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The ideal camera rig should be distributed in the above way, where the loads on both ends are balanced so that the full weight is distributed via the fulcrum. In the case of fixed shots, this weight is absorbed by the head and tripod. In shoulder rigs, it is absorbed by the human body. A balanced human body looks like this:
This ideal system is a class-1 system. 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 hands are used to steady the lens, it usually doesn’t take any stress from the load of the camera.
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. This obviously is preferable to front-heavy systems but since it involves more complex designs and more materials, it is expensive when well made. This system is a class-3 system. This is what it looks like:
A major portion of any kind of rig design can be explained by one of these systems. There are also other factors, like rotational forces, etc. For a working professional, it is only important to understand the ball-park that we’re aiming for, for each rig setup. Eventually, a lot of fine-tuning takes place due to variations in a person’s body structure, strength, etc. What works for one person might not work for another!
Long story short, look for a rig that can be tweaked – the more possibilities the better. Such a rig is your best bet for years of trouble-free use.
Class-1 system design
– the most preferred system for handheld videography. The idea is to aim for rigs that give you lots of choices to place your gear so as to balance loads. Here are my choices:
For a fully-loaded kit:
For a “lighter” version but just as good:
Class-2 system design
– my least preferred system for handheld videography. However, due to low budgets, this is the type that is most used! Better to go cheap here, since you’ll need the money later. Here are my choices:
A cheaper version:
Class-3 system design
– the “compromise” system. This is a complicated design, that not many manufacturers get right. You obviously value your back, so I have only one choice here:
3D Stereoscopy Rigs
While you would have to be desperate to shoot 3D with an un-sychronized cameras (without genlock ability), it is theoretically possible. A 3D rig basically ‘sits’ on top of a solid handheld rig. For the sake of completion, here is my preferred 3D rig:
What you’ve probably noticed is that good rigs cost money. They use great materials, have reliable locks, are extremely configurable with a lot of accessories, and are utterly dependable. It’s a small price to pay, really, if you’re serious about your work.
In Part 4 I’ll cover tripods, heads and other support systems that don’t rely on the human body for support.
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