The new Canon C300 Mk II is shipping in force, and that means a lot of new owners are evaluating different ways to rig their cameras. I’ve been going through the same process, and have come across a new system from Movcam (distributed by 16×9) that’s extremely flexible and reasonably affordable. Read on for the details…
C300 Mk II Top Handle
Like the original C300, I’ve found that one of the most useful things you can do to the Mk II is add a custom top handle. There are a lot of top handle solutions already available or on the way for the camera from companies like Arri, Vocas, Zacuto, Wooden Camera and others, but the best top handle I’ve found yet — by far in fact — is this handle from Movcam.
The top handle’s secret sauce is that it lets you conveniently attach as many accessories as possible to your camera, without resorting to a base plate and rods. For instance, I’m able to mount my C300 LCD screen/audio unit in multiple positions, along with a Paralinx Ace video transmitter, an RT Motion remote follow focus motor and its receiver, and a third-party viewfinder like Zacuto’s Gratical HD (sometimes, I swap the viewfinder for a Lectrosonics SR dual receiver when I’m running my own audio).
Movcam’s top handle has a low profile, but lets you build out your camera quite nicely.
The handle can accommodate all of this gear because it has not one, not two, but three 15mm rod holes built in (two running front to back on the camera, and one sideways), plus a modular cold-shoe block that you can mount on the front or back of the handle, depending on where you want to position your C300’s LCD monitor/audio unit (you can also buy a second cold shoe block so you have one on each end of the handle, giving you yet another spot for, say, a field monitor).
And by the way, you may wonder why it’s useful to mount so much gear from the camera’s top handle, instead of using base plate rods. Personally, I like to do it because it keeps base plate rods simple and uncluttered with just a matte box in the front and a battery plate in the back. But it also lets me ditch a heavy baseplate altogether when I want to go handheld, but still keep a few important accessories on the camera.
You can move this cold shoe block to the front or back of the handle (and buy a spare so both ends are covered). I like the block because it has horizontal and vertical mounts, which lets you mount the Mk II’s LCD screen/audio unit a little higher or a little lower, according to preference.
Anyway, it’s pretty impressive that Movcam’s handle can accommodate all of this gear on such a small camera like the Mk II, without overcrowding the camera, making its “footprint” too bulky or obscuring the handle itself. The Movcam’s $495 list price also seems like a pretty good bargain, especially given how expensive rig kits get these days.
Still, the top handle has a couple of drawbacks to keep in mind. The first is that it’s not that easy to get off the camera when you need to slim it down for mounting on a gimbal, a car, or whatever else. You’ll need a flat-head screw driver to loosen 3 screws, but then you’ll also need a hex/alan key for one last point of contact. You can still get the handle on or off the camera in a minute or so, but that can add up if you’re doing multiple swaps a day, and you’ll have to keep track of loose screws and definitely make sure you always have a hex/alan key nearby.
Finally, the handle’s other drawback is that it’s custom-sized to the Mk II, and will probably never fit any other camera you own (case in point: Movcam makes a similarly great handle for the original C300, but since Canon changed the dimensions of the Mk II just slightly, that earlier handle won’t fit the newer camera). So the $495 you spend today will lose a lot of value when you finally upgrade your camera a few years from now. Personally, the Movcam’s value today is so strong that I don’t mind taking that hit in a few years, but it’s still something to consider.
The Base Plate & Dovetail
Movcam also has a newish baseplate system ($405 list, introduced last December) that the company has adapted well to the C300 Mk II, and it stands out for a few reasons.
First, the base plate is small, low-profile and relatively lightweight (327 grams), so you won’t mind carrying it around on your camera during longer handheld stretches. I have a standard C300 baseplate from Arri that weighs the same but has none of the other great features of Movcam’s system. I also have a great base plate system from Wooden Camera that has similar functionality to the Movcam but is noticeably bigger and heavier (501 grams).
Second, the base plate’s two 15mm rod holes pass all the way through the plate, so you can use one set of rods to mount gear in the front and back of the camera.
The third thing I like about the base plate is that you can still jettison it quickly if you want your camera as lightweight as possible. That’s because the base plate has a small, Canon-specific spacer plate installed in its center (spacer plates are also available for cameras like the Sony FS7, F5, F55, FS700 and others). It’s this piece that’s attached to your camera, and it acts as a quick release plate that you can slide in and out of the base plate, locking it in place with a lever (there’s also a small safety lock button to prevent accidental slip-offs). I will say that this process isn’t as quick and easy as it could be, because you have to get the plate positioned just right before sliding it into the base plate mothership. It can take a few tries, unlike, say, Wooden Camera’s Quick Base system, which is near effortless. Plus, if you’ve got a battery plate mounted right behind your camera, you’ll have to move that away so the spacer plate can slide out. Still, it’s nice to have an option for getting the camera off the baseplate as quickly as possible, and that lets you use the same base plate with a variety of cameras.
Finally, Movcam’s base plate is exceptional because it too can slide directly on and off Movcam’s 10” Arri-style dovetail plate ($205 list). The immediate advantage is that you can now perfectly balance a camera on a tripod (which is something that most small, lightweight base plates can’t do without adding dovetail clamps), but you can also use that same dovetail as the backbone of a very capable shoulder rig.
Movcam’s 10″ dovetail plate is a bit pricey at $200, but very helpful for balancing camera. It’s supposed to be compatible with Arri base plates as well, but I noticed that Arri-style dovetails from other companies (such as Wooden Camera) still won’t accept the Movcam baseplate.
The Universal Shoulder Kit
If you want a way to move quickly from tripod to shoulder rig, Movcam’s Universal Shoulder Kit ($750 list) is one of the best and most affordable options I’ve found, on par with another excellent shoulder rig that I reviewed from Wooden Camera. The kit has 5 parts: the Movcam 10” dovetail plate, a 7” handgrip crossbar, two rubberized hand grips (with Arri rosettes), and a small shoulder pad that slides on the back end of the dovetail.
With this kit, you can slide your Mk II off a tripod dovetail, and right onto the shoulder rig in less than 10 seconds (or just install your tripod’s plate on the bottom of the shoulder rig, so it attaches right on the tripod). And I found the rig respectably comfortable to use over the course of a day. The shoulder pad isn’t the most cushy I’ve ever used, but it still protects your shoulder and you can get your shoulder directly under where the camera and lens meet. The crossbar isn’t quick to re-adjust (it’s locked in with two hex screws) but I found a good position for it, and didn’t need to change it after that. The handgrips are reasonably comfy, but since they use Arri rosettes, you can also replace them with any standard grips and handlebars you prefer (note: Movcam also sells a hand grip relocator, so you can replace the rig’s right grip with the Mk II’s own hand grip).
Summing It Up
I often build a rig using pieces from multiple companies, taking the best ideas from a spread. But I have to say, Movcam has done a very good job in designing a single system that embodies many of the best ideas I’ve seen for top handles, base plates and shoulder rigs, all at a decent price. This time, I’m not sure I could surpass it by cherry-picking pieces from a variety of sources.
- Top handle lets you mount more accessories than any other handle I’ve found
- Small, lightweight base plate lets rods pass-through and slides onto a 10″ dovetail
- System converts to comfortable, streamlined shoulder rig in seconds
- Base plate and shoulder rig can work with variety of other cameras
- Prices are affordable, as far as camera rig prices go
- Investment in top handle locked into the C300 Mk II camera
Helmut Kobler is a Los Angeles-based DP and cameraman at: www.losangelescameraman.com