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.
In 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.
If 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.
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.