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Z-Cage

JAG35 Straight Shoulder Rig for HDSLR's

Reviewed by Ron Risman -- June 2010


A few weeks ago I created this hands-on preview video, which provides a good first look at the JAG35 Full Shoulder Rig. This video was created prior to using the product out in the field, thus it is just a preview. My full review is posted below:




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About a month ago I published my review of the Habbycam shoulder rig for DSLR users shooting video. I found the Habbycam to be a great value in the shoulder rig arena, despite the fact that it wasn't based on an industry-standard rod-system, making it limited in expendability.

Now another competitively priced shoulder rig has hit the market and this time it's from JAG35, marketers of 35mm adapters and other gear for HDSLR users. This rig, aptly named the Full Shoulder Rig, has a higher price tag than the Habbycam, but at $649.95 the Jag35 Shoulder Rig offers features typically found in shoulder rigs costing $1400 and up. The Jag35 Shoulder Rig is based around an industry standard 15mm rod system, which allows you to custom configure the rig to suit your needs – using both JAG35 accessories as well as many 3rd party accessories.

The Shoulder Rig also includes a 3 lb. counter weight, making this one of the least expensive rigs to offer counter-balancing. The 3 lb. weight isn't enough weight to truly balance the rig on your shoulder, but it helps to take some of the front weight off of the rig, thus making it easier to support for longer periods of time.

The JAG35 Shoulder Rig also includes the Jag35 Cage. The aluminum cage fits around your camera and features 1/4-20 threads on top, making it easy to mount additional accessories to your DSLR. It was also designed with easy access to the battery compartment without having to take the camera out of the cage.

Variety of Configurations - right out of the box

The Jag35 shoulder rig, like all rod-based systems, can be assembled and designed to your liking. I assume that the full rig configuration, seen in the photo here, is the 'default' configuration, but it is also the largest and heaviest configuration and might be overkill depending on the requirements of the shoot. In the following paragraphs I will show a few different configurations I have used over the past few weeks, including one that includes the Steadicam Merlin's quick release plate for easy switching between the two.

Full 'default' configuration

I am calling this the default configuration since it includes all of the components that are included in the kit when it arrived at my door. The one thing I instantly noticed was a lack of instructions or diagram in the box. Since all of the components are individually bubble-wrapped it was up to me to figure out how they all went together. There really isn't a right way or wrong way of assembling the rig, but I wanted to make sure that I at least started out with the 'default' configuration. Instead of trying to figure this out on my own I headed over to Jag35.com and pulled up a product shot that I used as my 'map' of how all the pieces should go together. It took me less than 5 minutes to figure it out.

Here are the different components that make up the full shoulder rig.

Jag35 Cage V2
The JAG35 Cage is not only an important part of the Full Shoulder Rig, it is also a stand-alone product that by itself is the center of a variety of configurations with or without the use of the shoulder support. The Cage V2 is designed to allow full access to your camera's ports and compartments without having to remove the camera, the only exception being the pop-up flash, which to be fair would not be used in video.

The Cage has a variety of threaded holes on the top of the cage to allow accessories to be mounted directly to it.
Top Rail Block & Rails
Made up of two 6" 15mm rods and two rail blocks to mount it to the top of the Jag35 Cage V2. You can then connect a variety of gear (lights, mics, monitor, etc.) to these rails.
Side Handles
The front, side handles are design specifically to fit the Shoulder Rig but can also be used anyway you seem fit. The handle kit includes 2 metal handles with soft cushion foam covers, a 12-inch 15mm rod, and an i90 clamp for mounting to a set of 15mm rods.
Top Rail Handle (Optional)
The Top Handle allows you to add a handle virtually anywhere on the shoulder rig. The rail block fits any industry standard 15mm rods, spaced 60mm apart. The handle is metal with a soft foam pad over it.
Offset Rail Block with Shoulder Rods
The offset rail block allows the camera / cage to be offset from the shoulder rods and is designed for DSLR shooters that plan to use the LCD on the rear of the camera either bare or with a viewfinder loupe. This section includes the offset rail bock and two 12" 15mm rods. The extra two rail blocks in the photo actually belong to the shoulder pad seen in the next photo.
Shoulder Pad and 3 lb. Counter Weight
The Shoulder Pad offers a thickly padded soft cushion mounted on a 6" cheese plate. Two rail blocks allow it to slide over the 15mm rods with 60mm spacing. After mounting to the rods, the cheese plate offers 5 1/4-20" threads for mounting additional accessories. The rig also ships with a 3 lb. counterweight that is best mounted behind the shoulder pad as shown in this photo.
Complete shoulder rig with Canon 5D Mark II, 24-105mm f/4.0L IS Lens, and Z-Finder V2 loupe.


