Let’s take it as read that the DSLR used for making HD video is a beautiful but flawed compromise. This statement is true of almost every aspect of the format but nowhere more so than the form factor which is especially obvious when you take the camera off your tripod and try to hand hold it. For taking stills it is perfect but when taking video without the optical viewfinder available it is clunky and awkward. So an exclusive cottage industry has been built around the idea of making your HDSLR feel more like a real, movie camera.
If you have an unlimited budget there are some beautifully engineered rod and rails camera systems out there. Industry professionals may be able to justify a shoulder support that costs as much as their camera, it may even seem cheap to them, but to the rest of us working stiffs, it is an expense that is hard to justify. So, like many other enthusiasts, I was excited when the Adorama Shoulder Support surfaced for $45. If I’d waited I would have been able to get the same thing for about $10 less from Cowboy Studios but even on my meager budget this accessory was more than worth taking a chance on. When it arrived about a year ago I played with it a bit but it has taken me many months of occasional messing around to get to the point where I’m happy with this rig.
Here are the components I used, less the sound and camera gear of course:
- Shoulder support $36
- Giottos MH-621 Quick Release (optional but makes life much easier) $35
- 2x Pedco UltraPod II table top tripods (2x $18) $36
- Flash bracket (something like this) $12
- Foam pipe insulation off-cuts (free)
- Mini ball-head (optional) $13
- 2 1/2″ 1/4″ screw 25c
Hopefully the picture clearly shows how I assembled these components but, to summarize I attached the straight flash bracket and the shoulder mount included camera platform directly to the shoulder mount using a hardware screw. This makes the thing difficult to break down without a screw driver but what kind of geek travels without their Leatherman anyway? It also makes the contraption more solid and is necessary as the included finger screw will not reach through two accessories at once as I required. I then used the included offset to raise the camera up to eye level; if you’re using the battery pack this component is not required. On top of that I put the quick release bracket. When I’m assembling this to use, the camera is the last component I put in place and the first I remove as the whole thing is a little unwieldy and difficult to put down. The quick release plate is also compatible with my video tripod which makes switching from shoulder mount to tripod a quick process. By taking your time and adjusting the angle of the offset and quick release plate and the forward and back movements of the release plate in the clamp it is possible to get the camera viewfinder in a really comfortable and natural position for filming. Take time over this and tweak it when necessary to prevent fatigue.
On the far right side (when you’re wearing it) of the support I put a mini ball head I already had to which I can fit my Zoom H4 audio recorder. The ball head allows me to tilt the H4 into such a position that I can see the display while filming so that I can be sure I’m really recording sound and am not just on standby. From the line out on the H4, to the 5D mic in I use the Pink Noise cable to step down the signal level. From the headphone out I always have my cheap but wonderful Sennheiser HD 202 headphones – you should always be monitoring the sound you’re recording to avoid any nasty surprises when you get back to edit your footage. When I’m using this shoulder mount I usually use the Rode Video microphone fed into the Zoom H4 although I can also use the Zoom’s built in microphones when I need a stereo recording or wired Lavs or a hand held microphone if we’re not moving around too much and are doing interview type footage.
The ‘handles’ are actually Pedco UltraPod II table top tripods which have a strong ball head which allows you to lock the handles in any position you want. They’re not as strong as dedicate solid handles but they work and, like most of the components I used, they can be used for other things when you break the rig down. I slipped some offcuts of pipe insulation foam over them to make them more comfortable but, as most of the weight is taken on your shoulder and rib cage they are not used as much to support the rig as to balance it.
The only other tips I can think of are, if you leave your camera strap on, like I do, hook it through the shoulder rig when you mount the camera so it doesn’t flop around and get in the way of fall into frame. I also removed the included pin and rings for the shoulder mount strap – I found that using it hindered more than it helped when moving around and trying to keep things steady.
I also urge you not to blindly copy my setup but to experiment for yourself to find what works best for you. You should also practice using this rig and capturing test footage long before using it in anger. There’s a lot to think about in HDSLR video capture and wearing the camera on your shoulder adds a whole extra level of complexity and it takes time to get comfortable with it.