Last week at Funny Monkey I was hurriedly jerking the camera this way and that trying to follow the various comedians, wishing for two things. First, that the couple sitting behind us hadn’t taken up the back corner of the room so I wouldn’t be so close to the action with a 50mm lens. Second, that I had a shoulder mount so I could follow the action naturally.
Well, that couple just did whatever it wanted to do, and power to ’em. The idea stuck in my skull for days, though. I knew I could make something functional, and rummaged around considering materials. I settled on a piece of 6cm. wide molding I’d bought a year ago. The design basically lept out of my head onto markings on the wood, so I ran with it.
I wanted a comfortable rig compatible with a range of lens sizes. Having a slider allows me to control the total length, although you could also drill one single bolt hole to ensure a consistent focal length. You could try making the camera bolt serve as the front handle, and try sliding it on the fly. I don’t think this design would quite work for that, though.
The largest expense at $16.00 was the assortment of bolts, washers, and wing-nuts I picked up, but mostly because I wasn’t sure what I needed. Most of it ended up in my toolbox for later use. I recommend sticking with 1/4″-20 bolts, as that’s a standard camera bolt size which will enable your gear to pull double duty or be easily replaced as the need arises. I also bought a $0.90 can of spray paint, and a box of 2″ Velcro strips (around $6.50) for padding. Those aren’t essential, but finishing touches sometimes improve functionality.
There were a few happy accidents. First and foremost, used sporting goods stores make great DIY resources. I picked up the 2.5 lb. counterweight for $0.79 a pound. If you aren’t certain about counterbalancing techniques (like me), you might want to play around with a few sizes.
The other major stroke of luck (or genius, according to Pauline) was the front handle. I struggled with that design for a while, until I accidentally dropped an old elbow bracket from another project near the stuff I was working on. I wish I had a machine shop close and hand, and the metal-working experience to use it, but I studied and worked as a theatrical carpenter for some time, so wood is what I know. I think it came out exceedingly well. Since the handle pivots freely, it cancels some of the minor unwanted hand and arm movement. It isn’t a true gimbal, which would require a much more elaborate design, but it’s a touch I wasn’t expecting to add.
Also, using spare wood from the rail itself proved fortuitous, because it was automatically the right width to gently keep the handle centered. A fully-threaded cross bolt and some nuts would provide a thinner handle capable of adjusting left or right (for cameras with awkward centers of gravity). I couldn’t find anything cheap enough for that type of handle, or I’m just lazy.
You can see all the major steps of design and construction here, and I’ve detailed each picture with a quick note. Please note that my public Facebook Page is here and that I’m rather selective about friend requests. Please don’t take offense.
Now I need to convince people to let me film stuff for them…