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Old May 12th, 2003, 08:27 PM   #1
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PG-L or Pro-L Varizoom, Thoughts?

Hey all. I'm assuming that this is the correct forum for this question.

What's better? The PG-L (pistol grip) or Pro-L (straight) Varizoom controller? Or do you have another suggestion? There is a $40 price difference on the Varizoom site but in reality it is usually about $10...

If I don't go with one of these I'll get the VZ-Rock or the Manfrotto 522 zoom/focus controller... but since they are all nearly the same price I'd feel better going with one of Varizoom's "Pro" controllers... thoughts?
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Old May 12th, 2003, 10:42 PM   #2
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I've been using a Pro-L for a couple of years and it has been sturdy and reliable. But I do have have a couple of criticisms of it.

(a) It's bigger and clunkier than it really needs to be, making it a pain to pack with a tripod.

(b) The controls are Radio Shack quality. The rocker switch is not very responsive. The buttons feature no mechanical sensory feedback whatsoever; you push them until something happens.

Varizoom's new VZ-Rock controller (which I just noticed tonight) looks most interesting and would probably be my choice among their product lineup today.

I just bought a Zoe controller as a new alternative and look forward to trying it out late this week.
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Old May 13th, 2003, 12:39 AM   #3
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Just curious Matt, but why do you feel better about the "Pro" controller? The name? I'm assuming you haven't used either one. Why not wait till Ken gets his Zoe and gives us his review.

That was a very candid review from Ken regarding the Varizoom, and mirrors my experience with their line. Can't help but mention the new "Rok" is a dead ringer for the Zoe. Hmmm.

I have heard good things about the Manfrotto, but one big problem is that you cannot mount it to a steadicam or shoulder mount device. Not really a problem, just something to be aware of.

Yeah, I like the Zoe.
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Old May 13th, 2003, 01:05 AM   #4
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Wayne,
I've kept my eye on the Zoe since you introduced it to us last fall. What ultimately prompted me to try it was a recent test shot I was making for an upcoming project. The shot, a critical final shot for the project, requires a very tight and precise (mounted) camera maneuver consisting of a slow pan and tilt combination accompanied by a variable creep zoom of about 25%. Making matters more challenging, the shot is a rather high downward shot. This would be an ideal job for a motion-control head but for my budget on this project, call me Mr. Motion Control.

Try as I might, which I did for nearly 2 hours, I could not get this shot perfectly smooth using the VZ. The amount of force required to simultaneously move the rocker and roll the speed dial (while perfoming the pan/tilt) always jolted the the camera a bit. I removed the VZ from the pan handle and hand-held it to prevent the vibration but this only made matters worse, as I just could not perform the dial/rocker maneuver accurately while holding just the VZ handle.

So hopefully the Zoe's variable speed rocker will at least offer me a solution to this challenge.
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Old May 13th, 2003, 07:15 AM   #5
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Please report back with your findings on the Zoe, Ken. For a "mini" controller I was originally torn between the Zoe and the Manfrotto... the only reason I didn't mention the Zoe in my initial post is that, at least for me, the construction and appearance of the VZ-Rock looks pretty good. All that REALLY matters to me is which one will allow the slowest possible crawl and MAINTAIN that slow crawl easily.

This is a perfect segue to answer Wayne's question. Of course it's not the name. It's a logic issue supported by SEVERAL points. The first is that according to Varizoom, when you set their dials at the minimum speed you can access one or even two speeds SLOWER the you've ever seen using your camera controls. Mini DV cams don't have variable speed servos controlling zoom, they have 6 to 16 (or so) possible zoom speeds. The tiny rocker/slider on the cam may miss the two slowest choices. The VZ dial controllers access those speeds.

Also Varizoom moves the most product by far. That inspires confidence. The ability to zoom and focus simulaneously doesn't hurt either. How often would I do this? Probably not often, but at least it's an option.

Also having a dial to preset a speed could be an advantage at times. That way there is no chance of missing the desired zoom speed... and at the same time you can push the rocker with your thumb and use your index finger to roll the dial. So the point is that you have BOTH easily maintained crawls AND variable speed zoom... that minimizes the chance for human error. I suppose if the operator has poor dexterity this may be a problem. I don't.

If I don't go with one of the "Pro" controllers I'll have to decide between the VZ-Rock and the Manfrotto. I like everything about the Manfrotto except that it's limited to the pan bar and it's polycarbonate (plastic)... The ONLY flaw I can find in the VZ-Rock is that it doesn't look as "factory" as the Manfrotto.

At this point the VZ-Rock may get the nod. From what I can tell it has all the benefits of the Zoe with the added appeal of all machined aluminum construction and increased capability. (Seperate focus controls as well as other camera functions.)

The argument that it's a rip off of the Zoe doesn't hold water for me. Sure it IS, but every dv cam would be the SAME brand if it weren't for "rip offs"... also technology would move forward much slower if nobody ever said, "anything you can do I can do better",
which is exactly what I think Varizoom is saying to Zoe... all the while sticking their tongue out at 'em.
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Old May 13th, 2003, 11:02 AM   #6
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I really wanted to let this drop and wait for Ken's comments, but you raise a couple of points that simply cannot be ignored, Matt.

