VZ ENG Rig review
by Nigel Cooper
The VZ-EngRig is the latest product from camcorder accessory manufacturer Varizoom.
So what exactly is the VZ-EngRig? Basically itís a camcorder support system designed for full size professional shoulder mounted camcorders. Although your camcorder remains shoulder mounted in the usual hand supported manner, the VZ-EngRig has been designed to take the weight load off the front end of the camera and your right forearm by clever use of an ďActive Suspension Support PodĒ system.
The VZ-EngRig was delivered to me in a standard City Link plastic package that was relatively small and lightweight; in fact it was so compact and lightweight, I initially thought it was the canvas laptop case that I purchased off eBay a few days earlier.
After unpacking the contents I was presented with a lightweight black canvas case with a string tie-up top. This case contained the 4 parts that make up the rig; these include a durable canvas padded belt, a small canvas holster with a metal clip, a metal suspension support pod and an adjustable metal top plate complete with standard 15mm Matte box rods, and finally a single page set of instructions, not that you will need them as the entire rig is fairly self explanatory. At the time of writing the VZ-EngRig is only available in the Sony professional V-lock type base mounting plate. However, Varizoom intend bringing out plates suitable for other camcorder manufacturers mounts later in the year.
After playing around with the various parts that make up the EngRig, my first impressions of the general build quality was very good. The padded canvas belt and accompanying canvas holster felt incredibly durable, whilst the metal suspension pod and top plate mechanism felt sturdy and well made. The top plate section is well engineered with its various adjustment mechanisms working very well. The suspension arm also has a solid feel whilst itís suspension mechanism feels relatively smooth with a decent and relatively silent damping mechanism.
Assembling the rig is fast and easy. The first thing I needed to do was undo the two plastic locking levers on the suspension arm; you will need to be a tad careful when you do this as they are spring-loaded. Packing it away is the reverse; one simply pushes the telescopic suspension pod together and locks the levers off whilst holding the pod in its retracted position.
The metal suspension pod has a male 3/8-inch screw thread that screws into the large brass adjustable female thread on the top plate section, you canít get this wrong as there is only one place it can go. Once this is done you must first remove the QR V-plate that came fitted with your camcorder. This is simply a case of unscrewing the 4 Philips screws. Once this is removed you simply replace it with the EngRig plate instead. Then itís simply a case of strapping on the canvas belt, which fastens via a very large velcro strip and then attaching the small velcro holster to the belt via itís built in metal clip. There are numerous points around the belt that the holster can be mounted into, so finding a comfortable position should not be difficult. I found the most natural and comfortable place to attach the holster is at a point on the belt that is level with your right breast pocket. Next you feed the foot of the suspension pod into the small holster on the belt, passing it through the plastic retaining loop at the top of the holster. Then you sit the camcorder onto your shoulder as you normally would and then screw the suspension pod into the revolving base plate section. I found it safer and easier to make sure the suspension pod is half collapsed and the two support pod locking knobs are locked off when inserting or removing the pod into and from the support assembly; the instruction manual states this also.
So how does the VZ-EngRig perform in the field? Pretty damn well actually. I must admit, when I first unpacked this little rig and put it together my original impressions were that it was just another one of those gimmicks to relieve you of your hard-earned and you could be forgiven for thinking the same thing. However, when I attached it to my Sony DSR390P full size shoulder mounted camcorder and tried it out for 15 minutes or so, I was pleasantly surprised at the difference the EngRig actually made.
Upon first rigging up this device and attaching it to my DSR390 my immediate thoughts were a little on the negative side; I thought to myself that the EngRig is not doing anything at all and had no real advantages at all; yet another gimmick I though. However, after five minutes of giving it the benefit of doubt by carrying out various camera moves like tilting up and down and walking shots, I decided that enough was enough and this device was quite simply an exercise in futility. But wait; as soon as I unscrewed the telescopic pod from the mounting plate on the camera, my precious Sony DSR390 almost fell from my shoulder to the floor, it was only my fast reflexes that prevented potentially expensive damage to my camcorder and lens. It was at this moment that my eyes were opened and I then realised that the EngRig was actually doing an outstanding job.
I totally removed the pod from the camcorder and its holster in the belt and carried out the same camera moves as before i.e. tilting up and down and walking shots. Only this time I noticed that I had to assert very noticeable effort to support the front-end weight of the camera with my right forearm, which made zooming and pressing the record button much more difficult.
I then slotted the base of the pod back into the holster in the belt and screwed the top end back into the base plate on the camera. Wow! What a relief, suddenly my right forearm had no weight to support, the DSR390 seemed to stay perfectly horizontal as if by magic and zooming in and out using the rocker switch on the lens and pressing the record button is all my right hand had to concentrate on, as it no longer had any front end camcorder weight to support. With the EngRig attached, I found that my right arm was totally relaxed, which meant that my zooms were now much more controllable and smoother.
