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Review of the new Express35 Run 'n Gun Trio + D|Focus V3

February 20, 2011
by Ron Risman

Since the ergonomics of DSLR's just don't lend themselves to shooting video without proper support, shoulder rigs have become a very popular add-on for HDSLR's. Over the past eight months I have had the pleasure of testing out a few different budget-minded shoulder rigs from companies Habbycam and JAG35.  Today I am reviewing another lower-cost camera rig, the Run N' Gun TRIO from Express35.  Unlike the JAG35 Full Shoulder Rig and Straight Shoulder Rig that I have reviewed, the Run N' Gun TRIO is a smaller and shorter rig designed to rest up against or on the right or left shoulder.  Last year I reviewed a run n' gun model from Habbycam, and while I liked it for it's price, it lacked a standard rod system that allowed the attachment of add-on devices such as follow-focus units, external monitors, handles, tripod mounts, etc.

I should also mention that Express35 also markets larger weight-balanced rigs for those that need and want the larger size, but this time around I opted to review a model that I feel would fit both the budget and size that most DSLR shooters would be attracted too.

Run N' Gun TRIO

The Run N' Gun Trio from Express35 comes packaged with (three) 10" (15mm) rails, a 12" (15mm) cross bar, articulating Contour Shoulder / Chest Level Pad, Camera Mounting platform, and (two) HD handles.  No instructions are included with the Rig, which I find a very disappointing trend in the industry, but configuring the rig is quite easy as assembly includes just two handles attached to the 12" cross bar, camera plate, and shoulder/chest pad that slides onto its own 10" rail to slide onto the dual rods, but I still suggest using one of the photos in this review when configuring the rig the first time.

As mentioned, the Run N' Gun Trio is based around industry standard 15mm rods, allowing the user to build upon the system or swap out parts as their needs grow or change.   For this review I tested the Run N' Gun TRIO in its shipped configuration, along with the new D|Focus V3 follow-focus unit, which Express35 and D|Focus also sent along with the rig for me to test.  

D|Focus V3 Follow Focus

Since most of my filming involves weddings I never really bothered using a follow focus unit, feeling that whatever advantages I might gain would be offset by the lack of flexibility when it came time to swap lenses in a hurry.   But after using the D|Focus V3 I am definitely sold on the advantages.  It's not that I have had much problem using the focus rings on the lenses themselves, but it has always been a bit of a struggle for me to remember which way I turn my hand to focus on a subject that is either moving toward or away from the camera.   Since the focus ring on lenses turn side-to-side there isn't a direct correlation to the direction your subject is moving.  The wheel on follow focus units, at least with Canon lenses, allow you to turn the focus wheel in the direction the subject is moving.  At least for me, this makes focus tracking much more intuitive and easy to remember.  The D|Focus V3 follow focus unit can be pivoted for right or left-handed use, so I assume that this might be opposite and less intuitive if you end up mounting the follow focus unit to the right of the lens instead of on its left.  

Follow Focus units works by attaching an adapter around the lens' focusing ring.  The follow focus unit uses gears with 'teeth' that when aligned to the lens adapter will allow it to move the focus ring of the lens when you turn the focus knob.   Since a follow focus knob acts as an extension of the lens focusing system and doesn't require the user to physically touch the lens, focus can be adjusted without any camera movement.   There are also extension 'whips' available that can be attached to the follow focus unit to allow a second operator, called the focus puller, to adjust focus without physically touching the camera rig.   Around the focus knob there is usually a marking disc that allows the operator to mark focus start/stop points, allowing the focus puller to work without needing a viewing monitor. The D|Focus V3 has what they call a 3D marking disc

To me, shoulder rigs are a necessary evil when shooting video with DSLR's.  While they help to turn DSLR's into a professional looking camera set up and stabilize your footage, they are big, bulky and not a lot of fun to use.  The more compact size of the Express35 Run n' Gun Trio changes this.  Since the Run n' Gun TRIO is designed for lighter weight kits the rig remains small and manageable.   The standard 15mm rods and large levers make it easy to adjust the position of each component and the levers don't require excessive force to tighten or loosen.

Camera Platform

In my video overview I mentioned that the camera platform was a generous size, but I would like to correct that statement here.  The camera platform is of adequate size, but 'generous' was a bit of a stretch.  The platform measures 2" x 2.5" and features a thin rubber pad which covers the center portio of the plate.  The rubber pad is designed to keep the camera from rotating around the 1/4" thread, but when using the follow focus I found that pressure from the gears would sometimes be enough to push the camera just slightly to the right as I turned the focus wheel.   Even without the follow focus, just grasping the camera's grip when adjusting settings can slightly pivot the camera on the platform.   Despite the lack of a positioning pin, like those found on video cameras, a larger platform with a bit more rubber padding would help to alleviate this from happening.

Shoulder Pad

The articulating shoulder pad on the Express35 Run N' Gun TRIO also helps to separate this rig from its competitors. The curved pad will grip your shoulder from behind or rest up against it just by pivoting the front of the pad down a bit to act as a chest pad.  The shoulder pad connects to a 15mm rod with an articulating design, which gives it the ability to tilt right or left or fore and aft.  A quick turn of the adjustment handles keeps the pad firmly in whatever position you desire.   The pad's connecting rod mounts to the front handle cross-bar, which helps to keep the units overall length very short - yet the shoulder pad can be slid forward and back to adjust the distance between the camera's viewfinder and your eyes.   You can also slide the camera platform forward and back for additional fine-tuning. The pad itself is about 1/4" thick and can easily be replaced if it ever wears out since it is held on with Velcro.  

