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Handheld and Shoulder Rigs

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Hello I am interested in improving my craft with handheld shooting and learning more about different kinds of handheld techniques and support gear.


On a technical matter I'm interested in acquiring a shoulder rig for a blackmagic pocket cinema and a shoulder rig for a blackmagic production (4k) camera. Does anyone have any economical suggestions? In particular I'm looking for a rig that can be built up as well offset the camera as to allow me to use the camera's lcd.


Recently I shot a short handheld with the blackmagic 4k and a Wooden Brand Shoulder Rig. I loved the build quality of the rig and the handles really ergonomic but the lack of a counterweight made it difficult to shoot scenes where I was pointing the camera down (high angle shots). Also an evf was mandatory as the cameras lcd was completely out of my line of sight.


To no fault of the equipment I also quickly came to the realization how difficult it was while operating to pull focus, especially when shooting wide open at 1.5.


On large budget productions what kind of tools do DPs employ to shoot hand held? On shots where the camera is tracking a character's movement (running, walking etc) is the focus puller adjusting focus remotely or moving with the operator?





Mayer Chalom

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First of all welcome to the forum, you will find really interesting people on here! :)

The hand - held technique is a very difficult technique to master and you have to practice a lot and go with the flow of the sequence and the actor if you want to get it right as you know.


Balance is key to have the perfect hand - held shoot, and it starts with the camera and how balanced it is, if it is not balanced at all you will have to fight against the weight of the camera to get the right position and you will get tired very soon, usually before the shoot finishes, which is something very bad.


To avoid being tired, one of the most interesting things to have is a cinesaddle (or similar) around the body so you can rest your elbows on it without having to support the weight of the camera by yourself.






Some people use camera supports like the Easyrig which is a rig that takes off all the weight from the camera and allows you to move freely without having to worry about getting tired.




In terms of balancing yourself, the most important thing is to be comfortable with the camera on your shoulder so you have to play a bit to get to know what configuration works better for you.

Some people like grabbing the camera from the handles some other like grabbing the camera from the matte box (myself included), and although it is a personal decision, grabbing the camera from the matte box allows you to be quicker on your reactions and you can look down with the camera in a way that you cannot with the handles.


You will have to find your way though so experiment!


Regarding your "focus puller" question, it depends on the shoot but 99% of the time the focus puller will be with a remote follow focus like the Preston or the Bartech and he will be pulling focus as the characters / operator move.


(I said 99% because I know one focus puller I work with who doesn't like remote follow focuses at all and every single time that he can get his hands on a normal follow focus he will ask for it, even if he has to run with the operator.. he has a rangefinder meter in his eyes and in all the things a have worked with him he hasn't missed a mark ever)


The rest of the focus pullers will like the commodity of having a remote follow focus.


I hope the answers help!

Have a good day and happy new year.

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  • 4 months later...

I was handheld operating the Alexa for the first time a few weeks ago. I found that movements where I could twist around on the spot with were the smoothest shots. What I struggled with were unmotivated movements, such as stepping away or towards a character. These shots always resulted in my 'step' being noticeable within the shot. Motivated movements where always fine, but unmotivated not so. Does anyone have any tips for making unmotivated movements smoother whilst handheld?

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Keep your knees slightly bent and feet shoulder width apart for balance. Also a step apart front to back. I like to start a crab move with a slight pan, so the camera leads the feet. For push and pull movements, try to step heel to toe with bent knees. I think the most important thing is to rehearse the move without the camera several times so you memorize the steps, like learning to dance.


Here's a masterclass by Sean Bobbitt, BSC, lots of good stuff here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IHcYjKpJb-I

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I think its important to have even balance on the camera. If you can get an external LCD and get the camera body on your shoulder. if you can't do that use counter waits on the back of some rods. The camera should be balanced just like a tripod head so it can almost rest on your shoulder without going backward or forward.


Also as noted the easy rig is great.



All kinds of manufacturers make stuff and everyone uses different stuff. Wooden camera, Shape, Vocas to name a few third party camera accessories companies. but there is many more of varying quality. Stuff is pretty expensive though if your not used to this kinda niche equipment the small runs make the machined pieces not cheap.

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  • 3 months later...

I like my rig to mimic the form of the old 3-chip 2/3-inch broadcast cameras (Sony / Ikegami ) because of their ergonomics and balance despite their heavy weight. The film cameras in 90s did not have the same ergonomics. You had a belt with a rod to hold up the front portion of the camera while the rear base perched on your shoulder. Rigs became the mother of necessity when DSLRs said smaller is better. I needed to go back to heavier mass, so I'd stack V-mounts by 3s for more stable handheld, mitigating unintentional shakes and jars. I'd use a monopod fully retracted, the end jammed in my belt. I'd give myself some room for error by shooting at f/5.6 to f/11. Pulling your own focus on a reality show or documentary came with the territory. Your subject is moving, you're moving, the focus ring is spinning like a roulette wheel. An easier range is 25mm to 50mm. More experienced operators can nail 85mm to 135mm with ease. The important thing is to remain tack sharp throughout recording. Experience will come over time. Thank the ARRI gods for making the AMIRA user-friendly in its ergonomics!

Edited by Larry DeGala
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I wouldn't agree re film camera,s .. the Aaton was very well balanced on the shoulder.. and the old 10-1 zooms didnt weigh much at all.. SR had a flat base so you could slide it along your shoulder for balance.. a rod in your belt sounds impossible to have a smooth hand held move..?


Also don't agree with having to be tack sharp at all times.. as long as you find focus and hold it when needed.. I think the "out of focusness" if thats a word .. actually can make hand held look very nice.. during moves.. if your hand held in the first place its going to be for that "look" anyway.. look at all that Bourne stuff.. Captain Phillips /United 91/HurtLocker etc.. if they wanted a steady cam pin sharp all the way they could have..

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Robin R Probin,

It's okay. We're talking about "beginner stuff." We haven't gotten up to speed with your more advanced "Bourne stuff." When we're ready, we'll call you if that's okay with you.

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Doesn't have to be feature films.. just an example that many people will have seen.. they have the money for any way to move the camera.. but chose a "documentary " "realistic" look for the movement .. theres lots of out of focus parts to the frame ,or no focus at all at times.. I just don't agree with your advise to the OP that it has to be tack sharp through out the recording.. total beginner or not.. I don't think its good advise thats all..


"When we're ready, we'll call you if that's okay with you. " is the OP a student of yours ? ..

Edited by Robin R Probyn
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Yep Arri SR was the most balanced film camera I ever used. I shot documentary style for years with one and loved every moment of it. Clip on matte box, zoom lens and rear mounted battery, just like a video ENG camera. I never had any problem with film cameras, even when I shoulder mounted a BL4 once, it wasn't a big deal, you just needed some muscle to hold it up.

I use the pocket camera with a cheap chinese rig sold in India by The Cine City. It's VERY cheap, it's pretty much indestructible and it balances very nicely. No viewfinders necessary, just an eye cup and you're good to go.


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Also don't agree with having to be tack sharp at all times.. as long as you find focus and hold it when needed.. I think the "out of focusness" if thats a word .. actually can make hand held look very nice..


Are you referring to shallow depth of field? Can you be clearer?


I'm emphasizing that sharp focus is the difference between getting the reality gig or not. many inexperienced operators have difficulty where their shots were soft all the time. master the basics. the subject's eyes are sharp.


that's the life lesson of getting your gig (or not).

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Well yes sure.. as a basic of getting a job as a camera person.. then yes at some stage something has to be in focus :)


Sorry probably not making myself clear .. my badly put point is.. when hand held .. presuming you are going for a hand held "look" and moving around abit.. not that you are standing still and trying to hold a shot as steady as possible because you don't have a tripod.. the focus will be changing a lot and thats part of the feel of a hand held shot.. and thats its ok,and actually very good. for things to come and go out of focus.. or focus gets found.. Ive often be requested to falsely hunt for focus because thats the "feel" thats wanted.. obviously there has to be some amount of something in focus .. and you have to hold that for a while..


But yes sure not all hand held is that style.. I just disagreed to say to someone that everything had to be tack sharp the whole time you are recording while being hand held.. if your on a fish eye in the midday then yes it will.. but that would be a very stylized shot..


Just that point really..

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  • 2 months later...

