Camera Rig Knock Offs Do They Hurt The Market?

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If you ventured beyond the main halls at Photokina in Cologne Germany this year where the big name camera companies were you would have come across a lot of Rig Entrepreneurs set up showing their display camera support equipment. Look closer and you would see that those rigs look a little different.
What are Rig Entrepreneurs? Just another name for Rig Knock Off Makers/ Sellers and it would appear we will see more and more of these top range DSLR Camera Rig Clones and accessories pop up and fringe dwell at more camera trade shows.
Of course you can go on eBay anytime and even visit some bricks and mortar camera stores as they are now stocking these Rig Clones.

Knock Off camera support gear is made predominantly overseas and there are some back yard and under the house guys that do OK by it. Don’t forget there is also a core group of DIY guys that will make just about every piece of support gear for their cameras and then some. Look on any camera forum on the net and DIY instructions for camera gear is freely there plus positive and negative chatter about all the support gear knock offs.

So do these camera rig knock offs have an impact on the big name players like Cinevate, Genus, Letus, Zacuto, ikan etc? Does having a camera rig that looks like the real deal but sell for a fraction of the cost get up the nose of the DSLR heavy hitters? Or do cameramen and shooters end up paying more with these cheaper Clone Rigs on the market?
Speak to some of the bigger name guys that design and make the Field and Cinema Rigs we love so dearly and the overwhelming message is that competition is good and healthy for the industry. Most Name Brand Rig Makers/ Sellers talk to each other and it is a friendly environment on the whole. It has to be an even competition though.
So what is the problem with Knock Off Rigs entering the Cine and DSLR Camera Rig market?
The biggest issue with Knock Off Rigs released on the market is they are made by companies who don’t really actually understand what they’re knocking off or necessarily care who buys it.
Knock Off Rigs hurt the end user in the long run. Don’t get me wrong a bargain can be a bargain when you are very selective have done your research and compared products. However what most people have found when it comes to buying camera gear you get what you pay for. Some in the industry even say if you buy cheap then you will pay for it twice. Paying for a product twice is a lot of down time and frustration to have on the job.
It can be a better bet to save for your rig and camera accessories and get a named brand than to buy the lookalikes.

You may think to yourself but I see the low price tag, and it looks the same so why would I spend more?
Most Clone Companies see selling knock offs as a way to make a quick buck and spend as little as possible in engineering to maximize their profit. They spend little to no money on product research and development. Those companies sit back and wait for a new product to enter the market then copy or mimic the design and style, and even the colours to attract you as a potential buyer. We no longer see plain black rigs and camera accessories any more thanks to the need to use colours for building company brand awareness.

Brand name Rig Makers/ Sellers offer pretty good after sales care on their products and that cost is factored into the sale. That after sales care can always be worth paying extra for. When it comes to warranties and after sales service from Rig Cloners, well that piece of mind costs a whole lot hurt in most cases.

The Rig Entrepreneurs sales are low as they lack proper distribution. But that’s the reason they go to shows like Photokina to boost sales and brand awareness. So expect Clone Rig Makers/ Sellers to turn up on the sidelines at other shows like NAB.
Currently most of these Cloned Rigs get sold on eBay where the seller can make a profit selling direct to the end user. In fact eBay can be a comfort zone and allows them to have very little to do with the end user. In a few years some of these knock of merchants will improve their quality and possibly their sales. However for Copycat Rig guys to expand and improve though they need to move to a distributor / dealer model and away from the eBay model. So their rig quality may go up but the end user price would end up being 4 times what it is now. That would put them on par with the established Brand Name Rig Makers/ Sellers now. It would also mean that they would then have to research and develop their own line of Cine products and walk away from directly copying rigs.
Everybody is all for cheaper options in the cine market but you can make things cheaper without having to directly copy other established companies hard work.

The final word goes to a Cine DSLR Rig designer Maker and Seller who welcomes competition and a level playing field:

If it is just a matter of cost, seek out a legitimate company that is designing their own gear at a lower price. Jag35 is a great example. Those guys come up with their own ideas and produced it at an amazing price point. If I were starting out and didn’t have the budget for a Zacuto rig or one like that, I would much rather invest in a Jag35 rig or similar guys, than to get involved with a company stealing product designs. Who knows how many other corners they are cutting. The wrong type of aluminum mis-milled in the wrong place can equal disaster with the camera gear you have mounted. I can guarantee you they won’t stand behind their products when it all comes crashing down. Why would they? They didn’t come up with the idea. They are just trying to make a quick buck and the end users is the one who is going to lose in the end.

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I'm with Matt on this one.

The accessories market is due some competition. People are paying silly prices for not very much.

The rational part of my brain can never quite work out how a diopter lens and some ABS is over a 3rd the price of a camera so I say hats off to them.

It's not going to hurt the market ideally it'll just mean prices reflect real cost as opposed to what the market can get away with.

The problem is, that most of the stuff the "big players" sell is just assembled from already available industry parts of the shelf. There is not much R&D going into 15mm rods or some braces and plates that hold the rig together. Thumbscrews, levers, grips – most of it pretty much standard parts out of the catalogs of the industrial suppliers – so it´s pretty easy to "copy". Whereby copy may be the wrong term. How can you "copy" 15mm rods?

What I want to say is, that there is often no or almost no originality or creativity in those rigs.

Also things like cheeseplates, raisers, holders andwhatnot are so extreme simple parts, that anyone with a saw and a drill can fabricate them. Noga arms where first used outside of the film industry. So did Zacuto really copy them? On of the "big players" even just re-branded that infamous Indian matte box without any other modification and sold it with a big profit some years ago. What do you call this? You get what you pay for? Not really.

I fabricate lot´s of my gear by myself or give my plans to the machine shop. So I get exactly what I want and save tons of money on top.

Frank Glencairn

Knock off gear exists because a niche market opened up. As more and more people have tried to do pro-looking camera work, they needed gear that could perform like pro gear. But this group is not professionaly employed to do this work, so their gear is 100% expense, not recouped.

As far as hurting the big players… Cinevate, Genus, Letus, Zacuto – All these guys were knock off makers taht expanded and funded themselves into being players. They know full well that people will try and take their simplest, highest margin products and erode that market share, so they have moved toward systems and items that are NOT easily reproduced.

For instance, I needed 15mm rails for my little camera setup. 2 little aluminum bars to rest the rig on cost $120 USD – ridiculous! So I made 150 sets of them, kept 2 sets and sold the rest on EBAY. Immediately I had a problem… the rails "industry standard" has intentionally been milled to a super precise diameter, so I had to have all material milled to spec. 8 customers got FREE rails from me – the rest are completely satisfied with 15" $50 pair of rails.

Knock off is not the right word – low cost alternatives are what these products serve up into the marketplace.

Your blog here is complaining about the existence of low cost alternatives? I would rather have that than only expensive high end equipment that leaves me out of the game permanently.

Knock Off Makers play an important role in my opinion. After you've used their crappy gear, you often seek out quality manufacturers and never waste your money again on shoddy workmanship.

Having your designs ripped off is never nice for anyone.

But realistically the only people hurt by knockoffs are the customers. Anyone who has bought a genuine 'Rolllex' watch in Bali before can tell you, you get what you pay for.

That said, i doubt the 5k Zacuto rigs or 3k Arri follow focuses are bringing them in 10% profit.

If you market a product for mass affordability, without pricing it as a luxury item you sell twice as much, and people steal less from you. The software industry for instance still hasn't learn t this lesson.

Ill buy functionality over form or status every time.