Video-enabled DSLR cameras have almost become an industry-standard way of producing big-budget film-like video. But three years after they took over the market these cameras still have shortcomings that have to be addressed before they can work their best. A DSLR is designed to be held against your face with two hands and shoot still photos. Being a little shaky is OK because the shutter speed will likely compensate for that. Shooting video is an entirely different matter — you can’t hold the camera against your face so it is difficult to be steady. More importantly, the cameras gather video using a rolling shutter and any shake can end up looking like jelly and the autofocus that most of us rely on no longer works.
This year Manfrotto enters the video support market with the Sympla system. It’s a professional modular video rig system that extends and complements new cameras with supports and innovative focus assists allowing for stable framing, attaching essential accessories, and much simpler and faster set up than existing rigs.
It may look like many other rod systems out there but, unlike the others, the Sympla lets you adjust camera height and switch rod lengths without tools. The rods themselves are heavy-duty threaded aluminium in 300mm and 150mm lengths. They screw together making them easy to pack but remain rigid enough to hang lots of weight on.
They need to be heavy duty because the Sympla accessories, handles, mattebox and shoulder support are heavy duty too, made with Manfrotto’s customary quality. They might not be the lightest things on the market but they are going to last. The mattebox, shoulder pad and handles all attach by way of a common universal rod mount. The common mount lets you put the handles straight on the mattebox, or combine the handles with a lens support.
The universal rod mount is bristling with threaded 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch female industry-standard holes. There are plenty of places to attach hydrostatic arms to hold your EVF, sound recorder, or microphone. Finally, a real-world application for the skills learned as a child playing with Meccano, or its plastic cousin Torro.
The handles themselves are easily adjustable to make them comfortable for any user. They are also reversible if you are trying to hold a low angle. The unusual looking mattebox holds two rotating four- by four-inch filters and flexes to accommodate wide lenses. It also flexes asymmetrically in case you need to shoot against a window and have to block out reflected light. The four by fours are useful for ND and split ND filters; they will keep you running at a nice wide aperture. And sliding the filters in and out is a lot classier than taping them down with electrical tape.
The shoulder support is also reversible in case you are trying to hold a low angle. There is a threaded hole in back for an optional counter weight, which you will definitely need if you are shooting with the mattebox.
The ‘revolutionary’ camera remotes, which fit the rig handgrips are sold separately but will be essential for precise fingertip control of framing and camera functions. This remote might be handy for a light set-up where one actually doesn’t want a system with rods but I understand it will not provide the same feeling as a mechanical system. Some people may still prefer a good old follow focus.
This review is from D-Photo issue 50. Get your copy here.
- Mounting: Variable plate
- Handles: Two swivel joint handgrips
- Mattebox: Yes, flexible light hood
- Shoulder mount: Yes
- Fig rig: Yes
- Body support: Yes
- Lens support: Yes
- Counter weight: Sold separately
- Focus control: Sold separately
- Size (WxHxD): Varies
- Weight: 2.44–3.66kg