Why a Cage Will Help You Shoot Better Video

Why a Cage Will Help You Shoot Better Video

"If I want to shoot great video in the future with my 4K, video enabled DSLR, what should I buy first?" This is a question a get a lot of the time from photographer friends. Given they already own a tripod, my first answer is always to start with a cage. Here is why.

What Is a Cage?

A cage is an open metal casing for your camera with multiple female screw threads for attaching a plethora of accessories. This effectively is the first step in creating a modular video rig setup depending on the demands for a specific shoot. Cages are often specific to camera bodies, so make sure your camera body is in the manufacturers’ compatibility list.

Multiple Accessories

The obvious use is the ability to fix various accessories to your camera body such as monitors, lights, and microphones. Using the hotshoe for a shotgun mic may be sufficient, but there will be imbalance issues if you try to mount a monitor or a light on there, not to mention the increased chances of a monitor or light falling out of the hotshoe mount and breaking.

Improved Handling

Attaching handles above or on either side of your camera body provides smooth camera operation. A cage gives you all the necessary connection points for these accessories, and you can select which ones are going to be most useful depending on your shoot. If you will be shooting mostly from a hip height, then an underarm grip will be the one to go for, whereas side on grips will be better for shooting from the eyeline.

Follow Focus

Shooting creative video will mean you need to take control of focus manually. Moving the focus ring whilst recording will create camera shake, so to minimize this you can attach a follow focus to the bottom of the cage using a rail attachment. Whilst video lenses will have gear rings with teeth, it is straight forward to add teeth to a photography lens using a small accessory.

Matte Box and Filters

You might also consider adding a Matte box to your rails. A matte box usually has movable metal flaps, or French flags, that allow you to block sunlight and artificial light sources that can cause problematic glare and lens flare. Try to purchase a matte box that includes filter sliders to easily add filters. This is especially useful when you are looking to shoot wide open on a bright sunny day. You’ll want to keep your shutter speed at 1/50 s for shooting 24fps footage, so ND filters restrict the light entry onto the sensor without having to dial down the aperture.

Protection

The benefit of a cage is the added protection for your camera a metal shell will provide. Super useful if you have a reputation a dropper of things.

Cages are an inexpensive necessity for DSLR filmmaking. They are a great starting point to any camera rig, and provide a modular framework around your camera to great really great looking footage. It's rare you will need to use every accessory out there at the same time, but a cage gives you plenty of options and configuration depending on the demands of your video shoot. 

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6 Comments

Learned the hard way. The hot shoe is a useless piece of junk in video. I had a SmallHD monitor on the hot shoe and it slipped off. Damaged the HDMI connector on the camera. Now I always use a cage when I film especially to securely mount any accessories.

Alex Moan's picture

Agreed, even the less expensive cages allow you keep all the external components exactly where you want them.

yacine dellaoui's picture

everything about lighting i think

Lee Christiansen's picture

Turning the focus ring does not induce camera shake. If it does - you're doing something terribly wrong.

As a pro cameraman of 20+ years, I've been turning my focus directly on the lens since day one - no shake. With a camera on my shoulder I can zoom / pull focus / adjust iris all at the same time on a moving subject and get it right every time. Experience and practice - not fancy add-ons - gets the job done.

Focus pulling kit is designed for a focus puller operator. If you're shooting/focusing yourself then a follow focus attachment will just make your rig heavier, reduce stability with handheld work and spoil the balance - but it will make you look really "cool" which is half the job of course... :)

And unless your follow focus rig is of very high quality, then it could easily impede your focusing accuracy.

For the record, one of my camera kits has a follow focus option. It stays in the bag because it is quite useless for 1-man operation. My other, (full broadcast Sony PMW-500), camera never needs a follow focus unless I have a larger crew to operate it.

Same experience as above. If you can't pull focus without holding the camera steady you need to practice. Learn to do without so you not dependent on extra expensive kit. If you are just starting out buy a variable ND first, this is the most important piece of kit to keep your shutter and fstop low. Follow focus and matte box are waste of money for first timers.

Daniel Sanchez's picture

Very nice article.

What's inexpensive? I don't see one for under 700 for a nikon.