Sachtler’s Ace Accessories (Announced @ NAB 2014)

Over the past 6 months I’ve been testing Sachtler’s latest offering for the DSLR market ahead of the official launch at NAB in Las Vegas. The Ace Accessories comprise a follow focus, mattebox and baseplate to complement the fantastic Ace tripod by Sachtler and offer a complete Ace system. I’ve been using the Ace Accessories on everything from corporate and commercial shoots both in my day-to-day business and on my own short film projects. Overall, I have found them to make all of my shoots run faster, smoother and more productively.

I built a kit around my Sachtler Ace L CF tripod and various Litepanels LEDs, including Bi-Focus 1x1s and the Sola 6, which I used across a range of recent projects. I have since used the Ace Accessories on everything from corporate and commercial shoots both in my day-to-day business and on my own short film projects. Overall, I found the Accessories made all of my shoots run faster, smoother and more productively.

The three products that make up the Ace Accessories bundle are manufactured from high quality, highly durable plastic and tough, sleek machined metal. The combination of metal and plastic means it’s one of the lightest DSLR rig set-ups out there, but doesn’t compromise on strength – I’ll admit, I’ve dropped the unit a few times from waist height and it shows no damage whatsoever! When twinned with my Sachtler Ace tripod, it makes for a very versatile and lightweight rig for my Canon 5D Mark III.

Sachtler Ace Accessories rigIn my opinion, the jewel in the crown of the Ace Accessories is the follow focus, it is simply the best I’ve used bar none. There’s absolutely no play in the focus wheel, no whip or kick back, and it boasts a brilliant hard stop system to boot. There’s also a very handy marking wheel, which is detachable and replaceable, and I understand the set will be shipped with two spare wheels. It also has just one simple tightening wheel at the bottom which makes adjusting the follow focus and swapping between lenses very quick indeed. The friction wheel (a wheel with a rubber outer edge) means you don’t have to use lens gears at all. Instead, all you need to do to quickly change lenses is to push the follow focus up against the lens’ focus rings, tighten and continue shooting.

To date I’ve used the follow focus on high pressure corporate shoots and more tightly choreographed short film projects. It has excelled in both situations and has allowed me to shoot some great footage, often with complicated focus marks and movements. On a shoot last week I had five focus marks to hit whilst pulling off a slide movement at the same time. The follow focus enabled me to grab the shot every take.

Canon 5D Mark III with Ace AccessoriesIf I’m perfectly honest before I got the Ace matte box in my hands I would have said that I probably couldn’t get too excited about this type of product. As a DSLR user, I haven’t previously found much use for one having never owned any 4 x 4 or 4 x 5.65 filters. However, on a recent pilot shoot for a crowd-funded feature film I knew I had some challenging exterior locations and I also had the need to remove reflections when shooting into and through windows.

I purchased a Tiffen 4×4 polariser from eBay safe in the knowledge I not only had a rig with the appropriate frames for this, but also includes an ingenious feature which had the potential to save me a lot of time on set. This is a 180° rotating frame which eliminates the need to remove the frame and turn the filter 90° to achieve the right filtration. In this way I was able to quickly and simply adjust the effect my polariser had on my shots.

Sachtler Ace Matte Box

The polariser positioned at a 45 degree angle using the Sachtler mattebox’s rotating frame.

The baseplate was another part of the Ace Accessories range that I couldn’t initially drum up much enthusiasm for. After all, you slide your camera plate into it, right… so what’s new? Having tried it, there are two things I love about it. First, it fastens to your rails with just one adjustment lever, allowing for faster rig changes and tweaks. Secondly, as a user of the 5D Mark III, Canon 1DC and Canon C300, the easy height adjustment proved invaluable. This feature allows me to use the rig with a variety of cameras of differing designs, sizes, shapes and weights. On a multi-camera shoot I would be able to use the rig with a Mark III and quickly swap over to the C300 if I needed to, without any complication.

