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Production Equipment Reviews: DVTEC DV Eng Rig (a working review)
(Review update for 2015)
A quick search on the internet will reveal a number of shoulder rigs designed to aid hand held camera operation, however in regard to the heavier broadcast shoulder mounted cameras there is very little to choose from. I have generally kept cameras - particularly heavy ones, on a tripod or rig of some kind, but let's face it, while for some things, that's the tool for the job; in other cases a tripod is very restrictive and cumbersome, forcing you to possibly be less creative, shoot less footage with interesting angles and so on.
When talking about a shoulder mount aid, I am not referring to the Steadycam Rig and the skilled operator that goes with it. What I am talking about is the ability to be able to get the camera off the tripod and be more creative without breaking your back, and the shaky shots that can come with prolonged hand holding.
For a while I had considered purchasing the very nicely engineered Swedish product called the EasyRig, and for certain projects in the pipeline I may just end up doing so. However, for my particular general commercial needs there are a couple of drawbacks with this type of rig, namely, it's fairly expensive and it is a very "visual" product, with its harness and supporting arm. It's a little like having a street lamp appearing over your shoulder. For hand held work, using a larger camera but wanting to keep a low profile, I am not comfortable with that approach and there is also the issue of getting the vest type system on and off in a hurry. I looked at other products such as the Steady Stick but was not convinced. And so…
The DVTEC DV Eng Rig:
While there are some good operating photographs of this unit on the DVTEC website, there are no agents near us to be able to try one out, and like so many gadgets I am skeptical of their practical use. I thought it would be helpful to put together a brief review showing a very simple product in practical working conditions, starting with a television commercial for Scotland's number one motor sport centre - Knockhill.
I hummed and hawed about the DV Eng Rig for some time, as mentioned before, I had a feeling that it was probably just another gadget that would be of little use in a professional working environment. However, in almost shear desperation, after a lengthy 3 day shoulder mounting job in Denmark where I thought my back had left my body for good, I decided to order the 15mm rail and the Eng Rig packages.
Within a short time of placing my order online, I received a reply from Danny Natovich, the creator of the DV Eng Rig to say that it was on it's way, and sure enough it arrived a couple of days later by UPS carrier.
It all comes in it's own neat little carry bag and as you can see from the photographs, the product requires a standard 15mm rail system to allow the use of the gimbal (in blue), to which the adjustable two section hydraulic pole clips onto. The pole in turn slips through a plastic ring into a canvas pouch that is attached to a heavy duty waist belt attached via Velcro. Once the camera is on your shoulder, it is a simple case of positioning the gimbal and adjusting the dampeners in the pole to suit your needs. For the heavier cameras I found that locking off the top pole section and allowing the lower pole section damper to move freely was the correct method for general work.
How Does It Really Perform?
Our work is varied, and all too often in commercial or documentary work, the need to be able to maneuver quickly is important. In the photographs you will see the DV Eng Rig in operation with a fully loaded Sony F350 XDCAM HD camera. While this camera is certainly not heavy by broadcast camera standards, it is still heavy enough to cause back and shoulder fatigue and, on that count, I have to say that the DV Eng Rig does a first class job taking the strain. So much so, that not only do I find shoulder mounting virtually effortless, I also love the freedom to be able to shoot many more angles than I would normally have done if mounted on a tripod. On a job at the Knockhill Racing Circuit I needed to be on the move operating the camera for just over 2 hours - at no time did I put the camera down nor did I feel the need for a rest. When I did take the camera off my shoulder, there was the slight feeling that, yes I had been carrying something, but there were none of the usual aches and pains, and even the next day, there was absolutely no feeling of arm or back strain.
One thing I like, is the ability to wear the adjustable support belt all day under my fleece without even noticing and, with rails permanently attached to the camera (fitted with a standard Quick Release fitting), I can quickly go from tripod to shoulder mount in less than 30 seconds and back again - this has proved to be very useful when time is pressing.
