With the Unique Manfrotto Fig Rig Long Dead, What Will Replace It? – UPDATE

NOTE: Since writing this article, I came across a comment from Mike Figgis about the Fig Rig Mark III that I have written about in this article:


The technology world is littered with unique, brilliant inventions that solved a common set of problems perfectly but that were badly marketed, poorly distributed, set at the wrong price point, or failed to find a manufacturer in the first place.

One such product failed by the system was the Fig Rig, invented by movie director Mike Figgis and manufactured in two versions with accessories by Manfrotto.

I wish I had been able to buy a Fig Rig when they were available for too brief a time.

With the Fig Rig now dead, is there anything that can take its place?

The Manfrotto Sympla version of the Fig Rig, adding bells, whistles, expense and the opposite of simple?

I suspect the answer is no, and the video industry is all the poorer for it. Although one could try the plastic pipe DIY option, there are alternatives to the Fig Rig, similar rigs in smaller circular or semi-circular shapes, but neither of the makers of HaloRig nor the Steadywheel have the financial might or global distribution partners of a holding company like Manfrotto’s owner, the Vitec Group plc.

Vitec’s press relations people have not responded to enquiries about the Fig Rig’s fate so we can only speculate and lament the truncated life of a product that had a purity of intention and design, loads of potential, needed to be downsized and updated for modern hybrid cameras, and deserved a marketing effort it that apparently failed to receive.

Manfrotto’s now discontinued Fig Rig video steadying device

The only images of the Fig Rig that I could find on the Web and in a PDF document are low resolution so I have tried to enlarge them a little here.

Mike Figgis made a short video showing off the Fig Rig in action during a walk through the streets of London. The director did his own camerawork.

What I love about the Fig Rig is that it is body-centred, gestural, in the way that my stills cameras are when I am in the middle of the action making documentary photographs and, in order to get the exact framing I want of people near and far, left and right of frame, bend my knees, lean and swivel. I want the same range of movements when shooting documentary video.

Shoulder rigs don’t do it for me though they certainly have their uses, likewise steadicams, stabilizers, gimbals and all their many and various variations.

Of all the images in the gallery above, for me the key is the one at left on the second line down, showing how the Fig Rig allows an operator to pitch, roll and yaw the camera in the same way that an aeroplane does.

And what happened to Manfrotto’s other great white hope, the Lino Apparel Collection?

The Manfrotto Lino Pro range of photographers’ clothing for women and men appears to have suffered the same fate as the Fig Rig. Again, I did not have the pleasure of seeing any of the items in a camera store so have no idea of their design and manufacturing quality and fit but judging by two videos and the tiny photographs below, they look like a brilliant solution to a common problem.

It seems that the Lino Pro range was initially made for only men but a women’s line was added later, according to Manfrotto’s press release at PR Newswire.

I gave up being fashionable long ago; in fact I never have been given photography and moviemaking have played such a large role in my life from teenagerdom onwards. I have pursued style and functionality though, and that has not easy here at any time.

Finding functional, stylish clothing has become less difficult lately with the arrival of UniQlo in Australia, enabling me to wear a basic black layered core all year round by relying on the company’s Airism and Heattech undergarment ranges.

Now all I need is a set of functional, stylish overgarments I can pop on when going out or shooting in my home studio, and that support the special needs of photographers and moviemakers. Manfrotto’s Lino Apparel Collection would have been the bee’s knees had they not been killed off almost as soon as they were born, or so it seems.

Links:

Image Credits:

Header image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

Panasonic GH5 Cube Cage Extension Kit by Seercam Arrives, Seercam Now Working on Further Enhancements

Seercam’s Cube GH5 has gained an Extension Kit to account for the Panasonic Lumix GH5’s optional DMW-XLR1 audio adapter and more accessories are in the works. The old adage “you get what you pay for” applies to moviemaking as much to any other field of human endeavour and none more so than to camera cages. They are as much a form of insurance, protecting precious cameras and lenses, as they are a way of efficiently carrying your gear while rapidly attaching and detaching the myriad of accessories demanded by a range of moviemaking scenarios.

