UNCG Dept of Media Studies News

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Handheld Options for Digital SLR Cameras

A report by Graduate Student, Kenneth Price

Having recently purchased a Canon 7D DSLR camera that shoots HD video I’ve had to adapt to its strengths and weaknesses by changing my shooting style to play to its strong attributes and work around the camera’s weaknesses. The major problems with the camera is its incredible depth of field which can make finding focus an exercise in futility, its lack of pro audio capabilities and due to its awkward size and weight the inability to properly shoot handheld while in video mode. I’ve been extremely happy with the footage I’ve shot so far with the camera and want it to be my primary camera due to its amazing low light capabilities and overall image quality. This is why I feel that I needed to quickly find a solution to the handheld conundrum, which has made it either impossible or expensive to shoot in the past.

Unfortunately a $1000+ dollar handheld rig is not an option for me. Therefore I have broken this category down into currently available solutions and solutions available at the sub $300 level.

Handheld ($0): This option is free and basically produces consistently  unusable video. It contains a constant jitter due to all the weight of the camera falling on your wrist while using it and produces what is commonly called the “jello effect” when panning left and right. The jello effect is caused because of the CMOS sensor (HVX, etc… use a CCD sensor) scans from top to bottom instead of the entire picture at once. So when you quickly pan it is taking in lines from different images. This is also commonly seen in cell phone video.

Fig Rig ($300 (Homemade $20)): The UNCG Dance department happens to have two of these. They basically look like a steering wheel for an 18-Wheeler with the camera on a plate in the center of the wheel. The camera performs well in static shots where the subject isn’t moving, but because of the shallow depth of field on the 7D you are constantly having to pull focus on the camera. Pulling focus with the fig rig means all that weight that is supposed to be dispersed throughout the wheel is instead falling on the wrist that is holding the wheel and not pulling focus. It should be noted there are plenty of DIY versions of the Fig Rig made from circular PVC piping that cost under $20.

Monopod ($150): The MST’s Manfrotto Monopod turns out to be a great thing to have in your shooting kit with the 7D if you are going portable. I shot roughly 50% of my practicum using it and was pleased with the results while stationary. However, as soon as you begin to do moving shots with the monopod there tends to be a slight horizontal shake caused by the grip your wrist has at the top of the monopod. Basically, the monopod is great for static stuff when you don’t want to bother with a tripod but should be avoided in true handheld situations.

Shoulder Brace ($15): This homemade shoulder brace is made to mimic the professional models like the Zacuto “Rapid Fire.” Instead of being made from metal it is made from PVC pipe. The unit cost around $15 dollars and takes about 3 hours to build from start to finish. There appears to be very little jitter in the movement. I believe this is due to the fact that the weight is being shared by your shoulder and not just your wrist as in the case of the other units.

Build by graduate student, Mike Paulucci

After extensive use with the various types of support systems I feel that the homemade shoulder brace is my best option going forward. It looks professional enough, but I don’t have to worry about losing it or someone taking it. It handles movement as well as the other options and it does an excellent job distributing the weight of the camera for long takes. However, throughout this process I kept wanting my camera to handle as if it was a regular video/film camera and I’ve eventually come to the conclusion that at a certain point you just have to let go of those expectations and make what you have access to work for your project.

http://www.quantumpetshop.com/tutorials/cambrace.asp (How to build your own shoulder brace)

Hopefully future DSLR Cameras will be made with more filmmaker friendly features like image stabilization.


Written by uncgmst

February 19, 2010 at 1:45 am

%d bloggers like this: