|Rigging Your DSLR
by: Bill Pryor
Cavision Rods System MarksPhototools.com and Video Bracket
Over the years I've always made an effort to avoid pimping out my cameras--because if (a) cost, and more importantly (b) the cumbersomeness and extra hassle. For instance, I've always used filters and, when needed, a french flag instead of a matte box. Why? Because a matte box (except for some of the screw on types such as the Lee bellows lens hood) requires a set of support rods. More stuff, more weight, more hassle.
Then I abandoned the DV revolution and joined forces with the DSLR revolution. Enter the 7D.
Shooting video with a hybrid camera requires a bit of pimping out of the camera. The first thing I bought was the http://idcphotography.com attachment to turn the LCD into a viewfinder. That's an absolute necessity, unless you shoot nothing but interiors with a tripod. At the same time I ordered a Zoom H4N sound recorder from http://bhphotovideo.com because with the 7D you must shoot double system sound unless you're simply gathering ambient audio. Then I bought the video bracket from http://www.marksphototools.com/ because I wanted to mount the Zoom up near the camera and didn't like it on the camera hotshoe because the mic cables get in my way.
So there was my rig: Viewer attachment, bracket with mounting cold shoe, Zoom on top of the bracket handle. Uncomplicated and quick to set up. The handle was attached to the base of the camera with a quick release, the tripod quick release attached to the base of the bracket. Life was good.
This is my original setup, the viewer and handle (Zoom had not yet arrived)
But I just finished a script for a shoot next month that requires me to do lots of hand held shooting, inside a vehicle. No motion, but lots of closeups on gauges, hands doing things. I borrowed a Camcrane 200 jib from a friend, thinking I would put the camera on the jib, shooting to the side, and stick the jib arm inside the vehicle. The problem with that is that every shot would be a big deal to get positioned properly, and on this shoot I already know time will be at a premium. Thus, do it hand held.
It is really difficult to do good hand held shooting with a DSLR, even with an IS lens, and especially in cramped positions. I decided I better get a shoulder mount.
There are lots of shoulder mounts available, some are even DLSR-friendly. The most prominent come from Vocas, RedrockMicro and Zacuto. Anything you get from those three companies is going to be expensive. Vocas is the best, unquestionable. It's a Dutch company and their products are difficult to get quickly in the U.S. Zacuto was out of the question financially. RedrockMicro would cost over $600. Good stuff, but I'm trying to minimize all these add-ons and put my money into some good lenses later on. So I went with Cavision.
This is the Cavision rig sold for DSLR cameras. The mounting plate is reversed to put the
camera where it needs to be. Rods are 30cm in length, and can easily be replaced with
longer ones if the need arises. The T-shaped bracket near the front is for a matte box, and
you can see that longer rods would be necessary in order to use a matte box with this lens.
The handle is the Mark Watkins video bracket with the red cold shoe on top holding the
Zoom H4N recorder. The bracket is mounted to the bottom of the Cavision, and the
Libec 38 quick release plate is mounted to the bracket.
A closer shot of the setup. The cube on the end of the bracket has 1/4"-20 threads all
the way around. I could remove the handle and attach the Zoom H4N directly to the
cube with a 1/4"-to-1/" adapter, but I like the handle. It makes picking up and
carrying the rig a lot easier and that's an advantage over the much more expensive attachments
with articulated arms.
Here's the back of the Cavision rig with the shoulder mount tilted up. The rig slips on and off the
tripod easy with no disassembly required. I like shooting with it on the tripod, because I
can take it off in a few seconds. All I have to do is rotate the shoulder bracket down to
the proper position and do the same for the front handles.
The Cavision rig came from B&H, and I had to order it in three pieces because they didn't stock the "kit." What you do is go to the Cavision site http://www.cavision.com and track down what you want, copy and paste the product numbers on B&H, and there you are. You can order direct from Cavision, but that may not be great unless you're in Canada. Shipping and import duties could be a killer. I've had correspondence back and forth numerous times with Bernie at Cavision, and he answers email promptly and readily sends the price lists. He also answers all questions accurately.
Overall, I think the this Cavision rig, at around $350 (USD) is probably the best deal on the market. It looks good, it's solid and well made, and adaptable for future expansion. Cavision also sells excellent matte boxes and very nice geared follow focus systems. The ability to add the Mark Watkins bracket, which I already owned, was icing on the cake, and much nicer than spending a couple hundred bucks on a little arm.
One thing I like better about this Cavision over RedrockMicro and Zacuto is the shape of the shoulder mount. Both of the pricier systems have a very shallow shoulder mount, and the rig just rests on top of your shoulder. Because the Cavision curves downward a significant distance, you can push back with it, against the front of your shoulder. So it functions similar to a gunstock mount in that regard. It makes for a very stable hand held arrangement.
My apologies for the quality of the photos, especially the shadows on the wall. I had to use somebody's little pocket camera and couldn't make the flash turn off, and the room was too small to move far enough from the wall. The irony, the irony--about $3K worth of camera and accessories sitting there and I have to shoot it with a $110 pocketcam.