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Flycam Flujo: Follow-Up & Summary

17 Jun

Apologies if this is a repeat of previous information, but some of it bears repeating.

The Flycam experiment has essentially ended, as I’ve taken it almost to its breaking point and back. More importantly, I just bought a new arm, so that kinda kills the all-Proaim-testing part of it. I will still have to have an adapter made in order to use that arm, but it’s a Glidecam, which I know works, so it’s not an unknown quantity necessarily.

Flycam Flujo ModdedSo how did the Flycam Flujo do? The maiden voyage (well, maiden series) saw it handling a C300 rig pretty regularly, including an unnecessarily heavy “low-mode cage” that damn near killed it. By the end of my run on the season, I had my transitions to and from Steadi down to five and two minutes, respectively, but that isn’t necessarily the Flujo’s doing. I used it effectively and without any equipment-related mishaps (several operator-related ones notwithstanding.) But there are a lot of things that need fixing.

The biggest problem with the entire system is the arm. At some point, probably eight months after buying it (and after about four months of constant usage,) the bearings in the arm started to break. Currently, one of them is completely gone–it must have fallen out on set, and I have no idea when that happened–and the one directly across has shattered. I currently have a steel bolt through the arm where the two bearings are missing, but it’s not the same thickness as the bearings were, and consequently throws off the angle of the first part of the arm pretty severely. Visual inspection reveals that there are several other bearings on the verge of breaking.Modded J-Box

The breaking bearings are probably a fault in the manufacturing, but the entire arm being twisted is not. It’s hard to tell, but the entire arm has torqued ever so slightly outwards, probably because it had a great deal of weight on it. The twist causes the sled to move forward, which makes the operator have to lean back, and down that road lie tears and pulled backs. Varying reports list different weight capacities for the rig, and while my setup was on the heavy end, I’m fairly certain that anyone putting anything on this that was smaller would have a bear of a time figuring out what to do with all that extra inertial energy in the arm. The single-point tension adjustments are very nice, but like many things on this rig, are cheap screws and begin to strip and get loose over time.

So the arm is a serious problem in the long run, even with the modifications I made. The different sizes of post actually helped a considerable amount, and I’m going to have to figure out a way to get that same flexibility in my new arm.

Marrying the HDMI and power with electrical tape.

Marrying the HDMI and power with electrical tape.

The vest is still atrocious, and the sled’s problems were well-documented at the beginning of this series, which is good because I no longer remember what they were. I’ve made quite a few adjustments to the sled, and am currently wiring a new post cable (specifically, HDMI-and-power-tied-together cable.)

But one thing that has absolutely worked is the idea of flexibility. I had the posts and socket-block adapter made so that, when the time came, I could swap an arm, sled, or vest without any other issues. The annoying note here is that I bought a used Glidecam V-25, which actually does have an issue, in that its connection to the vest is incorrect, and I’m having to have another adapter cut at a shop, but that’s only a minor thing. The bones of the system are solid enough to support something like what I’ve done, but it only worked because I have a serious background in this stuff, knew what I wanted, and had operating capital to get it.

All in all, I would not in the least recommend this rig to anyone. It’s been a great deal of trouble, and while it did land me a great job on an amazing set, it’s brought with it a great deal of stress and heartache as things that I shouldn’t have to worry about begin to fail or break.

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.

Applebox sets

4 May

Appleboxes were a revolutionary thing for me when I first encountered them. Just blocks, basically–blocks with handles, industry-standard sizes, and any number of applications. If you’re familiar with film sets at all, you know of appleboxes, and you’ve probably sat on one or two in your time. More than once have I wanted a few around the apartment for various projects–a footstool, a place to let something dry, whatever you need done.

For "Swing-X" in summer of 2013, I built two sets for the production. Saved us a great deal of money, and we used them every day.

For “Swing-X” in summer of 2013, I built two sets for the production. Saved us a great deal of money, and we used them every day.

A normal applebox set (like the one from Filmtools) will cost you around $150 with shipping. Now, they look very nice, and are made by cabinet makers, which gives them precision corners and dimensions. However, if you’re willing to sacrifice perhaps a little precision, you can make your own appleboxes that will be solid additions to your kit. The cool part about the plans I have is that, if you so choose, you can make as many as four full sets of boxes for around $130.

Shooting "Swing-X" with said appleboxes in play.

Shooting “Swing-X” with said appleboxes in play.

Final note before starting: the plans I have are a little different construction, with a unique sort-of asymmetrical way of being put together. If you don’t want to do it exactly the way I have, there will be another set of plans available that have standard cuts on them, and you can use those dimensions instead.

