February 9, 2015

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.

3. Modularity

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:

Step 1

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.

step_1_diy_builds-_baseplate_with_built-in_shoulder_pad

Step 2

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).

step_2_diy_builds-_baseplate_with_built-in_shoulder_pad
step_2_two_diy_builds-_baseplate_with_built-in_shoulder_pad

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.

step_3-4_one_diy_builds-_baseplate_with_built-in_shoulder_pad
step_3-4_two_diy_builds-_baseplate_with_built-in_shoulder_pad

Step 5

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. 

step_5_diy_builds-_baseplate_with_built-in_shoulder_pad

The Result

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:

final_image_diy_builds-_baseplate_with_built-in_shoulder_pad

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:

Jake Schumacher & Jed Hurt are currently Directing and Executive Producing their documentary App: The Human Story, which explores how app creation has become the new art form for our generation.

Here's a quick synopsis: Just as apps have made their way to the world stage, a small community of developers has emerged as modern day artisans. Their obsession over the details of every interaction and pixel has given these unlikely leaders a voice in shaping software in a way that respects what it means to be human. At its core, App: The Human Story is a vehicle to look at what it means to be human in a world of technology.

Your Comment

15 Comments

I find these DIY solutions with wood extremely fascinating. If anyone knows of any inspirational DIY links for any aspect of camera mounting or movement involving wood, I'd be very grateful.

February 9, 2015 at 12:08PM

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Saied M.
1246

Hey Saied, thanks for the kind words.

Ray Thomas over at KinoGrip has a lovely gallery of handcrafted, wooden camera grips: https://www.kinogrip.com/gallery.html

February 9, 2015 at 1:06PM

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Jedidiah Hurt
Director of App: The Human Story
102

Many thanks, very interesting images. I think one challenge is that the average person (including me) doesn't think much beyond nuts and bolts, yet with some of the contraptions, it seems that a more thorough appreciation of fasteners and fixings would help, as opposed to me thinking, "Hey, I didn't know those even existed". Thanks again.

February 9, 2015 at 1:20PM

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Saied M.
1246

I'm stating the obvious but the tripod plate is offset from the sensor axis quite a way here...?

February 9, 2015 at 12:15PM

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Ben Saffer
Maker
6

Hey, Ben.

You're absolutely right. Most baseplates use an additional long plate to address this. Zacuto offers the VCT Tripod Plate for their VCT Universal Plate. To make your own, all you need is an additional quick release, a long tripod plate and some sort of spacer that is the same height as the quick release. Mount the new quick release at the front of the long tripod plate and adjust until your sensor is where you want it.

We're not using our rods for anything other than the handheld rig, so we mainly use the tripod as a holding dock while it's not in use. If we we want to shoot off the tripod we simply take the camera off the base plate. The C100 provides us full functionality even with the hand grip removed.

February 9, 2015 at 1:26PM

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Jake Schumacher
Director of App: The Human Story
169

I would add some kind of padding to that wooden shoulder rest. Even with the most confortable setups, after a couple of hours of work it becomes a real pain. Appart from that, the idea is just brilliant.

February 9, 2015 at 1:23PM

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Thanks, Alejandro.

We listed an inexpensive gel pad that we use with this set-up. Also there are great pads that you can strap to your body for those long days.

http://www.filmtools.com/camera-comfort-cushion-com.html

February 9, 2015 at 1:30PM

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Jake Schumacher
Director of App: The Human Story
169

Yup, missed it. Great stuff!

February 9, 2015 at 1:35PM

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You better have a good tripod to hold that weight...

February 9, 2015 at 2:27PM

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Ryan Blaske
DP/Editor/Director
147

Thanks for all those advices. one piece you seem to have added, and that costs really a lot, is the grip relocator. What did you use for your rig ? Did you find something cheap ?

February 9, 2015 at 4:28PM

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Victor Blondel
Cinematographer
74

Hi, Victor.

We modified a Zacuto Grip Relocator that we purchased used on Craigslist. The cord is modified version of a LANC cable so there is no easy way around it.

February 9, 2015 at 6:44PM

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Jake Schumacher
Director of App: The Human Story
169

Nice! I'd like to know how you mounted the atomos ninja on to the handle (top picture) and is that far enough ahead for you to find focus and/or monitor.

February 9, 2015 at 6:18PM

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Chris Hsiung
Director / Editor
81

Hi, Chris.

It's another DIY contraption that's bit too involved to describe here but feel free to send us an email at co@storyandpixel.com and we'll snap some pics the next time we're shooing.

February 9, 2015 at 7:12PM

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Jake Schumacher
Director of App: The Human Story
169

Over the past few weeks I have created my own version of the Zacuto baseplate/shoulder rig using smallrig parts and a fair amount of bespoke (amateur!) metalwork. It is cheap (<£150), works great and was satisfying to make, but it's taken days and days of my life!

February 10, 2015 at 3:51PM

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Hi, Graham.

I would love to see some pictures of what you've come up with.

May 28, 2016 at 12:14AM

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Jake Schumacher
Director of App: The Human Story
169