In our time using dSLR’s for film making, we have used a variety of rigging options, and own a full red rock micro rig,but when looking to expand our kit we were inspired by our findings on popular websites such as cheesycam.com as to how realistic it is to produce a functional, and reliable rig that is purpose built, for as little money as possible – and it became somewhat of a personal challenge.

One of the issues we have had with the larger shoulder rigs, is exactly that – they can be big and cumbersome, take a long time to setup and break down, and on top of that, sometimes when you have both arms outstretched infront of you for balance, and have a set of V-lock batteries hanging off your shoulder, you suddenly realise how restricted your room to move is, and the benefit you once had of having a tiny HD camera has now disappeared in exchange for stability.

Knowing we had our micro to fall back on, we decided to put together a custom rig for a second/third camera depending on tripod usage. The idea being if it didn’t work, we know that we could go back to what we already knew – but perhaps a custom build could help with some of our gripes with our current setups.

Our first task was to see if the infamous $20 Cowboy Studio Shoulder rig would be up to the task of supporting our equipment. This is a very cheap shoulder rig designed for camera rigs a lot lighter than that of most dSLR shooters, (ideally a compact DV cam) when rigged up with a 5D+battery grip and lens – you could hear the parts squeaking and feel the ABS plastic bending. There was little hope for this as it came out of the box. We needed to strengthen it for our use – but the lightweight shoulder support impressed us. We just needed a better mounting system for the camera.
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So our second big decision came in the form of working out how to support the camera itself. The most popular format is arguably the rail system. This should therefore mean that this is the cheapest way of building, with the most available parts right?

Well, because this is the most popular system, we found that many of the product costs for end users are very inflated. Even the lower end rail rigs on ebay cost hundreds, and we wanted to build a cheap rig. Borrowing on an idea from this post on cheesycam.com we decided to try it using a Macro slider system. we bought 2 of these sliders off ebay for just under £9 each.

[singlepic id=1084 w=320 h=240 float=center] In this first image you can see that we have joined two of these together to make an L-Shaped base. Joined on to the top is a quick release clasp. Closest to you in the above image is a tripod to hot shoe converter. This is to allow the mic to connect later, and below is an image of the style of quick release we used.
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The nature of our work often means we may want to shoot stills for BTS or promotion, and if you’ve ever tried it you will know that shooting stills on a rigged up camera isn’t the easiest task.

With the base unit now ready, we add the follow focus. The one we went for was bought direct from the manufacturer in China, but is essentially exactly the model that is available in the UK on ebay known as the “RJ Follow Focus”. Because this is designed for a rail system, it does have the rail holes on it. We removed the original screw in this unit, and replaced it with a much longer screw (bought from Homebase in the UK) this meant that we could use the original blue thumbscrew to tighten the system together. the reason we left the rail holes on, is because with the battery grip on the 5D mkII, we needed to raise the focus gear so that it could meet the gearing ring on the lens. Without the grip this could be removed entirely.
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The screw on this still sticks right out of the bottom. this is for our handle which we will add shortly.
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But first, to turn this glorified camera base plate into a shoulder rig, we screw it in to the main shoulder support of the Cowboy Studio Rig at a direct right angle. This is now the base that we build on top of.
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Next we need to add the focus ring to the camera lens, this is just wrapped around pulled till it is taught, and then the screw locks the grip through pressure. This came with the Follow Focus. The quick release is attached to the base of the camera.
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Our Handle has been hacksawed off a sports umbrella. It is pistol grip style, so is rubber textured and very comfortable to hold on a long shoot. We filled this with quickbond rubber/gum stuff which had 4 of the bolts that came with the homebase screws set inside. this meant that the umbrella handle now had a thread inside so it can screw onto the base of the follow focus thread.
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The handle is screwed on till it is tight against the blue thumb screw on the bottom of the follow focus, and we turn our attention back to the camera. We used a £11 LCD magnifier off ebay. The external digital viewfinders are absolutely a better option, they are sharper, and external HDMI screens also produce a much larger area to work with but with our need for breakdown speed, and portability to shoot stills, a magnetic lcd magnifier was the best option. We used adhesive to strap the base plate to the camera’s LCD.
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The unit itself then looks like the below image, and has magnets in so that as it lines up to the baseplate on the camera it will just “snap” on. This is great for having a bit more size (albeit at the cost of pixelation) and also so that when shooting outside you can see the screen without any glare.
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At this point the rig is starting to take shape, it is still very compact and easy to work with, but also very stable and solid feeling.
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Our next step is to add the rode videomic pro, this is set to +20db and all the audio is controlled on the 5D using the Magic Lantern firmware. When working in dark locations we also add the toplight (amazon.co.uk) to the setup.
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A bi-product of leaving the rail mounts on the follow focus is that we have the capacity to add short rails to the front along with a mattebox, but as this is more of a lightweight run and gun rig, the idea of a mattebox was too big for what we wanted, It would also make our breakdown take too long. using the standard lens hood from the 24-70L has proved to eliminate glare in most situations, with matte boxes being reserved for shoots where we have more time to build up rigs and break them down again.

All that is left is to plug in the mic, and turn on the camera.[singlepic id=1103 w=320 h=240 float=center]

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The Completed rig is now built.

Finally we turn our attention to the software. Here we load the fantastic Magic Lantern software for the 5D mkII which unlocks a whole range of features. Having the histogram, and audio levels on screen is great for keeping an eye on audio peaks, and exposure blowouts, but also having time remaining to shoot on the card in your viewfinder, as well as a host of nifty other features is a massive selling point.
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This also enables us to use a special home made cable that converts the AV-Out port on the camera, into a standard stereo lead for audio monitoring. Connecting this via a headphone booster to our headphones means we can now not only see the audio display, but we can monitor the recording in stereo, and in real time.

This has been a very spur of the moment writeup of our rig, so apologies for the absence of any video, for the fact the photos are either screengrabs or iphone photos, but I hope that this gives people some ideas. The rough build cost for the rig is approx £300 inclusive of everything other than the camera/lens/batterygrip, so I also believe it is one of the best value for money options that you can build.

Having tested this setup mainly on on gig videos/ documentary work – I am very happy with it and we are now looking at building 1 or two more for our additional cameras. As always – any feedback you have is welcomed!

The Ivory Haze Team.

Got any questions or comments? Do you know someone else who might also enjoy this?