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Beastgrip Pro may be a monster rig for shooting phone video (hands-on)

The company just launched a Kickstarter for the second generation of its rig, and it looks pretty awesome -- if you accept a few rough edges.

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I once spent a day at CES photographing the different ways people had rigged out their phones, tablets, cameras and camcorders for reporting on the show: there seems to be an infinite number. Beastgrip Pro tries to take on all of them. And based on my preview of the kit, for which Beastgrip launched a $50,000 Kickstarter in late March that blew past its goal in 24 hours, it might well be an exception to the jack-of-all-trades rule.

The Beastgrip Pro is a resizable handheld cage with a 37mm lens mount and comes with macro, wide-angle and fisheye lenses for which the company plans to charge $90 (£61, AU$114 directly converted) when it ships in August -- hopefully. This is a Kickstarter, after all, and nothing is written in stone. The cage fits most phones -- almost to phablet width -- with cameras in various places along the back. Specifics are on the Kickstarter page.

You can also get a mix-and-match set of tubes, lenses and a Canon EF lens mount that comprise the Depth-of-Field (DOF) Adapter, a $150 kit (£101, AU$191 directly converted) that's one of the big differences between the Beastgrip Pro and other phone rigs. As the name implies, the DOF adapter primarily delivers a more shallow depth of field than is usually possible with just the usual 37mm lenses.

At its simplest, the BG Pro can serve as just a grip for your phone. It has a spring-loaded, quick-release clamp with rubberized jaws to hold your phone and a big comfortable grip that's equally adept for righties and lefties. The the jaws of the clamp can be unscrewed and moved into different vertical positions to make the jaws narrower or wider. On top of the clamp sits a mount that accomodates standard cold-shoe accessories like microphones and light panels.

A second half with the lens mount has rails which slide into the first half; you adjust this horizontal distance to accommodate your phone and center the lens mount opening over the camera. Once you have it set, you lock it into place with two thumbscrews; the lens mount adjusts vertically and also gets thumbscrewed in place. In total the unit has 5 1/4"-20 mounts, two on each side on top and bottom, and one on the bottom in the usual tripod spot.

The DOF Adapter consists of a lens, a focusing screen and an EF mount. Sarah Tew/CNET

All the screw threads are metal (brass), as is the lens mount. In a typical configuration, the DOF adapter is a stack with a 37mm 10x close-up lens on the mount end, followed by a 10x 37mm-to-52mm macro converter lens, then two screw-in tubes sandwiching a focusing screen between them, and finally a tube with the EF bayonet mount. The entire thing is only about 3.5 inches/8.9cm long.

As is common with this type of adapter, the image you see on the screen is upside down, something most native camera or video apps don't correct for, so you'll probably want a third-party app. (I tested with Filmic Pro on the iPhone 6 Plus , and found Lensbaby's free camera app an interesting fit for stills, since it flips.)

But because of the multiple intermediate lenses, most importantly the lens on the phone, you lose some light; the company recommends shooting with a lens with apertures between f0.9 and f2.8. It also recommends shooting in brighter light; in darker light, as well as when it's not perfectly level, you can see the ridges on the focusing screen. (The camera actually focuses on the screen, which becomes the focal plane of the mounted lens.) And you have to keep the screen really clean, otherwise you may see a lot of speckles, and if you switch lenses often it gets quite schmutzy. However, combined with low-light grain, it produces a great retro film effect.

With the DOF adapter, you get a more realistic shallow depth of field, along with distortion, fringing and other artifacts common to this type of setup. The 16:9 aspect ratio of video masks out the edge distortion. Lori Grunin/CNET

The DOF adapter seems quite sturdy, though I never did become very comfortable leaving a heavy Canon 50mm f1.2 lens dangling off the end unsupervised. My only serious issue -- and it was more of mild annoyance -- is with the way the focusing screen fits into the stack. Because everything screws together, if you don't make it extremely tight, the screen rotates just a tiny bit. (And if you make it extremely tight it's sometimes really hard to unscrew the 37mm lenses.) I found I had to constantly iterate the leveling, which sometimes required sticking my fingers down through the EF mount section. Some sort of external nub to tweak it, as well as indicators inside the mount tube to help line it up, might help.

The focusing screen can be difficult to position exactly right. Sarah Tew/CNET

However, I think my truly biggest disappointment is that technical difficulties -- it would require a completely different mount adapter section -- prevent it from supporting Micro Four thirds lenses. I think the smaller lenses are more suited to this type of setup and would be handheld shooting easier. Someone who isn't me might be able to rig something up with an additional EF to M43 adapter and additional 37mm converter lenses, but that defeats the purpose of keeping it small.

In any case, it looks like a lot of thought went into the design and production of the Beastgrip Pro and the DOF Adapter. It will be interesting to see how the Kickstarter turns out and if shipping goes as planned.