At least for me!
The Sony Nex-FS100 camera is a wonderful camera that produces stunning images but the form factor can be a bit awkward for some users. I like the fact that it is so small and can be stripped down easily to be extremely lightweight and used in small places. But sometimes (most of the times for me) we need more weight and a better balance, especially handheld.
I have worked for some time in a news gathering environment and became accustomed to shoulder-mounted cameras. They are usually perfectly balanced, so even if they are heavy, you can shoot with them for long hours without being too tired. This is something I have tried to replicate since I got the camera in June 2011.
At first, I looked at some kit designed by companies like Zacuto, Redrock, etc. One kit that appeared to be really interesting (based of price / features ratio and build quality) was the Genus G-VCSMK video shoulder mount.
While I was researching my options, Samuel Pinel-Roy, a friend of mine and fellow Fs100 shooter, told me that he just got the Genus kit for an upcoming shooting trek he was doing. So I got a great opportunity to play with the kit and see if it could fit my shooting style. And in fact… it was not.
The Genus kit is very well built and most of the parts features great design specifications, like quick release, great finish, etc. But as a kit, I found some design problems for my utilization. The most important were:
- Rod length: The rods are 22 inches long. It’s too much and not enough. When I am run’n'gunning, ENG style, I waht to be compact. 22 inches is too much. And when you need to add accessories like matte box, follow focus, long lenses, 22 inches is a bit short.
- Shoulder pad and counterweight: looked at independently, these two parts are great. The shoulder pad have a great finish, is good looking, and have a quick release mechanism and the counterweight is compact and the rods pass-through, which is great. The problem is that the counterweight seem to be designed for DSLR, it,s only 2.5 lbs, and it’s not enough to balance the camera correctly. I tried to add more weight to balance the camera correctly, but doing that, the rig is too heavy for the shoulder pad. The padding is slim and when you add too much weight, it become not comfortable at all.
So after this tryout, what became obvious to me is there seems to be no off the shelve perfect solution for my utilization. So I started to look at every single component available in the market from every company trying to put together the best rig, for me. I also had to build and modify some parts to suits my needs better. It is definitely not going to work for everyone, but I’m sure my finding might help other building there own rig for there specifications.
What driven my choices was:
- Cost vs feature: What was important for me first was to find something that meet my needs first. But cost is obviously also important. I wanted to buy parts that were useful, cost effective, while being well built.
- Compactness: Sometimes I see rigs posted on forums that looks like war machine. I don’t want this. What’s the point of buying a small camcorder if it become impossible to pass through a doorway with it!
- Comfort: I regularly have to shoot handheld for 5 to 8 hours straight, and I need to be able to go home at night with my back, shoulders and arms feeling good.
With that in mind, I put together this rig:
Some companies sells handles that allow to adjust the distance between the two handles. In theory, this is great. And in fact it might be more comfortable to have them further away when you have your two hands on the handles.
But what’s happen when you need to put your left hand on the lens to focus? Your right hand need to be near the center to keep the whole thing from tilting. Having both handles close to the center allows you to switch supporting and focusing hand during long shoot.
The Cavision RHD1560 handles are perfect for that. And you can adjust the angle of each handle separately. And they are really solid and lightweight (made of strong plastic), a plus value for components to go in front of the rig.
COST: 82$ + shipping
Nothing fancy here. I wanted something small to let me put the shoulder pad about half below the camera to achieve a better balance. I already had a manfrotto 577 Quick Release adapter on hand and a few metal plates left over from some other parts I accumulated over the years. So I just bought two « Rail blocks » clamps I found on eBay for 20$ each, drilled a few holes, and put this together. Voila. (in fact I bought 3 Rail blocks, the last one being used for the battery plate and counterweight. More on that later).
But there is a lot of options available on the market and you can find anything, between 200$ to 1000$, depending of your needs. Just look around.
Like I said above, from my tests with the Genus, I found that with the weight of the FS100, accessories, and the counterweight (more on that later) needded to balance everything on shoulder, the shoulder pad had to be well padded. The padding found on the Genus one wasn’t enough.
