There is a fine art to camera work that, once mastered, can get you stunning results. After your camera body and lens, your rig is the next most important set of tools you’ll use for capturing images. So when you're buying a camera rig, the best fit is the one that matches your shooting style, production needs and existing equipment.
Ergonomics: The Key to Usability
How, what and where you're shooting as well as the accessories and configuration of your camera will affect the rig you need. If you're shooting from a skateboard, you’re going to want something small as to not restrict your movement, but if you're shooting indoors on a tripod, then you’ll probably want a rig that’s a good bit larger. If your shooting is mixed between handheld and supports like tripods or sliders, then you’ll want a rig that’s more versatile.
When looking at rigs, it’s important to consider the joints of the body and how they affect camera moment and operating fatigue. Most of the fine shake that shows up in hand-held camera shots comes from the wrists. A pair of vertical handles and a bit of rig weight can eliminate most or all wrist shake. Having your elbows out while operating can help you to get tilted or dutch angle shots, but it puts more strain on your arms and can cause your framing to drift or bobble. A rig that allows you to keep both elbows pressed into your torso will help eliminate unwanted camera movement. Adding a top handle can help you get smooth shots from over your head to dropping below your waist.
How Big is Too Big
If you’ve ever shot handheld with an ENG camera or a large digital cinema camera, you might have noticed that the weight of the camera and lens alone can help keep your shots steady. Conversely, even very experienced operators can find that keeping a handheld, lightweight DSLR or mirrorless camera steady can be challenging.
Many operators find the added weight of a camera rig can make shooting handheld easier. Some even find that a slightly larger camera rig can cause less fatigue while shooting because the rig is easier to operate. The right rig weight for you and your camera is a question of personal preference that can only be answered by trying out different rig configurations. I have found that many operators don’t have a problem with a camera rig that is upwards of twelve pounds total if the rig’s ergonomics are good.
Camera and Support
Your camera's size and weight, as well as your existing camera support should be carefully reviewed. Keep in mind the extra weight a rig will add when considering the maximum load capacity of your tripod or other camera support. If you like to run and gun and quickly, getting a lot of low and high angles, then you’ll want to stick to the basics with your rig. If your shooting style is a bit more relaxed, then you’ll want more support and a set of accessories to help you along.
Mounts and Cages
This is where your rig starts. A mount is simply a platform that you attach your camera to. Mounts vary in size and some have bottom attachments for rods or rails. Cages are designed for mounting cameras as well, but they also protect your camera body and provide attachment points for multiple accessories.
A cage can be a good option to build a lightweight rig around. Long shoots with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can require a lot of battery changes, so making sure that your battery door remains accessible is important. Many cages also have HDMI cable clamps to help prevent the cable from accidentally slipping out of your camera body.
Rods, Rails and Rosettes
Over the years, many standards have been developed regarding the way equipment attaches to camera rigs allowing for multiple companies to build gear that is cross-compatible. Rails and rods allow equipment to be attached linearly on a rig. Rod systems are usually built to a 15mm standard for light gear and 19mm for heavier equipment. The two most commonly seen rails are the ARRI dovetail and NATO rail standards.
Rosettes are designed to allow the attachment of equipment at different angles. They are well-suited for attaching handles to rigs. Rosettes are seen in a number of sizes, but the ARRI rosette is one of the most common.
A top handle is a must for shooting low angles, although many camcorders already have one. A single vertical handle is good for short takes, but if you're shooting or walking for a prolonged period, having a second handle will offer more comfort and control.
Shoulder Pads and Braces
If you’re shooting handheld a lot, you’ll want extra support. For lightweight, minimal rigs you'll want a brace that rests on the front or top of the shoulder, giving support without adding much weight or bulk. On mid-size rigs, you’ll likely want the extra support of a curved shoulder pad. Heavy weight rigs tend to need the addition of a counter balance weight with a curved shoulder pad.
Arms, Mounts and Adapters
Not all equipment comes with all you’ll need to attach it to your rig. In most cases, you’ll attach via rod, rail, rosette or threaded hole so it’s important to make note of their types and sizes. Mounts can give you an additional threaded hole, like a ¼” - 20, to a rail or rod system. Arms mount gear like monitors and lights in a way that allows their position to be adjusted, while keeping your camera body controls clear. Adapters can help you do things like attach a light with a shoe mount to a ¼” - 20 hole.
