Essential Sony FS7/ FS5 add-ons…Z-Finders and more

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I bought the Sony FS5 in January after spending a lot of time hesitating as to whether I should or not. After all, I have far too many cameras…no, I really do! I have my F55, FS7 (my main camera), A7SII, A7RII as well as many Canons, Blackmagics etc. So why get one? The key thought was seeing how it could really  fit into my work. The camera is lovely and so small – those aren’t reasons to buy one though. Most of my work is documentaries these days, and the FS7 is my main camera. The FS5 felt like the perfect accompanying camera for that. The more or less matching image, tiny form factor, great features. I saw it as a camera to always have ready to go, unlike my FS7 with all its stuff on it which takes time. The FS5 is a camera I could take with me anywhere when I am shooting and have all those high-end features and with proper audio.

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The Midtown Blanket from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

So far I have shot just two things with that camera, and only one of them with the camera I bought. In fact it was the day after I bought it during the crazy snow storm in New York in January, which you can see above.

I have yet to use it on paid doco gig….it almost happened 3 weeks ago when I filmed a BBC 1 prime-time documentary in Africa with the FS7 as my main camera. I would have taken it with, but it wasn’t on the customs carnet, as I had just got it before then so my A7SII was my B camera (and a very good one too). The A7SII is still absolutely key to my work with its insane low light and even smaller form factor, but the FS5 has better internal recording and is a proper video camera with no recording time restrictions. Without question, the FS5 will become key to filming future “The Wonder List” seasons for myself and maybe the New York based team. Unless we go 4K, in which case the 8 bit 4:2:0 might not be good enough for anything other than B camera stuff. We shall see!!

I really love the small form factor of the camera (I may have mentioned that) so therefore I don’t want to build it up in the same was I have my FS7. The key motivation to buying this was to carry it around with me, so it therefore needs to be compact. The FS7  needs stuff to make it better. Most of these are made by my good friends at Zacuto. Not all of it though! The Shape arm extension is a brilliant piece of kit is utterly essential.

So let’s have a look at key FS7 and FS5 adds on to improve the camera.

ZACUTO FS7 ROD LOCK

The FS7 Rod Locker

FS7 owners, at the VERY LEAST need to get this tiny little thing, the $95 FS7 Rod Lock. Any FS7 owner knows just how AWFUL the rod attachment for the EVF and mic is. It’s held on by a tiny screw with locking glue that, once you adjust it and break the glue lock, you are done for! I tried to find some wing nut screws for it, but there just isn’t the space there. So I actually replaced my entire top handle to the VOCUS one so I could attach my gratical, but it cost me the top handle functionality and essential hot-shoe. I talked about this problem in my FS7 review which you can watch my clicking here.

You don’t need any other add-ons to make this work, it screws onto the camera as you can see below. It has 3 15mm rod clamps, Two forward / back facing and the horizontal one for your EVF rod. Take that rod out of the hole in the handle and put it through your new rod-locker. It will mean your mic and EVF are a bit lower, but that is a compromise. Oh and don’t get me started on the crappy flimsy mic holder! Oh I may as well cover that next!

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Replacing the mic holder

I have replaced mine with an old CAC-12 mic holder from B&H which I have screwing into the zicro mini from Zacuto. It’s a 1000 times better! The one that comes with the camera just doesn’t seem to be able to cope with a proper shotgun and softie. They break so easily!

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ZACUTO FS7 Z-FINDER

Then the next step would be to get the Zacuto Z-Finder  for it and chuck out that plastic craptistic loop. The Z-Finder bracket and loop is a lovely simple design. I asked them to make it from the moment I first got the camera and stuck on the Blackmagic pocket camera Z-Finder instead… “STEVE!! Please make a flip-up for this”!

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My Blackmagic pocket camera loop with a home-made sticky frame…not ideal but better than the built-in loop!

Well they did just that. A lovely frame and a Z-Finder based on the Blackmagic one. That is your next step up from just the bracket. After that? Well the Gratical HD or the build up the software yourself Gratical X is the best EVF on the market. It is portable across all cameras and is just an absolute joy to use. Once you have used it, you won’t want to use anything else. But if you are strapped for cash and can only spare $95 then GET THAT ROD LOCK!! 🙂

Producer/ Shooter Julian Quinones with the CNN FS7 and my Z-Finder in Africa for The Wonder List
Producer/ Shooter Julian Quinones with the CNN FS7 and my Z-Finder in Africa for The Wonder List

Producer/ Shooter Julian Quinones with the CNN FS7 and my Z-Finder in Africa for The Wonder List

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My FS7 with my Gratical

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FS5 Z-FINDER

Unlike the FS7, the FS5 has a separate LCD and EVF. The EVF at the back is disappointing. If only it had the same one as the Sony A7S cameras, but it doesn’t. The LCD screen is OK but doesn’t have a loop, as you are expected to use the rear EVF. It also doesn’t have any protection. This scares me! I cover it up with a lens bag and bubble wrap when it goes in my bag, but it really needs a clip on plastic cover that can protect it and clip on back of LCD whilst in use. It doesn’t though. The good news though is they have a WAY better way of holding the rod into the handle than the FS7. No more crappy little screw underneath here, we have nice big round knob to loosen or tighten away!