The photo above also includes a couple of optional mounts including a Manfrotto 577 QR plate and the Steadicam Merlin's quick release plate. Fully configured with camera this is no lightweight rig. By itself the rig weighs 8.0 lbs. (including the 3 lb. weight). With the Canon EOS 7D with Sigma 20mm f/1.8 lens attached the complete weight is 12 lbs. You can reduce the weight of the rig by 3 lbs by removing the back counter weight. This brings the rig down to 5.0 lbs and the complete weight with camera down to less than 10 lbs. You might be thinking "so much for keeping things compact & light," but the reality is - if you want stabile footage while staying mobile with your camera and accessories attached - a shoulder rig provides that stability. To reduce weight further you can also order the JAG35 rig with Zacuto Carbon Fiber rods, which should shave a little bit more weight of the total.

Smaller Cage Only Configuration

This configuration allows you to reduce travel weight and bulk, but only works if you are shooting with a viewfinder loupe such as the LCDVF or the Zacuto Z-Finder. I really like this particular configuration for shorter clips. The top handle also makes it easy to carry and get lower-angle shots.

This configuration consists of the front handles, camera platform with Jag35 Cage, and top rail block with handle. With a viewfinder attached you'll have decent 3-point stability (handles provide 2 points of contact, while the finder against your eye provides a 3rd point of contact).

You can also mount a quick release plate, such as the Manfrotto 577, between the camera platform and the Cage. This would allow you to quickly slide the camera / cage combo on and off the rig anytime you wanted for even more flexibility.

For an even smaller configuration remove the handles and 12" rail and re-attach just one handle in front and between the two short 6" rails. This one handle design keeps the support centered below the camera lens, leaving the other hand free to pull focus, start / stop recording, change apertures, and more.

Full Configuration / Single Handle

Personally, I am not a big fan of the dual handle design when shooting with a DSLR. You can't really keep both hands on a rig when one needs to be free to start/stop recording, pull focus, change aperture settings, etc. When using two handles it becomes much trickier to balance the rig, but fortunately the Jag35 Shoulder Rig can be configured to the way you want it.

In this configuration I removed the front handle / rod system and instead connected a single handle to the front center using one of the rail blocks. I then used the extra connectors left over from the unused parts to mount accessories to the rail block on top of the cage. In total I mounted a Lite-Panels LED light, Zoom H4n audio recorder, and Sony wireless audio receiver.

This configuration is incredibly flexible, especially when used with a quick release mount between the Cage and the bottom rail block.

Here are the components that make up this configuration:
  • Single handle
  • Two 6" rails with 3 rail blocks
  • Manfrotto 507 QR plate (sold separately)
  • Jag35 Cage V2
  • Offset rail block
  • Two 12" rails
  • Shoulder Pad with integrated Cheese plate
  • 3 lbs weight

Quick Release Configurations

These configurations are perfect when you need to quickly move from the shoulder rig to a Tripod or Steadicam.

Using with Manfrotto 577 QR Plate

To quickly move back and forth between a tripod and a shoulder rig I connected a Manfrotto 577 Base Plate directly to the bottom platform of the Jag35 shoulder rig. The Manfrotto 577 is the same slide-in plate that is built into the Manfrotto 501HDV and 701HDV video heads – meaning it's compatible with the 501PL sliding quick release plate.

