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Ever since DSLR cameras started recording video, cinematographers everywhere have used them to give their videos a sleek and "professional" feel. However, quality video requires a stable shot - something that's difficult to get with the awkward design of most DSLR cameras.
To help you with this problem we'll show you how to measure, cut, assemble, and put the finishing touches on a shoulder-mounted DSLR rig
that's both easy to make and easy on the wallet.
As every shooter knows, keeping a shot steady for several minutes can be a painful and challenging experience. That's why many frequent handheld shooters purchase shoulder mounted camcorders. Doing so allows them to put the bulk of the camera's weight on their body - allowing for longer shots without getting fatigued. This is the exact problem of most DSLR camcorders. As a result of their small and compact design, the entire weight of the camera has to be carried by a shooter's arms and wrists which can quickly tire.
That's why it's so handy to have a DSLR stabilizing rig. However, they're often not only expensive but restricted to one kind of camera design. So if you'd like to have the flexibility to make a stabilizing rig that's not only affordable but customizable as well, we'll show you how, using PVC and other common retail items.
First, we'd like to show you what our stabilizing rig can do. We first shot an outdoor interview using a camera without a stabilizer. Then we strapped a DSLR camera to our rig and shot the same scene again. As you can see, by placing the weight on the shoulder, the rig reduced much of the shake in the video.
To make your very own DSLR camera rig out of easy-to-find ¾ inch PVC pieces you'll need:
6 - 45 degree pieces
5 - 90 degree pieces
6 - PVC Tees
2 - Threaded PVC Tees
1 - 2 inch PVC Nipple
1 - Male Threaded Cap
1 - Female Threaded Cap
6 feet of three quarter inch PVC pipe
2 - quarter inch nuts
three quarter inch LL PVC conduit holder
three quarter inch PVC insulation
A PVC cutter
PVC primer and cement
one quarter inch threaded knob
A 2 and one half inch piece of one quarter inch thread
3 rolls of black athletic tape
1 roll of athletic compression tape
Red threadlocker glue
The first step in making our stabilizing rig is to measure and cut all of our three quarter inch PVC pieces. As you'll see in a moment, this design requires quite a number of small PVC pieces so we recommend having a good pair of PVC cutters. They only cost around 12 to 15 dollars and believe us they save a ton of time.
With that out of the way, we'll take our 6 ft PVC pipe, a tape measure, and a marker and measure out
15 - 1 one half inch PVC connector pieces,
2 - 5 one half inch PVC pieces for the shoulder pad,
2 - 7 inch PVC pieces for the handles,
2 - 4 inch PVC pieces,
2 - 3 one half inch PVC pieces,
and 1 - 2 and one half inch PVC piece.
Once your measurements are made, you'll want to use your PVC cutters to cut out each piece as straight as possible.
The next step is to dry assemble the PVC pieces. We're doing this step before we glue so that we can perfect our stabilizer design without having to start from scratch every time we make a mistake. We'll start with the handles.
Take one 7 inch straight PVC piece and connect it to a 45 degree angle. Then, place one of the 1 and a half inch connector pieces into the open end and connect another 45 degree angle to the first one. You should be able to see the handle design taking shape. At this point, we'll make another identical assembly for the other side.
Since we want to make sure our DSLR camera lines up with our right eye, we'll be designing our rig to go over our right shoulder. This also means that we'll want our right handle to have a short horizontal run from our camera mount and our left handle to have a long horizontal run. Otherwise, we'd have to cross our left hand across our body while gripping the handle which isn't ideal. Instead, you're going to want to make sure that each handle can be gripped comfortably while your elbows are bent at 90 degrees and with your forearms perfectly straight from your body. This position is not only comfortable but gives you more endurance since it follows the natural resting point of your body.
We'll be using the 2 and ½ inch PVC to connect our right handle to a PVC Tee joint and a one and a half inch connector to connect the left handle. Next, put a connector in the top of the Tee and attach another Tee joint to it. At this point, we'll want to put a connector piece in both of the open ends of the T joint along with 90 degree pieces. We'll be mounting our shoulder pad to this 90 degree piece and our camera to this 90 degree piece.