As I did with my FS7, I tried to MacGyver a Z-Finder onto the LCD screen. It didn’t work. It has all sorts of curves and annoying shapes which meant I couldn’t. The best I managed was to use some elastic bands. The other issue is that the LCD rotates via an unlockable connector to the rod. It clicks into different places, but you cannot adjust the tension or lock it off. The moment you try to put a Z-Finder on, it goes more limp than a…well I will let you finished that sentence!

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The Canon C100 had a similar issue, and they used the Z-Bands to hold it on, but due to the design of the camera that was not an option. I had no idea how they were going to solve that issue. Sure, you could replace the whole thing with a gratical, but that means losing the LCD screen and of course it isn’t that cheap. The Z-finder for the FS7 is a way of improving that camera without going down a more expensive path, that is the same here.

What they have come up with is ingenious and works perfectly, although to be totally frank when it first arrived for me to test, I had no idea what to do with it. Being a man, even if they had sent instructions I wouldn’t have read them… so after an hour of scratching my head I worked it out!

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This solution works with or without the FS5 top plate. It is going to be more robust than using the built-in rod system that the FS5 uses, but you don’t have to. The Zacuto top plate rod connection is legendary in its durability. I use the Z-American arms and their Z-icros to connect my monitors to my various cameras instead of yoga type arms, and they are tough as nails. The rod clamps are individually hand tested for 48 hours solidly by Steve Weiss himself! (That may not be true) Silliness aside, I trust them to hold the most expensive of my gear.

FS5 Top Plate


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You can see below my set up on my FS5 from last night.

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PB__7964Ignore the top plate that is fitted on the camera here. This is to show you the LCD on the camera as it comes. You can also see a little Zacuto Zicro on the back of the top handle. I use this to put a Z-American arm on it to hold my Small HD monitor.
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This is the top plate attached to my FS5 with the LCD hanging loose for now.PB__7952

The Z-Finder is based on the Pro mode. If you have one for your 5D type camera, then I am afraid it won’t work, sorry! The optics have to be completely different, as the FS5 screen is much bigger.

The LCD sits inside the specially designed cradle. The two 15mm clamps you can see are for mounting the EVF closer or further from you, the little red knob to the left of the Z-finder is what holds it the LCD into cradle.

As you are not using the pivot part that came with it anymore, you are using the double 15mm rod grip, I suggesting unscrewing that and taking it off, keeping it somewhere safe.

Your angle of view is adjusted by the loosing the red nut in the middle of the two 15mm clamps slightly to give it more/ less friction or to lock it off.

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Above is a closer look at the clamp set up. You can see that part of it goes into the LCD 15mm original rod clamp. It’s initially a little bit fiddly getting it all together, but once it’s done it’s rock solid, and there is no reason to take it off. This also protects your LCD screen enormously.

The next few photos are with it all set up using the FS5 top plate. This is rock solid and the improvement in using the Z-Finder with the LCD over the built-in EVF is HUGE!

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Above and below I am actually using the 15mm hole that is on the FS5 handle instead of the top plate (which you can see in the photo, it’s just not being used). As I said you can use this just fine, but there is no guarantee of robustness or longevity. The top plate is just $125 and gives you some nice solid 1/4 20 mounting points too.
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The only thing it lacks is the ability to push and pull towards you – you cannot do this with the built-in set up anyway, but if you got the Zacuto Axis mini for the FS5 you get just that. I have it on my Gratical, so I need to get another one for my FS5 Z-Finder Set up.
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Of course the more bits you buy the more you spend. You could just build it up and not buy them all at once.

The key part is the Z-Finder and bracket which cost $595.

The top plate is $125

The Axis Mini is $450

They do all three of these; the top plate, the Z-Finder and Axis Mini as a package for $975 instead of $1170 individually, so if you do plan to get all three the bundle is worth it.

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As I mentioned back at the start, the joy of this camera is keeping it small. I have a built-up FS7 as my A camera, but if you are using the FS5 as an A-Camera and want it to be the most comfortable set up for handheld possible, then you need to look at the Recoil set. This gives you a whole new bottom plate for the camera with 15mm rod clamps, ARRI rosette to relocate the hand grip to emulate the FS7 set up, and a lovely big comfortable shoulder pad. The centre of gravity for the camera is dead centre, meaning you should have perfect balance (lens dependent!)

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You can get the Next Gen recoil, Z-Finder set up with bracket and top plate for $1500 or if you have a Gratical then you can get the recoil, top plate, axis mini for $1350.

Zacuto’s Sony FS5 Rig from Zacuto on Vimeo.

Phew, there we go. I think I covered most things. I have to pack for New York now, as I head off there first thing in the morning. If you have any questions ask them below or on Facebook!

I will leave you with the other thing I shot, the first thing I shot, on the FS5. My mini doc “The Wooder Carver” that I made for Sony. Happy shooting!!

The Wood Carver: A Sony FS5 mini documentary from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

 

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