The pod can be moved along the bars either away from the camera or closer to it. The further away from the camera you slide the pod the stronger the support i.e. the harder you will have to try to tilt down. Sliding the pod along the bars closer to the camcorder body will require a lot less effort to tilt down. If you have extra accessories on your camera such as a Matte box or PAG light, this will also affect the placement of the pod on the runner bars.You will have to experiment for a few minutes until you find a comfortable location, once found, itís simply a case of locking it off and leaving it there permanently.
The top section of the telescopic pod is softer in damping than the bottom section and it is recommended that only one section is used i.e. the other section should be locked off. Personally, I preferred having the top (softer) section locked off, whilst using the heavier spring loaded bottom section, however, I do have a heavy camera complete with a Chrosziel lens mounted Matte box. I even tried it with both pod sections open, which allows for extreme tilting either up or down, this is exaggerated even further by sliding the support assembly all the way back.
During the walking test the EngRig irons out a large percentage of the bumpy camera movements as a result of my steps, in a similar way to how a BMW seven series irons out those odd bumps in the road. This effect is not as much as a professional full-on Steady Cam rig, but it certainly helped a lot and it doesnít cost thousands of pounds like a Steady Cam rig either. Iím not comparing the EngRig to a Steady Cam rig, as they are two totally different devices that are engineered in a totally different way. What I am saying is that the EngRig goes a very long way to smoothing out your shots for very little money.
Overall the EngRig seemed to take a lot of the hard work out of shoulder mounted camera operation and it inspires extra confidence, as it seems to hold the camcorder on your shoulder all by itself, in fact the clever way in which the belt supports the pod means that some of the weight distribution of the camcorder is actually removed from your shoulder and dispersed around your waist, this has the overall effect of loosing a few pounds off the weight of the camcorder.
Although the Prozoom website suggest that you can totally let go of the camera leaving both hands free for other jobs, I personally felt a bit uneasy when I tried this. I tried to dial a number from my mobile phone and couldnít quite manage it as I found myself worrying about my precious camcorder falling off my shoulder to the right. Also, I had to tighten up the horizontal locking nut, which prevents horizontal tilting of the camcorder. However, once you become accustomed to the EngRig and the clever way in which it balances, I would imagine you could confidently free up both hands momentarily.
Once you have mastered the EngRig (which wonít take long), this hands-free ability will be especially useful for wedding videographers who need to free up both hands momentarily, maybe to open a can of drink on those hot summer days or to roll up a quick cigarette to calm the nerves under the pressures of shooting the wedding ;) Wedding videographers could certainly benefit from the EngRig, especially those of you who spend a lot of the day with your camcorder shoulder mounted as it relieves a lot of weight off your shoulder and right arm. I also suspect that this device could also make you look that little bit more professional in a wedding shoot environment hence your client will more assured that they hired the right guy, or girl for their precious day.
The EngRig works equally as well in many other shooting situations such as standard ENG (Electronic News Gatherings) work where most of it is done shoulder mounted and as Iíve already mentioned, the EngRig also assists in those ENG walking shots outside the Courthouse.
I actually found that the wide belt also acted as a very nice support for your lower back in a similar way that a weight lifters belt supports his back when lifting weights from a standing position. Some people do get an aching back when they have had a large heavy camcorder mounted on their shoulder for a while, this belt will certainly help out in that department and although the manufacturer does not mention anything about this, in my opinion they should, as it is one of the best ďAccidentalĒ features I have ever stumbled upon with any piece of kit.
The EngRig plate and rods can be used to support any professional industry standard 15 mm Matte Box system or even a professional Follow Focus unit with appropriate lens ring, in my case that would be Canon. This feature alone makes the EngRig a very good deal as the Chrosziel 15mm focus puller and Matte box bars cost £199 plus VAT, which means you are really paying under £100 for the actual EngRig itself; at least this is my way of justifying the outlay to my partner. For the Matte box system the EngRig has two adjust screws that allows the Matte box to be aligned perfectly with the center of your lens. It is also equipped with the universal camera plate Quick Release mount system that locks into your tripod plate as it normally would.
On the whole I am very impressed with the EngRig, it does exactly what Proactive said it would do. The only tiny gripe that I have with the EngRig, and it is tiny, is that the built in microphone on my DSR390 did pick up a tiny amount of the mechanical noises that come from the suspension pod during extreme tilting down shots. However, these were only slight and no more annoying than the zoom and focus servo motor noises that built in mics often pick up on many prosumer camcorders so I wouldnít let this tiny element put you off.
©2005 Nigel Cooper
Product: Camcorder support system
Model: VZ EngRig
Reviewed by: Nigel Cooper
Review Date: 12-06-2005
Summary: If Neil at ProAV thinks Iím sending this review sample back, he can think again, itís just too good and I canít imagine shooting shoulder-mounted stuff agiin without it. Sorry Neil.
Pros: Build quality, easy to set up, free matte box bars included, it just works.
Cons: The pod arm can make very minor squeaking noises when you tilt up and down fast.