VariZoom VZ-Rock and StealthZoom test and review

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VariZoom VZ-Rock & StealthZoom

In our first look at wired zoom controllers, we check out two models from VariZoom that use the Lanc sockets on Sony and Canon camcorders

This is the first time Computer Video has looked at wired zoom controllers. These are gadgets that do away with the need to use a camcorder's own zoom rocker switch - reducing the likelihood of disturbing the shot or affecting the sound when operating the camcorder's controls.
Typically, a controller will be attached to a tripod's pan handle. This allows the operator to pan and tilt the camcorder, and control its zoom, without having to reach over to it. Most professional camcorder operators work this way - except in crowded press conferences, where a pan handle can be a liability. But a controller can also be mounted on a jib arm, on the frame of a Steadicam rig or even on the camcorder's own carrying handle.
Perhaps the most important requirement for any zoom controller is the ability to make smooth zooms throughout the complete zoom range, while changing speed at any point. This, and recording start/stop, are the main purposes of using a controller - though some models, including the two VariZoom-branded units we're looking at here, have additional functions.
VariZoom makes a range of controllers, including models that work with some Canon and Fujinon broadcast lenses, and others that work with Panasonic's DVX-100 camcorder and JVC's DV300. The versions we're reviewing, though, work with a wide range of camcorders that have Lanc (Local Application Control Bus) sockets. Currently, that means only models from Sony and Canon, but it still covers a very large number of camcorders.
Lanc, also called Control-L or Lan-C, is a protocol developed by Sony that allows two-way communication between camcorders and other devices. It's not possible to zoom and focus at the same time, but the same is true of all Lanc controllers - the protocol doesn't permit it. The camcorders we used in our tests were all Sony-branded - three MiniDV models (a VX2000E and two TRV900Es) and a TR2000 Hi8 analogue machine.

The VZ-Rock
This is the more expensive of the two controllers. It's beautifully made from machined aluminium and moulded ABS plastic and weighs 135gms. It has two 28mm long fixings that allow it to clamp onto pan handles varying from 10mm to 30mm in diameter. The instructions go to some length to point out that fixings mustn't be over tightened, but we found they had to be very tight or the action of pushing the focus buttons made the controller swivel around the bar. Serrations moulded into the clamping surfaces would have gone some way towards solving this problem - our solution was to cover the pan handle with gaffer tape to get more purchase.
The VariZoom StealthZoom is a cut-down, lighter (95gms) and cheaper version of the VZ-Rock. It has a black ABS body with a small protruding throttle lever for zooming. The lever has a 12mm movement and we found it far more difficult to perform speed changes during a full zoom than with the longer action of the VZ-Rock. Also making it trickier to use is the fact that, with the Stealth, your thumb is in mid-air and has no fixed point of reference to guide it.


On first acquaintance, both controllers (especially the delightful-looking Rock version) appeared to work well. And, if you steer well clear of the slowest jerky zoom, they can be quite useful. However, a number of the controls are of limited use, and some simply don't work at all. There are other Lanc controllers out there, and they may be worth considering instead of the VariZoom models.

Tom Hardwick

Read the full feature in October 2003's Computer Video magazine.


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