A shoulder rig is an important accessory if you want to take consistently steady shots. It will also make long shoots more comfortable. With most costing a small fortune I decided to try to build my own. I used a handful of tutorials from YouTube and Vimeo but in the end designed my own as most were not offset (so the camera lines up in front of you when mounted), and those that were looked unprofessional. I wanted something that would look and operate as close to the real thing as possible.
Overall cost for the project was probably around £100. I had a lot of the tools already. That’s not super cheap I know but a great deal less than a shop bought rig. The construction is not all that easy so you need some DIY skills to make it a success but as long as you take your time and measure up correctly, you should get a good result. If you have any questions, drop me an email or post a comment below.
You’ll need 3 main sections for the body; the bent rear section, the small right angle and the main front section where the rail attaches. Leave a bent lip at the back of the bent rear section so a counterweight can sit on it. See figs 12 and 7 below. You will also need to cut three plates (figs 3 and 9 below show the underside of a plate and fig 6 also shows a plate) all to which you will need to attached four pipe clips, one in each corner. Two of these plates will be attached to the main body and the rails clipped onto them to make the base for the camera mount to be clipped onto. The third will have the camera mount on one side and the underside will be be clipped to the top of the rails. Making templates for the plates that hold the clips is a good idea so you can ensure it all lines up correctly. Take your time measuring, marking and drilling the screw holes.
What you’ll need:
1. Power drill
2. 7mm spanner
3. Flat head screwdriver
4. Mitre square
5. A hack saw
6. High speed (HSS) 4mm metal drill bit. Drilling screw holes in the aluminium should be fairly easy with this drill bit as it is a soft metal. Take your time though and note the comments below under the nail punch section. You won’t be able to drill the metal with a normal masonry drill bit.
7. Wooden mitre box – I found this useful for drilling and cutting, sitting the aluminium inside along one edge to stop it rotating/moving and drilling though into the wood helped get clean drill holes.
8. Copper pipe cutter (15mm)
9. Ruler, ideally metal
11. Vice (only useful, not necessary)
12. Nail punch . When you have marked where you need to drill your holes for the screws, hammer a mark into the aluminium with the nail punch as a guide for the drill bit. As long as you have the aluminium on a flat surface, don’t be afraid to give it a good solid strike so you make a nice deep mark in the metal. Getting the holes drilled in the right place is a very important part of the project so take time to measure correctly and mark effectively with the nail punch.
14. Spray paint undercoat/primer. Black spray paint. Make sure you use the undercoat/primer. I didn’t and will need to respray soon as a result as the paint chips off easily. Leave the paint to dry for a day if you can before clipping the rails/camera mount as the paint may rub off if you don’t. Once it’s dry it won’t be a problem.
15. Metal file for smoothing any sharp corners.
For the main body:
1. A couple of metres (in case of mistakes) of 50mm x 4mm aluminium. You should only need a metre or so. It could be slightly thicker or wider but not by much. These measurements give the correct rigidity, weight and can just about be bent as necessary for the rear section. A local metalworker should be able to help you with this, and also bending the rear section. I used a vice for this i.e. clamped the metal (protected either side with aluminium cut offs) and bent it round. It was quite easy. If you are in SW London speak to the guy at Cockburn Engineering, Lombard Business Park, 8, Lombard Rd, London, SW19 3TZ, Tel: 020 8542 9300. He cut me a strip of aluminium for a very reasonable price (£10 or so) and was very helpful. Nice guy. Some DIY shops may have similar but I couldn’t find anything suitable. See fig 13 for measurements but this is just a guide. Make sure your rig fits your size/shape by cutting to your size.
4. Screws. I used machine screws (pan slotted) , zinc plated 4 x 20mm 3/16″ x 3/4″ which came with bolts which should fit the 7mm spanner. These are the correct circumference for the 4mm drill bit.
5. Washers and wing nuts. M4 3/16″. You can use bolts for everything bit I used wing nuts so I could easily take it apart for travel/storage.
6. A shoulder pad from an old bag. I luckily had one lying around which I could slide on fairly easily. I have seen other people use dense foam cut to size and glued to the underside of the curved back part.
7. Counterweight which is secured at the back of the frame using velcro and can be bought from a scuba shop. I used a 2kg weight but weight will depend on the camera and lens. Another option is plastic coated lead weights which can again be secured with velcro. These are more expensive than the weight bags.
For the rails and camera mount
1. Quick release plate from Calumet or Manfrotto (577) (they are almost exactly the same but the Calumet option is half the price). Click here for more about the compatibility of the Manfrotto and Calumet equivalent. The pictures below show the plate without the quick release section that attaches to the camera. This quick release feature is great as you can quickly remove the camera from the rig and set it on a tripod if you have the same fitting, or use hand held.
3. 1 metre of 15mm copper pipe for the rails. My rails are 6mm apart (measured centre to centre) but they could be slightly more of less.
2. 15mm copper pipe clips (for attaching the rails to the body and also to attach the camera mount to the rails). These are very secure so you don’t need to worry about the camera coming off the rails.
For the grips/handles
1. Mountain bike flat handlebars. Look on ebay for these. There is no need to buy new unless you can’t find anything on ebay. Something like the Easton EA50 flat bars. They should be aluminium not carbon fibre so you can cut to size easily.
2. Bike handlebar ends.
3. Tube expander plug. Size M8 (not 100% sure on the size but think it was M8). This is for attaching the central handle to the main body. This solution took quite a while to figure out. I considered asking a local car mechanic to weld it on but decided I wanted the flexibility of removing the handle if required. It took a while to find the expander plug as I didn’t know what I wanted but hardware stores should have them. If you are SW London Belton & Slade in Wandsworth have them in different sizes but the M8 fits the circumference of the bike handlebars.
4. Handlebar grips similar to Ritchey Truegrip (only one needed for central handle). Rub a bit of washing up liquid into the handle which will help it slide on easily. Cut to length using a sharp knife.