With our handle assembly done, we'll move on to the shoulder pad assembly. We'll start by grabbing another connector and putting it into the 90 degree piece that we placed on our handle system earlier. Then we'll connect a Tee joint to it, another connector piece at the top and yet another T joint on that. In order to connect the shoulder pad assembly to the camera, we'll place a connector in the left side of our tee and connect a 90 degree piece to it. Next, we'll attach the 3 and a half inch piece to the other side of our Tee joint and place another Tee joint at the end of that. Then, we'll take our other 3 and a half inch straight piece and put it into the open end of the T joint on our handle assembly. We'll place another T joint at the end of that piece and join the top of these two Tee joints with a connector piece.
Here's where our shoulder mount will really take shape. We'll take our two 5 and a half inch straight pieces and put them on the open end of each of our Tee joints. Then, we'll place a 45 degree angle at the end of both straight pieces, then another connector piece, a threaded Tee joint, another connector, a 90 degree angle and one last connector to bring both sides together again. You'll also want to take a male threaded cap and use it to seal off the left threaded tee joint.
The last thing you'll want to place is the LL PVC conduit holder on both the end of the handle assembly and the shoulder pad assembly. It should fit just like this.
Now, you should have a complete stabilizer rig like the one we have here. If everything is the way you like it, make sure to take a permanent marker and make a line across the connection of each joint and assign a number to each piece. This will allow you to successfully connect each piece together once we start gluing without any warping or assembly mistakes. Finally, take all of the pieces apart so that you're ready for the next step.
The next thing we need to do is to make the mounting point for our DSLR camera.
To do so, take your LL PVC ¾ inch condiut holder box and measure one inch across it's length and make a straight line. Then, measure one and three quarter inches across it's length and make another mark. This should be the center of the conduit box and is where we're going to place our ¼ inch mounting bolt.
At this point, you'll want to drill a hole through both sides of the box at the mark you made earlier.
Now we'll focus on our threading and knob. You'll need a quarter inch diameter threaded rod that is 2 and a half inches long. Most hardware stores don't have threaded rods this small so you'll probably have to buy a longer piece and cut it down with a hacksaw and a vise like we did here. Once you have your threaded rod, you'll want to take some threadlocker glue and apply it to the inside of your ¼ inch knob and then screw it onto the quarter inch threading. Set that aside for an hour to let it dry. After you've done so, take your thread and knob and place a ¼ inch nut over the end until you reach the knob. Then put the threading through the bottom hole of your conduit box and place a spring and a nut on the threading. Lastly, put the threading through the top hole so that it sticks out about ¼ inch. Anything more and your camera will be loose on your box and anything less and the camera will not be as secure.
Lastly, cut a 3 and a half inch by an inch and three quarters piece out of a mousepad. Using a spray adhesive, attach the mousepad to the top of the conduit box. This will give your camera a softer surface to sit on.
With all of the more complex pieces out of the way, we're ready to glue our entire PVC assembly together. You'll want to make sure you have some paper towel and PVC primer and cement for this job.
The first step is to prime the ends of each of the pieces that we'll be putting together. The primer will dry quickly so there's no need to wait too long before applying cement to each piece and assembling them together. Make sure you put the correctly numbered pieces together and that you match up the two marks you made earlier when you do. You'll only have a couple of minutes to adjust each piece before the glue sets. Once you're done re-assembling the whole rig, set it aside to dry for a couple of hours.
After the glue has set, it's time to put some padding on our stabilizing rig.
Specifically, we'll want to place padding on the left and right handles so that we can hold onto the rig comfortably, and on the back end of our shoulder pad in order to make the rigs weight comfortable as well. When mounting the padding for the shoulder pad, you'll have to cut the corners for each bend that you make. Otherwise, the padding will bunch up.
With the padding in place, we'll start to make the rig look more professional by wrapping black athletic compression tape around the shoulder pad in order to fill in the gaps and then using black athletic tape around the entire rig in order to make it easier to grip and less reflective. It may also be a good idea to paint the conduit box and threaded tee joints on the shoulder pad black in order to make them blend in with the rig as well.
The very last step to completing our rig is to put the 2 inch pipe nipple on the open threaded tee.
This is where we'll be placing some weights in order to balance out our camera rig. Without the weights, our rig will be very front heavy and will cause our arms to fatigue quicker.
As such, we've placed 5 pounds of weight on the back of our rig in order to correctly balance our camera. Then make sure to cap off the top of the nipple with a male threaded cap so that the weights can't fall off.
With that done, all that's left is to mount the camera to top of your conduit box and to start shooting footage that is both steady as a rock and as beautiful as a masterpeice.