The Making Of A Shoulder Rig

All This So I Can Shoot Handheld?

My first attempt at building a rig. So close. I dont have any of these parts anymore.

Shooting handheld with small cameras can be a challenge.

Taking a camera that that wasn’t designed to be on your shoulder and creating a rig for it at first hand sounds pretty simple. Just get a few pieces and slap them together and bam! you have a rig! Well getting the camera in the right position is a lot harder. I have gone through several different configurations and frankenriged to the point of almost giving up. But I kept at it and I found a few pieces that work very well and some that look very good. This article is a living breathing kind. If I find new products I will add them and hopefully also get my hands on some new stuff to try out.

When shooting handheld with the AF-100 or any camera with no side mounted viewfinder it’s kind of difficult because of its build. This is where things get complicated. In order to get the camera in the conventional ENG position you have to get the camera over your shoulder. Now comes the expensive part. This means a baseplate, rails, handles and clamps just to get started. A EVF or small monitor is also needed.

Maybe this is why I don’t like shooting handheld much, I do with the 7-14 Lumix lens. That is one fun lens that everyone who owns a Micro Four Thirds Camera should have. In general for quick handheld it’s ok but for interviews or more static longer shots the handheld rig is a must. Over the past few months I started getting pieces for a DIY system. I found Gini Rigs from a forum post. They sell primarily on Ebay. I bought the DSLR RIG DSL-17 MAGIC plus for $300. That’s pretty cheap.
Its well made and not very expensive. I got all the parts you see in the picture with the kit. The baseplate that comes with the Gini Rig isn’t very good. It’s the only piece I don’t like in the kit. I needed a real dedicated baseplate instead of the kit version.  I purchased a Zacuto Universal Baseplate before I had the AF-100. Its expensive but it’s the center of the rig. Its vertical and horizontal adjustments makes the baseplate versatile. I gave it my best shot, but in the end I needed something different. Enter the Tilta.

The New Tilta Rig

The Tilta Baseplate is working very well for me. In fact this is it! I cant imagine finding a better shoulder/baseplate for my AF-100. In fact I’ve used it with a Sony F3 as well and it worked just fine. With the Lanparte power dock and AB gold mount type battery on the back it balances the rig pretty well. I could use about a pound or two more when I have a mattebox and the Red Pro Zoom 17-50 attached. I don’t shoot for long periods of time handheld so this is good for me. If I had a shoot that I knew I would be handheld for long periods I can adjust things easily. I like how low the camera sits on my shoulder. The Zacuto was high and when I added a pad to it is was way to high. The only issue I have, and it’s not with the Tilta is using a follow focus with the DP4 EVF. Just not enough room for both. However the DP6 is perfect and its an amazing HD on camera monitor. Below is a video review of the Tilta System.

Mounting The EVF.

So now you have your shoulder rig how are you gong to see what your shooting? You need an EVF and you need to mount it on the side of the camera. More companies are making systems to achieve this.I purchased this bracket from Westside AV Studios. I payed $165 plus shipping. It works pretty well. It’s a simple design and holds my DP4 EVF just fine. It mounts to the cold shoe.

Westside EVF bracket

Westside EVF bracket

Westside EVF bracket on AF-100

Westside EVF bracket on AF-100

Zacuto has several options available and this one looks good. I had issues with EVF holders that attached to the front rails. They tend to get in the way and positioning seemed harder if it gets to close to the front of the camera. If you use a PL adapter then again you cant get it back as far on the rails. The Zacuto EVF Top Mount looks nice. I haven’t tried it yet but want to. It is compatible with Epic/Scarlet, Sony F3 and FS700, and Panasonic AF100. Has a lot more parts and looks heavier than the Westside AV bracket.

EVF Top Mount

EVF Top Mount

EVF Top Mount

EVF Top Mount on a Sony F3

Looks very interesting an easy to adjust with three positions to get the EVF right where you need it. I dont know if you can use it with other brand EVF’s like the SmallHD DP4. The bracket looks specific to the Zacuto EVF.

