microSupport Baseplate
If ever a part was mis-named, it would have to be the "microMatteBox". This unit is full size in every way, from the huge French flag, full size side wings and filter holders, the microMatteBox could have an article all its own. When you open the box and confront this magnificent piece of engineering, you will be hard pressed to say anything other than "WOW!" I've worked with almost every manufactured matte box you could think of and I am not exaggerating when I say that this one is my all time new favorite.
Just a quick listing of the features will have you wanting to get your hands on this. First off, the construction is to put it mildly, Robust. This was built to work out in the field.
While not overly heavy, it is substantial and the feature set is impressive. Two rotating filter stages that accept either 4" x 4" or 4" x 5.65" gel or glass filters. An assortment of lens adapters (cleverly made from a neoprene wetsuit type material that won't scratch expensive lenses and will still be light tight). Real metal side curtains that adjust with a small thumbscrew and a French flag that is large enough to insure that any stray light stays out of the places it doesn't belong. Coupled with more than enough size to accept any lens you might care to mount. Some longer lenses such as telephotos over 300mm will probably require you to use an adapter to adjust for length. I had no problems attaching a Canon 300mm F/4L to the rig and still have enough room for a grad in the filter holder.
I particularly like the swing away function that makes lens changes so much easier. Rather than having to break down the setup for a lens change, the Matte Box has a small knob that you pull up and the entire Matte Box assembly swings to the side out of the way. You don't have to disrupt shooting and you can change lenses without having to remove the camera from its mount. The neoprene lens gaskets are supplied in an assortment of sizes to fit virtually any lens you might want to mount. If you have an "oddball" you can simply use a pair of scissors and modify an existing gasket to suit your needs.
The Matte Box seals the lens with an innovative neoprene gasket that can be easily modified with a pair of scissors. this eliminates any possiblitiy of scratching your lens.
Additionally, coupled with the ability of the microMatteBox to swing away, lens changes are quick and painless. A generous marking wheel is installed so that grease pencil marks can be clearly seen by the focus puller. Whips and Cranks of various sizes are also available to make pulling focus as smooth as possible.
The operation of the unit leaves little if anything to be desired as far as functionality and accuracy / repeatability. The gearbox of the focus unit is sealed and backlash free, insuring that you will hit your mark every time. The unique clamping mechanism allows for rapid adjustment and secure attachment as well as rapid removal should the need arise.
Although I didn't try it and wouldn't recommend it, it looks as if you could park your car on this thing. Careful and thoughtful planning and engineering has made the microSupportCage not only strong, but lightweight as well. This is a real bonus when you are shooting from the shoulder or want a low angle handheld. By combining or removing elements from the cage, you can customize your rig to reflect your style of shooting. Attachments can be made to add accessories to the rig and any standard accessory that utilizes 15mm rods can be incorporated into the system.
Adjustable handles allow the operator to position them in the most comfortable way. In this mode, the camera literally seems to glide as you "steer" it with the handles. There is an extra platform included that you can use to mount additional accessories such as audio or an Israeli arm for attaching a small monitor or shotgun mic.
Components of the shoulder mount system. The Base of the shoulder mount pad is designed to be compatible with Arca-Swiss style mount as well as conventional 1/4-20 screw mounts.
Once assembled and installed, it becomes a part of the entire system. The design part of the kit blends seamlessly with the functionality and becomes a perfect fit. Nothing looks out of place here. Nothing looks like an "add on" or an afterthought. Redrock Micro makes it all look simple, but the thought and styling that went along with the engineering is very impressive.
The REDROCK MICRO DSLR Bundle (ver. 1.0) may not be perfect, although to be honest, the only thing I found in the whole package to nit-pick was the size of the thumbscrews on the matte box. Should you be blessed with Human sized fingers rather than fingers more akin to the size of a standard pepperoni, you probably won't be bothered at all.
Other than that, I really could not find anything to complain about. The design and execution of this system is such that with very little effort, you can place your work on an entirely new level that heretofore was effectively unobtainable by the vast majority of shooters.
I attribute this to the company's track record of innovative design and listening to feedback from its users. The DSLR Cinema Bundle creates such an enjoyable experience when using the Canon 5D MK II that any small points can be easily overlooked. I did some experimentation with the parts that were available in the kit and found that simply by being a little bit creative, one could actually tailor some different configurations that might be more usable in certain situations.
Taking it all in and looking at what Redrock has produced, we can offer up the following opinion and conclusions:
Based on what I have seen Redrock Micro do in the past, and how they listen to customer input, I think that this is just the beginning in terms of cinematic equipment becoming more accessible to a larger number of filmmakers, students, advertising agencies and freelancers. The fact that they call it "ver. 1.0" indicates to me that there is a lot of development still going on down there in the Lone Star State.
But more importantly, if you are looking to create incredible images RIGHT NOW, you can do so simply and easily by putting together the Canon 5DMK II and the Redrock DSLR Cinema Bundle or DSLR Field Cinema Bundle. With a good quality L series piece of glass up front, the total cost to you will be well under $7,000 -- and that's with a very good tripod thrown into the mix. For what you get in quality, control and usability, that's a steal.
Here is the answer to that lingering question "How do I get the 'film look'?" that surfaces in almost every conversation about video. No gimmicks, no plug-ins, no dickering with the footage in post. Put this system together, shoot it like film and watch the people fall out of their chairs. In the hands of a beginner, this system can elevate the quality of a project by leaps and bounds. In the hands of an experienced shooter, the sky's the limit.
Having reviewed the Redrockmicro DSLR Cinema bundle and Shoulder mount and found it to be an exceptional piece of gear, the proof of the pudding and the validation of my opinion can only come from using the rig in the real world.
