Three monitor arms compared

When I bought my excellent SmallHD DP-6 field monitor last December, I have to admit I was thinking a lot more about the monitor than I was the arm that I purchased at the same time. But over the past year I’ve discovered that having the right arm is as important as having the right monitor. Maybe more important! I’ve gone through three different arms before finding one that truly gets the job done, so I thought I’d share what’s working the best for me.

The three arms:

1. SmallHD StrongArm 6. $79.
2. Manfrotto 7″ Hydrostatic arm. $184
3. Zacuto Zonitor Lightweight Kit with 12″ Zamerican Arm. $366.

The short story: You really do get what you pay for. The Zacuto Zonitor Kit is THE way to mount your monitor or evf for maximal grip in quick-changing shooting conditions. And it’s built to last without compromising its looks. Like a cross between a Porsche and a tank.

The long story.

The StrongArm is as it’s name suggests – strong. It’s also short, at around 6″, and requires what feels like over-tightening to keep the monitor in place. The metal is surprisingly painful to tightening repeatedly, and actually made me more likely to live with the monitor in an awkward position rather than do battle with repositioning it. Unfortunately, if your monitor is screwed on in such a way that gravity is pulling it in the direction away from the screw threads, it can and frequently does work its way loose. This can result in sudden flopping of the monitor. It doesn’t fall off, but it flops loose and has to be retightened. I found I needed to use a pair of pliers to seat it tight enough to hold consistently through a shoot. Awkward.

The Manfrotto hydrostatic arm improves on the ergonomics of the StrongArm by adding an inch in length, and a rubber wheel that is MUCH easier to tighten and release. It also requires less twisting to get a lock. The lockdown wheel on the 1/4″ 20 side, which the monitor is mounted on, helps prevent the flopping problem mentioned above, at least when used with a monitor. But it still has to be tightened with pliers on the 3/8″ side. And when used with an EVF, I found that the lockdown wheel would quickly rotate loose from the pressure of my eye on the viewfinder. On a recent 8-day shoot in Alaska, I had way too many times where I was struggling to align and retighten the evf when I should have been rolling already.

So when I got home, I bit the bullet and did something I hate to do: I paid top dollar for something. Specifically, for Zacuto’s 12″ Zonitor arm kit. The kit arrived in a zip-lock bag, and you can tell immediately that this is serious stuff. Everything is mounted on big, beefy metal quick-release rods. The thing is heavy, in a reassuring way. When you twist the lever, it bites down hard and stays put. A simple twist of the quick-release, and the monitor is on or off your arm instantly. The 12″ (actually a bit longer in practice) is something that I don’t know how I ever lived without. You don’t know what you’re missing until you have it.

The Zacuto knobs are engineered to perfection.

What’s missing from this picture?

A rod clamp from shoulder rig made by MovCam. Why is it missing? Because it worked it’s way loose during a long shoot, and fell out.

I had an opportunity to compare their build quality literally side by side on my shoot in Alaska, where I was working in cold temperatures with gloves that made me want to fiddle as little as possible with anything fiddly.

For the sake of comparison, check out the knobs on this MovCam shoulder rig. I bought this rig less than a month ago, and one of the knobs has already fallen off and gotten lost. That is extremely unlikely to happen with Zacuto knobs. So if you’re depending on your rig to work when you need it most, you can bet that paying a few more bucks is worth it. Which makes us fortunate. We work in an industry where paying extra money pays off. Unlike those poor millionaires who got zip for everything they spent on Karl Rove’s super pac in the presidential election.

I have just one nitpick with how the Zicromount III works with my SmallHD DP-6. Because the monitor is beveled on the back side, the two grips that are designed to prevent the monitor from rotating can’t be secured properly when the Zicromount is mounted the only way it can be mounted to accommodate the HDMI cable.

Above: mounting the Zicromount III so that feet grip correctly prevents HDMI cable access. However, it’s easy to fix this – just mount it the other way around to the monitor. However, when mounted that way, the grips don’t set properly, and become useless. Here’s what I’m talking about:

The next obvious place to mount it would be on the top of the monitor, but I don’t have that option on mine, because I have attached a bubble level (pried from a string level and gaffed tapped to the monitor) which helps me find a quick level when I adjust the monitor. I find it really helps to have a level monitor when shooting, and without the level I have a hard time eyeballing it.

The good news is that the Zicromount III works fine even without the grips gripping – it just has to be screwed down tightly. Once in place, you can leave it there, making setting up your monitor a fast, painless process on location.

One thought on “Three monitor arms compared

  1. Pingback: How to film an iPhone screen like a Pro | Dan McComb

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