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