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.

<p>thank you! it's absolutely genuis! will make one for sure in a few months! :)</p>
hi, looks like a great system , but what about the noise that the handles are making? Isnt that captured in the recording? Or is it not possible to have a microphone on top of the camera?
So Sweet man! :D will make my own :D
Cool! Great post. <br> <br>I have a Rig that I setup for the Atomos Ninja-2 and Nikon D4 <br> <br>From my blog: <br>Once set up all I have to do is start Live View (in video mode) and start the Ninja-2 recording. When I cycle the Live View button on the D4, the Ninja-2 starts recording when Live View is on and stops when I shut it off. Each time the Ninja-2 creates a new file for the next take. I turn on the Focus Peaking to ensure perfect focus and it stays on the whole time (does not reset when Live View is cycled). Perfection! <br> <br>Check out my rig <br><a href="http://vigorotaku.blogspot.com/2012/11/atomos-ninja-2-on-nikon-d4.html" rel="nofollow">here</a> <br> <br>Dan at Vigorotaku
Looks like a great system!! These days I am mostly using another simpler rig with a large monitor, but still recording with the camera. Here's a not-so great snap-shot.
Nice. I never got to building mine. still on my to do list. any updates to the rig that you can post pics of and instructions
Thanks for writing. I guess you can see the (sideways) photo in a message above. Frankly, I am much happier shooting with this 7-inch monitor, which can be set to any viewing angle and is good enough for accurate focusing, so I have not been using the rig featured in this Instructable.
I see. this is a different rig? do you have a instructable on it?
Sorry, I didn't do an Instructable on this one. I guess I thought it was too simple -- just 4 pieces of plexiglass assembled with machine screws and a swivel head to hold the monitor. Maybe I'll take some pictures and put it up...
thats sick man, dose this only works on the D4?
Both of my rigs are for a Canon 7D but most cameras could be adapted. The large monitor rig uses the HDMI output.
excellent work. one more step would be to find a way to make the rig black, or at least dark, to prevent reflecting yourself in eyes and reflective surfaces.
Would just like to say that is amazing!
Thanks!! We've made a couple more of these rigs since posting. One for a Nikon D3 and one for a Canon Rebel T3I. Both very successful.
Simply amazing! I love the focusing/zooming system!
Thanks, Fabio! I just finished another day of very unrehearsed shooting and I was surprised at how well everything looked, including some very zoomed-in shots. The downside is that the rig is somewhat front-heavy and my arms were getting tired. I see that some other rigs have a counter-weight on the rear which might be helpful.
I've seen some where the shoulder piece is extended down the front and angled in towards the chest so the weight is transferred to your body. Great 'ible!!!
That would be a good idea. I also saw a commercial one with an extension down the back and a belt to support the weight from there. I can tell you that holding it up with your arms alone gets very tiring after a while.
hello its me again LOL. I am starting to buy the material. so far I have 4 - 11x13 inch sheets 1/8&quot; thick. but I wanted to know where did you buy everything els? like is it posible to make a list of supplies and posibly correct name and where to find the stuff. thank you so much. like the pins and the wire and stuff like that. thank you so much if it is posible
I am not sure why you have 1/8&quot; thick material. I used mainly 1/2 &quot; think plastic and in some cases glued a few thicknesses together, such as in the base plate. Here in Central Florida we have a company calles Southern Supply that has acrylic and the solvent cement, etc. The other items I got at a local ACE Hardware.
I will send you an email later in the week.
I thought maybe I can glue them together to get the right thickness LOL. oops. well I will look for 1/2 inch. I will reread your post and make a list and then I will see if I missed anything. thans for the quick responce = )
what was the cost of making this beuty? I love it.
I never really tried to come up with a cost, because I used scraps of acrylic from past jobs and so forth. But I think about $50 would buy enough material to build one in plastic. Then there is a little hardware -- probably about another $20. Add some acrylic solvent cement and all materials would still be under $100. But you also need some drills and taps, table saw, sanders, buffer, drill press and a metal lathe to make the lens rings. I also built my own viewer, which was probably not worth the effort but I happened to have a good lens laying around. Thanks for your comment, Phil
nice. I have most of the tools.I don't know if I should attempt this LOL. do you make them for people? if so how much would it cost?
