Product Review: Flashpoint DSLR/DV Cinema Bundle & Accessories
Affordable Cinema Gear for Students & Aspiring Filmmakers
By Jeff Foster | June 30, 2013
Adorama's affordable Flashpoint brand has offerings for entry-level DSLR/DV students and budget-conscious indie filmmakers. So I've taken the gear to task in some various shooting situations to see how well it works under normal conditions and if I found them a helpful tool or not. Note that I've never used any cinema gear with a DSLR before (though I've seen rigs my colleagues have) so my review here is only based on first-time user experience, intuition and usefulness - not to compare with any other gear or manufacturer on the market today - we all know who those players are. But I will discuss different features and what they do and how well I feel the build/design quality is vs the price point. This review is primarily focused on the Flashpoint DSLR/DV Cinema Bundle and I thought it would be good to include a bit about the other support products and accessories as well, but I will save a more detailed review on the Flashpoint monitors until later so I can do a thorough testing and comparison with it on several cameras.
Products covered in this review:
- Flashpoint All-Inclusive DSLR/DV Cinema Bundle
- Flashpoint 7" TFT LCD Field Monitor, Aspect Ratio:16:9 1024×600 Resolution, HDMI Input
- Flashpoint Swivi HD DSLR LCD Universal Foldable Viewfinder Version II with 3.0X Magnification
- Flashpoint 7" Adjustable Double Articulating Arm (Israeli arm)
- Flashpoint Sony NPF950 NP-F550, NP-F750, NP-F960, NP-F770, and NP-F970 replacement Battery
My First Cinema Gear Kit:
Let me preface this with the fact that while I've been shooting stills and 3D stereo pairs for decades; video camcorders for about 20 years and most recently, POV cams like the GoPro for the past 3 years, I've never laid out the cash for a full-blown cinema gear kit for my DSLR (or even prime lenses, etc.) mainly because of the cost factor involved. I normally just use my DSLR handheld or on a tripod to get B-roll, photos and the like, and use other rigs like jibs, sliders etc. with my Sony EX3. So when I got the opportunity to try out the Flashpoint Cinema products, I thought it would be a great time to dive-in and see what all the fuss was about with this style of gear, though with some skepticism. A colleague of mine who also comes from a photography background says he's not interested in looking like he's "invading a country" with one of these handheld rigs, but much to my surprise, I can definitely see a benefit to most of the accessories and configurations you can obtain with this kit - at the most affordable price I've seen from a trusted manufacturer/distributor like Adorama. For anyone starting out and has limited resources, or just curious if a cinema gear kit is right for your production needs, this may be the right package to consider starting with.
So what do you really gain from a setup like this? First off, the rail-mount system allows you to add-on attachments to further stabilize, filter or control your lens and add-on audio gear and other accessories. Often you may see a "cage" design that surrounds the camera and allows a ton of accessories to be attached but keep in mind, if you're going handheld, every additional ounce of weight will wear on you very quickly!
What Comes in the Bundled Kit?
The Flashpoint DSLR/DV Cinema Bundle comes with 4 major components: A shoulder Rig w/Rails, Matte Box/Filter Holders, Follow Focus and an offset connector. This bundle sells on Adorama.com for $599.96 (free shipping in USA) and would normally cost about $858 if all the components were sold separately. Here's the bundle as shown on the Adorama website:
Unpacking the kit, everything seems to be well designed, manufactured and packaged neatly and professionally.
Assembling the Cinema Kit - First Hands-On:
Unfortunately, Flashpoint doesn't include instructions with most of their products, so if you have no prior experience working with a device, you have to figure it out from the picture on the box or images on their site. Some things are intuitive and easy to figure out how they go together, while other items take some time to determine fit and application. Again - I was new to this so it took a few attempts to get everything together and functioning properly with my DSLR (Canon 60D with EFS 18-135mm lens).
Let's look at each item as it came packaged:
The DSLR Shoulder Rig II comes with two sets of 8-1/2" 15mm rods, connected to produce over 19" rig, single cross bar for the two rubberized handgrip handles, shoulder pad and a base plate with quick-release plate. Add-in the Z-Shape Connector to offset the rails for the shoulder pad and you have your basic kit structure to which everything else attaches.
This part of the package seems pretty well designed and allows for several configurations - whether you use it for a full handheld rig or just attach the Follow Focus on a tripod, I can see that this part of the kit will most likely bring a lot more flexibility to my production workflow. All of the tensioners work well, however I would like to see the design incorporate the same "tighten and pull-rotate" tensioner used on the quick-release plate throughout as sometimes you have interference with other parts and can't get something tightened all the way.
At first, I was a bit turned-off by the plastic shoulder pad on the rig - it looks like molded closed-cell foam but it feels more like molded plastic. It's fairly rigid and unforgiving and unless you can bring the rig fairly close to your face, it's quite difficult to adjust to that it really cradles your shoulder - more like sits on top of it. This isn't really a big issue because with a rig like this, most of the weight is out at the front and your arms are holding up everything, but it's more for helping you steady the shots. I was also wishing to have two more 8-1/2" rails as that would allow a longer reach, but utilizing the Z-shape connector did help offset the shoulder pad enough to make it easier to hold/operate.
You most likely won't be standing for hours at a time with a rig like this. I have seen some poor fellas carting these rigs around trade shows and they look like they're in immense pain toward the end of the day. Just know that a cine rig isn't a replacement for a video camcorder for that type of shooting!
The Matte Box System II includes the Matte Box unit, two 4" filter frames (one stationary and one rotates 360º), three neoprene donuts, two side doors and a French Flag (sorry, no partridge in a pear tree)
I've always wondered, "what do you really need with a matte box"? Other than the obvious cool factor that says "Hey, look at me! I'm a cinematographer!" - the matte box is designed to hold filters and shield from lens flare and glare with the addition of the French Flag and side doors. The Flashpoint Matte Box design is simple but practical. It's mostly a sturdy plastic with metal components, mounts and flags/doors are anodized metal. It's easy to assemble and transports well the doors' easy removal.
The filter frames hold 4" filters, and I happened to have some ND & polarizer filters from Tiffen to test this with. The rotating filter holder works great with the polarizer as I'll show later in this review.
The neoprene grommets help keep glare and light leaks around the lens as it aligns with the matte box, and there are 3 different sizes in the kit to chose from, depending on the size of the lens you're using.
The Follow Focus Pro II comes with the follow focus mechanism and a clip-on adjustable gear belt to fit any size lens.
The Follow Focus seams to be well-designed and features adjustable stops that you can set for two focal points in your shot for that great shallow DOF focus-pull effect that DSLR filmmaking gives us. Attaching the unit to the rails, as well as the gear belt on the lens, take a bit of effort to align properly. Starting with the gear belt, it's adjustable for any diameter lens and if you don't get it mounted right on the grip of the focus ring of the lens, it may slip. It's a little difficult getting the right amount of tension on it as there's no leverage for tightening the diameter - only locking down the adjustment once it's set.
The bracket that grabs the rails for attaching the follow focus mechanism is hard to apply as well, though it looks like it's designed correctly, but perhaps manufacturing tolerances were a bit off on the unit I tested. You have no adjustment control forward/backward on the rails other than removing the mechanism and attaching it into place close to where you need it. There is adjustment for side-to-side movement until the gear contacts the teeth of the gear belt on the lens.
Once everything is installed and adjusted however, it works smoothly and performs well.
The Flashpoint DSLR/DV Cinema Bundle assembled and mounted with a Canon EOS 60D
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