RedShark Review: Obtaining the ideal balance between ergonomic comfort and practical control of a camera is something that wer are constantly refining. The Master Grip handle system from Arri is an attempt at offering the ultimate in control over camera functions, with all major functions available at your fingertips. Mark McCarthy from Sparky Film gives us his view from a practical perspective.
A large part of our work here at Sparky Film involves ENG-based production, as we often cover major sporting events such as Wimbledon and The Open Championship for their sponsors. This generally means a great deal of international travel, but also a lot of run and gun work, filming all kinds of content on the ground.
We aim to differentiate ourselves from the competition by capturing the best image possible. For us, it is all about the craft of filmmaking. This was the main reason we invested in the Arri Amira in 2015. Without a doubt, this has been our best investment to date. For glass, we carry a set of prime lenses for interviews and stock shots, but 75% of our work is filmed using our Canon CN7 17-120mm lens — a fantastic piece of glass, which at 2.8 throughout most of the range covers us in most situations.
When we first heard that Arri was introducing new Master Grips to the industry, we became very excited! — grips not only produced solely for Arri cameras but also compatible with a wide range of cameras and lenses. I believe today there is a real demand for solid, cine-style camera handgrips that feature documentary-style controls, and it sounded like Arri’s new Master Grips might satisfy this need.
Handgrips with everything at your fingertips
Today, most camera operators tend to favour using handgrips when filming, often with a follow focus wheel as well — that’s our standard set up when using prime lenses. But the Arri Master Grips not only provide this same (if not higher comfort levels) when filming but also full control of the zoom, iris, focus and record functions and all at your fingertips. As Arri states in its marketing literature for the Arri Master Grips ‘It’s all in your hands’, in our experience, as you will discover, they are absolutely right. You literally don’t need to remove your hands from either grip during recording, no matter how the conditions might change.
Arri offers them in four versions: right-side and left-side grips, with either a rocker for zooming or a thumb wheel for iris or focus adjustments. As well as being used as traditional grips, they are versatile enough to be mounted on tripod pan arms or studio pedestal heads. Clearly, the Master Grips can be used in a variety of production environments.
As you can see in the pictures complementing this article, I am using the thumb wheel on the left grip to control the iris and the focus. I flick between them by pressing a function button which sits comfortably in my left hand.
All the control you need at your fingertips
The right grip features a rocker which I use to control the CN7’s zoom. The harder you push it, the quicker it moves through the range and for fine focusing you soften your touch. I found it to be very sensitive and extremely accurate. You can also choose which way the focus adjusts depending on which way you push the rocker to your liking. This also applies to the thumb wheel: you can select how the focus and iris react depending on which direction you turn it. As you adjust the settings with the Master Grips, all the readings from the iris, focus length and zoom setting are marked in the camera’s viewfinder, so you don’t to take your eye away from it.
Easy to read LED displays
Another feature I really like (and frankly just looks so cool!) are the LED displays that both the left and right grips boast. Apart from just looking amazing, they are very easy to read (both in bright outdoor conditions and, of course, in the dark), feature touchscreen controls so you can quickly delve into their menu settings to alter features such as motor speed, zoom response and motor limits, screen brightness, user settings, direction, speed, etc. You can even select the language from English, Chinese, Spanish or German! When filming, each grip LED provides you with a readout status of the lens — so you can always take a quick glance down to double-check your settings.
I found the the Arri Master Grips also helped to spread the weight of my rig (an ARRI AMIRA with CN7 lens, V-LOK battery and top mic certainly couldn’t be considered lightweight!). The grips have a really natural ergonomic design and I found the controls on either side easy to reach and never found myself changing a setting I didn’t mean to.
Most comfortable setup in combination with an EasyRig
Just to make life even easier for me (since I’m not getting any younger!), I use an EasyRig to balance the whole rig (if you haven’t tried out an EasyRig, please do, they are amazing!) as this takes all the weight off your shoulder and hands, and distributes it down your spine. Balanced on the rig, the camera just floats there and you can easily shoot on the shoulder and from the hip. You can see the setup in a picture here. It’s a great bit of kit. There are different models of EasyRig depending on the weight of your total setup. And using this combination with the Arri Master Grips, I have never felt so comfortable and more in control of my camera.
Combine the Master Grips with an EasyRig for the ultimate in comfort
I took the Arri Master Grips for a road test during a two-week production in Scotland recently, and after two or three days use, I felt totally at home with them. So much so that when I used the camera without them, I felt there was something missing! I found them to be lightweight, solid, rugged and reliable. I have no doubt they would be able to withstand sustained use in all shooting environments. I never had to worry about being too heavy handed with them at any stage and had full confidence in their build quality — they are from Arri after all!
So in conclusion, I am delighted to report my long wait to try out the Arri Master Grips wasn’t met with disappointment — I loved using them. I have only shared my thoughts from the experience I’ve had with them using my setup, but I know they can be partnered with a wide variety of camera and lens combinations which you might be working with. For me, as an owner of my own equipment, they would be a great investment as they will always be used going forward. And perhaps more importantly, they help me do my job more easily and comfortably. I imagine for equipment rental houses, they might become a must-have accessory in the camera packages they offer clients across all production requirements.
The Arri Master Grips — they get a thumbs up from Sparky Film! The Master Grips are available as individual handles for $2800 each, or as sets for $7300 for Arri cameras, or up to $9250 for third party cameras.