Review by Clinton Harn.
One of the many facets about this industry is the emphasis placed on skill and ability rather than the tools we use. As a visual medium, mastery in aesthetics during the acquisition and post production stages are equally important. The tools we have at our disposal are often designed and machined with beauty and precision. Some perform complex tasks while others are simply practical, functional and ergonomic. While the Easyrig isn’t exactly an ‘oil painting’, it is an industry standard tool combining sleek design and functionality, coupled with a sensible concept that will save your back for years to come.
In this article, we take a ‘retrospective’ look at the Easyrig Vario 5. Before we do that, let me give you some context into why I finally bought one. I always had a stubborn resistance to the Easyrig product range. I would hire and use them in the past but the thought of paying good money for something to suspend my camera was something I could not justify. At the time, a majority of what I did, entailed a lot of handheld and shoulder-mounted work. Then, of course, the tripod and further grip equipment that provided any sort of camera support depending on the situation, move and type of shot.
But as the variety and frequency of work increased, I found myself downsizing camera packages purely for convenience. It also meant there would be a compromise in image quality depending on which camera was being used. I have always been a big advocate of shooting with a smaller camera package. Something that allows you move around quickly. I’m not saying that everyone should use smaller cameras, but one thing I always strive for is coverage whether it is fiction or factual work.
As larger cameras became a job requirement, I wanted to reset and move the camera with the same speed and agility as I would with a compact kit. As handheld camera work has also become more stylistic, depending on the genre, I want to get it off the tripod and get shots quickly or reposition a frame at a seconds notice. Spending around forty-days shooting a feature in 2014, all shoulder mounted, was not fun to say the least. I was beginning to see more and more Easyrigs on set. A notable mention includes Greg Fraser ACS ASC (Zero Dark Thirty, Lion,) shooting with an Easyrig on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). Check out that story in our last issue. All you have to do is look around, they are everywhere and for good reason. The purchase was inevitable. A friend of mine Simon Glass, an English lighting cameraman, finally convinced me to pull the trigger.
Released just over a year ago, I decided to go for the Vario 5 because of its versatility. More about that in a bit. For anyone not familiar with Easyrigs, the concept is pretty straightforward. It is a vest that contains an advanced shock absorbing system connected to an over-slung arm with a rope and camera hook that essentially tethers to the handle of a camera. Their Cinema 3 line is designed specifically for 35mm motion picture cameras and is perhaps the most circulated product since the company came to prominence. These come in various strengths determined by shock absorbers ranging from 200N to 1200N with selected weight capacities from 4-32kg. The Vario 5 however, is a sightly different beast.
In-development for the last five years, the Vario 5 is a new design that incorporates an assist spring connected to a gas shock absorber, utilising a dual chamber piston. All this is housed in a Vario 5 ‘power pack’ made from a highly-robust and durable plastic shell. I had the chance to meet Johan Hellsten, the owner and inventor of the Easyrig and was most impressed with his philosophy and approach to manufacturing. Hellsten revealed that the Vario 5 has been a labour of love, recalling how he made several attempts to enlist German and Swedish engineers without success, only to figure it all out himself and eventually bring it to market. This design even impressed Tommy Bergren, chief designer at Komatsu Forest, a neighbour and mentor to Hellsten.
Wearing the rig can be customised to suit your body shape. The entire system can be fixed to a vest of your choice with the current options being a Cinema 3 or Gimbal Rig vest. The Cinema 3 vest offers maximum support and comfort transferring the payload to your core while the Gimbal vest offers a wider surface area at the waist.
The Vario 5 comes in two flavours. The standard (5-17kg) and the strong (14-25kg). A standard package includes a support arm, a lockable hook, a hip belt made from a ventilated fabric, user manual and transport bag. I opted for the standard version as I did not want to limit myself to a 14kg minimal payload in case a light package was required. The beauty of an Easyrig is that you don’t have to use heavier payloads just because they can carry them. The sole purpose of the system is extend your shooting times, be more agile and save your back. It is no wonder that you see these adopted by cameramen on almost all drama and reality television shows here in Australia.
Probably the most unique feature of the Vario 5 compared to the Cinema 3 series is the ability to adjust the weight range. Because I own several different sized cameras, the Vario 5 made complete sense. To adjust the payload, use the supplied 6mm hex key (or Allen key) tucked into the side of the Vario 5 back cover, and engage the hex port. Turning it counter clockwise will decrease the payload while turning it clockwise does the opposite. The unit also has arm height adjustments and a pretty slick side support system that allows you to transfer weight distribution around your waist and hips. The vest sports a safety line that is meant to connect your camera as a precautionary measure and also features a side pouch at the waist and a smaller one near your breast plate, ideal for phones or light meters. I found the side pouch most useful for carrying spare batteries and media.
In use, the Vario 5 is simple and straightforward as it comes. Putting on the vest is quick and easy and the entire operation of the unit is less cumbersome than it actually looks. I have used the Vario 5 on several jobs and I have to say its a god send. Why I haven’t looked into adopting it earlier eludes me. Maybe it was the cost, but in complete honesty, you will extend your shelf life as an operator and it is money easily recouped after a few jobs. The workmanship is robust and nicely made. It will easily withstand the elements, as I have used it in heat, salt water and cold without problems.
I really like the Vario 5. The spend was completely worth every cent and the quality and build, along with the company ethos is reassuring. I mean, which company includes a small bag of goodies that include branded mints, a sticker, pen and personally signed thank you card from the inventor himself. That sort of customer care and engagement reflects tremendously on the type of service and product you get. The form may turn heads and bag you a few comments in jest, but the practicality and functionality is simply terrific.
On a parting note, beware of copies. There is a plethora of knock-offs coming out of Asia, but to quote Oscar Wilde, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”
Clinton Harn is a cinematographer, filmmaker and producer.