DSLR Video Shooting Rig

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Introduction: DSLR Video Shooting Rig

About: 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 security, sustainability, future of planet earth. ...
Introduction:
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.

Step 2: Design

Design:

This rig would probably work with almost any of the Canon or Nikon products, but the rings that clamp on to the zoom and focus rings will have to be built to match each particular lens. I also use a 55mm fixed focal length lens for certain shots, and only a focus ring is needed for this one. But these rings can simply be drawn on the 1/2 inch thick acrylic paper backing and cut-out on a band saw. The inside dimension is fairly critical, but some material can be removed at the clamp slot to allow the ring to clamp tightly. I used 10/24 machine screws for the clamp itself, and 8/32 machine screws to attach the activator knuckle to the ring.

In terms of overall dimensions, I stood in front of a mirror holding a ruler and estimated that the horizontal distance from eye to the center of the shoulder was about 3 inches, and the eye is about 6 inches higher than the top of the shoulder in my case. I hoped that I could build to these rough dimensions and that the ability to flex the neck would take care of any inaccuracy. This seems to be true, and the final product is very comfortable.

I did just a few very rough drawings to see how these basic dimensions would play out on paper, and especially to get a rough shape for the center block which carries the camera and holds the whole rig together. I ended up with a rather complicated shape, but frankly this could be simplified somewhat. I assume that if you are going to build one of these, you will be quite capable of sketching your own parts. Note that the drawings shown are on 1/4 inch ruled paper, which helps with dimensions.

With respect to the camera screen magnifier shown here, I was able to find what I believe was an old movie projector lens that gave a suitable magnified view. The box was made from some 1/8th inch plexiglas sides and a 1/2 thick inch back. It has a milled mounting face that drops into the slots from the removable eye cover, and I added a lock-down piece that slides into the accessory bracket to hold the viewer firmly in place. I believe there is at least one other very clever Instructable showing how to make a magnifier from a plastic soda bottle.

Step 3: Construction


Design:

This rig would probably work with almost any of the Canon or Nikon products, but the rings that clamp on to the zoom and focus rings will have to be built to match each particular lens. I also use a 55mm fixed focal length lens for certain shots, and only a focus ring is needed for this one. But these rings can simply be drawn on the 1/2 inch thick acrylic paper backing and cut-out on a band saw. The inside dimension is fairly critical, but some material can be removed at the clamp slot to allow the ring to clamp tightly. I used 10/24 machine screws for the clamp itself, and 8/32 machine screws to attach the activator knuckle to the ring.

In terms of overall dimensions, I stood in front of a mirror holding a ruler and estimated that the horizontal distance from eye to the center of the shoulder was about 3 inches, and the eye is about 6 inches higher than the top of the shoulder in my case. I hoped that I could build to these rough dimensions and that the ability to flex the neck would take care of any inaccuracy. This seems to be true, and the final product is very comfortable.

I did just a few very rough drawings to see how these basic dimensions would play out on paper, and especially to get a rough shape for the center block which carries the camera and holds the whole rig together. I ended up with a rather complicated shape, but frankly this could be simplified somewhat. I assume that if you are going to build one of these, you will be quite capable of sketching your own parts. Note that the drawings shown are on 1/4 inch ruled paper, which helps with dimensions.

With respect to the camera screen magnifier shown here, I was able to find what I believe was an old movie projector lens that gave a suitable magnified view. The box was made from some 1/8th inch plexiglas sides and a 1/2 thick inch back. It has a milled mounting face that drops into the slots from the removable eye cover, and I added a lock-down piece that slides into the accessory bracket to hold the viewer firmly in place. I believe there is at least one other very clever Instructable showing how to make a magnifier from a plastic soda bottle.

Step 4: Conclusion

Conclusion:

I hope the photos will help fill in a lot of gaps in the above description of the project. To fully detail every step would nearly require a book, and I believe those of you who would tackle a project like this one will bring most of the necessary skills. While I prefer the use of acrylic plastic for prototypes like this one, I bet a perfectly serviceable unit could also be built using hard wood like maple. In any case, if you are a cameraperson who has tried to shoot video with DSLRs, I believe you will see that this is a project worth attempting.

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    58 Comments

    thank you! it's absolutely genuis! will make one for sure in a few months! :)

    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?

    Cool! Great post.

    I have a Rig that I setup for the Atomos Ninja-2 and Nikon D4

    From my blog:
    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!

    Check out my rig
    here

    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.

    IMG_1103 copy.JPG

    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.

    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.

    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" 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

    1 reply

    I am not sure why you have 1/8" thick material. I used mainly 1/2 " 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.