I mounted the camera inside the Jag35 cage and attached a 501PL quick release plate to the bottom of the cage. This allowed me to slide the camera / cage assembly on and off the shoulder rig and a tripod. When shooting a wedding, I left the tripod set up near the front of the church, while using the camera on the shoulder rig to capture the arrival of the guests and bride. I then slid the camera out of the QR mount and onto the tripod, which was all ready to go.

The above configuration could just as easily work for any other rig, such as moving from the Jag35 shoulder rig to a portable slider.

Using with Steadicam Merlin Dovetail Plate

This next configuration is almost identical to the one above, except this time the Manfrotto 577 connects first to the Steadicam Merlin Dovetail Plate before connecting to the Jag35 via the Steadicam QR plate. This is an ideal configuration for those who want to go from the Jag35 shoulder rig to a Steadicam Merlin or Tripod with minimal fuss. The Steadicam Merlin Dovetail Plate does not need to connect first to the Manfrotto 577, but if you have a tripod QR plate it will give you more flexibility to place it in between as I have done here.

This configuration also leaves out the Jag35 Cage, since the 5DMKII and 7D with the Cage are too heavy to balance on the Merlin – at least in all my attempts.

This configuration also features a dual quick release, allowing you to not only move to a Merlin but also another piece of gear such as a tripod. Let me explain how this works.

By mounting the Merlin's Dovetail QR plate to the Jag35 platform (see photo "A" above) you are able to quickly slide off the camera with Steadicam Dovetail plate attached for easy connection to the Merlin.

Since I have also Mounted the Manfrotto 577 to the Merlin Dovetail Plate (see photo "B") you will be ready to slide the camera out of the Manfrotto 577 for use on a compatible tripod head.


(A) Steadicam Merlin Tripod Adapter Plate


(B) Merlin Dovetail Plate connected to
Manfrotto 577 QR Plate (Top & Bottom Views).



(C) Three-way Merlin / Tripod / Jag35 Configuration

By mounting the Manfrotto 577 QR plate to the Merlin QR Dovetail plate, the camera is able to slide from Shoulder Rig to Merlin or from Shoulder Rig to Tripod without any configuration changes.

The aforementioned configurations are the ones that I found most useful for the gear that I own. It allowed me to easily move between a portable Glidetrack, Tripod, Steadicam, and Shoulder Rig – without having to waste time taking things apart. Most of what I own is fairly common gear among HDSLR shooters, but you will undoubtedly discover what works best for you and the gear you own.

Okay, now that I have run through some of my configurations, let's find out how the Jag35 Shoulder Rig performed out in the real world.

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Using the Jag35 Shoulder Rig - From Setup to Shooting

I have had a couple of opportunities to use the Jag35 Shoulder Rig in real world use. The first place I tested it was at our year-end camera club outing where I used both the Canon 5DMKII and 7D on the rig with the 24-105mm and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. A week later I used the rig while filming a wedding where I put the quick release configurations I described above to the test.

Setup

The Jag35 rig arrived disassembled in a plain brown box. Inside, each section of the rig was individually bubbled wrapped to guarantee a safe trip and no items were missing. Strangely, there were no assembly instructions in the box. While I realize that there are a few ways to configure it there should have been at least a full-assembly instruction sheet. Nonetheless, it took just a few seconds to bring up a photo of the rig from the Jag35 web site, and base my assembly on the product shot.

