Here are the details of three small video camera rigs that I’ve built. While these were made for small pocket video cameras, the essential design can easily be extended to build a low cost DSLR rig. I built three because I have three pocket cameras and sometimes have to simultaneously place all three into service.
Most of the time, these rigs are mounted on a monopod (Vivitar in my case) to lower the center of gravity and to help increase the stability of the video cameras. Small tripods with unextended legs would also work, but they are bulkier than an inexpensive monopod.
The first rig consisted of 6″ long 1/4″-20 bolts threaded through two flashgun brackets. Each bolt runs through a piece of 3/4″ PVC which is cut so that very little of the bolt comes through the nut. The nuts I used in this first version were the nylon lock nuts, since I thought there might be an issue with the nuts loosening. The PVC is kept centered on the bolt by chamfering the inner edge of the pipe ends a little and placing 1/4″ washers between the pipe ends and the flash bracket. When the bolt is tightened, the ends of the pipe are pushed over the washer, forcing it to stay centered around the bolt. This first photo shows one of the handles.
The cold shoes that came with the bracket were removed but the mounting screws for them were saved. In the next photo, the camera is mounted using the original thumb nut.
On the top side, a cold shoe was mounted using the thumb nut so that the mic could be mounted on top.
Here is a photo of the finished rig with the camera (Kodak Zi8) mounted and a Rode VideoMic mounted on top. (Note that the connector is not stock for the VidoeMic – I had to replace it since there was an open inside the original one.) A hold was drilled in the bracket and tapped with a 1/4″-20 tap so that the monopod can be threaded into the lower cross piece. Alternately, a quick release plate can be attached so that the rig can be mounted on a tripod with the mating quick release mount.
For the second bracket, I wanted slightly wider horizontal pieces so I ordered a 24″ length of 1″ wide by 1/8″ thick aluminum bar stock. I cut two pieces about 7″ long. I drilled holes on the ends of each to accommodate 1/4″ bolts for the handles. Between the two outer holes, I drilled a series of smaller holes and tapped each with a 1/4″-20 tap. These holes would allow keeping the camera thumb screw captive while also allowing accessories and a quick release plate or monopod to be attached. This photo shows the top aluminum bar.
Because the thumb screw was left over from the first set of flash brackets with the rubber bumper, it needed to be shimmed with two washers. Black tape was added on the top side to provide some cushion for the bottom of the camera. Below is a photo of the bottom bar.
The handles on the side again are made from 3/4″ PVC and 6″ long 1/4″-20 bolts. In the photo below, the bowing of the PVC from the washers in the ends is more obvious. Again, the length of the pipe was trimmed to keep the end of the bolt flush with the top of the nut.
I painted the finished rig, but since I sprayed it directly and did not take much time to properly sand and prime, the paint has been scratching off with use. Here’s a photo of the complete rig on a monopod with the VideoMic mounted on top.
The third rig was constructed from a different set of flash brackets. These brackets were longer than the originals and had a metal insert for the tripod screw socket but it was disappointing that they were made out of plastic and not metal like the original ones.
For this third rig, threaded 1/4″-20 rods and a scrap of CVPC was used instead because it ended up being handier out in the garage. The smaller diameter of the CPVC did not allow using washers to center the pipe around the threaded rod, but 1/4″-20 nuts fit, so they were used instead. Once all the nuts were tightened, the threaded rod was cut flush with the tops of the nuts and all rough edges were filed smooth. Here is a photo of the third rig.
There are aternate flash brackets available that may be used for the cross pieces instead of the ones I used. They typically have slots cut in them, which allows the camera to be moved around as needed. The aluminum bar stock was pretty easy to cut, drill and tap, so as long as a slot is not needed, aluminum stock affords complete customizability. Using aluminum bar will also allow making a full-fledged DSLR rig at a fraction of the cost of a commercial rigs.
[UPDATE: 6 Sep 2011] After posting a link to this posting in another blog, it occurred to me that I should post what I had in mind regarding a commercial rig when writing the above.
Here a general survey of DSLR cages at Amazon, many of them are obscenely expensive from this poor hobbyist’s point of view. A rig similar to the ALZO Transformer or the Flashpoint Wacru rigs could easily be fashioned based on the cages I made above for a fraction of the price with no special tools. For the bottom cross piece, I’d use 2.5-3″ wide, 1/8″ thick aluminum bar stock. That width should allow cutting out an area to allow the DSLR battery to be removed without taking the camera body off the rig while retaining plenty of stiffness. The side handles can use 1/4″-20 bolts but larger ones will afford more substantial handles. The PVC pipe side can be changed per personal taste; cushioned grips can be added as well.
A 3-dimensional cage could also be built. It would basically consist of at least two cages as above with cross pieces that run perpendicularly between them. In this case, the mount for the DSLR can be made to slide front to back to allow for adjusting the center of gravity of the whole assembly. The cross pieces could even be two parallel 15mm tubes or rod, allowing the use of standard accessories.
Clamps for the rod can be made by using some thicker stock, like 3/4″. Here is a diagram of how a clamp can be made:
Clamps can be made for a single rod or a longer piece can provide for parallel rails. A drill press should be used to ensure that the holes for the rods are parallel to each other. The rods should fit snugly into the holes. Cut a slot as shown and then at least one vertical hole for clamping the rod in place. If you have a tap for the bolts you’re going to use you can eliminate the need for nuts: tap the upper or lower hole, then drill out the opposite hole to fit the bolt. Mating holes for the bolts can be drilled in the cage to attach the rods to the cage.
The variations to a rig thus made are virtually limitless and it can all be accomplished with a minimal amount of tools. The most expensive part will end up being the aluminum stock, particularly with shipping if it is ordered online. Precut scraps sold on eBay is a less expensive way to secure the aluminum stock, if one watches for usable pieces to show up in searches.