Take a look again at the cameras chosen for this guide, along with their form factors, in the chapter on Ergonomics.
What happens when one end is heavier than the other? The force that acts upwards and downwards due to the difference in moments from the shoulder point will cause the whole rig to tilt forwards or backwards. Front-heavy rigs will push downwards in the front.
This force exerts pressure on the hand, forearm, wrists and elbows. The force should ideally act in line with the position of the forearm.
What happens when the lateral forces aren’t balanced? E.g., if you have an EVF and monitor on one side but no counteracting weight on the other side, you get a force that acts seemingly in a ‘rotational’ manner.
This force exerts unnatural stress on the wrists, forearms, fingers and elbows.
What happens when the rig has to tilt a bit (which it will, when it’s always in motion in a handheld production)? This force causes the rig to ‘slip’ forwards or backwards depending on the angle in which it is held. The greater the angle, the more the force.
Most cameramen shoot downwards for various reasons, and this force exerts undue stress on the forearms, wrists, elbows and shoulders.
How do you know when you’ve got a perfect rig?
The objective is to eliminate or at least reduce as much as possible every unnatural force. This can only be achieved with:
- A balanced rig
- Correct posture
- Graceful technique
- Healthy lifestyle
Each force is counteracted by your body. You’ll need arm, triceps and wrist strength to counteract an unbalanced F1 load. You’ll need wrist, finger and forearm strength to counteract F2. You’ll need your biceps, back and even leg muscles to struggle with F3. Think sport, dance, martial arts, whatever. To keep performing at your peak you need to seriously invest time, thought and energy in perfecting the points listed above.
Before doing anything, please check with your physician first.
Before using a new handheld rig on a field production, test it thoroughly at home. You could walk all day with it, even take it to the loo (no kidding), dance with it, watch television with it, whatever you feel like doing.
By the end of the day you are bound to have aches in places you didn’t know existed. This is where weight training comes in. If you have been consistently training with weights for a few months, you’ll begin to recognize the difference between the pain a muscle gives when not regularly exercised as opposed to an unnatural pain caused by incorrect force or motion.
What does a perfect rig feel like at the end of the day? It feels like a solid workout. Have you noticed: when you complete a good gym session you are in great spirits and are rearing to go again? Do you feel the same way? Or do you dread another day with your rig? If it’s the latter, go back to the drawing board.
The blue triangle is the Fulcrum. For a tripod setup it is the point where the tripod head is connected to the camera base plate. For a shoulder rig it is your shoulder. For a handheld DSLR grip it’s your lower palm.
M1 and M2 are masses (you can substitute weight for it). The values M1 x a and M2 x b are the moments. For an ideal rig, M1xa must be equal to M2xb. In such a setup, the full weight is distributed over the fulcrum and the rig is perfectly balanced.
There are essentially three classes of levers:
Most professional broadcast cameras are designed to operate like class-1 systems, like this one:
Notice how the body and battery parts are heavy enough to balance the weight of the lens. Even though one hand is used to steady the lens, it ideally shouldn’t take any stress from the camera. What it does provide is directionality (so you can point to something quickly), zoom ability (using a rocker), and quick start/stop functionality.
Here’s how a single hand setup relates to the levers we’ve looked at:
The red lines are the weights (resistance). The green lines are the effort lines, and the blue lines are motion lines. On a balanced tripod or shoulder rig, the motion should ideally be zero. On the other hand, you can see how palm-corders, handheld camcorders and DSLRs always have an unbalanced force that the hand must fight.
Note: I indicate motion in the opposite direction as the traditional lever diagram, to reinforce the point that the camera is always fighting to go in that direction.
The numbers in circles are the lever class numbers associated with each setup. For shoulder mounted rigs, you can see how having an unbalanced rig changes the system from a class-1 system (balanced rig) to a class-2 system (unbalanced).
A “front-heavy” system, like most modern video cameras with large aperture lenses, matte boxes, etc. puts a lot of stress on the hands and elbow joints (in the case of a shoulder rig), and on the rods (in case of a tripod mounted rig). This is the worst possible scenario. This system is a class-2 system. This is what it looks like:
As you can imagine, anyone desperate enough to use such a rig for long hours for days on end is in serious contention for early retirement with large medical bills.
Front-heavy systems can be supported somewhat by using body support, as in the case of Steadicam rigs, via belts or straps, etc. Steadicam is preferable to ‘free’ front-heavy systems. This is what it looks like:
Steadicam can be considered a complex design that incorporates at least two lever classes, if not three. In real world use, a steadicam setup is almost never a balanced system, so I tend to classify it under level 3.
From this I give you:
My classification system for rigs
Best – Class One – Tripod rigs, balanced shoulder rigs, jibs/dollies, etc.
Not so good – Class Three – Carrying, steadicam rigs, etc.
Worst – Class Two – Palm-corders, single handed rigs, unbalanced shoulder rigs, etc.
A major portion of any kind of rig design can be explained by one of these three systems. However, don’t make the mistake of assuming this classification explains everything. Even the engineers who design rig systems can’t account for every scenario.
A working professional only has to know the basics, and that’s all we’ve covered here. Eventually, a lot of fine-tuning must take place. What works for one person might not work for another.
Rule of thumb: Design or buy a rig that can be tweaked – the more possibilities the better. Such a rig is your best bet for years of trouble-free use.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to see how to put together all the gear we have accumulated over the first half of this guide.
One of the most complex cameras to rig together is the Red Epic, and that is what I’ll use as an example to put all the guidelines I’ve outlined here in practice.
Let’s rig up our fictional Red Epic!