My feedback on the Ace Accessories isn’t all praise as, at times, I have had to wrestle with some of the finer details of using the rig. The main hurdle to overcome is that if you have some relatively small lenses (I have the Canon EF 50mm /f1.4 for example) then it can be slightly fiddly to get all of the elements on the rails to line up, also bringing the camera close enough to the mattebox can be quite a challenge. The main mechanism of the follow focus is quite wide, this means sometimes it is the follow focus that determines the distance from the mattebox to the camera, not the lens. This isn’t a huge issue, and after a minute or two tweaking the different accessories I got the set up I wanted. I’m told that the width of follow focus is due to the advanced mechanism inside (it is silky smooth and without a single flaw in operation) so I can quite easily forgive this minor issue 😉

For more information on Sachtler’s Ace Accessories range head to Sachtler.com

Watch this space for the upcoming feature film pilot I’m working on – we’ll be looking for crowdfunding and hoping to raise a budget to put the feature into production in 2015.

Filming the ‘Making Of’ Monarch Airlines’ TV Commercial

In January 2013 I was asked by the production company creating the new TV commercial for Monarch Airlines (the “Let’s Make Flying Fun Again” campaign) to film and edit the making of the ad’. I spent 3 days at Manchester Airport following the crew as they meticulously shot the commercial.

The whole video was shot on the 5D Mark III, mostly using the Manfrotto 682B monopod which is my trusty, go-to monopod of choice. Standard lenses were used including the 24-70mm L, 70-200 f/4 L and 50mm 1.4. For capturing the sound on the interviews I used a Rode lavalier microphone with a VC1 extension cable directly into the 5D.

A busy summer with the 5D mark III

Bruce Springsteen at Hard Rock Calling 2012

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything here because work has been crazy the past few months. Since I invested in the 5D mark III a couple of months ago I’ve hardly had a day off from shooting with it; promo videos, weddings, timelapse, corporate and a bunch more, I’ve shot a lot of stuff with the 5D mark 3, including an intense initiation on two beautiful weddings in London – back to back! Over one weekend I probably shot with my new toy for around sixteen hours overall and for much of that it was side-by-side with the other camera I use at weddings, the Canon C300 – no pressure on the mark III then!

So it had a fairly huge task on it’s hands impressing me while I shot with both that and the C300 together! First impressions and I found that the 5D mark III (at least mine anyway) isn’t as ‘muddy’ and soft in focus as much of the feedback has made out, although it does benefit from around 8 – 15% sharpening in post. It doesn’t come near the resolution and sharpness of the C300 but then I never expected it to! It produces a lovely full-frame image just as the mark II had done but without the dreadful problems of moire and aliasing.
As I had been using the Canon 60D for about 18 months before it, the 5D3 did feel like a fantastic upgrade in every area, except perhaps the lack of a swivel screen and the ridiculously-placed zoom-in/focus check button. Thankfully the customisable buttons meant I could place that function in the centre of the wheel (the old 5D mark II record button) and it didn’t take too long to get used to.

Not long after the double-wedding I got a fantastic gig shooting the preparations, stage build and festival days of Hard Rock Calling 2012 in Hyde Park (my own edit is pending – watch this space!) I was predominantly there to shoot a timelapse over the space of around a week of the stages being built so I actually resorted back to using the Canon 60D to click away all week long whilst I used the mark 3 to get video cutaways and second timelapse angles. This meant I got to put the new and improved JPEG quality of the mark 3 to the test (and compare with the 60D) and I wasn’t disappointed. In Lightroom it felt like I had as much to work with in the 5D3 JPEGs as I typically got from 60D RAW files! I was able to pull so much back with them and really fine tune my timelapse images in batches before exporting and creating the final product.

On video mode, as expected, things had really improved. I’ve shot with the mark 2 loads in the past and really did find that although things hadn’t massively improved on the spec list with the mark 3, all of the tiny little improvements resulted in a big all round step up. Just to confirm I consider the main things to be; 1 megapixel more, 30 minutes continuous recording, ALL-I codec, custom audio levels, headphone slot, almost no aliasing and moire, useable ISO up to 6400.) So at Hard Rock I found myself happily flipping through to ISO 3200 and 6400 in low light and noticing very little noise. 1600 in my opinion is still totally clean and only at 6400 is grain visible. In fact, recent promo work for a nightclub has meant 12,800 had to be used and even then I find the footage to be useable!

I’ve got a handful of really exciting short film and music video projects coming up, the first narrative pieces I’ll be shooting with the 5D3 in fact, so I can’t wait to put it to the test in more controlled environments where I can really focus on my cinematography.

Here’s a video I shot for an event by bespoke charity event and auction company Sacramento Events – very few of the shots are post-sharpened so I think it goes to show the 5D3 image is pretty decent straight out of the camera, personally.