Here are some bits I purchased when I was still building up my rig. I tried several different parts, and I like products made from Berkey Systems. They make all kinds of goodies we need for custom rigs. Prices are a little less than Zacuto.  The 60×60 Is what I purchased From Berkey to get the shoulder pad under the camera. It works as it should however the Gini shoulder pad is heavy and a bit to hard which makes it uncomfortable. I wish someone would make a soft memory foam pad. Oh! that would be sweet. The 60×60 can be used in so many ways so I keep it the bag.

Berkey 60X60 ultra light offset block

Berkey Shoulder Pad Assembly With Ultra Light Rail Block

I ordered the above shoulder pad from Berkey Systems with the rail mount hardware to try a different style pad. Again I didn’t like the rubber one from Gini. It’s too hard and feels the same as ta metal baseplate on your shoulder.  The Berkey Pad  has extra tapped holes to add more goodies to it if needed. That makes it more versatile. The pad is Medium soft foam glued to a solid base. I tested several different mounting options. Used the 60×60. Still puts the camera to high on the shoulder. Tried mounting with a single block like in the image above but it wouldn’t clear the baseplate. I then tried mounting a Giotto quick release system to the baseplate and the shoulder pad. That worked ok but I just couldn’t get the shoulder pad to work with the Zacuto baseplate like I wanted it to. Geting the pad under the camera was the issue. I could get it behind it but that would make the camera unbalanced.

PortaBrace SP-3G Universal Shoulder Pad

I found a portabrace shoulder pad that wraps around your rails or baseplate. I like this idea and ordered it. Its only $49 If it’s very comfortable and attaches to the Zacuto baseplate with a sleeve or flap that you slid between rails or the baseplate then attaches with Velcro. It’s Light and easy to put on and take off.  I might need longer rails to get the counter weight back further, maybe three or four inches. I don’t want to add any more hardware that would make it heavier. I need to weigh this rig but I’m afraid to know. It feels heavier than a ENG camera now.

The PortaBrace shoulder pad looks promising. I wrapped it around the Zacuto baseplate and put the rig on my shoulder. This process was fast. That I like. When added to the baseplate It makes the rig sit higher on my shoulder than the Berkey shoulder pad but it’s super soft and comfortable.

Major improvement now with matte box attached

Here its the rig in hand held mode with PortaBrace Shoulder Pad added

I liked how it was going but probably should have added my matte box early on to make it complete. Well that changed a few things. The hand grips wouldn’t work with the matte box on the end of the rails, and I didn’t have enough space to fit them in between the base plate and the matte box, so I used the Berkey double block to lower the grips below the matte box. It works pretty well. I also like having the EVF in this position. Its upright and that makes it more stable. I want to keep this configuration for the EVF. A telescoping rod clamp would be sweet for the EVF but I don’t think that exists. The camera had to be adjusted all the way up on the base plate for the matte box to be in the right position. That made it even taller which was something I was trying to avoid but I have to give up on that. I cant keep the rigs height down no matter what I try. The other shoulder pads made it even higher so it looks like the PortaBrace wins for now.

To go into handheld mode I just take the camera off the Genus QR adapter and put the PortaBrace shoulder pad on. Its a little awkward but it only takes a few seconds and its soft and comfortable. I also had to have the counter weight on to balance the rig since its a little front heavy. The whole rig is heavy now with all this stuff on it. I’m going to weight it later on. Or maybe I shouldn’t.

More to come I’m sure because hey. Its never done right?

I’ll be updating this post as I move forward. Thoughts or suggestions? Please post em.

Here is a link to a discussion on DVXUser.com in the AF-100 forum about balancing your camera on a rig. Its a good read.

Don’t want to be a DIY kind of guy? Check this out.

