Not too long ago, I remember going through a phase when the process of building up a camera rig was, for me, the most exciting part of owning gear. My decisions were based less on functionality, and more on the question of “will this item make my rig look more like a cinema camera?” Big and bulky was the order of the day, and if people ever advised cliches like: “the best camera you have is the one that’s on you” or “it’s not about what gear you have, it’s about how you use it,” their advice was taken with a pinch of salt.
Thankfully I grew out of that phase (probably when I had to start paying my own bills), and have now entered the rational thinking phase. This is the kind of thinking that finds it difficult to justify spending money on any gear that won’t directly improve my image quality. The kind of thinking that prevents you from maxing out your credit cards on every new camera release. It is also the kind of thinking that was absent from a recent conversation with one of my newest clients; a conversation regarding which camera I should use for their upcoming projects. They were far more concerned about how “big and impressive” the camera was. I’m used to having clients not be concerned with which camera I use, but when they are, it’s generally because they require a specific resolution or frame rate. Eventually I persuaded them that the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera would be the best for their needs, and managed to keep them happy by bulking up the rig a fair deal.
Hopefully if you’re working with clients, they’re either well informed, or at least trust you to make the best decisions regarding the gear you use. There are, however, some essential pieces of gear that won’t only make your rig look more impressive, but will improve your camera’s functionality and most importantly, won’t break the bank.
If you’re currently shooting a bit video on your DSLR, a shoulder rig is one of the best things you can buy. It offers you stabilization which you quickly realize is not possible from holding the body alone. A solid option is available from Fancierstudio. It comes complete with 15mm rods, two handles, shoulder support, follow focus, and matte box. It’s sub $100 price point makes it a great place to start when building up your rig. The matte box is a bit gimmicky, and with a cheap feel and no filter slots, it doesn’t really offer anything a lens hood won’t. The rest of the rig, however, is surprisingly solid for it’s price.
A camera cage can be an important part of a rig when it comes to protecting the camera body as well as adding additional pieces of gear. This particular cage is made by Tilta specifically for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. The cage itself features 20 1/4” accessory mounting points for rigging versatility. It also has an eye-catching wooden side and top handle (with two cold shoe mounts), 15mm support rods, and a useful HDMI cable mount to take pressure off of the small micro HDMI connector when sending an output signal to a monitor. While a cage can be considered a luxury to some, it is necessary to have some extra mounting options if you’re planning on expanding your rig. This model is currently at $359, and is similarly priced to alternatives for other camera models.
If you need require more versatility from your cage, there are options which will house different types of cameras such as this one from Opteka. While it lacks the snug fit of a design like the Tilta, the versatility may be better for your requirements, and at only $99 it is far more affordable.
A follow focus is a great tool for racking focus and making it easier to manually change focus whilst shooting handheld. Most budget conscious filmmakers would be turned off due to the high prices of professional models - some easily coming in at over $1000. While there is usually good reason for these models being expensive, cheaper models can be very effective in certain situations. For example, the follow focus included in the Fancierstudio shoulder rig (mentioned above) may seem like an over simplified version of the very precise top end models, but using it on the shoulder rig, it gives you much better access to manual focus. Even on a more static shot, you’re able to achieve a decent rack focus.
An alternative option is this $79.95 model from Opteka which allows you to mount the follow focus directly to the camera base if you’re not using support rods.
If your budget is a little higher and you’re wanting something with a better build quality, Edelkrone announced a great looking follow focus at NAB 2016 called FocusOne. It hasn’t been released yet, but it seems to be quite compact and well built.
Depending on which camera you are using, a monitor or electronic viewfinder may be an essential add-on to your rig. Some cameras have big, high resolution swivel LCD screens which make adjusting focus and exposure really easy. For everything else, make sure you’re capturing the shot correctly by investing in an EVF or on camera monitor. Which one you choose really comes down to preference. In my experience, having a monitor is helpful when working with a DP/Director, and if more than one person needs to see the shot. There are also times when shooting a corporate or commercial shoot that the client wants to see the shot (maybe you’re against that, but a monitor gives you the option).
Monitors vary hugely in price depending on resolution, size, weight, and some higher end models have helpful features such as peaking, zebra, and false color. While it might be worth investing more money into a monitor with these features, this 7” model from Lilliput offers a simple and budget friendly option at $179.
If the content you’re shooting requires audio and you don’t have someone recording it off camera, then adding an audio solution to your rig is one of the most important additional pieces of gear you’ll own. Audio in general can be a difficult thing to master for users who focus their careers on the cinematography. Luckily there are some great pieces of gear out there that can give you fantastic audio even if you understand very little about it.
For a budget conscious rig, you probably want to record audio directly into your camera through a microphone jack. Some cameras will give you way better results than others, but that might not be such a big deal depending on what you’re shooting.
Personally, I’ve always gone with Rode microphones for rigs. They offer solutions for many different microphone types at different quality levels and prices. If you’re looking to mount a microphone directly to your rig, then the Rode VideoMic Pro is generally the go-to microphone for videographers. Coming in at $199.95, it’s quite affordable for what you’re getting, but if that is out of your budget, have a look at the Rode VideoMicro which will only cost you $59. It won’t give you the same quality as the VideoMic Pro, but to an untrained ear, the difference is marginal at best.
Quick Tip: Rode host an annual short film competition called My RodeReel, and it has incredible gear prizes up for grabs. Last year, they awarded everyone who entered a Rode VideoMicro and a Rode Micro Boompole. If you’re up to making a short film or have one you haven’t posted anywhere, considering entering it into this year’s RodeReel. It’s free to enter, and there’s a good chance you’ll get a freebie just for entering. Entry deadline is the end of May, so get on it.
While there are many other great pieces of gear to add to your rig, these are good place to start. Are there any other affordable items you would consider essential to your rig? Share your thoughts in the comments.
I know I shouldn't, but I really like CineCity. I picked up a C100 cage for about €80 - nothing fancy at all but it's metal and takes a beating.
It means that I can put two radio mics and a Zoom recorder (and even a light if I need) onto the cage, and then attach what I like to the rods. I have a great Lanparte chest pad.
The cage has built in Rosettes so that I can add handles without needing a rod attachment.
That does look like a great option! I do find that the cages that fit specific cameras often prevent mounting accessories in certain places as it sometimes prevents accessing important camera functions. My bmpcc Tilta cage is quite maxed out with the top handle, zoom and one radio mic, so this seems like a nice option. Great seeing a fellow Dubliner on here by the way! I saw your showreel a few weeks back. Great work!
I was thinking of picking up a Shoulder Rig, had only used one lightly, but gotten pretty fatigue after long use due to a shoulder injury a while back. Anyone knows if there is one where it can rest on both shoulders to distribute the load? Or is such a thing even workable in shooting conditions? Thanks.
Yeah it's definitely something you need good arms/shoulder strength to operate for long periods of time. I haven't seen a rig come standard with two shoulder pads, but if you found the pieces you could definitely add a second one for the other shoulder.