One great thing to come from modern camera technology is the versatility of their modular designs. Camera operators and cinematographers have an extensive set of tools to make their camera builds completely unique and effective for whatever the shoot requires (RED for high res, DSLRs for quick/small set ups, GoPros for crash cams, etc). No longer do you have to have a cat on your shoulders, you can have any configuration that may or may not resemble an animal (the Alexa M would be like an alien giraffe maybe? How’s that for some sweet SEO writing?). But with great power, comes great responsibility…and a lot of time to figure out that power-sibility. It’s taken me many months, and many shoots, but I’ve nailed down a configuration for my FS100 that works great for me.
I tend to do a lot of documentary live shoots, and I absolutely love it (it’s almost 100% pure creativity, because continuity is seldom an issue). When I’m on location doing a live shoot, I’m usually by myself, or with one other person (be it a producer/director type, or an assistant). Because it’s typically a run-and-gun scenario, I need to move quickly and power through a long day. What I need for a live shoot is a light setup, a steady rig, and the ability to critically check the image. What I’ve come up with is this:
So this is my ‘basic’ setup (all photos taken on the same day at Dartmouth, as you’ll see). I can quickly change it into a handheld rig by throwing a Redrock shoulder pad on the rail system and handles in the front. I can also deck it out in a big studio set up with a matte box and follow focus. For my live shoot work, the key is having a small core rig that can be functional on its own, adding to it only when I need to. I’ll cover how each of these elements are set up.
1. Mount and Rail System
You need rails for a lot of camera accessories. I have the FS100 mounted on a quick release plate that is connected to a riser, which is connected to the Redrock rail system—it’s really just a cheeseplate with two rod mounts, and the riser. This is the core of all the add-ons: Mattebox, follow focus, lens support, and more. I swap between 8″ rails for smaller work (usually just for a lens support, or a follow focus if needed), and bigger 18″ rails for narrative work (all those add-ons add-up!).
2. ShotGrip Handle
I’ve gushed about this in my other post about using specific gear when I shot Wander My Friends. It’s a well-made wooden handle that screws right into the FS100 (utilizing the top mounting point, and the hot-shoe for added stability). There are other, more robust solutions (SolidCamera’s and Berkey System’s), but this is a small all-in-one solution that works great for me (and is the cheapest). While I still hold the bottom of the camera in tandem with the top grip when carrying the whole rig, I feel confident enough in the design to hold everything just by the ShotGrip handle in lightweight situations. The ShotGrip also has mounting points, but I find that using the rail on the handle (by sliding the wooden handle back, giving some slack on one end) works out best. That’s where the MicroMount comes in.
3. RedRock MicroMount
These guys work pretty well. They slide on to one 15mm rail, tighten, and then give you another rail or mounting point (with the microspud, which gives you a 1/4″ 20 male/female mount). You can connect just about anything to your rig with one of these. I use this for my microphone offset (connected to the base of the ShotGrip), and my SmallHD monitor.
4. SmallHD DP4 (with EVF)
SmallHD’s DP4 monitor and EVF have been an extremely invaluable addition to my kit. Again, I’ve gushed about this product plenty, so I’ll just explain how it plays into my basic build. Being configured to mount on a microspud on the shotgrip rail helps keep it close to the camera body, and helps keep the rig more compact.
The EVF is extremely helpful for exterior live shoots. Most of the time, the sun is way too harsh, so using the EVF (with a chammy) helps me actually see the frame. My only use for the on-board LCD is for 4x and 8x punch-ins, to get critical focus. That’s why this set up looks so strange—I have to use the Sony monitor because the punch-in doesn’t feed out to any external source (my biggest issues with the FS100 user interface). I also use the 1:1 pixel mapping (addressed to one of the hotkey buttons on the DP4) whenever I need to quickly check something while using the EVF.
To make firmware lemons into GUI lemonade, I’d say that this set up has actually really come in handy. I can look at a nice clean image in the SmallHD monitor, and whenever I want to check focus (or any indicators), I can glance over to the other monitor without having to touch a button, which could potentially shake the camera. This technique works best for documentary shoots (interviews and live footage), but I have used it for narrative work (it’s a little difficult to be handheld and try this).
5. Noga CineArm
The Noga CineArm is a simple articulating arm, but it’s been in my kit since the beginning (it’s really beaten up by now). I’ve had it break on my once (supposedly a faulty part), but 16×9 (Noga’s North American retailer) fixed it free of charge! The only problem I have with it’s design is how large the knob is (though you can lift the knob and reposition without loosening, so that’s pretty smart). I use this for the DP4, but I’d like to someday find a solution for adjusting my EVF with one hand. SolidCamera has a solution, but it’s too expensive for me.
As I mentioned earlier, I use the microphone offset (that came with the FS100) with a Redrock MicroMount. I keep the Sony-supplied reference mic (well, that’s what I use it for) at all times. I’ve been burned a couple of times thinking I absolutely did not need to pack an audio solution, only to find that having it would have made everyone’s lives easier. This is a lesson in preparing, but also a lesson in realizing that the FS100 does not have a built-in microphone, which actually can be a problem. Now I keep this thing permanently fixed to the ShotGrip. Reference audio can come in handy during a live shoot (speaking information into the microphone about the location, etc), or a narrative project (being reference to sync the actual sound files). I have a shot in my demo reel where literally hundreds of geese come over a set of trees. When I was shooting that, I remember the noise…it was horrifying! I wish I could have shared that with people, but the file is video-only. I didn’t pack my microphone because the Sony mount is really cumbersome, and I shot it in the dead of winter, in a snowstorm.
So that’s my basic set up. There’s a lot more that goes into it, but after working with your own set up, you’ll come find what you do or do not need on your camera build. Find a good middle-ground between functionality and speed.