Walimex's Pro Aptaris Universal XL DSLR Cage fits a wide array of modern cameras.
When you are dealing with modern DSLR or mirrorless cameras for professional video work, you'll often benefit from a cage system to mount the necessary accessories into a single rig. Over the past few months, I've been making a serious effort into upgrading the video equipment that we use here at The Tech Reviewer, so I found myself in the market to buy a cage for my new GH4.
I wanted one that wasn't too cumbersome and had the potential to fit on multiple similarly-sized cameras without breaking the bank. In the end, I decided on Walimex's Pro Aptaris Universal XL DSLR Cage that retails for $399 but has been discounted to $299 via B&H for the last few months.
In the following article, I'll express my thoughts and experience with this Aptaris XL model. These conclusions are based on my own personal use of the product. Rest assured, no outside influences or bias have played any part in this review and our review unit was paid for out of our own pockets.
Design & Build Quality
The Aptaris XL is crafted out of a lightweight yet durable aircraft aluminum that has been anodized matte black. The result is a sleek, low profile cage with a smooth, corrosion resistant finish to it. I have no complaints in regards to the build quality especially for the price-range. The branding is subtle and attractive although I'm not a huge fan of the “Made in Germany” engraving on back of the cage as it remains point of view most of the time and is rather ugly.
There are two big design elements in the Aptaris XL that are worth noting for any prospective buyers. First off, this model only offers a “half cage” design which means that you only get the top, bottom, and left side of the cage for mounting potential unlike many competitors who offer a full cage with a mountable component on the right side as well.
There are pros and cons to this design, but for someone like me who is not planning to mount the whole kitchen sink to my rig, there is plenty of room for my needs. An added benefit of the half cage design is that you still have access to your camera's native grip and can access the battery door plus all the buttons (shutter, ISO, aperture, white-balance, etc.) freely without the need to work around any obstacles.
Another element that sets this cage apart from most of its competitors is the fact that is a considered a “universal” option meaning that you can adjust the height to accommodate cameras of varying sizes. I'll get more into this in the next section, but this is surely an attractive option for buyers as the cage won't become an expensive paperweight should you decide to switch to a different camera body.
The Aptaris XL has a vast array of 1/4″-20 threads with twenty located the top of the cage, eight on the left side and six along the bottom. This is the thread size of many basic accessories and it will be the most common sizing you'll face during the mounting process. There are also two 3/8″-16 holes found on the left side which can be used to mount bigger, heavier accessories.
Straight out of the box, the Walimex includes a removable handle, one cold shoe mount, and a quick-release plate. At this price-point, I would have liked to have seen another cold shoe mount included, but you can find off-brand ones for cheap so buying a few extra won't break the bank. The included handle can be mounted on the top, side, or bottom of the cage and can be pointed in any direction to suit your needs.
According to Walimex Pro, the mounting plate is styled to work with Manfrotto's PL 501 standard. This should be compatible with my 502HD video head, but it has given me nothing but trouble trying to utilize it. I've ditched the included plate and replaced it with a genuine Manfrotto version.
The adjustable design is the most notable feature of this cage and out of the box it will support most modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras including the GH4, A7s, and 5D Mark III. If you're running a setup with a battery grip or something to extend the height of the camera, you'll likely need to buy this extension piece to accommodate the increase.
There is no built-in cable protection feature, but Walimex does sell a cable protection bracket although it is sold at a hefty $80 price-point. After doing some research, I found that Walimex offers quite a bit of after-market accessories for their cages (you can view them all here) unfortunately most of them are plagued by a high cost in comparison to the initial price of the cage itself.
Performance & Function
When I originally purchased this Walimex Pro model, I had just bought my GH4 and planned to use it solely with this camera. About a month later, I added Sony's A7s to my arsenal. The cage has since drifted from my GH4 to the A7s, for the most part. I think the A7s is more deserving of a cage as the slim design lacks stability when mounting accessories to the hot shoe and gives it a wider base for sturdier tripod use.
Just to try it out the versatility of the adjustable cage, I have successfully mounted it to my GH4, A7s, and 5D Mark III without issue. They have all fit like a glove and have not given me any reliability concerns. I am a big fan of the fact that this cage utilizes two contact points for added stability. This is accomplished via a screw into the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera body as well as a second contact point at the top of the camera body by way of the hot-shoe.
From my experience, mounting multiple accessories on the top of this cage can become frustrating as the layout of the 1/4″-20s causes it to become cramped pretty quickly. I think Walimex's biggest design flaw is not utilizing all of the aluminum potential on the top of the cage as there is a section on the top right that appears to be milled out just for show and not anything practical. Had Walimex chose to mill 1/4″-20 holes throughout this section, it would be far less congested when trying to mount multiple accessories to the top of the cage.
While I can appreciate the included grip, I have found it to be less useful than I originally intended for three reasons.
- The way that it attaches to the cage requires it to be mounted on the edge of the cage in order to be able to screw in the adjustment knob all the way. If you tried to mount it to the top middle of the cage, it becomes complicated as the knob would not be able to make a full 360-degree rotation in order to secure it in place.
- There are no mounting threads on the handle of the knob. Again, another aspect where Walimex could have offered more versatility in regards to mounting potential without too much extra work. As an attempt to make more money off us consumers, it appears Walimex Pro does sell an aftermarket handle which looks identical to the one included with this cage yet it has a variety of 1/4″-20 and 3/8″-16 threads milled along the center of the grip. I'd surely pick one of these up if it were priced around $50-80, but at $149 it isn't worth the cost.
- It is just plain slippery. I wouldn't trust myself to hold it via the handle for long periods of time as the aluminum finish has no real grip to it and could have benefited by the use of some rubber or cross-etched to help give it some better traction.
While it may seem like I have a lot of criticism's about the Aptaris XL, the fact of the matter is that it really is a solid cage for the price and its uniform design makes it an excellent investment for the future of your camera gear. I just hate to see companies skimp on certain aspects that could help boost of overall performance of the product especially when it's done in a greedy attempt to lure people into buy aftermarket accessories to make more money.
On a regular basis, I use this cage on my A7s with an Atomos Shogun and Rode Videomic Pro (for backup audio) then I'll sometimes throw a small LED video light on top should the situation call for it. Since I mainly shooting with a tripod, I've ditched the handle to make more room for accessories and bought a second cold-shoe adapter off Amazon for under $10.
For those of you who are wondering if this cage will support use with a third-party lens adapter or speedbooster, the answer is yes. I solely rely on Metabones adapters for both my A7s and GH4 and both can mount alongside ths cage without any obstruction from the adapters. When mounted to the front of the camera, I can also turn the flip-out LCD monitor on my GH4 although the left component interferes with the viewing angle of the screen from the front.
Walimex Pro's Aptaris Universal XL DSLR Cage packs some unique and innovative features that make it a worthwhile investment for most especially for those who like to switch camera bodies often. While it has a few flaws and oversights, I've enjoyed my time with this cage and will continue to use it on a regular basis while filming video reviews and other various projects. If you're in the market for a highly versatile, lightweight, and compact cage system for any modern DSLR or mirrorless camera body then the Walimex Pro Aptaris Universal XL DSLR Cage is one to consider.