Anyone involved with pro or prosumer photography and videography these days is aware of the exploding popularity of the HDSLR, or High Definition Single Lens Reflex cameras. An extraordinary combination of image quality and relatively low cost, these are essentially still cameras that can also shoot stunning HD footage, but as many shooters have noted, still cameras are anything but user-friendly in the video mode. Most models have no auto-focus and, with such a small viewing screen, no usable way to accurately focus on the subject when shooting video, and they are all but impossible to hand hold steadily, especially while focusing or zooming. In an attempt to improve usability as video cameras, a whole industry of HDSLR attachment makers have appeared on the scene. Body braces, viewing magnifiers, follow-focus mechanisms, audio upgrades, and matte boxes are among the offerings of companies including Cinevate, Ikan, Redrock Micro, Sharpe wlb, Vocas Micro, and Zacuto, to name a few. These third-party rigs do provide a more stable platform for mobile work, and the viewing screen magnifiers (or the use of separate monitors) are essential for critical framing and focussing. So instead of paying just the relatively low cost of the cameras themselves, getting set-up for real video production work can easily double or triple the initial investment. I've had the opportunity to try some of the accessory packages out there, and for me as a documentary filmmaker, serious problems remain with the rigs now on the market. If you choose to be a lone shooter, one hand must always be free to adjust the focus and zoom, so the double hand-grip rigs are almost always unstable and unbalanced at least part of the time. The single hand-grip rigs are not very stable to begin with (as I learned after using one for several shoots). The big "hollywood style" follow-focus attachments are of little use unless you hire an assistant (or "focus-puller" ). But even with the extra personnel it is difficult if not impossible to also make a decent zoom at the same time if desired, especially since the zoom lenses for still cameras are not motor driven. Plus, some of the still camera zoom lenses do not hold focus throughout their zoom range the way normal pro video zoom lenses do. For all these reasons I decided to build a HDSLR video rig of my own, hopefully with one huge advantage over all the others. Well, three, actually. On this rig, simple linkages make focussing, zooming, and starting/stopping all possible without ever taking your hands off the grips. This idea is so simple and obvious that I cannot imagine why these are not already on the market. As lots of you "Instructables folks" know, one must sometimes invest a lot of time and effort before finding out if a particular idea or design is really going to work. There have been a number of various projects of mine over the years that have gone straight from the workbench to the trash can. What I found most gratifying about this project was that after all of the years of shooting with literally dozens of different motion picture and video cameras, I had never felt more at ease with the process of capturing images as with this home-made rig. Within moments of picking up this prototype, one can simultaneously shoot, zoom and focus with perfect stability and ease. All of the disadvantages of trying to use a still camera to capture video simply vanish. Focusing and zooming are particularly intuitive because, at least with the Canon 18-135 lens, twisting knuckles forward with either hand is the inward (or closer) direction for both focus and zoom.
Step 1: Tools and Supplies
Tools and Supplies:
I love building things with cast acrylic, or "Plexiglas." It can be cut and machined with wood-working equipment, can be glued and assembled strongly and instantly with solvent cement, has incredible strength and stability, holes can be tapped for machine screws, and it can look reeeel pretty. There are many on-line and local plastics supply companies, and for this project I used pieces of 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, and 3/4 inch thick material and layered pieces together to make even thicker elements. I sometimes like to add a layer of 1/4 inch black acrylic to add a bit of style to the piece, and you can of course use any colors you choose. To keep it simple, the whole project could be built with nothing but 1/2 inch thick clear material, and I estimate that 3 square feet would do it with reasonably careful cutting.
A table saw equipped with a sharp carbide cross-cut blade is essential. I also use a band saw to cut curves, a fixed belt sander for shaping and smoothing, and a drill press for accurately making holes. Edges are best finished on a jointer (sharp blades essential)-- and if you choose to polish the finished pieces, an orbital sander with very fine (320) paper and a buffing wheel (and polishing compound) are needed.
I assembled the various parts with thumb screws, set screws and machine screws, so a set of numbered drills and machine taps will be needed for those operations.
Many of the available HDSLR accessory kits use various struts and tubes, and these do add a nice element of adjustability, so I used 1/2 inch aluminum tubes from Home Depot for these elements. The shafts for the handles are made from 1/4 inch steel rod, and I used some 1/16 inch rod for the linkage pins. The 6 thumb screws are 3/4 inch long by 8/32 thread, and there are 5 1/4 - 20 allen head set screws in the project. The four "knuckles" are attached to the lens rings and actuator arms with #10 / 24 machine screws, so a tap drill, tap, and body drill will be needed for those.