Seercam Cube GH5 camera cage for the Panasonic Lumix GH5 with Extension Kit for Cube GH5, cold shoes attached to the Classic Plus quick-release handle and a tripod plate beneath.
Seercam Cube GH5 camera cage for the Panasonic Lumix GH5 with Extension Kit for Cube GH5, cold shoes attached to the Classic Plus quick-release handle and a tripod plate beneath.

While awaiting a review loaner GH5, Seercam’s Extension Kit  for Cube GH5 arrived and I took a look at it from various angles and with some third-party accessories attached.

As these photographs show, the thoughtfulness, innovation and quality of Seercam’s product design and manufacturing are high. Although I have yet to put Seercam’s Cube GH5 to the test with an actual GH5 inside, hours of handling it with and without the Extension Kit and comparing it to its predecessor for the GH4, Motion9’s CubeMix GH4/3, show each is comfortable in the hands and feels good to the touch.

My more macho moviemaking colleagues may dismiss such concerns as well as that of the cage’s ability to safely protect the camera, but the fact remains that documentary moviemaking can demand that rigged and unrigged cameras stay in the hand for minutes if not hours on end and comfortable grip and pleasant surface feel is essential in my opinion.

Another common point of contention is weight. Aluminium is lightweight in nature and is the most common metal used for cage construction though magnesium is used by one or two accessories makers now. There is not a huge difference in weight between cages that wrap around the camera like a strap and those that enclose the camera like a box.

Given choice between the two, and experience of both, I opt for enclosure than strapping, more weight rather than less, for stability as well as protection and mounting options. I find that well-balanced weightier camera rigs work better for me than lighter ones, whether camera and lens have stabilization built-in. In fact I often add weight to my rigs’ underside via a Manfrotto PIXI mini tripod-cum-handle,  field recorder like the Tascam DR-70D or a quick release tripod plate.

Seercam Cube GH5 camera cage with Extension Kit and third-party accessories

Documentary moviemaker Sol March of Suggestion of Motion has been exploring rigging up his GH5 with rods, handles, clamps and a minimalist strap-style cage on his Facebook page. I began thinking about two-handed camera grip alternatives when I discovered that Manfrotto had discontinued its unique Fig Rig device, invented by movie director and digital video pioneer Mike Figgis.

Stripped down to its basics, the Fig Rig concept relies on handles either side of the camera as well as above and below. I have written about Mike Figgis’ Fig Rig here.

Meanwhile I have been looking at affordable alternatives that do not rely on gimbals, constantly balancing and rebalancing weights and that involve the body in a way that shoulder-mounted rigs cannot.

Seercam kindly sent over the 250mm and 350mm 15mm diameter aluminium rods from its 15mm Rod set to go with the 150mm rod that is part of the Extension Kit for Cube GH5 and I have been trying different rod and handle combinations that I will be exploring further when the review loaner GH5 arrives.

Seercam Cube GH5 cage with Extension Kit, 350mm rod and imaginary handles

One of the many benefits of Seercam/Motion9’s CubeMix GH4/3 cage was its three handles – top round handle, cable clamp and finger support – that could be supplemented with Peak Design’s Cuff and Clutch camera straps, adding to the safety and comfort of using it.

Seercam’s Cube GH5 cage could benefit from from handles in various configurations. Here are some ideas. Apologies for my crude mockups.

I have been thinking about how to better handle cage-mounted cameras since discovering that Manfrotto’s Fig Rig has been sadly discontinued and that there is no direct replacement for it.

I am not a fan of Steadicam and gimbal motion stabilization, due to the cost of these devices and the fact that I find their stabilization unnaturally smooth. I find less-stabilized footage more naturalistic, more human and better suited to independent documentary moviemaking whereas heavily stabilized footage clearly has a place in fictional narrative feature films.

The Panasonic Lumix GH5 apparently does an amazing job of stabilizing footage in several different ways, to varying degrees, but I also use cameras that have no such stabilization built-in and so have been thinking about affordable devices as in these illustrations to add some steadying to those cameras as well as the GH5 when I obtain one.

Links:

Image Credits:

  • Product shots lit with Rotolight Neo and available light, made with Panasonic Lumix GH4 and processed in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop using VSCO Films 7’s Ilford Pan-F 50 presets with selenium split-toning applied via Macphun Tonality CK.