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HDSLR CAMERA “RIGS” – STORE BOUGHT (then modified)

April 11th, 2011

Part of shooting good video means capturing good sound, which is nearly impossible using an HDSLR. The solution I’ve chosen is to record audio to an external device and then sync the sound in post production using the Singular Software application “Pluraleyes” with Final Cut Studio.
The ergonomics of an HDSLR aren’t very conducive to shooting video. Add an audio recorder and microphone(s) to the mix and it’s even tougher–but it’s opened up a great market for accessory manufacturers who design HDSLR “rigs.” You can definitely do it yourself, but I’m not a terribly handy person. So I decided to go with a store bought solution.
I’m listing my kit as well as those of a couple other videographers whose solutions look quite workable (and which I might emulate if the situation calls for it).

After playing with a bunch of stuff (the beauty of brick-and-mortar retail stores) I bought a nearly stock version of the Redrock Micro Event shoulder rig from my local store, Glazer’s Camera. I added and subtracted some parts, but what I wanted was to use an LCD viewfinder, attach a microphone, a recorder, and a lav mic receiver to one rig I could hand-hold. I also wanted a base I could build from, if I get into more crew-heavy production. And, if I’m going to do a lot of movement, I’ll need to invest in a steadicam solution.

These are the Redrock Micro Event parts:

These pieces are the rest of the kit:

Rig:
Redrock Micro Event
Redrock Micro DSLR Tripod Platform
Redrock Micro Mount

Not Pictured (but incredibly important): Adjustable Shoulder Strap with quick clips
Not Pictured (and also important): Genus Variable ND Filter 77mm

Visual:
Zacuto Z-Finder

Audio:
Zoom H4N
Azden Cold Shoe Microphone Shock Mount
Sennheiser Shotgun Mic
Sennheiser G3 wireless

Cables:
Angle Adapter Cable
Stereo Mini Male to Dual Female, 6″
1/8″ Right Angle
XLR Cable

When I first bought this kit, I had some ideas about how to mount things, but inevitably there was some trial and error. One of the biggest solutions I found, as simple as it sounds, was a shoulder strap. This allows me to lower the rig and completely let go of it, resting my arm. It also provides stabilizing counter pressure when I’m shooting and two additional points of contact: right hand on handle, left hand focus, LCD viewer, shoulder, plus the strap’s two connecting points.

Note on this image, that the strap is connected to the left side of the 4-inch “handle bar” rod (resting on the blue slide film boxes) and again to the shoulder mount or “microbrace.”

If your strap has a slider on it and extra webbing, you can loosen the strap, throw it over your head and shoulder, place the “microbrace” against your armpit, then pull the webbing (left side) through the slider, tightening it until the LCD viewer rests comfortably against your face. Unfortunately, the motion of your body transmits through the microbrace so this won’t replace a steadicam unit for image stability when walking–but it’s magnitudes more stable than hand holding a bare camera in front of yourself.

On the “microbrace” assembly, I placed a “micromount” to which I affixed a Zoom H4n. I did this not only to move weight further back, but because I want to be able to see the recorder’s levels, battery, etc. on the display.

One of the things I did to cut costs was to not buy the second Hand Grip. However, I did purchase the micromounts and an extra nine inch 15mm Rod. Initially I mounted the recorder and wireless receiver to the rod, attaching it to the left side of the rig, but I don’t think I’ll use the rod until I incorporate a five inch monitor–which will change how I hold the rig. Until then, it’s kind of useless, so you could save money there.

I also bought a DSLR Tripod Platform; it’s essentially a cheeseplate with a receiver for the rails that stick out from the back of the DSLR Baseplate. I keep all the cables in front, under the lens, to make sure the back rails are clear. I understand Redrock has now come out with a DSLR Mini Tripod Platform, allowing you to mount a Manfrotto Quick Release Pate directly to the bottom of the DSLR Baseplate. I wish they’d done it earlier because that cheeseplate is heavy and I’ve already got enough kit in my bag.

Without the second grip, the rig cants to the side when you set it down. Fortunately the four inch handlebar I’ve mounted the G3 wireless receiver to is metal, meaning it can take a little abuse, but overall, don’t expect the anodizing to last very long on the aluminum components. The carbon rails have hard plastic end caps, but I don’t think they can take much abuse. Also, be sure to repeatedly check all your tighteners and check the knots for the shoulder strap attachments so you don’t accidentally drop the whole unit.

For monitoring audio, I run a splitter from the headphone out on the Zoom; this lets me feed same source audio straight to the camera as well as listen to what I’m picking up with through headphones. Same source audio will make it easier for Pluraleyes to sync audio later, especially if you’re running a wireless mic. Use an angle adapter for the headphone-out port to lessen the risk of damaging the port and consider removing that red tightener on the back of the Zacuto. One drawback you might see here is that it’s necessary to remove the camera from the rig to swap batteries; there just isn’t clearance for the battery to come out.

One other thing I did was to remove the garishly bright Canon shoulder strap and replace it with a couple of loops of webbing; I can still attach a strap to the webbing, but it really helps make an ungainly contraption lower profile to not have a shoulder strap. On that webbing I placed a small fastex buckle I cut from an old backpack sternum strap. I used a piece of salvaged cord (from a lens cap holder) to attach the other half of the buckle to theZacuto Z-Finder LCD viewer. This way I’m not afraid of knocking the viewer off the camera and I don’t have to carry it around my neck.

Two other items. Regarding microphone shock mounts: I now have both a Rhode and an Azden. The Rhode is a bit thrashed; I had to fix the angle hinge on the bottom and an elastic band mount snapped off. When I travel, my gear is tightly packed in an un-padded carry on. The Rhode has a threaded base, so you can mount it to a boom, and the angle hinge is better suited to boom use. The Azden is cheaper and (we’ll see) less prone to breakage.

I also have a Genus 77mm Variable ND Filter. It is essential for shooting in bright sun or for controlling your aperture, since your shutter is effectively stuck at 1/50.

And now, for a couple of other modified, store bought solutions.

The first is the Danfung Dennis’s customized Glidecam. Note that he’s using a Beachtek XLR adapter to feed audio directly to the camera instead of using dual system sound. He could still do dual system sound if he mounted a Zoom or other two-channel recorder onto his rig.

The second is from Kurt Lancaster who modified an Redrock shoulder mount to hold lower and in front; he could incorporate a monitor and audio on this pretty easily. Here’s a link to the post.

The third is from Andrew Wonder who tried a variety of combinations (and it sounds like, sacrificed some gear to NYC’s subways and sewers) to figure this out. Check out his video “Undercity” below and read the interview by Lancaster here which will explain why he uses the below rig.

UNDERCITY from Andrew Wonder on Vimeo.

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Posted in Canon 5D Mark II, gear, multimedia, technique, video Comments Off on HDSLR CAMERA “RIGS” – STORE BOUGHT (then modified)

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