There was a time where video production was immensely expensive and labor intensive. Over the years, the barrier to entry for the industry was high. Filmmakers needed to go to prestigious film schools in order to get well paying jobs and project budgets were respectively high. In 2008, the DSLR revolution began with the release of the Canon 5D MII. This was the first DSLR to be released with HD video capabilities. Because of this release, professional video became possible at a consumer budget, greatly reducing the barrier to entry.
The floodgates to modern filmmaking have been opened wide and the market has quickly saturated with content creators. Because of this, a new breed of filmmakers has risen to the occasion. It’s easier than ever to have a “platform,” yet the stage is more crowded than ever. All this to say, the difference between success and failure is the ability to stand out.
One of the pieces of gear we use to stand out is the Manfrotto RC LANC. This tool is a thumb-operated device that is made for rig applications. Depending on the model of the device you purchase, you gain a wide range of features to access the camera without having to operate the physical buttons of the camera itself. I’ll go ahead and say it; this is a game changer when it comes to filmmaking. Let me tell you why.
1. Record Button
One of the common struggles for rig operators, such as ronin operators, is that every time you wish to start or stop recording you would have to set the rig down. Well, say goodbye to this inconvenience, because now this function is available at the click of a button. This is a time saver that will make you wonder how you operated so inefficiently for so long in the first place.
2. Shutter Release Button
This button allows you to save battery by turning off the live view when not recording. A standard setting on most DSLR cameras is that the shutter will automatically close after an extended period of time without input from the operator. Sometimes, it will shut when it’s desired to still be open, so this feature will allow the user to remain in complete control.
3. Focus Thumb Control
This is easily our favorite and most relied on feature. Being able to adjust focus on the fly allows for dynamic shots, without relying on an additional camera assistant. When crafting shots, the focus pulling needs to be fluid because the first thing your audience will notice is whether this function is jittery or smooth. Manfrotto really thought this out, and built in the option to have three different speeds at which the focus can be adjusted. In our experience, the middle speed option tends to work best with our shooting style. This being said, you can also switch to the fastest mode and quickly jump focus if needed. Because of this, it will have no problem fitting the needs of your production. Another area of control the LANC offers in this category is switching between variable and fixed focus. This means you can either adjust focus at a set speed, or have the quickness increase as you press the thumb control harder. Focusing effectively takes practice, but it doesn’t take long to feel comfortable with the controls after you dial in the speed setting.
4. Live view Zoom
When composing a shot, it is mandatory to first ensure focus has been set perfectly. Most DSLR’s and cinema cameras include a digital zoom option where you can enhance your image from 5 to 10 times which guarantees optimal focus down to a tee. The live view zoom button on the LANC allows you to do this by simply moving your thumb.
5. Auto Focus Control
Auto focus is another feature that can cut down time, and contribute towards efficiency in both photography and videography.
A fundamentally important piece of criteria in any gear is the build quality. From the first time we got our hands of the RC LANC, we felt comfortable relying on it. After using many Manfrotto products, they have done it yet again. They have stayed true to their values of providing high quality and reliable gear. The first thing that stuck out to us was the solidity of the product. Once you get your hands on this you’ll understand what I mean. The product is sturdy without being heavy in anyway and once clamped onto a rig, nothing rattles or moves that shouldn’t.
Secondly, I want to discuss the smooth thumb control. As discussed in the key features section, fluidity in regards to focus pulling is of utmost importance, and can mean the difference between amateur and professional results.
Another element I enjoy about the build quality is the matte finish. Many would think this aspect is purely for looks, but it actually assists with grip. The matte finish also seems to fair better against skin in cold weather shoots as it doesn’t drop temperature as low as uncoated plastic or metal.
The last aspect worth mentioning regarding build quality is the intuitive button placement. There’s nothing worse than hitting the wrong button when you’re on a shoot. This can result in a failure to get the shot and missing those non-repeatable moments. The button placement resembles much of the same layout that a game console controller would have. There is a thumb toggle and the four buttons accessible by the same thumb. The beauty here is that all the essential controls you need to use your camera can be accessed without ever taking your hand of your gimbal, shoulder rig, or tripod.
Gimbals such as the DJI Ronin have become increasingly popular in the arsenals of filmmakers. By now, audiences are used to seeing beautifully smooth tracking shots. However, in most cases to achieve a dynamic shot that engenders precise smoothness and focus pulling, both a camera operator and first AC are required (not to mention the rental/purchase of a monitor for your focus puller to use). With the Manfrotto RC LANC, a solo camera operator is empowered to harness doubled capabilities with half the gear. The technology here is impressive because all features are controlled internally. This is important because traditionally, external gears have been required to be attached to each lens resulting in added expenses and increased time needed when the lenses are mounted. In addition, a gear-controlling motor must be mounted on your gimbal, which results in more weight. Beyond the obvious importance of budget, these are all factors that need to be considered when choosing gear.
Another greatly popular shooting style is going handheld with a shoulder rig. We’re huge fans of shoulder rigs because they allow you to stay with the action, and convey a certain kind of kinetic energy and emotion into your shots that aren’t delivered when locked down or using a gimbal. The RC LANC works seamlessly with any shoulder rig on the market, although we personally use the SYMPLA rig because it is built with Manfrotto’s leading standards in quality. Before adding the LANC to our tool kit, there was always an inconvenience and difficulty when trying to pull focus on a shoulder rig. Even with a proper follow focus device, adjusting focus meant taking one hand off of a handle, which left the rig in a vulnerable state. Just like with a gimbal, the ability to fully control your camera with the tap of your thumb ensures that your rig is kept safe, and that you are as efficient as possible.
One caveat with this product is that it only works with automatic lenses. Manual lenses do not have the internal circuitry and gearing that is needed for a lens to operate automatically. We love our manual lenses for their simplicity and cost efficiency, but the automatic lenses tend to be more versatile.
The unit powers off of 2 AAA batteries. We have yet to run our batteries dead, but it can easily be overlooked when charging camera batteries and prepping for a shoot to forget to check and replace these. I’m sure we’ve all been that guy wandering around an unknown town in search of AA or AAA batteries. Make sure to always have extra batteries before going on any shoot.
As stated briefly above, this product comes in a few different models. Each model is made for a different slew of camera brands. The model we are reviewing is the RC LANC MVR911ECCN. We use this with our Canon 5D MIII. Make sure to review the Manfrotto website to make sure you purchase the correct model.
What really excites us about this unit is that it empowers a single shooter to have the camera control that would traditionally require a full crew. With filmmaking, we are all about finding ways to do more with less. To anyone else who has that desire in their creative ventures, I’d highly advice considering the potential this tool could have in your hands.
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