Gear: Shoulder rigs
Shoulder rigs for larger cameras
First of all, if you have a smaller camera, let me save you some time and recommend the Gorillapod Focus rig [LINK]. It's by far my favorite rig ever.
This section specifically talks about shoulder rigs for larger camera systems such as DSLRs, rigs for small mirrorless cameras will be discussed later on in the book. Unfortunately, most shoulder rigs on the market are not great. I have so far had the best results from my own custom builds, which I have discussed in detail on my youtube channel. I have been asked to make my own custom rigs for sale, which is something I will want to do in the near future, but that’s something I currently don’t have time for.
Here are the things I would recommend to look for in a good shoulder rig. This also applies to custom made ones from ready parts or completely home-made ones. This will really vary with preference and difference uses. Be prepared to pay £300+ for a good shoulder rig. I will discuss budget shoulder rigs in Chapter 4.
A well weighted system
This is the most important thing in a rig. If it’s too front heavy, it will be less stable and much harder to hold for long periods of time. This brings me to my next point...
There are two options I would recommend, the first one is better for larger cameras, which is placing the camera above your shoulder and using an EVF (Electronic ViewFinder) or monitor to view the image, which allows for a more comfortable, compact and lightweight system, but will cost more (for the EVF) and require a longer setup time.
The second option is best for lighter camera systems, and is cheaper and faster to set up. Here I would place the camera in front of me and either look at the screen normally or use an optical viewfinder. Some of us are lucky enough to have a camera with a digital viewfinder, this is the ideal camera for a shoulder rig. It’s fast, easy, compact and super comfortable because the weight of the camera is very close to you and much less accessories are needed.
Minimize on unneeded accessories
A more compact shoulder rig that’s easy and quick to set up is going to be more useful and get better results. This will vary with use, but overall try to keep the clutter to a minimum. I suggest removing that matte box and follow focus, either keep them in the bag for when they are really needed, or sell them and work without them. Your rig won’t look as cool but your set up time will be faster, your lens changes will be faster, your rig will be less front heavy and your bag will be lighter too. A matte box is good as a lens hood when it’s needed (which it rarely is with modern lenses) and its filters are easily replaceable with other alternatives if needed. And personally I have learned over time that I much prefer focusing with my fingers alone, as long as I’m using manual focus lenses which have smooth focus rings, one of the reasons I sold all my EF lenses, I don’t like their focus rings for both stills and video.
A good shoulder pad - £85
Ideally you want one that is adjustable onto the shape of your shoulder as well as being long, wide, soft and grippy. No one currently make this as far as I know, but the closest is the one made by Skier, which isn’t cheap, and you still may want to add some padding depending on preference. On many of my shoulder rigs I have used big pieces of foam that are cut or bent to the shape I need with zip ties. This isn’t ideal but better than many commercially available ones.
Long handles - £120 to £220
This makes shooting for a long time easier on your back and arms (more about that later in the book). I would recommend ones that are fully adjustable. Strength is also very important here. The ones made by Lanparte are some of the best you can get in a reasonable budget.
A compact system that is easy to fold up.
Where possible, this will make both travel and usage easier, although isn’t that critical.
Top handle - £30
This is very useful but not critical.
Cage - £50+
I would recommend against this for most uses. It’s extra weight and extra cost.
Monitor - £200+
A Monitor and EVF is useful for focusing, but it ads weight, cost and setup time. A good monitor isn’t that cheap and many cameras today simply do not need one with their superb built-in digital viewfinders. Many Canon cameras are also painfully slow to work with when using a monitor.
I would recommend putting something very soft at the back of your rig. Having an exposed weight or rods is very dangerous. You could break something or hurt someone, and it has happened. Some nice foam should do the trick. Yes, it might be ugly but it will be worth it in my opinion.
Carbon fiber rails/rods - £40
These are nicer to the touch and save a good amount of weight, which is especially important at the front of the rig. Good quality ones should be stronger than metal rods. This isn’t critical, metal works fine too.
Extended weights - £60
I do not know of any brands that sell this, but having weights that go out to the sides or otherwise one aiming at the floor and one aiming at the ceiling will do a lot to help prevent unwanted “roll” movement.
Don’t offset the front half sideways
A straight rig will be more stable, better balanced and more comfortable. You can still use an optical viewfinder with most straight rigs. If you want a very slight offset, you can use a sliding quick release plate system sideways, like the Giottos MH-631 (£25) or a macro rail, which is a cheaper option (£15) but won’t be as multi-functional as a quick release system.
Standard quick release
Using a standard quick release for all your gear will allow you to work much faster. I use the Giottos system.
Connection block - £30+
Connect your quick release to the rig with a solid but lightweight connector piece.
A tripod connection under the rig can be useful if you intend to keep things on your rails such as a follow focus, monitor or matte box. However, my personal choice is to not use these most of the time which is why I wouldn’t say a tripod connection is critical. If you do want one, use two sets of rails and an x4 block in the middle of the rig to allow you to split the rig into two parts for easy tripod use. The rear rails, weights, top handle and shoulder pad can be put down while the front rails and camera system can be placed on a tripod more comfortably.