I have given a couple of quotes but if I pay myself a respectable wage it gets up close to $1000 and I have had no takers so far.
I hear you. yea it must be time consuming. thanks for the relies I will let you know if I attempt to make one. I have a canon 5d mrk II so the start button would be a challange to mount. but I can always use my fingure and deal with the camera shake at first.time for me to start hunting for material LOL. again thank you for the info. great tutorial.
The right rear view shows (not very well) how I made a little aluminum bracket on the side of my viewing attachment where the cable release attaches to do the stop/start. It has a rubber pad so that the metal end of the cable release doesn't damage the button. I even made a short button to make it easy to use on occasions where I might want to shoot video without the whole rig. I did buy an infra-red remote for the camera but it didn't work well in the video mode. The mechanical one is pretty fool-proof. Be brave and good luck! If you need any building details feel free to email at phil@courterfilms.com
By the way, the lens rings could be made with a band saw and spindle sander (or drill press).
That is really good! I would really like to build something like this. It looks like the hardest part is the zoom/focus ring. Would it be much harder to build out of wood, since I don't have the tools to work with acrylic?
I basically work with acrylic using wood working tools, with a few upgrades, for example you need a fine-tooth carbide blade on your table saw, and I use a joiner for smoothing edges, etc. I also have a two axis machine tool holder for my wood lathe. With this you can make the lens rings on a wood lathe. But with some careful band saw work you could certainly cut out the lens rings from plywood and use machine screws and nuts to tighten them onto the lens. In short, the rig could certainly be made from some high grade plywood.
OH, this is really amazing and inspiring. I wish I could built same thing too. This is a really great idea and good built. Thank you for sharing your idea. Thank you very much.
You are welcome. This was not that difficult to build
just straight up amazing!
Oy! Just when I think I have my rig design all figured out... another possible direction appears. Nicely done.
Well, all I can say is that I have done quite a bit of shooting with this rig now, and with the ability to control everything with your hands never leaving the grips makes this a truly great tool for documentary work.
Nice rig! I like the acrylic.<br> <br> I happend along one of thess type rigs at a local second hand photography shop (a commercially made one) and picked it up fairly cheap - they are a good tool depending on&nbsp;shootting sinerio's.<br> <br> One thing tha mine has that may benifit you in your design - (may not)<br> is a shoulder strap (nylon&nbsp;1.5&quot; straping&nbsp;quick release &nbsp;- like a sling pack strap to keep the should rest in place.<br> <br> as well - a adjustable waist / hip rest with an extention to the handle with a gimble swivel at the base camera rest leaving the handles free fro manuvaerability.<br> <br> Wouldn't be much to add either to your design if so inclined and felt it would benifit you. - (I do like my waist hip rest gimble) and the shoulder saftey harness has prevented the rig from coming off my shoulder a time or two... might be worth considering.
Also - jsut noticed - mine also has padding on the shoulder rest - you'll definitly want that . I moded mine the padding with velcro so i could remove it and wash it if needed.<br> <br> Did the same with the waist rest padding - Oh and my waist rest - if interested has a belt with a quick release as well.<br> <br> anyhow - again great design! Looks great - love to see one made of smoked acrylic!
Many thanks for writing these comments. The waist prop does sound like a very good addition. It is a bit tiring to support basically all the weight up front. There is a commercial rig with a counterbalance weight behind the shoulder, but that also adds a lot overall. I have an old commercial body brace with a waist plate that I love and use all the time with typical video cameras, but it does not work well for viewing on the DSLR. Of course, the best feature of this experiment is the twist zoom and focus handles which work surprisingly well.
