If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you know that I shoot on Panasonic Lumix GH2 cameras. The GH2 is an unparalleled video tool in it’s price range, but it does come with some compromises. The main one is it’s plasticy body and small form factor. Sure, the small form factor can be a bonus if you’re shooting something that requires you to be discrete, but when compared to other professional options out there, those who use the GH2 professionally end up with a bit of a wish list on how to make the camera handle better.
The first thing I noticed, is that there is only one mounting hole on the bottom of the camera, so when I use the GH2 with a follow focus and on a standard video plate, the pressure from the follow focus, causes the camera to rotate and in effect loosen itself from the plate. Because of the direction of the threads and the standard use of a follow focus with your left hand, it quickly becomes a problem.
If you get that problem sorted you soon realize that the follow focus causes the camera to rock when you adjust focus due to the up and down pressure on the lens and the camera body’s less than rigid plastic build. So what is a guy or girl to do?
A while back I purchased a Rewo Cage for my first GH2 camera. I’ll be giving my complete thoughts on the Rewo cage soon in an upcoming review. Let me just say that the Rewo cage was the best option for GH2 shooters up until now. One bummer for me was that it wasn’t easy to get the camera in and out of the cage.
I use my cameras for both video and stills, and the GH2 in the Rewo cage is an awesome video production tool, but it kind of kills it’s stealthiness and definitely makes it harder to use for photography. I began longing for a cage that would allow me to quickly and easily remove the camera, while still providing all the benefits of the Rewo cage when in video production mode.
I looked at products from lots of different manufacturers, but no body had anything like what I wanted. Some came close, but then fell down in crucial areas. I liked the Zacuto Zwiss Cage, but it was much too big, at close to a foot wide it would dwarf my little GH2.. And Zacuto has never picked up on the needs of GH2 shooters. Their baseplate offers nothing to prevent rotation and worse still, it blocks the battery door. And a cage that doesn’t lock into the hot shoe of the camera would be useless for us GH2 shooters anyway….hello again awful rocking…
Over time with a lot of research and experimentation, it became obvious that the only way I could hope to keep the camera from rotating was to use an Arca Swiss styled plate that was either designed specifically for the GH2, or one that has a small lip across one side that can be fitted against the front of the body to prevent rotation of the camera on the plate. Once that puzzle had been solved, the search was on for the perfect Arca Swiss Clamp.
It wasn’t easy to find a good match. First I considered the Redrock Micro offering, but it was obviously designed for canon cameras. The lip of the front of the clamp was bigger than my lumix pancake lenses. I needed something small… miniturized just like my GH2. The problem that I was having is that everything I was seeing online was showing up at my door much bigger than it looked in pictures! I decided to just order the smallest clamp I could find and see if that would work.
When I got that last order in from ReallyRightStuff, I was delighted to see that the clamp that looked so tiny on the website, was actually exactly the same width as the Arca Swill plate that I had mounted to my GH2. A perfect match!
Now all I had to do was match it to the perfect baseplate. A long baseplate designed for a traditional video camera was not an option. I wanted a baseplate to match the form factor of the GH2. I wanted to be able to get my follow focus as close as possible to use it with even the shortest of lenses. After a lot of research I found BerkeySystem.com. I placed my order for Mini Baseplate Assembly, because the Mikro Baseplate Assembly looked too small (I’m a slow learner).
I was hopeful that the notch in the bottom of the ReallyRightStuff Arca Clamp would fit right into the groove sliced into the top of the Mini Baseplate. When it arrived, I was disappointed to find that the notch was just a smidge too big for the groove and that the baseplate itself was too big for the Arca Clamp.
I called up the number on the BerkeySystem.com website, and Brian Berkey picked up the phone. I went though my process with him and asked if he thought that the Micro Baseplate would be a better match. After comparing some measurements, I was delighted to find out that the Mikro Baseplate and the ReallyRightStuff Arca clamp practically share the same dimensions. I was even more excited when Brian said that he thought he could create a wide enough grove for the notch on the bottom of the Arca Clamp and secure it so that it would be impossible for it to rotate. Needless to say, Brian and I hit it off!
And since I was having such a lucky day, I decided to go ahead and share my idea with Brian about my dream GH2 cage. I had been looking over the Berkey System components and had become convinced that the cage that I wanted was just waiting to be assembled from Berkey System components. The only thing Brian hadn’t made yet was the top plate!
I guess my enthusiasm for the project was contagious because Brian said he would consider making one if I would send him over a drawing of exactly what I wanted, which of course I promptly did.
So as I write this, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world because even though it took several weeks, and a couple of revisions, I now have in my hand my dream GH2 cage. It checks all of my following boxes:
1. Camera secured at both mounting screw and hotshoe to prevent flex and rocking when using a follow focus.
2. Ability to quickly and easily remove the camera from the cage. It would be ideal to incorporate a Arca Swiss clamp inside the cage which would also solve my next wish:
3. Absolutely no camera twisting! I hate camera twisting!
4. Easy access to all camera controls, ports, battery door, etc while camera is mounted in the cage.
5. All holes should be spaced to the ARRI and RED standard to allow use of professional quality accessories.
6. Either a built in rail block or an upgradable rail block that would mount the cage at the correct height above the rails and prevent the camera and the cage from rotating on the rail block. Have I mentioned I hate camera rotation?
So maybe you’re wondering how you could get your hands on a handsome new cage like mine and how much it costs???
First let me say that this cage makes the camera work in the way that it is supposed to work, and then it just gets out of the way. That is awesome, but it’s really just a minimum standard. Two of the most compelling things about this cage is that you can upgrade your camera, and still use it in the same cage (it’s future proof….as long as they don’t go making future cameras a lot bigger), and it is modular. You don’t have to save up and buy everything all at once. You can start out with the base plate and the Arca Plate and Clamp which will prevent the camera from rotating and provide a base to which you can add on to as you have more money. Having pointed out that it can be flexible in that way, I now have to tell you that I won’t be so flexible for the early adopters.
The cage as you see it in these pictures is made up of $650.00 worth of components from Berkey System. That includes the top plate that will eventually be priced about $165.00. But the plate I have was hand made. And in order to be able to produce these in a way that makes economic sense, it would need to be CAD rendered and CNC’d. Because of those up front production costs, Brian think’s he would need to sell 20 complete cages in order for it to be a profitable venture. And remember there’s also some third party parts that make this cage work: the ReallyRightStuff Arca Clamp ($60.00) and a Cam Caddie cold shoe adapter ($20.00) and the Sunwayfoto Arca Plate ($24.00). So if this is going to happen, 20 people are going to have to be willing to shell out $754.00. Brian Berkey wants to gauge interest. So what do you think?
Just in case you’re wondering, I’m not making any money on this project. I’m super stoked to have the exact cage that I wanted. If the GH2 community shares my enthusiasm and this gets off the ground, that would be awesome, because I will probably end up wanting another cage for a third camera soon.
FYI, I’ll be doing a video soon to show off the cage’s features!