Tilta Rigs

Tilta Baseplate

TILTA III Baseplate BS-T03

I heard about Tilta. A new company from China that is making some very nice DSLR rigs. They only have one distributor that I could find and that one is in Canada. I emailed Tilta direct and was able to purchase a few pieces from them. I ordered the BS-T03 baseplate, TILTA III UH-T03 Front HandGrip and a TILTA III Monitor Arm with 15mm Rail Component. It took awhile to get from China but it was worth the wait. The build quality is good. Not the same caliber as Zacuto gear but at a fraction of the price. I found a few scratches on the finish that looks like they used a Sharpie to cover it up. No big deal. Nothing mechanically wrong with anything. I was worried about the knob on the left side that locks down the camera. It looks like it would poke you in the neck but it doesn’t. This baseplate works better than any I have tried! I’ve only used it a few times but still the best setup I’ve used so far. It even has a standard Sony ENG quick release shoe for the sturdy broadcast QR plates. WOW!!!! The foam shoulder pad is soft enough and the form is great. Front and back 15mm rail blocks on the baseplate for all your accessories. One negative is the quick release on the baseplate. The camera plate is designed for a DSLR and is to small for cameras like the AF-100 and F3. The good thing is my longer Monfroto camera plate fits in the clamp. Since its much longer it has more mettle to clamp down on. The original camera plate when used in the farthest back position gave the camera a little wobble when I used a follow focus. I just readjusted the position of the camera in the clamp to be more centered and problem solved.

TILTA III Monitor Arm with 15mm Rail Component

I used it on a Sony F3 with PL mount lenses and attached a SmallHD DP6 to the Arm that attaches to the 15mm rods. I didn’t have to fight the rig at all. It pretty much conformed with the set up easily. The rig was still unbalanced since I didn’t use a counter weight on the back. I Just got an AB Gold Mount power dock from Ebay but didn’t have it for the shoot with the F3. That would’ve balanced it out. The AF-100 is about half the weight of the F3 so I can see this rig working very well with the AF-100 too.

TILTA III UH-T03 Front HandGrip

TILTA III UH-T03 Front HandGrip

The handgrips are crazy good. All the joints have Rosetta locks. Tight and secure. A little on the heavy side but the build is top notch. They also have a 19mm slot for that system. I like the clamp system. You don’t have to take stuff if you need to remove or add the grips just pop it on and clamp it. Fast and easy. Same with the monitor arm. I will post some pictures of the rig when I get it all put together and add my thoughts on how it works but for now this is THE rig for me. Tilta has a winner here. And it seems that the Chinese manufacturers are creating new products not just copying anymore. And just look at. It’s badass! I like that tactical look.

Here is a video from BARTV 2011. The F3 baseplate she has in her hand isn’t available yet.

So what if you really need to move in a more fluid way? Check out this article on the Fig Rig made by Manfrotto. This simple easy to use camera stabilizer worked perfect for a image campaign I shot.

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Comments (5)

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  1. Ric Shellhammer says:

    Hey Erik …. I’m on the same quest. Just came across this shoulder pad from shoot35 that looks interesting and comfortable.

    http://www.shoot35.com/products/shoulder%20support/shouldersupportmainframe.html

    • Erik Naso says:

      Hi Rick.
      That does look nice. Memory foam ooohhhhh. So far I’m liking the PortaBrace pad. It wraps around the Zacuto Baseplate and is fairly easy to put on and take off. Still working on it. Thanks for the link and input. Cheers!

  2. Jon F. says:

    Hey Erik,

    I’m on the same trek as you guys too. I’m trying to find something that goes from the tripod to the shoulder quickly! It seems all the solutions don’t seem to be well balanced for both.

    Do you feel the porta brace is the solution? I hate blindly buying these pieces because it’s one of those things you really need to touch and feel in order to decide.

    How did you build your balance weight?

    • Erik Naso says:

      The PortaBrace shoulder pad does work well.. Unfortunately its a little tall for my liking so the jury is still out on it. As for the counter weight that came with my Gini Rig kit. The only piece I don’t use is the baseplate. But then thats the core of a good rig.

  3. Jon F. says:

    Can you send me a pic of your AF100 on your Tilta rig? I’m definately curious how it’s working for you now. Is it the best baseplate+shoulder rig for you now?

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