Hands-on Review: Varavon’s Armor II Cages.
There are (too) many video accessories and gadgets, so it’s becoming increasingly hard to determine where to spend our hard earned money, and what will truly make a significant impact on our video productions.
For the past few months we’ve been testing a number of new cameras and accessories. Today I’d like to highlight a company with two accessories in particular: Varavon’s Armor II Cage for the Panasonic GH4 and Varavon’s Armor for the Atomos Shogun.
You might have read my recent article titled “The eternal quest for ‘the best’ digital camera” where I posed the seemingly unanswerable question “what’s the best cinema camera (for us) right now?” Here’s the article, in case you missed it.
The article’s conclusions were somewhat vague, simply because even with all the readers’ feedback we received via Twitter (@EA_Photo), we couldn’t come up with a hard and fast answer. Most of our assignments require capturing video, stills, and sound on location, usually run and gun style, with a fast and small crew traveling as light as possible. This might or might not match your production needs, so it’s important to keep in mind that we are coming from that angle.
It is important to clarify that I am NOT being paid by anyone to write these reviews. I just want to share with others what’s working and what isn’t working for us, and hopefully save you some time. God knows I could use a few extra hours every day.
Armor II Cage – My Impressions
Varavon reminds me of the early days of Edelkrone; small, humble, and fast. Both companies share a serious commitment to true innovation through useful, high-quality products.
Small details matter. A lot. For example, the Armor II Cage includes a magnetic Allen key, cleverly “hidden” on the top handle’s side. It’s one of those things that makes you wonder why no one else has thought of this before! Every product that requires an Allen key (from sliders to tripods to stabilizers, all should come up with a similar solution.
Varavon has clearly spent some serious time thinking and testing this product. With the GH4 camera mounted on the cage, one can still replace the battery and the memory card. The cage also works perfectly with a Metabones Speedbooster allowing us to use our preexisting Canon and Sigma lenses.
Personally, if you only need ONE reason to get this cage, it’s the top handle, as the GH4 (or 5D Mark II or a7S II) body instantly shapes into a cinema camera. In addition to the obvious ergonomical advantages (especially when doing low-angle shots or quickly mounting/removing the camera to/from a tripod) the cage provides several mounting points, a cold shoe mount and one 15 mm rod clamp, allowing us more options to attach a wide variety of accessories like focus rings, microphones, electronic viewfinders, external monitors, etc.
Around the cage there are something like 40 ¼ threaded mounting points, but in real life one can use about five or six without getting in the way of standard camera operations. The previous version of this cage (which I also own) didn’t have a “front and back rod adapter” which can be used as an additional contact point or to mount additional accessories like a follow focus.
Apparently there’s a version of the Armor II Cage with an ENG-style rotating handgrip, but mine doesn’t move. The handgrip (with beautiful leather) is fixed, yet very comfortable on most shooting situations.
If you buy the camera rig, I’d recommend adding a few 1/4″ Male to 1/4″ Male Threaded Screw adapters so you can easily attach accessories like an audio recorder or a small LED light (which, by the way, work GREAT to add some catchlight to your subjects when shooting exteriors on cloudy days). It would be even better if Varavon starts including a few of them in their kit (wink wink).
Armor for the Atomos Shogun – My Impressions
Now, let’s talk about the Armor for the Atomos Shogun. I wrote an extensive post about the Shogun, so I won’t go into a huge amount of detail here, but suffice it to say that the Shogun is a godsend.
In a nutshell, the Shogun provides an exquisite 1920 x 1080 ultra sharp (and fairly accurate) image, with many additional features (like LUTS) to record HD or 4K in ProRes with clean sound already synced into fast and reliable Solid State Drives. The not so great part is that the Shogun is VERY fragile. We take great care of our gear, and our monitor cracked on our second or third assignment.
So for additional protection, the Armor Cage is great, but it seems designed for studio situations, when heavy duty camera support is readily available as the cage alone weights almost a pound.
For the most part, Varavon’s design does not interfere with the function of the Shogun, but the Armor Cage doesn’t accommodate the much needed sunhood (which should be included on the Shogun’s kit but it is not). Not being able to attach a much-needed accessory seems like an important oversight.
The selling point for this accessory is, in my humble opinion, the many additional mounting points, the clever sliding SSD Safety Latch, an audio clamp to protect the XLR cable, and (maybe) the HDMI cable locking screws.
In our case, the optional L brackets (purchased separately) have not added significant versatility, so I probably would recommend skipping them.
The build quality on all Varavon products is outstanding. I like the Shogun Cage and if we are shooting for an extended period of time indoors I’d bring it along.
I love the Armor II Camera Cage for the GH4. It has changed the game for us, and as long I use the GH4 I’ll keep enjoying the added versatility and improved form factor the cage offers. I can definitely recommend this accessory for anyone who needs more versatility but is hesitant to add unnecessary weight to his/her camera package. To see the complete list of gear we bring on location, click HERE.
If you are interested in learning more about which accessories are important, why and how to use them, consider watching these courses on Lynda.com
- Video for Photographers 01: Filmmaking Essentials
- Video for Photographers 02: Filmmaking on Location
Did I miss anything? Feel free to continue the conversation here.