The Zoe DV-Lanc Remote Lens Controller
a review by Ken Tanaka
distributed by 16×9 Inc., retail price: $410; street price: $350
Note: This article covers the 2003 model of the Zoe DV LANC controller. This model is nearly physically identical to its predecessor but features some additional funtionality.
Remote lens and camera controllers have been available to professionals for many years. But the past few years have seen a bit of an explosion of models aimed principally at the prosumer miniDV video camera market. Today a good remote camera/lens controller is an essential accessory for any video professional or serious hobbyist. The original models of controllers were large, fist-sized designs often featuring their own handles. These units are still popular with many professionals due to their durability and reliability. But the common design theme among the newest generation of controllers is “smaller” and “sleeker”. Indeed, most of the new smaller controllers offer the same functionality as their larger predecessors for lower prices. One of the newest entries to the fray at this writing is the Zoe DV-LANC controller by the German company Bebob Broadcast Engineering. The Zoe controller is aimed squarely at carving a slice of the growing prosumer DV camera market and, as such, has attracted considerable curiosity during the first year of its U.S. availability.
My first impression of the Zoe was that it’s very compact, lightweight and solidly manufactured. The Zoe’s main body is made of a polycarbonate plastic and the rocker appears to be machined from an aluminum block. The Zoe mounts to a tripod’s pan handle with a now standard vice-style yoke, tightened by two knurled thumb screws permanently mounted to their screws. The solid aluminum lower bar of the yoke features one slotted end which enables the yoke to swing open, making mounting and dismounting a bit easier. The bottom of the Zoe’s main body, and the yoke bar, are grooved to better grip a pan handle. The Zoe’s buttons are membrane switches featuring crisp “click” tactile feedback that eliminates any ambiguity of engagement during blind operation. In fact, the buttons are just a bit too “tactile”. Their report is loud enough to register on the audio tracks if operated while the camera is rolling during a quiet scene. The hermetic appearance of the Zoe’s sealed membrane buttons has led some to speculate that the unit may be weatherproof. Close inspection, however, suggests that the Zoe is, at best, weather resistant. The tiny guide sheet provided with the unit offers no claims or warnings on this point. The Zoe’s rocker is a dual-function control. By default, it controls lens zoom operation. Pressing the Focus button, discussed later, switches the rocker to a focus-control function. In both modes the rocker operates as a variable-speed control. The harder you press it, the faster the controlled function varies. It is worth noting that the Zoe’s rocker is somewhat stiff compared to other rocker controllers. Pierre Duart of Bebob remarked that the rocker on this version of the controller is designed to be less stiff than the earlier model. That may be true, but in a blind A/B comparison I could not detect any difference between models in this respect.
I tested the Zoe with my Canon XL1S and GL2 cameras. This is an important reference point. Although LANC is an industry-standard control protocol among camera manufacturers it seems that complete compatibility with LANC devices remains elusive between brands and even between models. Canon cameras, in particular, have had a history of quirkiness with processing certain LANC commands. My work with the Zoe revealed that, whether the fault of Canon or Zoe, some incompatibilities do exist with the Zoe. I am told that it is completely functional with Sony cameras but I was not able to personally verify this statement. The Zoe features the following basic set of lens / camera controls: Zoom, On/Off, Record, and Focus. Zoom The Zoe uses a variable-speed rocker switch to control lens zoom. Much like the trigger on a variable-speed hand drill, the harder you press the rocker the faster the zoom moves. It should be noted that the lenses of these cameras, like those of their prosumer peers, zoom at preset steps of speed. The best results that any lens controller can achieve are to accurately replicate the range of speeds that a lens permits. The Zoe’s zoom rocker operated correctly on both cameras. Each of the zoom servos on my XL1S lenses, and my GL-2’s lens, behaved exactly as they do when operated from the camera’s zoom rocker, indicating that the Zoe was sending accurate streams of commands to the lenses. One new feature of the 2003 model is that the action of the Zoom rocker can be reversed by pressing and holding the Focus button while the camera is powering-up. This will invert the relationship between the lens’ zoom motion and the rocker’s direction. Presumably, some users may find one setting or the other more intuitive (ex: press the rocker “out” to zoom “out”, “in” to zoom “in”?). On/Off This control is designed to place a camera into power-off/standby and wake the camera up from that state. The green LED above the button glows steadily while the camera is powered on and will blink if the camera is on but has no tape loaded, a nice feature. The Zoe operated the GL2’s power-off/standby function flawlessly. Conversely, my XL1S generally refuses to stay asleep when any LANC controller is connected to it, Zoe or otherwise. Rec The Record button operated flawlessly on both my XL1S and GL2. A red lamp above the button glows while the camera is recording. Focus The Focus button’s functionality has been expanded in this version of the Zoe controller. As designed, the button is intended to operate as follows:
- One click: Changes rocker’s function between focus and zoom.
- Two clicks: Switches camera between manual & auto focus modes.
- Press and hold: Performs an instant auto-focus function, sometimes called “Push Auto” on cameras. The rocker retains its current control mode after the button is released.
These functions mainly operated properly when used on the GL2. However, the 16x auto and 3x lenses of the XL1S did not permit switching between manual and auto focus modes with the Zoe… nor did the “Press and hold” function activate the “Push Auto” focus function on these lenses. I should note that the Focus button’s triple functionality does take some practice to master. Double-clicking to switch the camera’s focus mode, in particular, was somewhat awkward and imprecise. Frequently it failed to change the camera’s focus mode for some reason. The most useful function of this group, in my opinion, is the “Push Auto” function activated by pressing and holding this button. I found myself using this function often on my GL2, since the camera’s lens does not have such a function (unlike the XL1S’ 16x and 3x lenses). It’s an extremely handly function to have and a welcome addition to the GL2’s functionality. As noted above, the Zoe’s membrane buttons have a rather loud click when pressed. Using the Focus button while shooting a quiet scene may very well be audible on your sound track, especially if you are using the camera’s onboard mic. I am told by Bebob that this will be changed in an upcoming model.
The Zoe Lanc DV controller is a very compact and sturdy unit offering a basic set of camera/lens control functionality in a variable-speed single rocker package. It would be a poor choice for XL1 / XL1S users but is worth consideration for GL2 and probably Sony users. I used the Zoe during an actual shoot with my GL2 and found it to be quite satisfactory. Pro:
- Solidly manufactured.
- Buttons have a tactile feedback.
- Swing-bar yoke design is a nice feature.
- “Push Auto” function of the Focus button is a very nice feature.
- Somewhat stiff zoom/focus rocker. In all fairness, this is a personal issue. You may actually prefer this feel.
- Limited functionality when used with XL1 / XL1S cameras.
- Loud clicks of buttons may register on sound track if operated while rolling.
- Somewhat expensive.
Please direct questions to the DV Info Net Community Forums.