Materials
– 2x 3/8″ x 4′ x 8′ plywood
– 1x 3/4″ x 4′ x 8′ plywood
– 1x 1/2″ x 4′ x 8′ plywood*
– Liquid Nails
– Brads (I used 1-1/4″, but 1″ would work better)

Tools
– Table saw (or something you can cut long, straight lines with)
– Drill***
– Hole saw (1-1/4″ and 1″)
– Jigsaw
– Brad nailer
– 12″ Clamps (optional)
– 90-deg. corner clamp (optional)
– Router**
– Minwax for finish (optional)

* – the 1/2″ plywood is for pancakes, which are technically 1″ thick. However, you will have some extras from the 3/8″ plywood, and again, if you don’t mind a lack of precision or exactness, having those pieces of wood will be plenty.

** – if you’ve used a router before, then I suggest having an edge of 1/8″ to 1/4″ on your top/bottom pieces, and using a flush cut bit to give it a nice finish. If you’ve never used a router before…maybe don’t worry about it.
*** – the drill is for cutting holes in the sides and center, but if you’re making the full lot here, you will have problems with your drill overheating. If you have an area outside, and can use something heavy duty like a big hammer drill, it will make things much easier.

For this plan, we are using 3/4″ plywood for the walls, and 3/8″ plywood for the tops and bottoms. Pine plywood will suffice, but don’t be alarmed when you can’t find it in these dimensions. Most stores will carry 23/32″ and 15/32″ instead of 3/4″ and 1/2″ (respectively), but in my experience the boards vary enough that the nominal width is close enough. You could use 1/2″ for the side walls, but I think the 3/4″ adds much-needed heft. These are heavier than standard boxes, but…well, beef up.

Plans

3-4 cuts asymmetric

Full cuts stepped

Full hole marks

Half cuts stepped

2x 2-4-38 cuts (this is an alternate set of cuts that lets you use 2′ x 4′ x 3/4″ pieces for two sets)

3/4″ cuts symmetric (these are if you don’t want the asymmetric design in this plan–the only difference is the middle pieces are boxed in by the long sides)

3/8″ rips** (this is also the plan for the 1/2″ rips for pancakes, but take 1/4″ away, so you’ll have two long 20″ rips, and then several 12″ rips)

1. Ripping the plywood
The first step is to make some large, long cuts that run the length of the plywood. This is going to be easiest with a table saw, but you could also use a circular saw with a guide.
The 3/4″ plywood needs four large rips, and then a series of smaller ones.

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Go ahead and glue the pancakes together. I clamped mine all together in one big stack. The Liquid Nails should be enough to hold them together. As I mentioned earlier, using 1/2″ plywood to get a perfect 1″ thick pancake is optional–you’ll have some leftovers from the 3/8″, and you can either leave them seperate or glue two together to make pancakes. On Swing-X I just left the 3/8″ pieces alone, and used them as is a lot–just having little pieces of wood for whatever was a nice thing. Update: the Liquid Nails will NOT be enough, after a few uses. You might have to get some 3/4″ screws or nails to keep ’em together.

2. Mark and cut your holes.
Tedious, but it’s gotta be done. The holes for the middle piece are absolutely optional, but if you want to run a stinger or anything through the applebox, you’ll be better off making at least one.

The inside piece is between the left side and dotted line on the right.

The inside piece is between the left side and dotted line on the right.

Use a 1-1/4″ hole-saw or spade bit at each center mark, and then use a jigsaw to cut straight across. You could use bigger if you want to, but it will look enormous on the half boxes.

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The quarter boxes will need a 1″ hole cut, but it would be easier to wait ’til they’re already put together. They will not need holes on the center wall of the box. Watch where you’re nailing on the quarters–don’t put a nail right through where you want to drill! If you’re using a router, specifically the round-over bit, wait to drill that hole until after you’ve routed–otherwise you get these funky divots when you route.

3. Put it all together!
Arguably the most simple part, but probably not going to be a walk in the park.
I put Liquid Nails everywhere I join wood–it may lengthen the amount of time I spend working with the boxes, but once it locks in, it’s solid and not budging without a massive shift in temperature or inervention from the Almighty.

A model of the full box construction with the cuts--notice the overlap on one side.

A model of the full box construction with the cuts–notice the overlap on one side.

Keep an eye on your alignment, if you've already cut your holes, so that the short side is butted up against the long side (bottom of picture.)

Keep an eye on your alignment, if you’ve already cut your holes, so that the short side is butted up against the long side (bottom of picture.)

The asymmetry if this design means you need to keep an eye on your handle placement. If you’re forward thinking, make sure that the pretty sides are all looking out. Here’s where you can use the clamps if you want, but I found it time consuming–it was easier for me to just squeeze it together and nail, letting the glue fill the gap.