As for the waist prop for use with DSLR - easy fix - make the telescoping arm spring loaded.<br> <br> ie: it would be jsut enough spring to hold it pretty much eye level - giving you some addtional support when pointing up - and not too much upward pressure when pointing down.<br> <br> Additionally you could ad some sort of lock on the length if you are using a particular position.<br> <br> Again this is all relative to what you are attempting to photograph... comes in real handy for speed shooting with large optics for instance race car, bird watching etc etc. even macro if your stable enough.<br> <br> Yeah i was impressed with the handle controls you have - I don't have that much on mine - it's a simple trigger shooting mechanism - but could be moded with additional controls.<br> <br> I have another simpler type ( the rifle type) which has a removable forward telescoping brace which i added an actual rifle support to. it compacts down pretty evenly with the rifle stock and i added a gimble so it can fold back along the rifle stock&quot; of the support.<br> <br> Love your design - truely do - definitly would add should padding as I've tried it without before and mine being made from aluminum - didn't feel too good after some time.<br> <br> if you make any further mods to yours please post them - I'd love to see them.
Thanks again for your insights. On this rig there is very little weight on the shoulder, and with the nicely rounded edges on the shoulder piece I haven't felt a need for padding. Yesterday I added a mount on the right side to hold a digital audio recorder so that good double system sound is easy to record. Up until now I have been using a Sony Z7U for interviews, but this will give us the ability to do nicer &quot;selective focus&quot; talking heads with great sound.
Great piece thank you- as a filmmaker I don't / can't / won't always be able to afford &quot;Tailor Made&quot; solutions and that's okay. &nbsp;In the beginning cinematographers made their own lenses and cameras so here we are traveling along the continuum.<br> I would also like to express my appreciation for the comment-<br> &quot;There have been a number of various projects of mine over the years that have gone straight from the workbench to the trash can.&quot;<br> Clearly most of my attempts are discarded. &nbsp;My studio neighbors tell me I have the most interesting trash they've ever noticed.<br> I have one technical question, what method did you use to bend the plexi for the shoulder rest?<br> Thanks for the smarts,<br> M.
Thanks for your comment, M. I failed to shoot a pix of the bending process -- I cut and peeled a roughly 3 inch by 12 inch piece of 1/2 inch acrylic and balanced it over a coffee can (on it's side) in the oven. With the oven set for about 350 degrees, after about 15 minutes the plastic went soft and took the shape of the can. Then I took it out using padded gloves, and slowly cooled the piece under dripping cool water. Then I cut, sanded and shaped the edges.
Hi courtervideo! I am doing an acrylic project of my own, and am experimenting with different adhesives. Can you tell me specifically which glue you're using here, and if you're successfully avoiding bubbles? Or mostly avoiding bubbles? Thanks very much for posting this, it's a great piece -
I am using IPS Corp Weld-on 3 which is water thin gas curing. Yes if the joints are not very tight you can get bubbles. Some people soak one of the surfaces in the solvent for several seconds which will soften the plastic and possibly help fill small spaces, etc. Thanks for writing!!!
Good stuff CourterVideo! I'm all about doing it yourself. Just as a sidebar there are off the shelf rigs that can be purchased, but for about $500.<br><br>Check these links:<br>http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/722983-REG/Cavision_RS5DM2SET_SA_RS5DM2SET_SA_DSLR_Shoulder_Mount.html<br><br>http://mauromedia.com/cameras/dslr-shoulder-mount-mauromedia-tech/
Yes, as I mentioned in my tediously long narrative there are quite a few nice rigs for sale, but mine is the only one I have seen so far that allows the camera operator to intuitively focus and zoom with the hands always on the grips.
Dude, having just bought a Canon 7D with the intent of doing this, I am amazed at your coming up with exactly what i need! I have been pouring over web sites and catalogs and there is nothing with two hand grips that you can rotate and accomplish what you have going on. Bravo!!!!<br><br><br>Jules Ryckebusch
I also find it amazing that none of the rig makers have tried something like this. Besides myself, I have had two other cameramen try this thing out and find that in many ways it is easier and more intuitive than using a typical video camera, plus you can hold the camera extremely steady. Also thanks for the comments and patch!!

About This Instructable


166 favorites


Bio: 45 years as a professional documentary film producer. Now using state of the art HD digital studio and equipment specializing in projects about global food ... More »
More by courtervideo: Poured Concrete Picture Frame CAMERA STABILIZER DSLR Video Shooting Rig
Add instructable to: