As far as shooting goes, there may be nothing more satisfying than getting the shot you want, or getting that image or camera move exactly the way you see it in your mind. Conversely, there may be nothing as disappointing as coming close to your shot, but just not nailing it. This could be caused by any number of factors—the camera isn’t in the right position, you have an uncomfortable hand position, you’re fatigued from a long shoot—but in the end it feels like expecting ice cream, only to bite into shaving cream instead.
Thankfully, there are options available that can help you get the camera where you want it and how you want it, so you can get the shot the way you want it. What follows is a glimpse of what’s available, and a chance to see something that might be just what you need on your next shoot.
We start with the Okii MC1 USB Mini Controller, which works with many Canon DSLR cameras. This mini controller offers you wired remote control of many of the camera’s functions, although you will need to source your own A to mini B USB cable. The mini controller will work with a cable up to 80 feet long, more than enough for most jibs and cranes, or even for controlling the camera from another room. The Okii FC1 USB Focus Controller is another useful gadget that works with select Canon Cameras and all Canon, Sigma, and Tamron autofocus lenses. As with the MC1 USB Mini Controller, you can control camera functions from up to 80 feet away; however, the FC1 USB Focus controller also allows you to control focus when used with compatible lenses.
Red Rock Micro’s microRemote system is a wireless focus control. It’s a complete wireless system that works with any lens with 0.8 pitch gears and has the features you would expect to find in a wireless system, such as lens calibration, camera run/stop, a weighted hand wheel on the remote to mimic the feel of a rod-mounted follow focus, and you can reverse the drive direction for lenses that focus in the opposite direction of standard, plus adjustable hard stops for use with infinitely rotating lenses. The base station (receiving unit) mounts on support rods and allows wireless or wired control, and an optional wired Fingerwheel Controller mounts on your tripod’s pan handle for direct focus control by the operator. The unit allows you to select from 15 different radio channels, so you can avoid interference from other wireless devices. One of the better features of this system is that no matter how little or how much rotation your lens may have, the system maps the lens so that the handwheel has 270 degrees of rotation. This is a standout feature, as 270 degrees gives you enough rotation for precise marks. For lenses with less rotation from close focus to infinity, you get more precision in hitting your marks; for lenses that feature multiple turns to focus (like older still-photo lenses perhaps), you don’t have to spin the focus knob to go from mark to mark, since the system handles the conversion.
If you’re looking to add focus control to your DSLR lens, but don’t want to use a follow focus unit, you definitely want to give the FocusMaker DSLR Focusing Tool a look. It straps onto most DSLR lenses, and provides you with an adjustable handle, 180-degree focus scale with adjustable hard end stops, and intermediate markers. The handle gives you a solid point with which to rack focus, much like the old zoom post. It’s quick to set up, easy to use, and one unit can be shared among many lenses.
While the ZOOM H6 is an audio device, though not technically a camera gadget, it is still worth mentioning. The H6 improves upon the venerable and ubiquitous H4n, bringing significant updates such as improved pre-amps, six channels of audio recording, a physical dial to set the record level on each channel, an improved display, MS (Mid – Side) stereo recording, and a removable capsule system. The unit comes with the familiar XY stereo microphone set up, but with the capsule system, that microphone can be swapped out for a variety of other capsules. The included MS Stereo microphone capsule allows you to record your audio, and then adjust the amount of stereo effect in post, which is pretty cool. Available capsules include an XLR input module for adding additional XLR inputs and a Hyper Directional Shotgun microphone. The Zoom H6 is also available as a Kit that includes a windscreen, headphones, strap, and media card, so you are all set to pick up and go.
Camera Support Grips and Rigs
Without a doubt, camera support is the largest and most varied category of gear, with most of the supports providing multiple configurations and options. The line of DSLR handles from SHAPE are machined from aluminum, are mounted into the accessory shoe of your DSLR, and give you a contoured grip for shooting low-angle handheld shots. The grip is adjustable, so you can change the way it is pointed when mounted on the camera, and it features 1/4”-20 and 3/8”-16 mounting holes for accessories. It is available in a range of candy-colored anodized finishes including Black Licorice, Silver, Cherry, Grape, and Blueberry. Also available is the Zacuto Cold Shoe Handle, which doesn’t come in a variety of colors, but does allow you to position the grip, and it features a 3” rail, so you can adjust the balance point. The handle is large, contoured to fit your fingers, and made of plastic for a soft, comfortable grip.
Moving on to your minimal, no-accessory rods, no-shoulder-pad “run ‘n' gun” camera rigs, Zacuto weighs in with a wide variety, including the Target Shooter, a support rig that features a gunstock-style support and a gorilla plate. This rig attaches the gun stock to the camera, so without the hand grip, you are holding the camera and pressing the gunstock to your body for stability.