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When you are ready to put the tops and bottoms on, pick one corner and get it aligned. Keep the adjacent sides flush while nailing by moving the board around–you’ll spread some glue, but that’s okay. This will give you an overlap on the other two sides, but we’ll take care of that in the next step.

4. Finish it!
At this point, you’re done enough–after the glue dries, things are probably good to go.

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But! If you’re like me, you don’t want your work to look subpar. (Personally, I don’t see anything about “DIY” that means it has to look DIY.) The best thing to do, through the whole process, is keep an eye on any nasty knots or breaks in the wood, and make sure these are put on the inside, and don’t necessarily write on the wood in Sharpie [like I did] if you can’t hide it.

First thing is to take a flush-cut router bit and run along the top and bottom sides. This will take care of any overlap. Next, switch out to a round-over bit, and run along every side that’s exposed. (On Swing-X, when I had time, I did this to all of the handles too, front and back, but it’s not completely necessary.)

If you’re feelin’ frisky, go get some stainable wood filler and fill in any brad holes and big gaps in the seams. Then, once it’s dry, go over everything with some medium grit sandpaper, especially the areas you just cut with a router.

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Finally, take your Minwax and stain the suckers. Obviously, follow the recommended warnings on the material (i.e., DON’T DO THIS INSIDE YOUR LIVING ROOM) and make sure you keep things clean and clear. Use the brush to take care of any drops along the top or bottom. If you need a place to dry them, you can always run some rope through the handles and hang ’em from a tree or post or C-stand. Or, you can use an Origami shelf, like the one I’ve been using for my camera cart.

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This is a cherry stain, which I picked up on clearance at Home Depot. In the future, I’ll probably try and get some kind of “golden” or even a much darker stain.

The bottom two shelves are the end result of this DIY. The top shelves are sets of nesting appleboxes, which I have in a different post.

Flycam Flujo, The Overhaul: Final?!

16 Mar

I just wrapped my first week as an operator on a docu-drama show, shooting in the Hampton Roads area. Two days later, I’m not aching anymore–Days 2, 3, and 4 all found me spending almost all day in the rig. But damn it feels good to be operating all the time! And I did well enough to be offered the position for the rest of the season, shooting ’til October.

So the burning question: how did the Flycam Flujo perform on its first professional gig? The answer: meh.

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The one major issue I had was that nothing seemed to stay set. I would balance the rig, check my drop time, and when it came back down, it was out of balance. I’m thinking, based on some things I’ve seen online, that the gimbal handle is not at all aligned. The unprofessional nature of the rig means that I have no ability to adjust the thing if it isn’t aligned properly, so it’s just something I’ll have to live with.

But just as important, and just as frustrating, was the fact that the entire top stage was loose. I tightened every nut that I could, and still the entire assembly would shuck and jive. Thankfully not during a take! Just enough during setup to give me far less confidence than I wanted.

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The materials are cheap–this we all know–but cheap materials can sometimes do great things! Just look at Ford cars. [rimshot!] However, where the cost always becomes a factor is the materials’ ability over time to maintain its function. Here, I fear, is my Flycam’s Achilles–this thing will not last for a very long time, especially if I keep putting it through its paces on this show. Several key adjustment points were stripping out, particularly the side-to-side adjustment on the top stage. Not the threaded adjustment rod, though: just the knob which adjusts it, which is threaded onto the rod and has a tiny set screw, which I’m fairly certain is responsible for the stripping. The clamp that holds the bottom stage on was not staying tight either, and I’m afraid to crank down the screws on that too (see prior.)

Because of the nature of the show, they were looking for considerable amounts of low-mode. To that end, I determined that I needed to make a low-mode cage that I can also use in the future as a weight cage. Because I didn’t mind the weight (and I had less than 12 hours) I went to a machine shop and had a couple of plates of stainless steel cut, then stopped at Lowe’a and bough 3/8″ all-thread and some 3/8-ID tube.

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This setup, according to the manufacturer, should be well within the weight limits. Perhaps for the arm it is, but the sled itself was really having problems with the great weight. For the next show, I should have my post cable up, which will let me keep weight off the camera by letting me power the Bartech through the J-box. I’ll still probably have the battery on the back for counterbalance handheld. The whole weight cage thing was last minute, so it’ll be very refined by the time I get back in the rig.

Side note: this plate sucks. Notice how only one hole actually lines up?

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The arm is still holding up, but I’m watching a few screws on it start to tweak and bend. I’ve really pushed it to the limits here. But the additional pins I had made saved me several times, as we got stuck in low mode but needed to raise the camera. I think the parts I had machined are now the strongest parts in it!

I want to talk about how bad the vest is, but it’s been so long since I used a real Steadicam vest that I can remember what it’s supposed to feel like. However, because of my socket block adjustments done to the arm, I can upgrade or rent a different vest anytime, which, given the pay increase from this show, could be sooner rather than later.

