I've been meaning to review Tilta's DSLR shoulder pad and baseplate, along with their follow focus and handles, for some time now. I didn't get to use this gear until my last short film project, Smiling. While there are definitely some downsides to using this relatively affordable, yet generally high quality, Chinese-made shoulder rig setup, I'm very pleased with this purchase overall. This is not a paid review.
Tilta's Feature-Filled Baseplate Works for Nearly Every Filmmaker
The Tilta 15mm VCT Baseplate combines an easy to use baseplate with a shoulder pad, and is typically sold with 15mm rods (200mm of 15mm rods at least). If none of that makes sense to you, know that 15mm rods are an industry standard sized rod diameter used to attach filmmaking gear ranging from follow focuses to articulating arms and matte boxes. While larger cameras, like Arri cameras, benefit from using sturdier 19mm rods for their attachments, smaller, lighter cameras like DSLRs, Canon C100s and C300s, and the smaller Sony cameras don't necessarily need 19mm rods for attachments. It's simply overkill. The nice thing about the Tilta baseplate is that the latest version can adjust the height of the rods, as well as extending the length between the baseplate and the shoulder pad. Having already adjusted the height of the rods myself, I found this design particularly useful - just don't forget to bring a set of hex keys to make adjustments. In addition to the quick release baseplate, the Tilta baseplate has attachments at the bottom that fit the standard Sony VCT-U14 Tripod adapter, a feature I have not used but seems useful for broadcast and ENG-style cameras and tripods.
Tilta's shoulder pad included with the baseplate is just alright. While the foam pad is better than some I've seen used on cheaper shoulder rigs, its substantial mass doesn't contour perfectly to my shoulder. I'm sure that it will adjust over time, but it's a bit of a pain now. The Rhino Rig, on the other hand, appears to have the shoulder pad style done right, though I haven't tested it. Also, the included quick release plate is too wide to accommodate the quick release plate used by my Sachtler Ace L tripod, though I can remove it and mount a Manfrotto quick release kit if I so desire. The best thing about the baseplate is that it positions the camera very nearly over the shoulder, a problem typical of most DSLR rigs that results in unnecessarily heavy counterweights behind the rig to balance out a camera sticking way out in front of the shoulder. This is the main reason I purchased this particular rig.
The Handgrip Sure is... Handy
The Tilta Universal Handgrip, on the other hand, may be the highlight of the purchase. With satisfyingly stout connections and frame work, as well as a very convenient compatibility with both 15mm and 19mm rods, these handles are made to last a filmmaker virtually forever. The handles are easily adjusted in nearly every direction with the included Arri-compatible rosettes, a nice feature that is incorporated all over the shoulder rig as a whole. Adjustments are easy, and can be set in stone without worry about loosening. The rubber handles are high quality, and feel comfortable to use for long periods. They are a tad bit too heavy, though it's clear Tilta's hollowed out design tried to offset the heavy metal used in its construction as much as possible.
And the Follow Focus is Great... But,
I'm still a bit undecided about Tilta's Follow Focus. I really haven't used it, since it's a bit cumbersome to setup on a fast-paced short film shoot and almost always requires an assistant cameraman to operate. However, the hard stops are a very appealing feature not found on nearly any other follow focus in this price range. It's simple and convenient to place hard stops between two different focus distances, removing the need for marking the disc in scenes with only a single rack focus. The marking disc, adjustable tension, and included whips and handle certainly sweeten the incredible deal this follow focus represents. The Tilta follow focus provides a great alternative to far more expensive follow focuses from the likes of Arri for budget-conscious filmmakers.
The issue I have with Tilta's follow focus is not in the general operation of the unit when pulling focus, but the stability of the sideways adjustment of the unit. I have noticed that the mechanism that slides the follow focus side to side to align with a lens gear is a bit loose on occasion, or overly tough on others. It doesn't always want to stay in position, and sometimes it requires too much pressure to shift side to side. I need to play with the follow focus more to see if I can get more reliable operation out of it, but it really concerns me. Also, the included plastic gears are certainly a bother to place on lenses designed for photography, a great reason for me to get cine lenses (already designed with industry-standard pitching) if I could actually afford them.
Some Final Thoughts on Camera Rigs in General, and Their Use in Practice
As I've said, the overall quality of manufacturing from Tilta is quite satisfactory. The nearly all-metal construction - aluminum and carbon fiber in most cases - does give the rig a militaristic look (I've been asked by non-filmmakers if the kit is for a rocket launcher!). Attachments are generally very secure, and high-end features like rosettes set it apart from the competition at this price point. I paid around $1,200 for these three pieces of kit, and later purchased a Wooden Camera EVF holder display model at a discounted price of $350 to round it out (thanks so much by the way for your great customer support!). Still, any repairs or warranty work seems like it could be difficult, as it would most likely require shipping to China.
I do wonder if I should have purchased the Wooden Camera medium-sized DSLR quick kit and Rosette Handle Kit at a $300 premium, but I still wouldn't have had a follow focus (though I would have a top handle). The Tilta rig is a bit heavy because of its solid construction, though well balanced, but the Wooden Camera kit would be even lighter. Also, I had a bit of a frustrating learning experience using the Wooden Camera EVF holder, as the large thumbscrew that holds the 15mm rod had to be mounted upside down to avoid being in camera view, even with the rod height adjusted all the way to the bottom beneath the baseplate. Thus, to remove and readjust the EVF holder to be out of camera, I had to remove the Tilta handgrips to slide the holder off of the 15mm rods. Not to mention, because of the placement of the focus ring at the back of my Tamron 24-70mm lens (never do this again lens companies - the focus ring goes in front of the zoom ring and needs to be large enough to find without looking), it's a bit interesting to place the Tilta follow focus so close to the baseplate on the rods. The rods get a bit crowded - which is why I'd recommend a proper camera cage to attach the EVF holder above the camera and, therefore, closer to your eye.
Regardless, I highly recommend the Tilta DSLR rig - it simply works and has to be seen to be believed. It's generally well built, and I would be very surprised if it did not last a very long time before being replaced. Purchasing a Tilta rig, on the other hand, is a bit dicey. I bought my rig from a Chinese affiliate at a discount, but Tilta is officially sold in America by ikan. Ikan's online store is nearly always sold out of every accessory. Instead, I'd purchase their items via B&H or Amazon. As you may have noticed, there are affiliate links to the items in this review on Amazon.com on this page.