How to drive users away from DSLR video one accessory at a time…the Zacuto Striker as poster child

I own the Zacuto Z-Finder and think it is a terrific tool and a must have for me for DSLR video.  Ok end of full disclosure and on to the post. In prepping to teach a workshop called Introduction to DSLR Video, I've been looking into some of the very useful and often delusional accessories that are labeled must haves for DSLR users getting in to video.  Holding up a DSLR for handheld work can get tiring especially if you don't have a Z-Finder or other loupe to make your head a point of contact.  Tripods and monopods are great but DSLR video allows for a kind of run and gun shooting that makes you want to work without a net, or brace, or something.

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So at some point, people start thinking about a shoulder rig of some kind.  There are all kinds of solutions in the marketplace but I thought I would look at the Zacuto because a) they have a great reputation in the cine world b) they are somewhat readily available and c) I could get my hands on a kit for testing.

What's in it?  There's an aluminum hollow rod 15mm in diameter with three clamps, each clamp having two 15mm holes and clamping fittings to connect two rods together.  There's a Zacuto Gorilla plate that attaches to your DSLR and that has a hole and an aluminum tube.  There's a sort of shoulder stock on a locking ball joint with an aluminum 15mm tube.  And finally there's a grip handle with a locking ball joint with a 15mm aluminum tube.  The image in this post shows you what comes in the box.

With a bit of futzing around, you can make yourself a shoulder stock for your DSLR camera to make it more stable for run and gun style video and ostensibly less fatiguing to hold over time.  Seems like a decent idea.  Then you look at the price sticker.  On Zacuto's web page this sells for $855 USD.  The retailer I was working with sells the kit for $1049.99 or more correctly DOESN'T sell it since the unit I got had plainly been around the block and visited re-pack city a few times.

Let's suppose you own a Canon T4i or 60D or even a brand spanking new Nikon D7100, all decent DSLR video cameras.  You've invested between $650 and $1200 in an awesome camera that does great stills and great video.  And there's this vendor that wants to charge you nearly what your incredible camera cost you for a box of aluminum tubes, clamps and plastic.  You might then be inclined to say this DSLR video idea is a scam, a stupid idea and even get pissed off about your excellent camera.

There are vendors building video accessories at a more reasonable cost, but even the low end stuff is WAY overpriced for what it is.  $230 for a Sevenoak slider that is basically a piece of aluminum track whose claim to fame is being too flexible and not all that slidey?  Try an aluminum track with a bogey box and four skate wheels.  Should be able to build and retail for $65 and still have outstanding margins.

It's no wonder that DSLR video cannot get any respect.  Video is a very different game from stills with new terms and the more that vendors and sellers try to make add-on sales with overpriced toys, the higher the probability it never hits its stride.  Many of the manufacturers involved, like Zacuto, Cinevate and Redrock Micro made their bones in big time cinema where budgets are ginormous and money apparently grows freely at the side of the road.  Maybe the enthusiast DSLR video market isn't the right place for them because to price hobbyist products reasonably would hobble their overinflated prices to industry.

The majority of us are not studios with huge budgets or buckets of time to learn all the nuances of every little piece of kit.  While I would love a Kessler slider, odds are against it because of the return I would get for the investment, and I am an admitted gear hound and try to do things right, often to my personal detriment.  It's ridiculous to believe that regular buyers with kids and family and jobs and real life debt are going to drop $1000 on a freaking shoulder rig to be able to get more stable video of Sally's soccer game.  A smart person with access to a simple mill and some basic tooling will be able to create an entire market.  So if that's you, could you get on with it please?

Just don't create a $50 bean bag.