I love using custom camera cages when shooting video and I often keep those cages on when making photographs. Well-designed, well-made cages are a pleasure to use and have many benefits. They protect your camera and lens, improve stability and provide sturdy attachment points for rigging, follow-focus devices, microphones, recorders, lights and more. For me, they are a moviemaking essential.
A friend and I were discussing whether any cages might still be available for his Samsung NX1 given the one he favoured, Motion9’s Cube NX1, is now listed as “out of stock”. Then the thought stuck me, is there such a thing as a cage for my back-up Super 16/Micro Four Thirds 4K video/stills hybrid camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8?
Turns out there is and it is made by SmallRig, a company based in Shenzhen, China, whose products I had not encountered until now. No time like the present to act positively so I ordered a SmallRig Cage for Panasonic GX8 1844 and it arrived recently, just in time for some dual-camera short movie projects.
I already have a Motion9 CubeMix GH4/3 cage for my main Super 16 4K camera, the Panasonic DMC-GH4, and that happy choice was validated when cinematographer/director Paul Leeming shared that it was his favourite cage too.
Since purchasing my GH4 cage, the NATO Accessory Rail standard has become more common in camera cage and rigging design with Motion9 themselves, now renamed Seercam for the market outside South Korea, incorporating the NATO rail standard into its products as attachments. The Motion9 CubeMix GH4/3 Pro, with its NATO sliding Classic Pro Handle and NATO One Touch Cable Clamp, is the cage I would have bought had it been available at the time.
Motion9 has gone one step further under the Seercam brand name with the quick releasing Seercam Universal Rod Riser and Cube Cage Classic Plus Handle for fast attachment onto a NATO rail permanently screwed to the top of your cage.
With weight and size always a consideration, I prefer Motion9/Seercam’s smaller, lighter handles and most especially their Cube Cage Round Handle. If they would update it for fast-on, fast-off attachment via the NATO standard I would be incredibly happy.
The Cube Cage Round Handle appears to have been influenced by the larger round handle of the now discontinued Canon Cinema EOS C300 camcorder that seems to have grown even bigger on its successor the Canon Cinema EOS C300 Mark II. Both brands’ round handles are brilliant for using and carrying cameras with safety and comfort, especially in the field.
Safety and easy-on, easy-off is crucial for fast-paced documentary-style moviemaking and for independent feature filmmaking demanding you pack as many camera set-ups into a single shooting day as humanly possible.
SmallRig has gone one step further by integrating the NATO standard into the body of the cage itself. Their SmallRig Cage for Panasonic GX8 1844 has two NATO rails, one at top for a handle and one falling under the right hand when holding the cage-enclosed GX8.
I’m not sure to what purpose the righthand NATO rail can be put, but the top NATO rail has handle written all over it so now I am looking for the best solution for my needs – neat, light, no rubber or leather (shudder) and ready-made.
Is it even possible to get the perfect top handle custom-made? If so then that handle would be a combination of the Seercam Cube Cage Classic Plus Handle‘s NATO lock mechanism with the Seercam Cube Cage Round Handle and a Wooden Camera Safety NATO Rail. I want two of them right now – one with NATO rail for my GH4 cage and one without NATO rail for the GX8 cage.
Assembling the perfect cage seems to be a game of scouring through the online catalogs of every camera rigging brand and then some. Not one single manufacturer has everything I need, and don’t get me started on Arca-Swiss plates and clamps for video and stills tripods. And why does almost nobody add small strap loops to their camera plates? Go figure.
For example, I am still looking for a decent solution to attaching several Peak Design Anchor Links to my cages. The best I have come across so far is BlackRapid‘s FastenR Tripod [FR-T1] Breathe or FastenR5 (FR-5) Breathe, but neither is exactly what I need as they must be free-turning to accomodate all sorts of Peak Designs straps in various locations on the cage.
The free-swiveling Sun Sniper Sniper-Strap Rotaball Connector is a step in the right direction but overkill for attaching several Peak Designs straps to cages via Anchor Links. So is CustomSLR’s C-Loop Mini Camera Strap Mount or Peak Design’s Pro Drive Screw – something a fraction of that size is what I need.
One invaluable lesson Motion9/Seercam’s excellent cage designs taught me is that you can never have too many safe points of contact between you and the cage. In other words, handles of various sorts.
Motion9/Seercam’s HDMI cable clamps double as very effective handles for the left hand and their simple 1/4-20 cylindrical screw-in post is a unique solution to better right hand grip. Go to Seercam’s Cube R2S (A7sII,A7rII) page to see one in situ.
If Fujifilm improves the video features in its otherwise excellent X-T2 DSLR-style Super 35/APS-C camera as requested by Paul Leeming, then I will be looking for the perfect cage for the camera with VPB-XT2 Vertical Power Booster Grip attached.
Will I have to go through the same painstaking process to find the best third-party components as I am with my great little SmallRig Cage for Panasonic GX8 1844? I hope not!
Meanwhile I will keep looking for a local, top quality, small object custom CNC machining service – there has to be one out there somewhere!
I have set the search for the perfect accessories aside for the time being and have permanently attached the SmallRig cage to my GX8 after shooting video and stills with and without. My GH4 is ensconced within its Motion9 cage on the same basis. Both cameras feel better balanced and better protected inside their cages and I feel more confident using them on location this way.
The Fujifilm X-T2 is on my wishlist and if Fujifilm improves its firmware in line with Paul Leeming’s suggestions then it will move up the list. I will then be looking for the perfect cage for the X-T2 plus vertical battery pack as that is the most useful configuration for video and the sort of technical stills photography for which it is well-suited.
As my Motion9 GH4 cage is already tried and tested, and its round handle has proven itself in its non-NATO form, I am hoping that the company will come out with an entirely NATO rail-equipped Seercam cage for the X-T2, but will continue to keep an eye on SmallRig and other cage and rigging makers.
I note that Seercam is now producing 3D-printed lens gearing for use with follow focus, a reminder that I need to find the optimal follow-focus unit soon. Fujifilm’s manual clutch focussing prime lenses are well-suited to focus-pulling and I hope that Fujinon lenses even better suited to video will soon be on their way.
Product photographs made with Fujifilm X-Pro2 and X-T2 cameras, and XF 23mm f/1.4 R and XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lenses. HDR three-bracket raw files processed in Macphun Aurora HDR 2017 and Luminar. Photographs lit with Rotolight Neo 3 Light Kit with barndoors and Chimera Softbox.