A Helping Hand – My first impressions of the SmallRig top handle and lens support (with the POOLiCAGE and POOLi™ base)

Recently I aquired the POOLiCAGE for my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. However, it was delivered without a top handle. And a camera cage isn’t complete without one. Also, my camera rig requires the Meteor 5-1 lens to be supported, to alleviate the burden from the Micro Four Thirds lens mount. So, yesterday, my parcel from SmallRig finally arrived with the solid aluminum top handle and lens support to complement my POOLiCAGE and S-BASE-2. It took approximately a week for the package to arrive after order on Amazon.UK. The parcel consisted of a larger cardboard box [1] containing two lesser cardboard boxes and a small plastic bag [2-3]. One of the boxes contained the top handle and cold shoe base, and the other one contained the lens support; the small plastic bag contained the two enlongated 1/4″-20 screws with D-rings [3-4] that I’m planning to use with a future mid-handle from SmallRig (that I ordered today from Shenzhen, China, due to arrive in two weeks), for use together with the Krasnogorsk-3 pistol grip/shoulder brace-POOLi™ D-BASE-2-handheld rig. Unpacking the small cardboard boxes revealed each item in a plastic bag [5]. The entire package included the SmallRig 1638 Top Handle Cold Shoe Base and Threaded Top Handle, made of aluminum alloy and assembled with M4 screws, two 1/4″-20 allen screws for mounting the Cold Shoe Base to the POOLiCAGE and allen key, two SmallRig 1/4″ Fixing Screws with D-Ring 1795 (they only come in pairs), and the SmallRig height adjustable Long Lens Support with 15mm Rod Clamp, joined together with a 1/4″-20 screw. Everything was in a mint condition and the packaging made by SmallRig was exemplary.

The SmallRig 1638 Top Handle and Cold Shoe Base was already assembled on delivery; disassembly is done using an allen wrench (which was lacking in the package), unscrewing four M4 allen screws [A]. My largest concern was that the SmallRig top handle base wouldn’t fit the distance between the 1/4″-20 threads of the POOLiCAGE. SmallRig states that the adjustable space between two 1/4″-20 screws is 30-40mm, and the distance between the 1/4″-20 threads of the POOLiCAGE is 32mm according to the designer Andrey Kramar. Based on this I ordered the top handle confident that it would fit; but you never know until you actually assemble the two components, considering that they come from two different companies and adapt to different ecosystems. Thankfully, the cold shoe base fits just perfectly to the POOLiCAGE, although it procrudes somewhat from the edge of the cage [B]. However, looking at the assembly and comparing the cage with the handle, it is easy to spot the difference in finish quality; the POOLiCAGE looks rough and home made compared to the smooth surfaces of the SmallRig components. Also, it seems as the adonising of the POOLi™ products (cage and bases) easily comes off with wear, showing the aluminum beneath, almost as they were brush painted, whereas the adonising process of SmallRig components seems to be more adhesive and endurable. However, both products have a matte finish which blends quite well, and the overall robustness of the POOLiCAGE still seems to be superior to anything that I have seen. Also, the SmallRig and POOLiCAGE combo looks really neat together, as if they were made for each other [C]. Mounted to the POOLiCAGE, the SmallRig handle tends somewhat downwards, because of the top part of the cage being slightly misaligned to the side part, with its female tappings less then perfectly aligned to the screw holes of the side piece. Apart from the three 1/4″-20 threads on the SmallRig Cold Shoe Base (as well as the cold shoe!), the 113 mm long and hollow top handle provides for 20 3/8″ and 24 1/4″-20 threads, evenly distributed on all four sides, making up for the relatively few 1/4″ threads on the POOLiCAGE.

The 15mm Rod Clamp of the SmallRig Long Lens Support fits snugly to the POOLi™ rails (attached to the S-BASE-2) [D], perhaps a bit to snugly, again bearing witness to the less than perfect fitness standards of POOLi™ products (either that or the blame is to be put on SmallRig, or on both brands); it’s a bit ankward to attach the clamp, forcing me to apply some force to pull it all the way through the rods, however not impossible until you reach the end where it stops short of a few (approx. three) centimetres from the base (this is repeated with the D-BASE-2). The lens support is possible to disassemble unlocking and unscrewing its 1/4″-20 screw, and it also allows for the provided SmallRig 1/4″ Fixing Screw 1795 to be inserted through the top of the Rod Clamp [E], which has a 1/4″-20 female thread on top, ending in a 3/8″ thread at the bottom (handy if attaching a 1/4″ to 3/8″ adapter as a possible alternative for the mid-handle). The long fixing screw procrudes far enough through the bottom hole of the rod clamp for the future mid-handle to attach [G]. Something I immediately wanted to check out was if the screw of the lens support was adjustable; it is, using an alley wrench it is possible to unlock the 1/4″-20 allen screw from the thumbs grip of the screw assembly, making it possible to shorten the lenght of the screw [F]. This allows for the attachement of the long SmallRig Fixing Screw 1795 and the lens support to the rod clamp, for a future handheld rig and long lens [G]. Assembling the POOLi™ S-BASE-2 (with the Fancier quick-release plate attached to one of the 1/4″ bottom threads) and SmallRig top handle to the POOLiCAGE, plus rails and SmallRig lens support, with the Meteor 5-1 mounted to the BMPCC, it is very handy to use the top handle (pun intended) making it easy to mount and dismount the rig to the Fancier FC-02H head [H]. Raising the lens support high enough lifts the lens and camera, aligning it horisontally, solving the problem I encountered with the POOLiCAGE tilting slightly downwards when mounted to the S-BASE-2 [I]. With the lens support raised to its maximum level, the rod clamps of the POOLi™ S-BASE-2 may be lowered no further than 2/3 of its adjustable range [J]. In conclusion: I’m very satisfied with the combined efforts of POOLi™ and SmallRig, and a much happier filmmaker!

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