The dimensions and shape of the shoulder pad make it very comfortable to use. When you tilt the rig up or down, and the top of the pad isn't resting squarely on your shoulder, the front of the pad still provides a point of contact on your body because of the way it's curved.   Since the angle of the shoulder pad is fully adjustable, I found that tilting it just a bit so that the front of the pad rested in front of the shoulder provided the best all around stability.

HD Handles

The handles included with the Run N' Gun TRIO are dubbed "HD Handles" by Express35.  I assume this moniker is to let us know that these are premium handles.  The handles are made of dual-compound rubber, have a very sure grip and are very comfortable.  I find that foam handles are more comfortable for longer periods but are more prone to wear and tear.   For the purpose of run and gun shooting the HD handles are the right combination of comfort and durability.

The HD handles slide onto the 12" crossbar (15mm rod) and can be positioned anywhere along the bar - to the right and left of the center dual rod clamp.   If you plan on attaching a follow focus unit, like the D|Focus V3, keeping the handles spread far apart makes the most sense.  However, when using the shoulder rig without a follow focus unit, I like to keep the right handle as close to the center as possible since I often rely on supporting the rig with one hand while my left hand rotates the focus ring on the lens.

Putting it all together (Conclusion)

When I review shoulder rigs I obviously have to spend time focusing on the individual parts that make up the rig, but in this summary I will spend more time focusing on the entire rig. After all, you're not purchasing a 101 erector set, you're purchasing a tool that you'll want to be comfortable using and that will act as the base for whatever you want to make it into as your needs change.

The first time I took the rig out was to do a little filming at the Adam Forgione cinematography workshop in Boston. While I didn't use it extensively during the two-day workshop, this did give me the opportunity to use it in an environment that would allow for quick run n' gun style shots. I mounted the Canon 7D, 24-105mm lens, hot-shoe microphone, and Zacuto's Z-Finder loupe to the rig, along with the D|Focus V3 follow focus. My setup has the rig length set to 19" in length, from the very front rod to the back of the shoulder pad. The length is mostly controlled by the angle and distance that you place the shoulder pad. Even with the 24-105mm F/4L lens, which is not a lightweight lens, the TRIO was very comfortable to shoot with. The balance, weight, and support that the rig provides is ideal for on-the-go shooting and never did I feel that the rig was getting in the way of shooting. Rather than feeling like a contraption to put my camera on, it felt more like an extension of the camera. This is the first rig I have used that I can say that about.

The adjustability of the shoulder pad is so important and allows the rig to conform to your setup or shooting style. There are two separate connection points that allow the articulating movement of the pad. The rail block that connects to the 15mm rod adjusts the position and left/right angle of the shoulder pad, while a second adjustment allows you to change the forward/rear tilt of the pad. I would go as far as to say that this is the best shoulder pad I have used.

Despite how much I really enjoy using the TRIO there are a few things that could be improved upon. First, I couldn't remove the rail blocks that are mounted to the front cross bar and that hold the two main 10" support rods in place. I wanted to loosen and temporarily remove one of them in order to slide a handle in between them. This would have allowed me to create a single handled rig, making it more comfortable to support the camera with one hand leaving the other hand free to control the follow focus. I am sure that the hex screws can be loosened but after trying a few times I gave up as I didn't want to take a chance on breaking anything. Second, the camera platform is not height adjustable and the 1/4-20" knob is a bit inconvenient to access. If this was my rig to keep (it isn't - more on that after the review) I would mount a Manfrotto 577 rapid connect adapter to make it easy to slide my camera on and off the rig; a tripod plate that would allow me to slide the entire rig onto a tripod; and the D|Riser offset block to raise the D|Focus up a bit to compensate for the height of the Manfrotto quick-release platform. These are not major issues but I wanted to make note of them so that you can plan accordingly. Thanks to its compact size, the easy adjustability, and the superb shoulder pad & handles I would highly recommend looking at the Express35 Run N' Gun TRIO if you're in the market for a compact shoulder rig. At the time of this review the Run n' Gun TRIO without the follow focus unit sells for $399.95. The D|Focus V3 sells separately starting at $139.99.

Win This Shoulder Rig ($570 Value)

Express35 and D|Focus gave us permission to give away our review unit once we were finished with our review. So, if you are interested in winning the Express35 Run N' Gun TRIO along with the new D|Focus V3 Follow Focus with one lens gear just follow the steps below and the rules* below and you'll be in the running.
  1. Sign up for our free Cameratown Delivered eFlyer
  2. Follow Cameratown on Twitter
  3. Tweet the following only ONCE
      Win an Express35 Run N' Gun TRIO Shoulder Rig + D|Focus V3 Follow Focus from Cameratown. Pls RT. Get info at: http://bit.ly/dlsAhA
* For complete contest rules and legal disclaimers please visit the official contest page.

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