The final problem: docking. Or lack thereof–the bracket that comes with the Flycam is an utter farce. So, as you can see from some pictures, I had to build and balance at the same time, sitting on a baby pin (with the 5/8″ insert created for my sled at the machine shop.) All was fine until I needed to put the thing on the arm. Then it became a silly exercise in patience: I’d have to lift the sled with my left arm, holding the handle with my thumb, and then move the arm underneath with my right hand, trying to dock without looking too much a fool.
If I had the low-mode cage on, I had to have an assistant lift the cage so I could get it up high enough. On Saturday morning, my left deltoid was absolutelu destroyed–it took two days to stop hurting.
The only solution is to bite the bullet and go big: as soon as I get back, I’m going to buy a Gorelock 2 docking bracket. It’s worth it, and I can keep this for future rigs, while just buying a new docking ring.

So it seems like this experiment has come to an end, or at least, the end of the beginning. Is this rig workable? Yes, with heavy modification. Some days, I almost wished I was using a Glidecam, but only because of the reliability it has over the Flycam. But here’s what’s important for me: when I got the call about this show, and I told them I was a Steadicam operator who owned a rig, it gave me an opportunity to prove myself. By the third day, I had been offered the position for the rest of the season, even though I’m going to miss three shows. And most importantly, I actually had the knowledge of my equipment to get the job done, despite setbacks in the field.

Will I start upgrading as soon as fiscally possible? Abso-friggin’-lutely.

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Camera “Cart”

13 Feb

I love the organization that I see big-time AC’s using–always seem to know where everything is, even in a huge Arri bag–and the carts are a big part of that. It’s great to say “go get X from the A-camera cart” and know exactly what and where it is, not having to rummage through cases or bags that are lumped in a trunk or a table somewhere.

But a Magliner runs $250ish, and the nose pieces, shelves, etc. all start adding up very quickly. You can buy a fully-rigged camera cart from Filmtools for a pretty penny, which I would love to have, but A) don’t have the capital for, B) don’t have a consistent need for, and C) don’t have room in my apartment for. So! Until the day comes when I have more money, more work, and a house, I will continue to find work-arounds.

Whilst flipping through channels the other week, my wife paused on QVC (or HSN? Can’t remember) and we saw the Origami shelf advertised. Of course, they show really stupid things to do with it on those shows–things that are semi-permanent, paired with a shelf being sold because it is temporary–but the wife said “hey, that’d be cool for your camera stuff.”

The next few minutes, I thought more and more about it–folds down pretty small, big enough to support weight…and yeah, it did seem like a cool thing. I started researching, and discovered multiple sizes. I ultimately decided on the R4-01 which seemed like it would be big enough to hold several cases, and wide enough to support my hi-hat (which I usually have setup on a cart with a tripod head, for building/staging the camera.)

After a snafu with shipping (meaning they said they delivered it, but they did not–Amazon very graciously sent me a replacement free of charge and with upgraded one-day shipping) the R4-01 showed up and was exactly what I was expecting. After almost breaking it to open it (the clip for the top shelf had hooked around one of the bars in the middle shelf, and I forced when I shouldn’t have–thankfulky, everything bent back into place pretty easily) I set it up in my living room and found it to be much taller than I thought. I’m a tall guy, and the top shelf sat comfortably at my stomach level. Adding my hi-hat to the top put the camera up near my chest, and let me build at a very comfortable height. The shelves were wide enough to hold my AC bags and camera case, and the bottom shelves were even long enough to mostly cover my Steadicam cases.

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I thought I would be cheap and buy my own wheels. Ultimately, I can’t speak to the quality of the casters from Amazon, and I don’t think I actually saved any money, but I built my own rolling platform to put the shelves on. I went with 2-1/2″ hard plastic casters from Home Depot–I wanted to get bigger wheels, perhaps even inflatables, but I was afraid (and rightfully so) that those would put the camera stage over my comfortable level.

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After a week-long industrial shoot, I am really pleased with the results. It easily fit all the cases, and I added a bag to the side to hold my personal items. I’d love to have some hooks or bottle/can holders, but we’ll see what develops. I will say, though, that we were inside, on-location and in-studio, and it was awesome. My wheels–nay, any wheels less-than-inflatables–would not do very well on any ground that is less than smooth. That being said, if you don’t mind carrying the shelves around (they’re not terribly heavy) then you could definitely get away with moving around on rough terrain, provided you weren’t moving a heck of a lot.

So! A little ingenuity and repurposing can get you a neat camera cart of your own. Until the Magliners are cheaper, that is.

Update: After a pretty big boost from The Black and Blue (thanks, Evan!) I realised that I needed to update the post with some in-the-field pictures.

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Here is that cart actually being multi-purpose for another DIY project…