In the box are:
  • 7 aluminum rods (15mm)
    • (4) 6.5" rods
    • (3) 12.0" rods
  • 1 DSLR Cage (version 2)
  • 2 handles that are already attached to one of the 12" rods
  • 1 Top Handle with integrated 15mm rail block
  • 1 shoulder pad with integrated 6" cheese plate with 1/4-20" mounts and two 15mm rail blocks
  • 1 Counterweight (3 lb.) attached to a 15mm rail block
  • 1 Offset 15mm Rail Block

Levers and Wing-Style Connectors

Rail blocks slide onto the rods and then tighten along the rods in the location you desire. The rail blocks are tightened (or loosened) using a wing nut design. I found the wing nut design a bit uncomfortable to use when tightening or loosening the rail blocks. The front grips / handles attach using metal levers, which seem to give more leverage thus making it easier to tighten or loosen. The one thing I noticed is that no matter how tight I made the handles they were still able to pivot a little bit when the weight of the rig was on them. This doesn't happen so much during use, but does happen when lifting to and from the shoulder position. When they did rotate it was easy enough to rotate them back, but I think if the inside of each clamp had some rubber it would prevent them from slipping at all. The foam grips also had a tendency during use to ride up on the handles a bit, something that a bit of friction between the metal handle and foam grip could easily correct.

Update: It looks as though the rail blacks are now shipping with round fasteners, instead of wing-style ones. If this is true, it should make it much easier to loosen and tighten the rail blocks.

Cheese Plate

JAG35 Shoulder Pad and Cheeseplate The top side of the shoulder pad has a variety of threads for mounting accessories. Once attached to the rods you'll be left with five usable 1/4-20 threads down the middle. These could be used for attaching additional accessories such as a wireless audio receiver, zoom H4n audio recorder, or other small accessories. Since these holes are centered between the two 15mm rods, you will need to attach a 1/4-20" riser such as a ball head for each accessory you attach. Adding additional accessories to the cheese plate places them in a position where your shoulder can get offset their weight. This is a great place to attach heavier accessories instead of on top of the Cage.

Handles

The handles attach to one of the 12" 15mm rods and can be adjusted anywhere along the length of the rod. The default configuration is to have each handle positioned along the outer edges of the rod, but when shooting video with a DSLR I found that positioning one of the handles just off center provided the stability I needed to support the rig with one hand, while the other hand could move from the outer handle to the camera or lens. This is important since you will most likely be supporting the shoulder rig with just one hand, while the other hand starts / stops recording, pulls focus, or changes the focal length (on zoom lenses) between shots.



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JAG35 Cage V2

Jag35 Cage V2 The Jag35 Cage V2 could be the subject of its own review, but I will try to cover it as fully as I can while keeping the writing to a minimum.

The one thing I want to get out of the way is how much of a pain it is to screw the camera down inside the cage. This is due to the similar color between the base of the Cage and the DSLR body, making it difficult to find the tripod socket on the camera, and also due to the small amount of space between the camera mount and the base of the Cage, which makes it difficult to turn the 1/4-20 screw. However, once you have the camera mounted in the cage there are very few reasons to remove it.

Unfortunately for me, I found one of those reasons - and it's called the Steadicam Merlin. I just couldn't get the camera with Cage balanced on the Steadicam Merlin, so I ended up configuring the shoulder rig without it for the wedding I shot two weeks ago. For those times when you configure the rig without the Cage keep in mind that there are five 1/4-20" threads on the cheese plate above the shoulder pad. Jag35 Cage V2 This will allow you to mount some of the same accessories that you would have mounted to the Cage, such as a wireless audio receiver and audio recorder. You then have the camera's hot-shoe available for a boom microphone, video light, or larger monitor.

While the Cage V2 ships with the Jag35 Full Shoulder Rig, both the Cage and the Shoulder Rig will function without each other, which provides even more flexibility for those who take the time to experiment with different configurations.

Note: If you plan on using the shoulder rig without the cage you'll need either a quick release plate, like the Manfrotto 577 or the JAG35 DSLR Baseplate.

The Cage was designed so that you don't have to remove the camera to swap batteries or lenses. You have full access to the top and rear LCD displays as well as all of the camera's buttons and switches. There are actually three Cage sizes available. A smaller Cage for those that shoot with smaller body SLR's like the Canon Rebel T2i or Panasonic GH1, a mid size model (which is the one I reviewed here) designed for mid-size DSLR's like the Canon 5D Mark II, EOS 7D, or Nikon D300, and a large Cage designed for SLR bodies with battery grips or professional size SLR's such as the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV.

