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Getting a Handle on It

Note – 2016/07/10: Please see my new post, Handles, Plates, and Shoes, for new options in terms of C300 handles and mounting its monitor.

Back in February I mentioned Zacuto’s new top plate and handle for the C300. The C300’s slightly wiggly plastic handle has always bothered me and this looked promising. It’s a wrap-over top plate Zacuto calls, the C300/500 Helmet, which connects to the C300 at three points and a quick release handle based on the NATO rail standard.

Zacuto C300/500 helmet and quick release handle.

I just had it here in the studio for about a week but in the end I returned it. The handle is beautifully made and very comfortable. The helmet/top plate is rock solid. The quick release connector for the cold shoe (C300 monitor) is very nice and does away with need to rotate the monitor’s shoe locks.

The issue was what to do when I didn’t want to use the handle but I still wanted to use the monitor or a reference microphone. With this setup, take the handle off and you no longer have a cold shoe mount.

As a work around, I tried Zacuto’s Z-rail kit which would allow me to quickly add a cold shoe to the Z-rail. It uses another NATO standard clamp with a cold shoe mounted on a small cheese plate. It should have worked except that Zacuto’s cold shoe, which will take the thinner plastic shoe of a mic like the Sennheiser MKE-400, will not take the thicker metal shoe of the C300’s monitor. The clamp would also not open when loosened. So, it would get stuck on the Z-rail.

Zacuto Z-rail Kit.

In a second attempt to make this work, I tried one of Wooden Camera’s cold shoes on another of Zacuto’s Z-rail slide mounts. This time the cold shoe did fit the metal foot of the C300’s monitor but the shoe itself would keep coming loose. It only has one mounting point, a ¼-20 thread in the center. So, it would not hold tight for long. Some Loctite might have helped except that this second Z-rail mount would also freeze up when the knob was loosened. I wasn’t going to use Loctite to set the cold shoe when the clamp itself would jam.

Wooden Camera Hot Shoe and Zacuto Z-rail Mount.

One other option I tried was mounting the Wooden Camera cold shoe directly to the Zacuto helmet (it’s a cheese plate after all) but the shoe fits best on the angled right side of the helmet. This would be okay but not optimal for a microphone (it puts it closer to a user’s right hand which is operating the camera’s grip, thus more chance the mic may pick up user noise) and it means you aren’t likely to use C300’s monitor. It would be off to one side, at an odd angle.

Overall the new Zacuto handle is great especially in combination with the helmet. Fit and finish are superb. If you are user who will have it on the C300 most of the time or one who will not be trying to do what I describe above (basically, replicating the functionality of the C30o’s top shoe mount whether its handle is in use or not), then it should work well. But if you are a user who wants to keep the option of mounting the camera’s monitor directly to the top of the camera when no handle is being used or if you want to be able to quickly switch to the C300 in stripped down mode and use a cold-shoe mounted reference mic, you’ll need to think through how to make this setup work for you.

One final note, the Zacuto Helmet plus handle tops out at about one inch taller than the C300’s OEM handle. Zacuto’s is primarily metal with some wood for the grip, so it is a good deal heavier than Canon’s plastic handle. While it adds needed stability, it also raises the center of gravity on what is already a tall camera. Not a deal breaker but something to factor in depending upon how you use the camera.

Update – 02/09/15: A follow-up to this post can be found here, Handles, Plates, and Rods.

Update – 3/22/15: Zacuto has updated their handle to include two 15mm rod ports and a cold-shoe lock.