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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.
 
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Step 1: Tools and Supplies

Picture of Tools and Supplies
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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

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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

Picture of Construction
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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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gdomantic4 months ago

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

davidedsmyr10 months ago
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?
Ares2522 years ago
So Sweet man! :D will make my own :D
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
courtervideo (author)  vigorotaku2 years ago
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.
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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
courtervideo (author)  nimster642 years ago
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?
courtervideo (author)  nimster642 years ago
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?
courtervideo (author)  Ares2522 years ago
Both of my rigs are for a Canon 7D but most cameras could be adapted. The large monitor rig uses the HDMI output.
hightor2 years ago
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.
solidfunk3 years ago
Would just like to say that is amazing!
courtervideo (author)  solidfunk3 years ago
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!
courtervideo (author)  Fabio Ugolini3 years ago
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!!!
courtervideo (author)  bricabracwizard3 years ago
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.
nimster643 years ago
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
courtervideo (author)  nimster643 years ago
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.
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 = )
nimster643 years ago
what was the cost of making this beuty? I love it.
courtervideo (author)  nimster643 years ago
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?
courtervideo (author)  nimster643 years ago
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.
courtervideo (author)  nimster643 years ago
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
courtervideo (author) 3 years ago
By the way, the lens rings could be made with a band saw and spindle sander (or drill press).
Wehrdo4 years ago
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?
courtervideo (author)  Wehrdo4 years ago
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.
davyhsieh4 years ago
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.
courtervideo (author)  davyhsieh4 years ago
You are welcome. This was not that difficult to build
davIRE4 years ago
just straight up amazing!
courtervideo (author)  davIRE4 years ago
Thanks!
cool herc4 years ago
Oy! Just when I think I have my rig design all figured out... another possible direction appears. Nicely done.
courtervideo (author)  cool herc4 years ago
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.
-chase-4 years ago
Nice rig! I like the acrylic.

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 shootting sinerio's.

One thing tha mine has that may benifit you in your design - (may not)
is a shoulder strap (nylon 1.5" straping quick release  - like a sling pack strap to keep the should rest in place.

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.

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.
-chase- -chase-4 years ago
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.

Did the same with the waist rest padding - Oh and my waist rest - if interested has a belt with a quick release as well.

anyhow - again great design! Looks great - love to see one made of smoked acrylic!
courtervideo (author)  -chase-4 years ago
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.
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