If I had to complain about anything it would be that the section of the Cage that covers the mode dial blocks light, making it difficult to see the icons on the mode dial (P, Tv, Av, M) in lower-light situations. There's plenty of room to get to the dial, it's just not easy to see the icons on the dial. I would also like to see additional 1/4-20" threads added to the sides of the Cage. There are times when hanging a Zoom H4n or placing a boom or shotgun microphone on the side would come in handy. But all in all, the Cage V2 was very intelligently designed, and should have more than enough 1/4-20" connectors to keep even the pro user satisfied.

JAG35 Cage with Accessories The top of the cage features a total of six 1/4-20" threads for attaching accessories. Their proximity to each other will somewhat limit how many accessories you can mount at once but with the use of small ball heads and extensions arms, you should be able to mount an audio recorder, monitor, boom microphone and an LED video light.

Connect the top rails that are included with the shoulder rig and add a few Single Rod Clamps from JAG35 and you'll have additional mounting flexibility for accessories or for attaching the top handle.

In the photo to the right I have two 6" rails attached to the top of the Cage. I used the extra Single Rod Clamps, that I had left over after switching to a single handle design, to mount a Zoom H4N, Sony wireless audio receiver, and a Lite Panels LED video light.




JAG35 Cage with umbrella If you watched the preview video that I shot a few weeks ago (see top of page), you may have noticed that at the end of the video I attached an umbrella to the Cage. The umbrella that I attached was a smaller photographic umbrella, but I image it would be possible to connect a regular water resistant umbrella for those times when you'll be shooting in the rain (not on windy days). If you also shoot photography you could try attaching the photo umbrella, tilted backwards, for use as a large photo reflector that stays connected to your rig. This 'umbrella' idea was really just added in for fun, but from some of the responses I have had, some of you may actually give it a try.

FYI. I held the umbrella in place by connecting the umbrella rod to one of the down rods on the Cage using two elastic bungee cords that I wrapped around the two rods and then across to another rod on the Cage, tucking the ball from the Elastic in once it was taught.

JAG35 Shoulder Pad and Cheeseplate

Shoulder Pad

The shoulder pad included with the JAG35 shoulder rig is very comfortable though I would have preferred a curved shoulder pad. The pad connects to the 15mm rods using a double rail block and is smartly mounted to a metal cheese plate that offers additional 1/4-20" threads. Once installed on the rig there are five available 1/4-20" threads. Mounting accessories on top of the shoulder pad will help to move some of the weight of the rig to your shoulder, helping to provide better overall balance.

JAG35 Shoulder Pad and Cheeseplate Speaking of weight, the Jag35 Full Shoulder Rig ships with a 3 lb. counter weight attached to a double rail block. While this adds to the weight of the rig, it will also make the rig more comfortable to shoot with for longer periods. Personally, I found the extra weight made the overall experience using the rig less than exciting due to the total weight. Yes, it helps to counter balance the rig a little, but I don't often shoot for long enough periods to worry about whether my arms will tire. If I did, the counter weight would surely be part of that configuration. Even with the 3 lb. weight, the rig still really isn't balanced. Yes, it helps to take some weight off the front of the rig, but I am guessing you would need 7-10 lbs on the back to really get the rig balanced on your shoulder.


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Conclusion

Shooting with my DSLR and the JAG35 Full Shoulder Rig takes some getting used too, especially when it's fully configured. You'll definitely feel like a one-man band. For me, the biggest advantage of any rod-based shoulder rig is the flexibility they offer, and the JAG35 allowed me the flexibility to conjure up configurations that made my shooting workflow so much easier. Yes, there are plenty of shoulder rigs on the market that use industry standard rods, but JAG35 has brought a quality rig into a price range that is much more palatable for many of us.

The pieces that make up the rig; the rods, rail blocks, Cage, shoulder pad, and weight all feel very solid and never once did I feel as if I didn't trust my gear on it. I am not crazy about the wing-style screws that tighten the rail blocks. They work, but I found them particularly hard on my fingers when trying to loosen or tighten them. I saw a photo on the JAG35 website that uses a round screw and hope that this will become standard as they replenish their inventories.

My favorite configurations are actually the more compact ones, either shooting with the full rig without the Cage or removing the shoulder pad section entirely and just shooting "run and gun" style with the Cage, front handles, and with the Z-Finder (sold separately) attached for easier focusing and added support. Using the Cage with the Manfrotto 577 quick release plate (sold separately) makes this a perfect system. I can shoot handheld with good stability, yet I can slide off the Camera, Cage and all the top-mounted accessories and mount it to my tripod in just seconds. Nothing to re-configure and nothing left behind. I love it.

If you're in the market for a shoulder rig and need to attach a wide range of accessories to your camera or rig, then definitely consider the JAG35 Shoulder Rig. It is ready to handle pretty much anything you can throw at it including support for follow focus units, matte boxes, external monitors, audio recordings, video lights, mixers, and microphones. As your needs change and grow, the JAG3 rig can change and grow with you. At $649, it is very aggressively priced, and will save you $800-$1000 over comparably equipped gear from some of the bigger brand names out in the market. I highly recommend it.



JAG35 Shoulder Rig & Accessories

Please help support our site by purchasing through our links.

JAG35 Full Shoulder Rig ($649.99)
The JAG35 Shoulder Rig includes two front handles, (3) 12" 15mm aluminum rods, (4) 6" 15mm aluminum rods, JAG35 Cage V2, Shoulder Pad, 3 lb. weight.
Purchase Direct from JAG35



Pearstone Accessory Shoe Adapter with 1/4-20 Stud Connector ($29.95)
Ideal for connecting slide on accessories such as a microphone or a video light.
Available from B&H Photo

Single Rod Clamp with 1/4-20" screw ($35)
This Mount will allow you to attach any 1/4-20 accessory to any single 15mm rod. Great for attaching camera microphones, sound recorders, lighting, monitors, and many other accessories.
Available directly from JAG35

JAG35 DSLR Baseplate ($149.95)
The DSLR Baseplate was specifically design as a small compact solution that will give you support rods below your camera. You can mount your Follow Focus and Matte box and virtually anything that can attach to industry standard rods. You can use the single rod clamps to attach 1/4-20" devices to the rod. The Baseplate is compatible with the full shoulder rig or with the Cage by itself to hold your camera in place.
Available directly from JAG35

Gooseneck Arm with 1/4-20" screw ($14.99)
Great for attaching products to the top of the Cage or to the rear Cheese plate Added lift and flexibility is ideal for microphones or lightweight LED video lights.
Available directly from JAG35

Micro Ball Head ($14.99)
Great for connecting an external HD monitor, Zoom H4n, Mic, or any other accessory to the Jag35 DSLR Cage. Supports maybe 1-2 lbs.
Available directly from JAG35



Mini Ball Head ($29.99)
Stronger version of the above. Supports up to 7 lbs.
Available directly from JAG35
Disclosure Statement
The JAG35 Shoulder Rig was sent to us for the purpose of this review. The unit has been in-house for approximately three weeks. Cameratown has an affiliate relationship with many retailers and vendors including JAG35, which means you can help to support our site by making your purchase through links on our site. Our views and opinions in our reviews are based solely on findings m ade during our testing period and are never based on whether or not we have an affiliate relationship with a retailer or vendor or whether or not the manufacturer sent us the product to review.


Photographs


Low Angle footage. Dual handles in front allow the rig to sit perfectly on ground. Photo Courtesy of Lydia Williams of Lydia Williams Photography


Shooting without the shoulder support - Just Cage, Handles, bottom & top rails, and optional handle. Photo Courtesy of Eva Powers


Low Angle using full shoulder rig. Photo Courtesy of Eva Powers

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