To begin, I brought the rig and a Canon 5D MK II over to Jaycee Indiviglio of Indi Productions to have him take it for a spin. After about 30 minutes of intro and bringing him up to speed on the unit, I turned him loose to get his input and feedback on using the rig on an actual shoot.
According to Indiviglio, "The first thing that struck me was the physical size of the unit. There's no mistaking this for anything other than a full on cinema rig. I wasn't convinced that this could be effectively manipulated in a hand held shooting situation, but I quickly found it to be far more maneuverable than I had thought it would be. The shoulder mount was comfortable and well designed and with the two handgrips it was very easy to "fly" the rig and get easy Dutch angles and POV shots.
"I absolutely loved the rotating matte box filters and the light control that I was able to achieve with the large French flag and side wings was just about perfect. The fact that I could get a lens change done in about 1 minute was a real bonus too. Working with the unit on sticks was equally nice. The whole rig is balanced nicely and doesn't overwhelm the tripod or the operator. Pulling focus was smooth and simple. All around this was a real eye opener from my perspective.
"Working the way that we do, it's important that we can get the shot that we need first time," Indiviglio continues. "We do a lot of 'reality' work and most times we don't have the luxury of a second take. This system allows us to get the highest quality video and that "film look" that comes from being able to use 35mm Lenses.
"Depending on which lens we use, we can achieve unlimited depth of field, or a DOF so shallow that people automatically assume that it was shot on film. The whole unit with the camera is less than we would spend renting an Aton or an Arriflex so it makes sense for an independent filmmaker to own this system. And visually, it certainly expresses an air of professionalism which may sound silly, but believe me, can be very important in some situations."
I showed the rig to several other friends in the business who all expressed interest and were very impressed with the handling and features of the DSLR Cinema Bundle.
Art Klein of AL-ART Video is my supplier of video cameras and equipment for all my projects. From his point of view, the Redrockmicro DSLR Cinema Bundle fills an important spot in the rental business as well. As he explains it, "With the introduction of the Canon 5D MK II, there are numerous requests for the camera to be used as B Roll and even Main Acquisition."
The biggest hurdle for the end user is being able to control the camera. By utilizing the DSLR Cinema Bundle Rig, the end user can have a working unit that behaves in a way that his operators are used to. Hand a 5D MK II to most camera operators and they will give you that blank stare (You want me to do WHAT with this?) Decked out in its Redrockmicro livery, this becomes a familiar tool that is quickly acclimated to." The other upside is cost of acquisition. Not everyone can afford to buy state of the art equipment, but with the rental option, an independent can up their game by a large margin by renting out the latest gear. There's really no downside.
I myself found that it was the Redrockmicro system that I was reaching for when I needed to shoot footage for my clients. That initial learning curve of feeling out the system and understanding the nuances of the setup paid off in excited clients who raved about the footage. I see the need for an external monitor for a lot of work, but with some of the Wide Angle lenses the DOF is such that only periodic focus checks are necessary.
Additionally, and a great upgrade to the 5D MK II, is that the shutter speed and aperture issue has been resolved by Canon with the release of a firmware update that allows you to pick the aperture and shutter speed and keep it locked. Previously, there was no real way to keep your exposure stable. Some wonky work arounds almost worked, but you still didn't have that final say. Now we can only hope that Canon is still listening and we can keep our fingers crossed that a 24P upgrade will be next on the agenda and that coupled with the Redrockmicro setup, will just knock this camera right out of the park.
Canon 5D MKII Audio
A few people have mentioned that the audio that the Canon records is virtually useless for anything as the handling noise is such that every little touch is picked up and transmitted to the clip. Well, this is true enough, and one more reason for using the Redroc Miicro rig. By isolating the camera from the operator's hands, the onboard microphone doesn't pick up handling noise. This results in much cleaner audio and surprisingly, the onboard microphone is quite sensitive and delivers pretty good sound when housed in the rig.
For a lot of work that this camera will see, the onboard audio will be perfectly adequate. If you need more audio "sweetness" then the off-board Rode Stereo Mic delivers that extra bit of clean sound. It mounts easily on the rig and is a 'set it and forget it' tool. With the industry standard 15mm rods, the addition of accessories for audio, wireless mics and external monitors is much simplified. Israeli arms can be attached and any number of configurations attained. You can utilize your existing shotgun mics, lavs and other accessories and they will integrate seamlessly with the unit.
Not just for indies
Lest you think that this is only for indies and semi-pros I would direct your attention to the following set of photos taken on the set of a Major Television Show where the Redrock Micro DSLR Cinema Bundle found a home for some of the trickier shots or in places where the 5D MK II was simply the DPs tool of choice. You can see that the system lends itself quite nicely to full blown studio work as well as being portable enough to use on the run.
[Ed note: You can check out the full IMDb profiles for Rodney and Bill yourself, but, between them, they have directed, produced, written and served as DP for projects as diverse as "24," "The Pretender," "Kiss or Kill," "Shipwrecked," "Roswell," "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys," "Sounder," and "Two If By Sea."]
The other nice part about this system is that it's continually evolving. One of the nicer new pieces is the DSLR Plate Baseplate shown below.
The DSLR Baseplate provides the foundation for support setups around video and still digital SLRs. This baseplate is lightweight, very low profile, and can be used to connect standard cinema 15mm rods (60mm spacing) to the bottom of any DSLR. This will allow you to customize a setup specifically for your particular needs. Having the piece interface with industry standard rods also makes this a particularly affordable addition to your kit.
Redrockmicro's commitment to the evolution of Camera support is ongoing and driven by the idea of delivering superior engineering, affordable high quality equipment, and excellent customer service to round out a completely professional package that won't break the bank.
Yes, the times, they are a'changin,' and changin' for the better.