Quick Release Plates
If you plan to go from tripod to handheld, then a quick release plate on the bottom of the rig is a must. Having the same quick release on all of your support gear can save you a lot of time.
For some camera body and lens combinations, you’ll need dedicated support for the weight of the lens. This often becomes a necessity when using cinema or full frame lenses on small mirrorless camera bodies that aren't really designed to hold that much weight from their lens mounts. There are many options for lens supports that mount via 15 or 19mm rails. Some lenses and adapters even have integrated lens supports that can attach to your camera mount.
Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize!
The ability to mount accessories is one of the big values of camera rigs. You need to think about all the gear you’ll want to mount to your rig and where you'll want to mount it. This will give you an idea of what you’ll need to support those accessories.
Monitors, audio and video recorders, microphones, lights, and batteries are all accessories you may want to use on your rig. The placement of this gear on your rig will not only affect its weight and balance but can also affect how that equipment performs. It's important that the equipment you place on your rig is easy to use and doesn't interfere with other gear there. For example, you'll want to make sure that microphones and lights attached to your rig are not blocked by gear like monitors or matte boxes. Batteries can add a lot of weight to your rig, but mounted to the back side of the rig, they can take the place of a counter balance.
It's important that the equipment you place on your rig is easy to use and doesn't interfere with other gear there.
Being able to control lens functions away from the lens and camera can be a huge help. From cinema-style follow focus to electronic focus and zoom controllers, there are a lot of options around. Follow focus units can be used for zoom or iris control on manual lenses. There are also many inexpensive add-on focus gears for still lenses if you don’t have cine lenses.
Matte Boxes and Lens Hoods
Many camcorders and some camera lenses come with lens hoods that help prevent lens flares. Lens hoods can also make your lens look larger and more impressive. Lens hoods generally attach directly to your lens while matte boxes tend to rely upon rods for support. Matte boxes often have a lens hood and french flags — think barn doors for your camera lens — and are built to hold large format filters in one or multiple slots. This style of matte box gives you a lot of functionality and gives your rig a real cinema look. If you're on a budget or just don’t own any large filters, you can buy matte boxes that only have the lens hood and french flag components. Strictly speaking, they are not really matte boxes because they don’t hold filters, but they do offer great protection from lens flares and make your rig look good while doing so.
The Gear is Out There
Let’s take a look at some of the equipment on the market now. I’ve sorted the gear by its best usage. For example, I have a piece of gear that the manufacturer lists as a handheld rig, but it functions much better as a rig for a tripod or other support so that’s what it is listed under.
Dot Line HDSLR Gear Box, $150
This handheld rig combines the protection of a cage for camera bodies as large as full frame DSLRs, with the functionality of two side handles and a top handle. The mount offers multiple ¼” - 20 options for your camera as well as eighteen ¼” - 20 female taps on the rig. Included are a pair of 15mm rods.
Sirui VSK-5 Video Survival Kit, $700
This kit from Sirui is unique in its offering of parts for a shoulder rig, low mount rig, dolly, and slider with a backpack to hold them all. The kit has multiple camera mounts so you can use the shoulder rig with your A camera and the slider with your B camera at the same time. The shoulder rig weighs in at 4 pounds and can support 8.8 pounds and features carbon fiber 15mm rails. It’s a very versatile kit for the price.
Wooden Camera Shoulder Rig v2 (Premium, Brown Leather), $1,495
This rig is built for supporting large cinema cameras. It features an ARRI dovetail plate, shoulder pad, NATO rail with ARRI rosettes for grip arms and brown leather grips. The rig has multiple ¼” - 20 holes along the dovetail plate, NATO rail, and the rear of the shoulder pad.
Sachtler Ace Accessories Set, $1,425
This is a set of heavy duty accessories that you can use as a tripod/slider/dolly rig. It includes two 15mm rails, camera mount with quick release plate, follow focus made to 0.8 standard — common for cine lenses — and a matte box with two filter holders and three flags. The base plate has a 15.4 pound payload rating, and all three accessories have a combined weight of 4.3 pounds. The components are also available separately.
Tilta ES-T17 Handheld Camera Cage Rig for Sony a7 & a7 II Series Camera, $350
This cage fits Sony a7, a7R, a7S, a7 II, a7S II,and a7R II cameras. It features a Micro-HDMI to HDMI adapter cable and cable clamp, ARRI rosette for side handle, EF and PL mount lens adapter support, and 15mm rods and rod mount. The cage leaves the SD card and battery door unobstructed.
Shape Panasonic GH5 Cage Matte Box Follow Focus Shoulder Mount, $2,000
This shoulder rig built for the GH5 includes camera cage, 15mm rails, follow focus, matte box and shoulder pad. The camera mount has integrated Metabones Speedbooster adapter support. The matte box comes with three flags and can hold two filters.
Hand-held and Tripod/Support Based
Manfrotto SYMPLA Shoulder Rig $700
This SYMPLA is a good foundation for a versatile rig capable of supporting over 11 pounds. This rig is based on the 15mm rod standard and includes a camera mount with quick release, dual vertical handles, adjustable curved shoulder pad and counter weight. This rig weighs 8.8 pounds, so it’s not a lightweight option; however, it does give you the added weight you'll want for a mirrorless camera or the support you'll need for a large cinema camera or camcorder.
Zacuto Indie Recoil Rig, $1,600 to $4,725
In its basic configuration, this rig offers a camera mount, side handle, top handle, right hand grip, shoulder pad and 15mm rails. You can also add the Electronic View Finder (EVF) and support arm as well as the follow focus and left grip focus control. This rig is designed for DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Zacuto also makes similar rigs for camcorders and cinema cameras.
Redrock Micro Field Cinema Rig for Canon Cinema EOS MKII, $1,150
Compatible with both Canon C100 MKII and C300 MKII cinema cameras, this 15mm rod based rig combines a camera cage with ¼” - 20 and ⅜” - 16 holes, dual handles and a shoulder pad. The cage can be used with the Canon top handle audio interface and allows for external battery mounting.
Cambo CS-STYX Support Rig System, $780
This Cambo rig has a camera mount that includes a tripod mount, 15mm rod mounts as well as a single handle rod mount. This design frees up space in front of the camera body for follow focus, lens supports and a matte box. The rig can be adjusted for use with camcorders, small cinema cameras, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
CAME-TV Comprehensive Shoulder Rig for DSLR & Mirrorless Cameras, $1,188
This low-cost rig is compatible with cameras up to the full frame Canon 5D in size. It has a camera cage with top handle and cable clamp, swing away matte box, follow focus with A and B hard stops and a shoulder pad. The rig comes with lens gear rings and donuts.
Lanparte Blackmagic Cinema Camera Complete Kit, $1,980
Just add a monitor or EVF and you’re ready to shoot with this rig custom designed for the Blackmagic Cinema Camera or Production 4K camera. The kit includes a matte box, follow focus, shoulder pad, camera cage, top handle, dual handles and even a V-mount plate with battery
Once you’ve found a rig you like, it may take some time to fine tune it as far as placement of all your accessories. Then, you’ll have plenty of time to practice with your rig so you can improve your shots.
Sidebar: A Few Extra Items You Might Want For Your Rig
These inexpensive accessories might make for a nice addition to your rig.
VariZoom VZSTEALTH, $100
If you're shooting with a Sony or Canon camcorder that supports LANC, then this controller will be really handy. By attaching it to a tripod or rig handle, you can control zoom, focus, record and power functions without removing your hand from the grip. VariZoom also makes similar controllers for other models such as the Canon C100.
Opteka MB360 Digital Matte Box, $40
This is a low cost, ABS matte box that lacks filter holders; it does have a lens hood and french flags. It works on lenses with filter sizes from 43 to 77mm.
Hondo Garage $50 Follow Focus
Yeah, it’s really only fifty bucks. This started as a Kickstarter project three years ago, and it's still going strong. The follow focus features an all aluminum construction and a lifetime warranty.
Redrock Micro www.shop.redrockmicro.com
Wooden Camera www.woodencamera.com
Odin Lindblom is an award winning filmmaker who creates and produces commercials, corporate videos, and documentaries.