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

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.

‘Boss Boot Camp’ – our Reed Short Film Competition entry

We were really pleased to hear that ‘Boss Boot Camp‘ made the shortlisted 12 of the Reed Short Film Competition 2012. On Wednesday 30th May myself, Matt, Ross and James went down to the excellent Hospital Club for the awards night. Unfortunately we came close but weren’t lucky enough to win one of the three prizes on offer. We’re still really proud that the film made it to the final 12 out of 503 entries in total and we’ll come back bigger and better next year in an attempt to make it third time lucky!

Boss Boot Camp is a lighthearted action-comedy written and directed by Matt Downton and myself that explores how truly tyrannical bosses are made. It features the charismatic talent of Will Harrison-Wallace as ‘the boss’/drill sergeant and was shot over a two-day period in early March.

Our excellent cast and crew endured horrible weather, a long, exhausting weekend shoot and of course, the drill sergeant himself who is pretty terrifying at times(!) to produce a film that we’re really proud of and the first comedy I have ever attempted. There’s lots more behind-the-scenes information and photos at the Lightmill Films mini-site.

On day 1 of the shoot FXHome kindly allowed us to film the office scenes at their offices in Norwich. Later in the day we moved to The University of East Anglia (of which most of the crew and half of the cast are graduates) who allowed us to film the classroom scenes in the congregation hall. On day 2 we shot the boot camp scenes (amidst the biggest downpour of the year!) at my dad’s farm in Suffolk.

We’ll be teaming back up with many of the same people to continue making short films and other creative projects. Check back at the Lightmill Films website to see our progress and our other films.

Sheltered from the Rain: A pop-up tent provided me with some cover from the rain and I was able to shoot from a small opening in the side – Completely unplanned but an effective solution!

Umbrella: Two of our cameramen James Gorman & Ant Essberger, filming from underneath our only umbrella, in fact, Ant stayed under it all day, bless him.

Reed Short Film Competition 2012, The Boss, Short Film, short film, Reed

Props: Our lead actor Will using a tiny, not-so-macho umbrella to stay dry during the last few scenes.


Successful Alcoholics

One of my favourite things to do with a bit of time off is to flick through the various short films on Vimeo. Every now and again I stumble across something I really like, and naturally I hit the ‘like’ button. But ‘Successful Alcoholics’ is a short film that I LOVE! It’s easily one of the best short films I’ve seen, so it deserves an extra special mention!

Despite being a lengthy 25 minutes long, I’ve watched it at least a dozen times. It puts a fantastic spin on the story of balancing career and addiction (perhaps a funnier, more lighthearted Shame?!) as we see Drake (T.J. Miller) and Lindsay (Lizzy Caplan) battle with alcoholism. Jordon Vogt-Roberts’ film brings together brilliantly witty writing and a serious message all in one, transitioning from often hilarious slapstick and satire to a touching sensitivity that sees the characters realise and tackle their problems head-on by themselves.

Successful Alcoholics by Jordan Vogt-Roberts: