Living a dream as a photographer & filmmaker

Mission Impossible? Putting together the right DSLR cinema rig - Part 1

Personally, I am disturbed by the fact that DSLR rigs are so outrageously priced.  Manufacturers are driven by the high prices of equipment in the movie industry as well as demand for DSLR gear, because of the DSLR filmmaking revolution.  I understand pros like I'm on mission to find more affordable rig, that's still usable, to add to my gear bag.

After selling my ENG-style Panasonic HPX300 and buying the Nikon D4 DSLR, I was on a mission to find the right DSLR shoulder rig.  I say the right rig, because for me it means the best rig I can buy on my budget.

I have looked at various rigs from +Redrock Micro, Cinevate, Zakuto, and others.  I just don't want to pay one thousand, two thousand, three thousand bucks for this hardware.  It probably takes 50 bucks to make one, why are they charging so much?

I like RedRock equipment, and it's priced better than Zakuto, for example.  But I needed something that was cheaper more affordable, and still good quality.  So I found the RedRock imitation Flashpoint, sold by Adorama.  Ok, now we're getting close: a few hundred bucks, and I'll be in business.

Rig Components

I have made a list of everything that I will need to put together a DSLR rig.  It will have both shoulder and tripod/steadicam support.
  1. Camera mounting plate - DONE
  2. Mattebox - DONE
  3. Shoulder pad - DONE
  4. Counterweight - DONE
  5. Handle grips - DONE
  6. Remote switch - DONE
  7. Field Recorder/Monitor (Atomos Ninja 2)
  8. Follow Focus (reviewed) - DONE
  9. Cage (possibly) + top handle - DONE
  10. Articulating arms - DONE
These components should provide versatility to the rig, allowing to shoot on sticks, shoulder, steadicam, etc...

DSLR shoulder rig

While searching on the Internet, I came across a generic DSLR rig that looked like the RedRock/Flashpoint, but cost 199 bucks, so I bought it. Here are product links to Amazon and LinkDelight.

This shoulder rig is made in Taiwan, and looks just like the RedRock/Flashpoint rig.  The build quality is ok; it's nowhere near the quality of an American-made product, but with this price tag, it was expected.  I feel that for the task that this rig has to do - it'll do just fine.  It works as advertised: steadies your camera on the shoulder ;)  The rig has a camera plate with a bottom tripod plate, so its ready to go on sticks.  It also has the shoulder pad - a cheap one, but it is comfortable and it works!  The kit comes with handlebars.  They are nice and comfortable to hold.  Everything mounts on 15mm rods - industry standard.  After putting together the rig I noticed that it is solid and rigid, which was unexpected for the kit that cost 199 dollars - so we're good to go here; moving on to the next piece.


Now that I have the shoulder rig, I needed a mattebox.  Once again, while I like Arri, Cavision, and other pro matteboxes, I cant spend several thousand dollors on it.  Once again, RedRock makes one, and I used to have it with my old camera (Panasonic HPX300), but I felt that it would be too big for my current DSLR setup (Nikon D4).  By the way, Flashpoint by Adorama has the same looking mattebox, almost 4 times cheaper.  Go figure...

So, I wanted a lighter, smaller mattebox.  No clip-ons, 15mm rails setup.  Found one!  Flashpoint Basic Mattebox II. Here it is on Adorama (RedStar version here).  This matebox will do just fine.  It is not flimsy - fairly solid build, and really how tough the mattebox should be?  You're not hitting baseballs with it, right!

The mattebox has 2 filter trays, 4x4.  I had some biger filters left over from RedRock mattebox, so they will not fit.  That's ok.  I will buy 3 ND filters for it - they are not too expensive.

It also has a top french flag as well as side barn doors.  I dont usually use those, but on occasion I have, and they come handy mid-day with bright sunlight entering the lens.

Here's the description from Adorama:
Designed to prevent lens flare and glare from natural and artificial light sources, the Flashpoint Matte Box offers everything you need to get started whether you're shooting with a digital video camera or a DSLR. This lightweight but sturdy device is equipped with dual ABS plastic filter frames and stages and can accommodate filters 4 x 4" and 4 x 4.5" filters. One filter stage can be rotated 360 degrees when shooting with circular polarizing or gradient filters; the other is fixed. Both filter frames can be locked in position but are easily removed. Three donuts are bundled with the Matte Box. Constructed from thick and durable neoprene, the donuts fit snugly against the Matte Box's 100mm back mount opening. Inside circumferences measure 48mm, 64mm and 74mm to accommodate a widerange of lenses for all your shooting needs. The removable coated aluminum French flag and two side doors attach securely viaa bayonet mount and thumb screws. The blades are easily adjusted-even while looking through the viewfinder for the most precise placement-and can be folded flat for storage or protection of the lens during transport.

So I like this mattebox a lot - its just the right size, not expensive, has filter option as well as french flags.  Just what I needed.  Will it survive years of abuse? Probably not, but I will get a few years out of it for sure.

DSLR cinema rig: mattebox

DSLR cinema rig: mattebox

DSLR cinema rig: mattebox

Record Button Remote switch

Next thing on the list is a remote switch. I found a great deal on Amazon: Vello 10pin wired remote release for Nikon cameras. I attached the switch to one of the handles on the rig, so that I dont have to reach for the top of the camera to press the record button.  The switch has a 10 pin wired plug that plugs in to the 10 pin connector on the side of the camera.  Nice.

One thing to add here is that I had to go into Nikon D4's menu and change the shutter button preference to Record, so that it acts like the actual record button.  That's all.

Vello remote control for Nikon camera for DSLR cinema rig


To balance the camera on the shoulder I have added a counter weight.  Opteka makes an affordable 3lb counter weight that attches to the 15mm rods nicely.  Here it is:

Building a DSLR cinema rig: Opteka counter weight for DSLR rigs

More to come

I will still need to get the follow-focus, a cage (possibly), articulating arms, and a field/recorder monitor.  More about that in Part 2.  Stay tuned!

Share your experience with DSLR cinema rigs by commenting below.

Related Posts

  1. COMING SOON: Part 2 of Putting together a DSLR cinema rig
  2. More post about filmmaking

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