Monthly Archives: January 2011

Going steady with my new shoulder rig

Today was my first day of filming with my custom shoulder rig. And to sum it up in a word: sweet. The rig is light, easily shifts aside so I can have off-camera conversations, and rock-steady when I need it to be.

One limitation is that everything starts to look like it’s shot at eye level because, well, it is. But I discovered a workaround for that today: wear knee pads. Seriously. With knee pads on, I can drop lightly to one knee while shooting, and put the camera at the same level as I’d be if I were hand-holding the camera football style. Touchdown!

Darwin's Return: Flour Beach, Floreana

Green turtles must find deserted sandy beaches to lay their eggs. Trouble is, virtually all the open sandy beaches are colonized by sea lions. But not this one. Why? Because sharks have long used this bay for sleeping – marking it permanently off limits to sea lions. But not to turtles, who have migrated here for generations, mating in the shallow water and crawling ashore to lay their eggs at night.

The beach gets its name from the flour-like consistency of the sand. In addition to the turtle hatchlings, large numbers of young sting rays spend their childhood in the surf along this beach, before heading out to sea.

Best DSLR shoulder rig for under $500

For nearly two years, I’ve searched in vain for a DSLR shoulder rig that does what I want it to do, at a price I’m willing to pay. But last week, I finally cracked the code. After taking a look at Ikan corp’s new Recoil XT shoulder rig (and realizing it was ergonomically and technically NOT the rig for me), I got the idea to combine affordable components from Jag-35 with an inexpensive shoulder stock that Philip Bloom once raved about from DotLine Corp. And the result is, for the first time ever, I’ve got exactly what I want. An affordable shoulder rig that:

1. Is balanced – I can completely let go with my hands without the rig falling over.
2. Is light as possible – no shoulder-numbing counter balance weights need to be added.
3. Includes follow focus for smooth cinematic focusing on the fly.
4. Is ergonomic – Z-finder is positioned in front of my right eye; I can comfortably use rig for longer than a few minutes.
5. Can be quickly reconfigured – camera can quick-release for use on tripod.

OK here’s the component parts, and how much each costs:

From Jag-35:

$59.99 DSLR tripod plate
allows mounting to stock and attachment of rails

$139.99 Quick Release Gorilla Stand attaches to rails allowing Zacuto Gorilla plate to quick-release camera on and off

$65.00 Zacuto 15mm rods 6.5″

$189.99 D|Focus follow focus V3

From B&H:

$69.95 Dot Line DL-0370 Hands-free video stabilizer

Total cost: $524.92 (see update below for how to shave almost $40, bringing total cost under $500)
Total weight: 2.5 pounds, including strap

*Also needed are the Zacuto Z-finder, mounting frame, and gorilla plate. But I won’t count that in the cost of the rig, since it’s really a separate bit of mandatory kit.

You might think that it would be hard to breathe while holding still a rig that rests partially on your lower chest, but it’s not that bad. The camera will move slightly every time you take a breath, but it’s easy to adjust your breathing pattern slightly for maximum stability (it simply involves being mindful not to push out your chest when inhaling – it’s easy to expand lungs down and sideways instead).

I was worried that the $69 stock would be cheap plastic, and it remains for me to use it awhile before the verdict is fully in. But it feels very solid. And as far as the Jag-35 components go, I’ve been very satisfied with the quality of their gear. It’s not top-of-line stuff, but it’s solid and dependable and simple, and a fraction of the price of competitors like Zacuto. That’s a winning combination for me every time.

UPDATE: Incredibly, I just found an apparently identical version of the $69 stock listed on Cowboy Studio via Amazon for $29.95. How’s that for a deal? Brings the total cost of this rig down to under $500. Sweet.