The Striker is a step up, and an extremely configurable rig for DSLR and lightweight camcorders. It is built from several components, and provides nearly limitless adjustability. The striker includes a gunstock rod, so you can stabilize it against your body while shooting, and the handgrip features a ball joint, making it easy and quick to get the angle just right. If you are looking for a free-form rig that you can tweak into almost any configuration, this might be exactly what you are seeking.
If you want something a little simpler, you might find that the Zacuto Slingshot fits your needs. Built from various Zacuto components, the Slingshot is a compact support for DSLR and lightweight camcorders. Although it doesn’t have as many adjustment points as the Striker, it does provide you with a comfortable articulated grip to support the camera, with many adjustment points so you can orient the camera to the most comfortable position on a shot-by-shot basis.
Two recently introduced rigs that represent a different design philosophy from Zacuto’s other rigs are the Enforcer and Marauder. Unlike the previously mentioned Striker or Slingshot rigs, which are built from components that use rods and locking levers, the Enforcer and Marauder each comes complete as a single pre-made unit. While this design choice does limit the configurability (you can’t really swap, add, or remove components), that downside is more than made up for with what you gain in set-up time. The Enforcer and Marauder are rigid rigs with spring-loaded push levers that allow you a good deal of adjustment. They fold in half for packing, and when you unfold them, they lock solidly into position. This is a much different experience than turning a lever, adjusting a rod, and then locking the lever.
The Enforcer is the smaller of the two units, with an adjustable gunstock for leverage against your body, and an adjustable camera support arm. The Marauder is the larger unit, adding a positioning handgrip on a ball joint. Each unit includes a Zacuto Gorilla Plate V2, and the adjustable camera support arm features two short rods so you can move the Plate to where you need it. While neither the shoulder stock adjustment on either unit nor the handgrip adjustment on the Marauder uses the spring-loaded push levers, adjustments are still very fast. Many operators find that they prefer to have an eyepiece-style viewfinder when shooting with DSLRs on these rigs. For such operators, Zacuto has developed a plethora of viewfinders to fit their rigs or various DSLRs.
Cinevate also makes support rigs, like the Simplis Pro DSLR Support that includes their Cyclops Viewfinder for DSLR LCD screens, and provides you with an eyepiece viewfinder—with a twist. This eyepiece viewfinder allows you to use both eyes at once. It features diopter adjustment, but you can also wear your glasses while viewing through it. The Simplis Pro features two handgrips and a shoulder-stock support, all with articulation so you can custom fit the rig for your body and shooting style. The system is expandable, so it can grow as you move to larger cameras.
Zacuto makes a series of shoulder-mount rigs with LWS 15mm rods for accessories that Zacuto refers to as “Recoil rigs.” These are well thought out and fit many needs. You can find out more about these Recoil rigs by reading the B&H InDepth article, "Zacuto Recoil Rigs." However, if the Zacuto feel isn’t quite what you are looking for, you might want to check out the line of rigs and accessories from Tilta, which is supported by ikan. Tilta makes support rigs for DSLRs, including a complete DSLR support rig with baseplate, follow focus, matte box, and handgrips. Tilta also creates rigs for the Canon C300/C500, Sony F5/F55, Blackmagic Cinema Camera, RED Epic, Sony F3, and the FS-700.
The Ready Rig, from Alba Camera Support Systems, is a camera support and stabilization rig that is very different from what you may be accustomed to using. At first look, it seems cumbersome and difficult to operate, but once you see the Ready Rig in action, it quickly becomes obvious how clever and useable the system really is. Once you set up the camera on the system, the rig supports the camera, and it seemingly just floats in front of you. This is not a vest/arm/post stabilization system; the camera is supported by two rods that slide over your shoulders into the back support of the rig. The Ready Rig is really about support, and preventing fatigue by transferring the weight of the camera to your body and off your arms. While the rods may seem like they would interfere with camera movement, the design of the rig allows for almost completely unencumbered camera movement, which means that Dutch angle shots are easy to get and hold steady. A Dutch angle shot is when you intentionally shoot with the camera excessively off level to bring a heightened sense of unease or tension to the shot. The term is most likely a mispronunciation of the term "Deutsch," which means "German," and coined as a reference to the different shooting style of German Expressionist filmmakers in the 1920’s and '30’s.
With the Ready Rig, you can lift the camera above your head for high-angle shots, drop it to waist level, or bend down and get the shot from just above floor, all without reconfiguring the rig or re-mounting the camera. You can also mount an external monitor to the rig, and the monitor stays easily visible. The rig consists of the camera mount, monitor and accessory mount, and the support vest, which utilizes bungee cords to provide adjustable tension. It all packs into a travel case that makes storage and transport a breeze. The rig is capable of supporting a variety of cameras such as DSLRs, RED, Canon C300/C500, and other cameras that weigh up to 17 pounds, including accessories. The Ready Rig is certainly something to consider if you have a full day of handheld work ahead of you.
That’s just a peek at some of the gadgets and tools out there that can help you get your shot, and make your shooting day easier, a lot more satisfying, and bring along a sense of accomplishment.