Hi there,


One thing I learned early on to take care of where shoes ! If the shoes did not fit the terrain and movement I needed to make I would struggle too much to keep balance. For a ongoing project I need to "dance" with ballet dancers, following them in their routines. At the end we even ditched the remote follow focus and I changed lenses to a wide angle lens, giving much bigger depth of field, but allowing me to be close to the subjects. This essentially reduced the movements I needed to mage - smaller radius to the centre of the action. The result is much less velocity I needed to make with the camera.

Depending on your project this might not be a viable option thought.


Zacuto has a focus system that extends down to the handles of the camera, allowing the operator to pull focus. On light distance changes this works well.


With practice I found that I could maintain a precise enough distance to the subjects to stay well enough in focus, if the depth of field was not too low. But then every situation is different.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Sarah mentioned this previously but I would recommend the Zacuto Recoil System as well. Having the camera in front of you is great in the beginning (maybe the black magic ergonomics lend to that) which I did myself. I eventually realized how much weight was on my arms all the time, even with a counter weight, and how half way through a full day my shoots got shakier. The Zacuto recoil system puts the lens mount on your shoulder which gives a great balance between camera and lens. The camera itself is your counter weight to the lens. Then you can use a monitor or EVF extended forward to look through and pull focus from the hand grip follow focus.


I love this setup as its versatile. If I'm my own focus puller, I can pull without my 7 inch monitor getting in my way. If I have a 1st AC I can have a follow focus mounted for them and have them pull. I can ditch the shoulder pad and operate off the matte box as well with a 1st AC.




The wandering DP has a great example of using the same principles Zacuto used in their recoil rig but not using zacuto products which is what I've done to a degree.


Satsuki nailed it as far as technique and that Sean Bobbitt, BSC Master class is a must watch!

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Being tall (6'5) is a pain as shoulder rig is too high for most shots and squatting will knock your legs out quick.


Cradling, slung under arm and pistol grip work well for me with small cameras like the digital bolex. I'm still trying to figure something out with the SRII though, it's beautifully balanced but any heavy weight in front of you is not good for more than a few shots.


Easy-rig seems like an okay solution but is very indiscrete and no good once you start walking anyway.


Any other tall guys out there? I've seen Chris Doyles "buddha pillow" rig which seems pretty good for chest height shooting but the commercial version (cine-saddles) are $$$ for what they are.

Edited by Luke Randall
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there is no one fits all solution, neither for camera, nor for lens, certainly not for rigs either !


Its all in the cinematographical idea at the end. If you choose to shoulder a camera you get a totally different

look and feel then with a Easy-Rig, or steady cam. The same is for sheer body height of the camera operator.


In certain configurations you can lower your camera below shoulder hight, using different rods and connectors,

while using shoulder pads and battery pack as counter weight on the back.


I am pretty sure with a bit of tinkering you can find the right components and keep a cam under the arm and build a 'cage'

around your shoulder with pad on it. The configuration of my rigs change faster then the lenses on most days.


If you need to walk a lot - run and gun, the only thing that really works for longer settings is a Steady-Cam, Exoskeleton, Easy-Rig.

But then again it changes the flow of the image. In the worst case, use a steady-cam and add motion effects in post to a certain degree.


In addition, if a camera does not have a certain mass, its useless in most cases. You simply can't handle a Pocket Camera the same way as a full size cinema camera - but your back (or mine) pays the price :-(.

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  • 2 months later...

Recently I shot a short handheld with the blackmagic 4k and a Wooden Brand Shoulder Rig. I loved the build quality of the rig and the handles really ergonomic but the lack of a counterweight made it difficult to shoot scenes where I was pointing the camera down (high angle shots). Also an evf was mandatory as the cameras lcd was completely out of my line of sight.




On large budget productions what kind of tools do DPs employ to shoot hand held?


As mentioned, balance is key and that means counterweight in most cases. You can operate hand held with a 30 lb. camera all day as long as it's balanced. I once rolled almost non stop for just over 3 hours hand held with an 18 lb. camera on an interview set up and was able to do so mostly because the camera rig was balanced.


Here's a good example of what I mean with a teleprompter on a hand held 5D rig:




That's 5 lbs. of counterweight behind my shoulder as well as the battery box, etc. And no, the green cable isn't running to/from the camera :-)


On large budget projects, the addition of a shoulder pad and hand grips are generally all that's used. Sometimes a Mantis style rig is used which the camera just bolts onto. That's mostly fine if the camera is long enough to put enough weight behind the shoulder.

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