New Camera Rigging

30 Jan

Not sure why I feel the need to continually change and adapt what I have to work with. Recently, I’ve had to make changes in order to use new equipment appropriately, but it also spurred me into doing a thing I’ve been wanting to do for a while–creating my own power distro. So I’ve finally gone and done it. Here’s a post with the summary of my new changes, and a partial review of some of that new gear.

Shown with my handheld addition and my new power distro.

Shown with my handheld addition and my new power distro. The handle is an old Bolex grip that I’ve adapted to a rosette, with a quick-release attachment for the 15mm rails. It’s pretty sweet–used it on A Haunting every day.

Fotga DP3000 Baseplate

Note the base of the C-shape bracket in the rear-middle there. This required flipping the bottom 15mm railmount on the bracket.

As I realised with the Lensse follow focus, the P&C Gearbox cage wasn’t a correct lens-height from the rails. In order to correct that, I purchased the Fotga DP Series 15mm Rail Rod Support, which included two 12″ 15mm rods and an adjustable height baseplate. The 5D2 needs it to be at the top stick, which is fine, and it also gives more screw points undermeath (the P&C had one row of 1/4-20’s, which created a lot of flex.) This plate will let me put any number of camera bodies in here too, where the P&C was pretty much just DSLR’s–I did use a BMCC once, but had to turn it around backwards so I could get to the connectors. I also had to use an SDI-to-HDMI converter in order to use my HDMI-only monitors (SmallHD DP4 and AC7.) The AC7 can be upgraded to put SDI into it, but that’s $300 I haven’t needed to spend yet.

Fotga Cage Top HandleLosing the P&C meant losing a handle on top, as well as attachment points for monitors and my EVF support. The FOTGA DP3000 C-shape Bracket Cage from Amazon for $83 is the replacement. The bracket is a pretty strong aluminum, and even though it flexes a bit, I think it might have been designed with that in mind–the flex actually straightens out the top bar, where it’s a little angled-in when just resting. I also have a great deal of weight on the bottom (when I have the mattebox and power distro) as well as my Solid Camera EVF support on top, and this thing handles it like a champ. I might eventually get a second one for a big rig, and connect the side-rails, but that’s not really in my future–I like the size and compactness of the rig as it stands.

My main complaint with the top-handle is that it is more permanent than I’d like. I’d rather be able to quickly turn it around–for instance, if I take the mattebox off when I’m shooting inside, my rig becomes very back-heavy. If the handle is pointed forward of the center of gravity, the rig will be much harder to hold. I might put a thumb-screw or something in there to let me flip it easily, but that’s not high on my priority list. For the most part, I’m planning on having the mattebox on most of the time.

Custom Power Distro The big black box on the back is a custom power distro I just finished. I’ve used a generic Chinese one for three years now, and while it’s been pretty solid, I’m looking forward and thinking it’s not going to be a great solution. This will tide me over for quite some time, thanks to the flexibility I’ve built into it–the previous distro was not adjustable in terms of its voltages. On the left side, I have 2.1mm jacks with 5v and 12v available (5v for any HDMI solutions, like a splitter or an SDI-HDMI converter); on the right, I have more 12v via a 4-pin LEMO and a 4-pin XLR (for big cameras) as well as two outputs coming from a variable voltage down-converter. Most Canon DSLR’s run on 7.4-7.8 volts, and the Cinema EOS series runs on 8.4 DC-in. I would very much like to get a C100 at some point in the future, so this will let me incorporate that camera into my setup without buying any more new equipment. I’ve also put some velcro on the inside, for attaching anything I need without a cheeseplate setup (e.g., Bartech WFF receiver, aforementioned converters, etc.)

Side note: something that I didn’t foresee happening until I built it and put it into practice is that my ear/head would be right next to the power outputs. The current 2.1mm jacks I have stick out about an inch, and it’s kind of annoying to have those jamming into my ear. As soon as I sell my old setup, I will have to get some right-angle connectors and remake all my cables.

My favorite part of this setup is the top. Power Distro InsidesI have a DPDT switch on the right connected to the display on the left. In left position, it tells me the output from the variable voltage converter (so I don’t have to put a meter on it if I’m changing the voltage in the field); in the right position, it tells me the incoming voltage from the battery mount. My previous system had a frustrating habit of shutting off (losing battery power) in the middle of when I most needed it, without a good way of monitoring the battery. Now I can check the voltage constantly, and when I don’t need the display, I can switch it to the middle “OFF” position for no green numbers.

(I might do a post specifically for the distro at some point, but now is not the time. I built it in SketchUp, but the practical putting-it-together was very different–not sure if I should revisit the original document. If you’re interested in owning one of these, I’d be happy to build it for you, with either V-mount or AB Gold Mount.)

Rig with Lensse and Solid CameraFinally, the last piece of my new setup actually began on the old P&C gearbox cage, but has been adapted to this. The Solid Camera EVF Support, here holding up my DP4, is a really solid piece of kit (no pun intended.) The knobs have a cam inside that will hold the EVF in place nicely, but can be rotated and put in any other position with minimal effort, even with one hand. Before, I used an Israeli arm/strongarm to position the DP4-EVF where I wanted it, and that was a major pain–if I pushed too hard with my head, or even just slung the camera at an odd angle, the arm’s screw might come loose from the attachment point, and the monitor would swing away and put the rig off-balance.

Solid Camera has a dovetail to attach to 15mm rails, but I didn’t want to spend the extra money on that, so I took a jigsaw to a piece of 6061 aluminum I have. It took upwards of 40 minutes to cut (anyone who knows, please tell me why it was so damn hard to cut that aluminum!) but I tapped some 1/4-20 holes and now have a great top-rail solution with this cage.

It ain't pretty.

It ain’t pretty.

The only bug-a-boo is the size of the handle–it’s pretty cushy, which makes it hard to slide mount on, but once it’s on it’s there to stay. Again, if I had an easy way of taking the top-handle off or flipping it, this wouldn’t be an issue, but oh well.

Hopefully, this is the end of my acquisitions for a while–I don’t really have the money, and also have been pretty judicious about building some future-proofing into the setup. I also don’t have any shoots planned until after April, so I won’t really be able to go crazy with anything until then.

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