Easily attach quick-release top handles and other accessories to your camera’s hot shoe with SmallRig’s Shoe-Mounted NATO Rail.
Let’s face it, a cage is great for adding protection, rigidity, and mounting points to your camera for demanding shooting situations. However, a cage also adds unnecessary bulk and weight when you need to shoot with a more minimal setup.
SmallRig sent over their new shoe-mounted NATO rail that aims to give you the best of both worlds. The NATO rail mounts to your camera’s hot shoe and allows you to quickly attach accessories like top handles, microphones, and rod clamps, saving you from having to use a full cage when staying lightweight is the priority.
Just the Stats Ma’am
- Mount Type: NATO Rail
- Rail Length: 8cm
- Attaches to: Camera Hot Shoe/Cold Shoe
- Price: $25
Using the NATO Rail
NATO-compatible accessories are great because they offer quick-release functionality for easy setup, and they slide along the NATO rail for flexible positioning.
However, mounting a NATO rail on the camera would normally require adding a cage with the necessary mounting points.
This obviously adds bulk and increases setup time, so a cage is not ideal when shooting with a lightweight and minimal setup, such as the Panasonic GH4 and Beachtek MCC-2 audio adapter. This minimal setup shoots 4K and gives you full control over 2 channels of audio in a compact package.
SmallRig’s compact NATO rail attaches directly to your camera’s hot shoe, allowing you to use convenient NATO-compatible accessories without adding the bulk of a full cage.
The large thumbwheel makes tightening the NATO rail in the hot shoe quick and easy.
Of course, the NATO rail attaches to any shoe mount, so you can also slide it into the MCC-2’s cold shoe for easy accessory attachment.
Bottom line: Use quick-release NATO top handles and other accessories without the bulk and setup time of a cage.
Ideal for Lightweight Setups
Shooting without a cage may keep things lightweight, but you also lose the rigidity that a cage offers. With everything supported by your camera’s hot shoe, using SmallRig’s shoe-mounted NATO rail is ideal for lightweight setups, not fully-loaded rigs.
The short 8cm NATO rail limits the amount of things you can fit on it, but in any case, you should avoid mounting more than a couple items on the rail at once.
Bottom line: With everything hinging on your camera’s hot shoe, be careful not to mount too many accessories on the NATO rail.
Safety & Security
NATO accessories are designed to slide along the rail to give you control over their position. As a security measure, most standalone rails have spring-loaded pins on each end of the rail to stop accessories from simply sliding off if they become loosened.
SmallRig’s shoe-mounted NATO rail is more compact than their standard rail which unfortunately means that this NATO rail does not have any safety pins.
Safety pins would give me much more peace of mind when mounting a top handle to the rail, especially since the camera’s fate depends on the handle staying on the rail. Similar shoe-mounted rails from other manufacturers also lack safety pins, so it would be nice to see SmallRig be the first to add them.
Bottom line: Lack of safety pins on the rail means you need to be extra vigilant that accessories are well-secured.
NATO is an industry-standard mount, meaning that one manufacturer’s NATO-compatible accessories should fit on another manufacturer’s rails. For example, Wooden Camera’s NATO top handle slides perfectly on to SmallRig’s standard 70mm NATO rail.
Strangely, while SmallRig’s own NATO accessories mount properly to the more compact shoe-mounted NATO rail, there are some issues with items from other manufacturers. For example, Wooden Camera’s NATO top handle does not fit on SmallRig’s shoe-mounted NATO rail.
I’m not sure how the shoe-mounted rail is different from SmallRig’s standard NATO rail, but if you use NATO accessories from other manufacturers, you may want to hold off until things are worked out.
Bottom line: The NATO rail is fully compatible with SmallRig’s NATO accessories clamps, but accessories from other manufacturers may be too wide for the compact rail.
Ditch the Cage with this shoe-mounted NATO Rail
With a shoe-mounted NATO rail like this, there’s no reason to give up convenient NATO-compatible accessories just because you need to shoot with a minimal setup. Just slide this into your camera’s hot shoe to use a top handle and other NATO accessories, rather than having to purchase separate hot shoe compatible accessories.
While the rigidity and protection of a cage is recommended for demanding shooting situations, SmallRig’s shoe-mounted NATO rail is a great way to improve the ergonomics and functionality of a lightweight camera setup.
Hopefully SmallRig will add safety pins to the ends of the NATO rail and also improve compatibility with NATO accessories from other manufacturers. These revisions would make it an even more secure and universal mounting solution.
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