What else can you do? Of course, lengthy rock steady shots on the likes of interviews and presenters is a breeze and with a little practice you find that achieving smoother following shots is so much easier and more precise. I like shooting all kinds of angles, low, high, Dutch tilt and so on and here the Eng Rig helps me achieve steadier awkward angled shots. In one of the pictures you can see that I have used a camera strap over my neck for further support. However it must be noted that undue strain on the upper pole brass fitting that fits into the gimbal will result in a possible fracture – so when using a heavy camera beware of this weak spot, I would certainly like to see that beefed up.
Could it be used like a Steadycam?
The question most people want to know; how good is it at removing those tell tale bumpy walking shots? This is not, nor does it try to be, a Steadycam - however, for walking shots it is possible to get slightly smoother moves, but I have had to practice a fair bit to learn my own way of getting this to work. When following an individual for example, it is relatively easy to get decent looking shots as long as you keep your framing on them, and because they themselves are moving up and down as they walk it is not so noticeable. But try tracking around a fixed item and it's not so easy. Keeping the waist pouch away from your hips and more towards the centre of your body certainly helps keep movement to a minimum.
Fitting handles, or as in the accompanying photograph a Fujinon zoom controller, onto the rail ends did not make much difference as to how the rig performed, although, if you were on the run for any reason, or being bumped about, then holding via the lens handle is the safest support for the camera. A bit of a disappointment with the rails when using Fujinon lenses is not being able to attach a lens zoom control cable as, no matter how we adjusted the rail other than fitting it upside down so to speak (and there is adjustment left/right and up/down), it would not give enough clearance for the cable to fit into its socket. Another feature of the rails is their length – we find that they hinder the revolving filter trays on our Redrock Micro mattebox.
During some jobs in Europe and the Middle East I used the rig with our fully kitted out XDCAM HD422 PDW-700 and boy was I glad of it. While in Israel we meant to meet up with its designer – Danny, but alas our schedule was too tight. The pole collapses down to a handy size while the waist belt is easily tucked away in a corner of a case – or worn if out and about. I can't stress enough how much my body appreciated this simple aid particularly after working in some pretty arduous conditions and production schedules that were challenging in every way and the one thing I did not have to be concerned about was my back or shoulder giving out.
Camera operators shoulder mount for varied reasons and, to that end, everyone's mileage is their own. If you do need an aid to help you shoulder mount a heavy camera virtually effortlessly, enable you to be free from the confines of a tripod, a rig system that can be ready for operation in less than 60 seconds with the same ability to dismantle and with the added benefit that the whole rig can pack down into something that can be carried with ease, then the DV Eng Rig is well worth a look at.
Compared to other manufactures, the 15mm rails c/w Sony / Panasonic Quick Release fitting supplied by DVTEC are very good value for money – though beware lens zoom cable attachment and rail length issues.
As of 2015 we are still using the same rig and ity continues to serve my back and arms well. The product is well made, and the dampening springs continue to stand up to general use with a heavy camera like the Sony PDW–700. So far I have had no issues.
Improvements? While the two pole section is adequate, it does remind me of a budget system lighting stand. For the heavier cameras, I would have preferred the option to purchase a more substantial pole system with a thicker brass end connecting piece (another product line for you Danny?). Danny tells me his choice to finish the gimbal in blue was a creative one; however, I would have preferred it neutral. Another point is the problem fitting a zoom control cable when using Fujinon lenses; this may or may not be important to a user. And do the rails actually need to be so long? I have found that balance is achieved a good bit before the end of the rods. Of course I have found this useful when protecting the lens from being knocked or bumped when the camera has not been packed in a case during transportation.
At the end of the day my back and shoulder are very happy I ordered one and it is an important part of our production kit. The service from Danny at DVTEC has been excellent and, therefore, I would recommend the Eng Rig to others who are pondering these issues.
I hope this review has been helpful and that it will help towards making an informed decision.
Stewart Menelaws (Director of Photography)
You can read some more in-depth reviews on XDCAM products by choosing from the review links below.
"You can also read interviews Stewart has done for "The Producer magazine".