Building the Ultimate DSLR Rig at an Affordable Price

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This is a guest post from Joel Lovell who's spent some time working on what he thinks is the best affordable DSLR rig for his needs and I'd love to know what you think.

What kinds of things have you learned in putting together your own rig? Is Joel on the right track?

In Pursuit of an Affordable, Lightweight, Low Profile DSLR Rig

From Joel Lovell:

I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of equipment over the past few years to chase that ever challenging goal of stable, cleanly focused DSLR video footage from my cameras.

This build has been carefully thought out and refined after much trial and error.

It would be nice to have MoVI like stabilized footage, and I admired the rigs that you could build from Zacuto and Jag35 and other name brand suppliers of such gear, but after adding up the different components, the price point seemed impractical to my budget, and many rigs that I have tried were just ridiculously huge shoulder mounted monsters that were unwieldy and too overt for the type of footage I wanted to capture.

My goal was a complete, affordable rig that could pack up easily, and yet still be useful mounted on or off of a tripod.

My DSLR Rig

vimeo.com/87372694

For this latest setup, I had started with the edelkrone Pocket Rig, Focus One Follow Focus, and the Hand Grip.

I found that the Follow Focus would lose calibration too easily, and was tired of having to disassemble it to fix it, so I sold it. The Pocket Rig was also too heavy, the shoulder bar would not stay fixed in place and would slide around your chest when you tried to brace up against it. Back to the drawing board. I needed a very simple 15mm rod system, one that would be compactly mounted under the camera.

$169.00 edelkrone Hand Strap

$169.00 edelkrone Hand Strap

This led me to Hondo Garage. I’d admired the simplicity of their Fifty Dollar Follow Focus Pro and their Barely Rig. I knew it would be very lightweight. When I got it, I realized the FDFF was not able to deal with the big barrel lens that came with my Canon EOS 5D Mark III kit, I had to loosen the little handle, move it, tighten it, then complete the focus move. This was not going to work.

I knew I really needed a hooded loupe to be able to see what I was focusing on. The variety of products out there that were affordable seemed few, and many of them would not work well with the Hondo Garage Barely Rig, so I was stumped, for a while.

$148 Hondo Garage Follow Focus Pro and Barely Rig

$148 Hondo Garage Follow Focus Pro and Barely Rig

Then I ran across Kamerar’s products. Their KAMERAR QV-1 KIT LCD VIEWFINDER VIEW FINDER bundle, a quick release mount on a 15mm rail system with their viewfinder was perfect.

I ended up keeping the Hondo Garage Barely Rig 6” carbon fiber rods instead of the machined aluminum that came with the Kamerar, since I didn’t need the extra length or the extra weight. I was really impressed with this when I received it. The quality is excellent and the design is very practical, in fact, I was able to mount this setup to my edelkrone Hand Grip AND mount that to my tripod quick release. So I can release the handgrip, or release from tripod, or release the camera from the rail kit very quickly.

$133.99 KAMERAR QV-1 KIT LCD VIEWFINDER

$133.99 KAMERAR QV-1 KIT LCD VIEWFINDER

$139.99 New Kamerar

$139.99 New Kamerar

Another problem I had with the FDFF was that I found that I was fumbling trying to find the handle to do the focus pulling. I thought about getting their whip adapter and in anticipation of that, ordered the shortest whip I could find, thinking this would take care of the lever problem.

But after getting that and looking at the pictures again of the whip adapter for the FDFF I realized it would put the whip pointing straight out in front of my camera, or straight back – again I found myself back at the drawing board.

I had tried an IKAN friction follow focus before I had the Focus One from edelkrone and found that it too tended to get knocked out of whack – requiring disassembly to reset it’s gears, so I was resistant to go back to one. They were kind of large and obnoxious besides. Maybe I am just follow focus challenged, these products seem to be fine for most of the people whose reviews I had read.

So with no small amount of hesitation, I ended up getting the Kamerar follow focus. Reviews were good and when I received it, I again was very impressed with the quality, weight, and price. It worked perfectly, and I noticed none of the issues I had with previous follow focus devices. I was even able to use the whip I had bought, and moved the FDFF to be a zoom control – which it does just fine.

(I think I will be trying Kamerar’s slider (the one with the bearings) at some point in the near future, since it too is a fraction of the cost of others).

I had bought a zoom H4N at some point in all this, and realized that the Zoom H1 would be perfectly good for what I needed to record, and again, would be a lot lighter and smaller, so I sold the H4N and bought the H1. I also got the windscreen and a lav mike for a good price on Amazon, along with a monitor mount I used to mount the H1 onto the camera hotshoe.

$92.95 Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder

$92.95 Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder

$18.99 Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone

$18.99 Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone

The tripod and fluid head I got from Manfrotto. These were the most expensive items in my kit, and I felt they were also the most important. The tripod is compact and when folded I can put in a suitcase or even strap to my backpack. The monopod is interesting, it came with the 5D kit, but I have not used it yet.

$164.95 Manfrotto 190XV View Series Lightweight Green Aluminum Tripod

$164.95 Manfrotto 190XV View Series Lightweight Green Aluminum Tripod

$258.35 Manfrotto 701HDV Pro Fluid Video Mini Head

$258.35 Manfrotto 701HDV Pro Fluid Video Mini Head

I’m a big believer in protecting my gear – so I got the LCD protective screens for the 5DM3, and I also ordered a HDMI port protector from SmallHD from their kickstarter campaign, which I plan to use if I end up getting a Ninja2 recorder for my camera.

$11.33 GGS LCD Screen Protector optical glass for Canon 5D Mark III Main LCD , Info LCD

$11.33 GGS LCD Screen Protector optical glass for Canon 5D Mark III Main LCD , Info LCD

Other Gear Used

$14.95 NEEWER® DP3000 3" Speed Crank Whip for Follow Focus with Standard 12mm x 12mm Square Connector

$14.95 NEEWER® DP3000 3″ Speed Crank Whip for Follow Focus with Standard 12mm x 12mm Square Connector

$10.98 Fotodiox Replacement Gear Ring Belt

$10.98 Fotodiox Replacement Gear Ring Belt

$9.50 Smallrig LCD Monitor Adapter 1/4" Camera Hot Shoe Mount w/ Additional 1/4" Screw

$9.50 Smallrig LCD Monitor Adapter 1/4″ Camera Hot Shoe Mount w/ Additional 1/4″ Screw

Total Money Spent on Gear = $1187.97

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)


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