When you invest in a rig, you probably have two prime considerations, one of which is whether or not it will go well with everything you have to put on it.
As we have seen, a shoulder rig has to be flexible to changes over time. A rig could change during the course of one project, or the course of several years. If you’ve selected the components of your rig wisely, you won’t have to purchase additional gear every time something changes.
One of the advantages of having this guide is that it helps you foresee problems you might not have considered, and this helps immensely when choosing a rig.
The other, equally important consideration, is one of cost. If you don’t have the budget for an expensive camera setup, then you’re obviously not going to buy the most expensive rig. For this reason, I have divided this chapter into the following areas:
- DSLR Rigs ($1,000 to $3,000 camera budget)
- Prosumer Rigs ($3,000 to $10,000 camera budget)
- Professional Rigs ($10,000+ camera budget)
In addition to everything we’ve covered so far, there are two more things you might want to look out for, both particular to the shoulder mounting problem:
- The slant of the shoulders (actually Trapezius muscles)
- The shape of the shoulder pad
Very few individuals have traps (trapezius muscles) that are straight. This makes every shoulder rig tilt outwards. Not only are all the forces acting downward, but a component pushes outward, always trying to slide the rig off your shoulders.
One way to tackle this problem is to make the rig inside-heavy, by placing the follow focus, EVF and/or the monitor, etc., inwards. It might help slightly, but it will contribute a component to the ‘sliding off’ force. It just makes it worse!
In my opinion, ‘mis-balancing’ the rig isn’t the right way to go about it. The right way is to tackle the second point – the shape of the shoulder pad. Get a good shoulder pad to level out the rig. If a tripod head needs to be leveled, then why not a shoulder pad?
Is there such a shoulder pad?
I haven’t found any. I find it strange that there isn’t a single manufacturer offering a shoulder pad that will account for the slant in the trap muscles. It’s a shame, really.
The other consideration for a shoulder pad is its shape. Curved pad or straight pad? A straight pad is universal and can be shared. A curved pad won’t fit all sizes, but it holds the rig in place so it won’t accidentally slide forwards or backwards.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced a customized rig is preferable to a ‘box kit’.
DSLR Rigs ($1,000 to $3,000 camera budget)
Have less than $100? Don’t buy any package. Make your own:
Less than $200? Try this:
Less than $1,000?
More than $1,000?
When using the LCD or a loupe:
As we seen in the chapter on Ergonomics, the DSLRs weigh from 392 g (GH2) to 1,700 g (BMCC). A 50mm f/1.8 weighs about 150 g and a 70-200mm f/2.8 weighs about 1,500 g. Your rig could be as low as 1 kg.
With matte box, follow focus system and everything else, a typical maxed-out DSLR rig is front-heavy by 5 kg. The DSLRs without HDMI or SDI output for an external EVF will be monitored over the rear LCD or a loupe; both of which I don’t recommend on a shoulder mount.
Here’s a video that describes how to customize a rig (I’m not a fan of all their products, nor do I recommend them all. This is just for instructional purposes):
Prosumer Rigs ($3,000 to $10,000 camera budget)
Prosumer cameras are getting smaller and smaller. If I have a choice between the longish FS700 over the tall C100, I’ll choose the former. As I’ve said already, I find the tall body form factor the poorest in terms of overall ergonomics.
Some of the rigs mentioned above can be used with these cameras. However, please note that these cameras are all above the 1 kg mark, and you will always be front-heavy.
Less than $500?
Assemble your own rig, as shown above.
Less than $1,000?
More than $1,000?
The only reason this is a separate category is the budget. More expensive cameras are not necessarily heavier. If you have the budget, you can use the rigs mentioned in the next section.
Professional Rigs ($10,000+ camera budget)
For all professional rigs, I suggest the Arri kits:
Both the Alexa and Sony weigh over 5 kg, body only. Imagine what they would weigh fully loaded!
If money is no bar, I suggest the kits available from Arri for most of the cameras in this list. The huge advantage of the Arri system is its compatibility to other camera configurations. Your rig won’t be obsolete anytime soon.
In the next chapter we’ll look at handheld, palmcorder and steadicam setups.