This is the Porta Brace Universal Shoulder Pad SP-3G and it’s definitely the most underrated rigging accessory ever! The design is so effective, yet simple. The shoulder pad is thick, made of strong nylon with an anti-slip rubber surface. It wraps over the rods and it is held in place with strong Velcro.
Even with a heavy rig, the padding is thick enough to be comfortable on the shoulder for long hours. And it is so cheap! Definitely worth it!
COST: 50$ + shipping
Monitor / EVF:
When shooting with cameras with this particular form factor (or DSLR), you can’t access to the on-board monitor from a shoulder-mounted rig. So you need an external monitor, or an EVF. While I love using larges monitors with big resolution, for on board monitoring, I needed something small. I have tried 5.6″ and 7″ monitors, but I had to put them so much in the front to get a comfortable viewing distance. It was a bit of a problem to achieve a good overall balance of the rig, and the rig wasn’t compact at all.
The EVF are the alternative. And coming from ENG cameras, it was the logical choice for me. At the time of purshase (September 2011), there were only 2 options available for me: SmallHD DP4-EVF
and Zacuto ZFinder EVF (I wasn’t able to find any retailer who could have sold the Cineroid unit to me). Price wise, they are close. And they shared a lot of features too. Two equally great choices in my opinion. I went with the SmallHD DP4-EVF because of the versatility. At 4.3″, you can definitly use it as a field monitor when you detach the loupe. The zacuto is smaller at 3.2″.
It’s a great unit, and while there is some people saying that the resolution is lacking at 800X480 (same as Zacuto), having used it A LOT, I can say that this is definitly enough, given it’s size and feature, to accurately achieve focus, even with fast prime lenses.
COST: 750$ shipped!
Ok, why adding an external power device? After all, the camera last for a day with one Sony big battery! Yes, but The DP4 need it’s power source too, and my wireless mic receiver too. I don’t like to have multiple batteries, multiple chargers, and having batteries drained at different speed.
So I took the Gold mount batteries route. I bought the Anton Bauer FGM-S battery plate . This adapter is made specifically for Sony cameras and provide a dummy battery to go in the camera and step down the power to 7.4v. This specific adapter is made to be installed on the Anton bauer STASIS system. So I had to build a custom plate made of aluminium to install the battery mount to my rail system, while protecting the internal components (the battery plate have it’s circuit boards non protected on the rear face). I also covered the other side of the custom plate with Velcro to attach accessories (like my wireless receiver).
I then mounted it on another Rail block (the same type I used on my base plate).
This way, with the help of D-Tap cables, I can power the camera, EVF and receiver from the same source. One 95W battery can power this whole kit in record mode for 8 hours. and since one battery take about 5 hours to charge, with two of them, I can shoot indefinitely!
COST: Anton Bauer mount - 175$ , the 2 batteries and charger – about 350$, custom aluminum plate and some bolts – about 10$.
Of course, using a big battery like the one above help a bit in balancing the rig. And in fact I could have placed the battery further away and horizontally to offset more weight. But since I wanted something compact, something in the line of ENG cameras, I wanted to avoid that.
I was inspired by this article from Cheesycam.com. This blog post show how to use diving weights on camera rig. So I figured I needed 5 lbs of additional weight in the back, ordered this Aqua Black Vinyl Coated Lead Weights – 5 Lbs
from Amazon.com. I then drilled a hole in it and tapped a hole in the same Rail block used to support the battery. I used a 1/4-20 bolt with a finger-friendly head to mount it so I can easily unscrew the weight when I have to go on tripod.
COST: 20$ + shipping
When you add EVF, power from a single source, XLR cables, etc, cables can become messy. Of course, Velcro stripes can help in that depratement. But Redrock Micro released recently this little device, the Microtie. Sold in pack of 3, the microties are faster and easier to install than Velcro, and are quite slick looking.
COST: 25$ + shipping
So this is it! I very functional rig, extremely versatile, not too expensive but strong and solid. I hope my research and testing might be helpfull for other trying an ergonomic rig for many situations. And of course, about everything here can be used with other cameras with small or no modifications.
Here are some other photos of the rig: