DIY Tutorial: Building Your Own Camera Baseplate & Shoulder Pad on the Cheap
This is a guest post by Jake Schumacher & Jed Hurt.
The new breed of baseplates-that-double-as-shoulder-rigs are incredibly versatile and comfortable to use, but not very easy on your wallet.
Since we're working on an ambitious documentary film called App: The Human Story, with a crowdfunded budget, we have to find ways to stretch every dollar. That's why we built our own shoulder rig and put together this DIY guide so you can build your own at a fraction of what you might pay online for a pre-assembled rig.
First, let’s define the three features we're after:
1. Large baseplate
This allows you to set your rig down on flat surfaces. That sounds minor, but with previous shoulder rigs, this wasn’t an option and could lead to precariously balancing your rig to take a break.
2. Camera sits on the shoulder
The last generation of shoulder rigs placed the weight of the camera over your arms and often required adding counterweights to balance things out. Moving the camera over the shoulder takes the strain off your arms and gets rids of the superfluous counterweights, allowing you to shoot comfortably for longer periods of time.
We’re shooting a doc. Since everything we’re trying to capture is taking place in realtime, we don't get any second takes. We need to quickly be able to move cameras from rigs to tripods to sliders to handheld. It's essential that we can easily remove our camera from the rig, or even dock the whole rig on a tripod.
Here's how to put together an inexpensive rig that meets these goals:
Choose a tripod plate. For App, we’re using Manfrotto tripods, so everything connects with Manfrotto quick release plates. That said, this setup will work with any other tripod system.
Once you've chosen a tripod plate, you'll next need a way to add 15mm rods. For our baseplates, we’ve used all Smallrig parts. However, there are many options out there: from the fantastic Wooden Camera parts at the high-end, to the sketchy stuff on eBay at the low-end. We settled on the Smallrig quick release pack ($86) as it has pre-drilled holes that allowed us to connect to Smallrig’s Rail Block 15mm clamp ($20).
Steps 3 & 4
From there, add a cheese plate ($13) on top of the rail clamp along with your shoulder pad of choice. For the shoulder pad, we were inspired by Mr. Thomas over at KinoGrips. Jake used to build furniture so we're suckers for wood. We landed on custom maple hardwood that we cut out ourselves, paired with a gel strap pad ($13, not pictured in our photos). The maple is super strong and lightweight and works well with the gel strap pad or a pad that's worn on your body.
If you don’t have the tooling to cut your own shoulder pad, there are a wide range of shoulder options available — some starting as low as $15. Just remember, pick a shoulder pad that can sit flat.
The last step is to add a quick release on top of the cheese plate or, in our case, on top of the shoulder pad. This allows you to quickly move your camera between the baseplate and your tripod. If you pick up the Smallrig quick release pack, you'll already have this part.
That's it. You now have a solid baseplate that you can sit flat on a table, add 15mm rods to, dock in a tripod, and easily expand to a full shoulder rig. And you've managed to put it together for a fraction of the cost of buying one pre-assembled.
Here's an example of our baseplate built out:
We hope you enjoy and we'd love to see what you put together. Tweet us a picture at @appdocu. Here's an interview from App: The Human Story: