Review by Clinton Harn.
We all love gear talk so let’s dive right in. In a previous column, I wrote about Westcott’s Ice Light and the time I’ve spent with it. The feedback I received was positive on the notion that most gear reviews are written based on initial impressions, and not actual application over a period of use. So, moving forward, we are hoping to change that and create a retrospective insight rather than brand new gear impressions.
It was last year that Redrock Micro announced their ‘UltraCage Scout’ system, a device that allows you to mount smaller packages like DSLRs & mirrorless cameras. The cage facilitates ergonomic handheld agility and the ability to pull focus using a finger wheel. A simple concept, but it works like a charm. More on that later.
With the emergence of smaller mirrorless cameras now flooding the market, the idea of using them on commercial jobs is no longer far-fetched. There was a time when everyone was spending more money on rigs than the actual camera itself, turning small DSLRs into a shoulder mounted beast. But there now seems to be a shift in the visual landscape whereby doing great work takes precedence over ‘looking good’.
In fact, the small form factor run and gun type style was made apparent by several prolific and esteemed cinematographers who championed the uber lightweight, single shooter perspective over the more traditional sense of having two or three individuals looming over a camera.
One of my personal favourite cinematographers, Igor Martinovic, better known for his work on House of Cards (2013-), embraced the concept of single handheld work on the 2011 horror flick Silent House (2011). While the film wasn’t acclaimed as an ‘oil painting’ by critics, there was something extremely appealing about the organic feel and movement of the camera work. Coincidentally, I think Redrock Micro supplied components that housed a 5D MkII, Zeiss Compact Primes and a prototype Small HD DP6. This is going back quite a few years when the DSLR started a revolution.
This brings me to one fascinating and interesting tool, and one I’ve had the pleasure of using in situations over a healthy period of time. The Redrock Scout. The Scout comes in two flavours, an HS and HX unit. The HS is a ‘passive’ system that does not have a base station built into it. It functions the same way as the HX, except it utilises an existing microRemote wireless kit. So if you already own one, the HS Scout option is the way to go. If you don’t, the HX is a nice bundle minus all the bulk. The HX has internal electronics, an included torque motor and is a complete, out of the box solution. For power, the handle on both the HS and HX houses a compartment that will take the ubiquitous Canon LP-E6.
The Scout is designed to be a multi-tool that serves several purposes. It’s a camera support cage that provides ultimate focus control when using cine and DSLR lenses by both the operator and an assistant. The rig can accommodate a range of cameras from a Blackmagic Design Pocket Camera, a Panasonic GH4, Sony A7s to something as large as a stripped down C100. The modularity of the Scout also means that you can accommodate smaller cameras with cages on them already. There are many ways to configure the Scout, so let’s look at the HX unit.
Included is an L-shaped core cage with a top bar, an integrated base station, handle with a built-in finger wheel controller, armed with a cold shoe mount and an external antenna. The top sliding bar connects via a dovetail system that allows for vertical height adjustment and a horizontal slide-on cold shoe adapter to mount the included Rhino mount, a single four-inch (and an optional six-inch) 15mm rod attachment that will accommodate the torque motor. The lens motor is connected to the bottom of the cage with a provided flex Lemo cable, which powers the torque motor. The different length rods also mean it can reach anything from primes to smaller zooms when positioning the torque motor.
The wireless technology is based around the 2.4GHz open spectrum, which means you can literally use this thing around the world. Wireless follow focus units and their range is always a contentious issue, and while the Scout is not designed specifically for long range, it does exceptionally well when distance comes into the equation. The HX is tethered directly for operation and the HS relies on a current Redrock Micro Remote system, so even if you had to swap operation to a remote focus puller, you can do so.
What I really like about the Scout is that it’s designed to work with Redrock Micro’s ecosystem of rigging and focus control options. The physical footprint of the cage is compact enough that it lets you incorporate it into a shoulder mount rig with a clamp on universal finger wheel control. Also, when you power on a Redrock microRemote hand controller, it overrides the focus capabilities on the HX and HS finger wheel and hands over control to the focus puller.
I found the Rhino mount to be very rigid and sturdy. This is extremely important when driving the gears on a cine lens with a high torque motor. Your mounting anchor point has to be solid, robust and reliable without flex or play. The only concern would be the tolerances of cold shoe mounting points, however the ones on the scout are optimised for minimal play. Strength is also increased with the connection of the top mount dovetail to the height adjustment bar, and a secondary connection to your camera’s cold shoe mount. A third dovetail plate secures to the bottom of your camera and slides into the base unit. You can position the camera anywhere on the horizontal plane depending on its size.
Another well-designed feature is the 1/4” and 3/8” sliding bracket at the bottom, which lets the operator balance the Scout rig rapidly when using a gimbal.
With the camera in place and a lens mounted, calibration is quick and easy. For lenses with hard stops, power the base on and hit the ‘auto’ button. The torque motor will travel to each hard stop end and reset in the middle, ready for deployment. For DSLR lenses with no stops, press ‘cal’, determine your in and out points with the arrows, set and calibrate manually.
The torque motor is impressive to say the least. I had a myriad of glass I tested, everything from DSLR lenses to more rigid and dampened focus rotation throws on cine lenses, and not once did I feel the motor struggled. On an additional note, Redrock Micro have updated the actual motor in both the internals and exterior design, with the obvious being the housing and the repositioning of the input port to facilitate better cable management.
Back on the handle, the finger wheel travel is ultra-responsive, has minimal latency and is also automatically calibrated to lens rotation degrees.
In application, the Scout is a joy to use. Again, with the ever growing popularity of mirrorless cameras and the demand for quality cine style lenses, the Scout seems to be more relevant now than it was a year ago, and definitely a good reason to revisit. I feel this type of system would be best suited for shooters that want speed and coverage, but also have the ability to cater to fictional and documentary work. Having focus at your fingertips simply means mobility, simplicity and convenience with added stability.
Personally, it’s been a staple piece in my kit and a very handy tool at best. I’m impressed with the build, quality and function. I also like the fact that I can remove the top dovetail bar and mount any size camera with its own top rod and still have the unit operate flawlessly. Perhaps the only issue I have with the entire Scout is the screw on the battery compartment which doesn’t lend itself to fast and efficient battery replacement. Otherwise it is a very useful component in any single shooter’s arsenal, though not limited to them. I also see it being used on car mounting kits, car interiors, tight spaces, drones, gimbals, and anywhere you need remote focus adjustment.
Clinton Harn is a cinematographer, filmmaker and producer.