DSLR Filmmaking Devices That Hold a Camera Steady - dummies

DSLR Filmmaking Devices That Hold a Camera Steady

By John Carucci

You can hold the DSLR camera while shooting a film. Not in that “grasp camera near your face as if you were taking a snapshot” technique, but rather with accessories that provide help in keeping the camera steady.

Camera rig systems

Think of it as a human tripod, a two-pod, if you will, using your own legs to make up the base. It rests on your shoulders, supporting a host of accessories. The camera being mounted in front of you allows for more fluid movement.

Many rigs use a dual rail system that allows you to move the camera forward and backwards on the rails. Though bulky, it allows the DSLR to behave more like a bona fide movie camera than a video camcorder.


Camera rig components

How to configure your camera rig varies with each user with regard to size, needs, and accessories. Here are some of the pieces that make up the rig:

  • Rails: Rails are the backbone of the rig system and the platform that the components are attached to. Typically, the base is made up of two rails made up of a strong material like metal or carbon fiber. Although they vary in size, most range from 10″ to 24″ long.

  • Camera block: The camera block is the mounting place for the DSLR. Each system differs slightly, but most allow you to move the camera on the rails.

  • Shoulder mount: Most rigs hold steady by balancing on your shoulder. Available in several variations, most shoulder mounts are adjustable, allowing you to angle the rear end of the rig higher or lower.

  • Front handles: By adjusting the rails and handles, most models accommodate the needs and arm lengths of each user.

  • Matte box: This boxy attachment acts as a shade. It limits glare by blocking the top and side light that hits the lens. You can also insert filters in front of the lens with it too.

  • Larger external display: Bigger is better, especially when it comes to your display for monitoring live video. Because the rig is already on your shoulder, you may as well take advantage of a larger monitor.

  • Follow focus: Mounted on the rig, this device allows you to achieve a full range of focus. They range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, yet all do the same basic thing.

  • Video light: Bringing light to the party is easy enough with your rig with enough real estate to mount a light and battery pack. Besides illumination, it maintains color balance, and alleviates the worry of light placement.

Here are some tips for selecting the right rig:

  • Ask yourself what you need: Basic uses warrant a less expensive model, whereas more commercial application requires a specific model and accessory capability.

  • Get a feel for it before you buy: Try it on before you purchase it.

  • Limit how much you add: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  • Build your own: If you can’t afford a rig, numerous sites on the Internet offer step-by-step instructions to building your own.

  • Sometimes it’s too much: Because rigs include some many accessories, it’s not unheard of spend thousands of dollars on it. At that point, you may want to consider a traditional video camera.

Other DSLR handheld devices

Another option to consider is the Steadicam, which is a relatively new invention that allows motion picture camera operators to move through the scene holding the camera without showing any indication of handholding.

The Steadicam works on the principle of keeping the camera steady even when the operator is bouncing around. Although the type used in motion picture cinematography is expensive, there’s an affordable model for DSLRs called the Merlin, which uses the same gimbal principle.


Here are some other stabilization devices to consider:

  • Stabilizing handle: Mounting the camera in this U-shaped holder allows you to shoot steady video from waist-level. It’s inexpensive and comes in handy for mid- and low-level shots.

  • Chest pod: The camera on its plate, the strap around your neck, and the resting pad for your chest provide a three-point solution to reducing vibration and shakiness.

  • Shoulder pod: This variation to the chest pod rests the camera on your shoulder.

  • Tabletop pod: The tabletop pod is a small flat mounting base with rubber feet for your DSLR that lets you place the attached camera on a flat surface.

  • Steady pod: A steady pod is an inexpensive device that attaches to the bottom of your DSLR and uses a retractable cable that you anchor with your foot or attach to your belt loop to create an upward tension.

  • Hand grip: Basically, it lets you hold the camera from the bottom to alter the center of gravity.