In regards to controllers with variable speed dials. There are no professional controls (Fujinon, Canon, Schneider, etc) that use such a dial. All use a smooth, ramping, logarithmic control, rather than a fixed speed.

"Varizoom moves the most product" therefore, they must be the best manufacturer. Using this logic we can posit: Macdonald's sells the most hamburgers, therefore they must make the best hamburgers. Gag.

The Manfrotto (and the Zoe) are made of "plastic" polycarbonate, so they must be inferior to the aluminum "Rok." The 3mil polycarbonate is not "plastic" anymore than a Covette's fiberglass body is "plastic." In the case of the Zoe, the sealed housing is weather resistant (can be used in high humidity locations), as well as being light weight. The construction is backed with a 2year warranty. How many other electronic products have 2 year guarantees? BTW, a number of professional level controllers are "plastic," the Canon being the one that first comes to mind. Look at some professional controllers at the B&H site.

The separate focus control may be an issue for you, as I pointed out in my review. (http://www.digitalprods.com/zoe.htm) But, I have used the Zoe while barrel focusing my PD150 with my left hand, and zooming with my right, and this is exactly the way I operate professional cameras, including Betacams, digibetacams, and Hi Def cameras.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I would guess that the Zoe people are flattered, but if I were you, I would wonder why Varizoom makes so many controllers. They currently have at least four models in their line-up, and that does not include the models they dropped from production that used to zoom with button controls. Are they having a problem getting it right?

One final note: While I support the product, I do believe the Zoe is overpriced at the list of $410.00, and I am disappointed the distributor (16x9 Inc) has set such a high price.

I look forward to what Ken has to say. I'm sure it will be well thought out.
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Old May 13th, 2003, 02:37 PM   #7
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In the interest of full disclosure, let me open by saying I have just received my VariZoom Stealth. I bought the Stealth not because it was the best but because it met my budget. In my case, it is a project expense rather than a long-term investment. If my project succeeds and I'm no longer on such a tiny budget, I'll replace it with the Zoe and keep the Stealth as backup.

The Zoe and the Stealth share one thing in common -- they are minimalist. They both move the zoom control to the pan handle and provide the highly desirable functions start/stop and wake from standby.

A major advantage of the Zoe is that it is weatherproof. I don't have a need to shoot in bad weather for my project, so I could afford to overlook that omission in the Stealth. Even so, I was surprised by this language in the lengthy, 1.5-page Stealth operating manual: "Never expose the unit to water or liquids, and never expose it to excessive heat, pressure, or shock -- Doing so may result in damage not covered by the factory warranty (1 year)." Translation: if it breaks in the rain, it's your nickel.

While I'm on the subject of the warranty, there's this: "Do not subject the brass zoom throttle or the Lanc cable to unnecessary stress. Abuse of the zoom throttle or Lanc cable may result in damage not covered by your warranty!" I don't intend to abuse my Stealth and it will be lightly used, but the ending exclamation point worries me. I wonder what constitutes unnecessary stress?

Without all these warnings, the instructions would have fit on one page.

The rocker of the Zoe is clearly better than the throttle of the Stealth, especially given the warranty warning. The VZ-Rock obviously has the same kind of rocker. Are the Rock and Zoe equivalent? Someone who has tried both will have to tell us about the difference in feel and handling between the two.

Because the Rock is less expensive than the Zoe, I considered it. While I was not swayed by the, uh, er, appeal of the Varizoom marketing strategy, I was attracted by the Rock's extra gadgets. I ultimately decided that they were only gadgets, of limited everyday utility. Worse, I saw nothing at the site to indicate that the Rock was weatherproof.

Street prices? The Stealth is $200, the Rock is $300, and the Zoe is uncertain, $375-$400.

I've had a chance to practice my panning and zooming using the Stealth. I'm now certain it will meet my limited needs. But even without hands-on experience, I'm convinced the Zoe is the best of the lot.
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Old May 13th, 2003, 02:48 PM   #8
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Zoe Price

I paid $370 for the Zoe at B&H Photo. It's due to arrive Thursday or Friday of this week.
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Old May 13th, 2003, 08:03 PM   #9
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I've had a hard time finding people that say Varizoom's controllers are poor. (Although the Stealth would never make my list... it's purely a budget piece.)

I never said that moving the most product means best manufacturer. I pointed out that Varizoom's Rock APPEARS to be of top quality. It's far easier to mold plastic then to machine aluminum. No argument there. The Corvette comparison is cute, but you'll also note that by far most of the world's best cars AREN'T plastic. Should I rebut with "Ferraris are metal!"? I thought we were talking about zoom controllers.

If this debate is between machined aluminum vs. plastic then why don't you use a plastic tripod? (Carbon Fiber doesn't count unless you're going to tell me the Zoe is carbon fiber now.)

My zoom controller doesn't need to be any more weather-proof then my camera does. If I have to protect one I have to protect the other. In reality who is going to have their cam protected and just leave electrical connections and zoom controller get soaked?

All I really want to know is what controller makes it the EASIEST to maintain a slow crawl AS WELL as ramp zoom speed up or down?
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Old May 13th, 2003, 11:34 PM   #10
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Enough said, I think this ground has been covered.
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Old May 14th, 2003, 12:59 AM   #11
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Matt, for what it's worth, I'll have a side-by-side comparison posted on the website soon. You'll find the notice here as soon as it goes up. Hope this helps,
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