I’ve been shooting a lot lately with the Sony NEX-7. It’s become my favorite camera due to it’s size, image quality and ease of use. With the tri-nav control knobs it’s hands down the most intuitive camera I’ve ever used. With some added accessories, I’ve been able to dial it in to become a great video rig even when shooting vertical videos.
I’ve been a proponent of vertical video since my first video test on the Canon 5D MKII in June of 09. Cinematographers pretty much refuse to shoot vertical even when the finished product will be used vertically. They shoot 4K in horizontal format and then crop in post. Photographers have an advantage here because we are used to vertical imagery for magazines so it’s an easy transition for motion magazines. Don’t believe me that vertical video has a place in the market, just check out the iPad special collection Esquire put out called “The Esquire Covers Film Festival“. They’ve been at the forefront of motion magazine covers from the beginning and it’s great to see them all in one place.
So my goal for a great Sony NEX-7 rig was to make it small and portable like the camera, and to be able to switch to vertical orientation quickly and easily. Starting with the tripod head, I bought the Manfrotto MH055M8-Q5 Photo-Movie Tripod Head. This is billed as a hybrid head and it really works pretty well. It’s a ball head in one mode and a fluid video head in the other. You can use the photo setting to put it into vertical orientation then switch to video mode for smooth movements. If you just have a camera on the head with no accessories then this works really well. If you have accessories attached it can cause problems like hitting the side of the tripod when put into vertical mode which means you have to start removing pieces to get to the full 90° tilt. It also places the follow focus in a vertical position which doesn’t feel natural.
I explained to my friend Brian Valente from Redrock Micro what I was trying to do and he recommended trying the microRRS which is a base plate adapter for a Really Right Stuff quick release. It turns out that Really Right Stuff has an L bracket for my Sony Alpha 16-50mm 2.8 (they also make one for the NEX-7 body). With the crop factor this lens is like using a 24-75mm zoom. I use it with the Sony LAEA2 adapter which lets me put Alpha lens mount lenses natively on E mount cameras. I’m liking this solution because it takes the weight off of the camera and puts it on a sturdy lens mount. The NEX cameras are so small and light I would worry about adding heavy lenses and matte boxes if supported from just the camera tripod socket.
The next piece of the puzzle is the follow focus. Again I wanted small and streamlined but I am also a stickler for quality and I want something that has a smooth range of motion. Redrock Micro’s new microFollowFocus which is the little brother to the new microFollowFocus Blue was just the ticket. The new gearbox is noticeably smoother than my first version microFollowFocus and the feel of the knob in my hands is nice with the new non-slip kung fu grip (rubber coating).
The last piece of the puzzle was the matte box. The smallest high quality one I could find was the Genus Lite Matte Box. It is small and rugged and it takes a 4×4 drop in filter and comes with a nice French Flag for the top (if you get the right kit).
Once you put all the pieces together you get a very compact yet versatile rig that goes from horizontal to vertical with minimal hassles. Just loosen the microFollowFocus and slide it away from the camera a bit, rotate the camera onto the vertical side of the RSS L bracket and slide the follow focus back into place. Easy peasy. It also fits nicely into a small camera bag. You can add handles and other accessories to this rig but as it is it makes a nice compact tripod shooting platform.
$120.00 Really Right Stuff B2 LR II
$88.00 BEA2-L: L-Plate for NEX Mount Adapter
$64.00 4″ 15mm carbon fiber rods – 1 pair Redrock Micro
$44.50 Redrock Micro Lens Gear
$400.00 Genustech Matte Box Lite Kit
For around $1000 you can create a tight compact specialty rig for hybrid video. Add the $1100 NEX-7 camera body and you get a full featured HDSLR style video kit for $1000 less than a 5DMKIII camera body alone – and the Sony shoots 60fps slow mo at full 1080 resolution.
You can use this rig on a larger DSLR like the 5D series but you would need to get longer support rods. I’d try the 6″ rods. You don’t really need the Manfrotto hybrid head with this rig but it’s a good piece of kit on it’s own. I’m waiting on the arrival of the new Benro S Series Fluid heads which I think will complete my NEX-7 video rig nicely.