Thanks to the extensible nature of third party interchangeable parts, you can assemble a shoulder rig that balances robustness, accessory accommodation, and price range almost perfectly to what you need, for a price you can afford. You may buy a complete package from a trusted vendor, one on the super-cheap from overseas, or upgrade your older kit with new pads, grips, and weights. You may even eschew the steel altogether and build one yourself, and there’s many a building guide for such a DIY assembly out there -- one more recent post breaks down a PVC shouldermount rig for a paltry $10. For this and some other (picture left) dirt-cheap alternatives, check below.
In terms of sturdiness -- and sexiness, for that matter -- you do pretty much get what you pay for, but for a rig that actually works at an expense that couldn't be any closer to "free," this is an option that may interest you. Maybe you already own a shoulder rig, but want a cheap and simple spare for your second camera. Or, maybe you just want to build it as a weekend project to see how it measures up. Whatever the case, again, the price can't be beat. With props to Lifehacker for the find, here's DIY Photography's video for building a shoulder mount rig with $10 worth of PVC pipes and pieces.
Granted, even after the electrical taping (which is indeed a cosmetic improvement), the rig still looks a bit more like an elephant than many shooters would like, but the proof is in the pudding -- if the rig allows you to shoot with greater stability, it's a viable option. You may use your own discretion for where and when a choice such as this is acceptable to use, but at the very least, it's good to know a working unit can be made this inexpensively. Other DIY shoulder rigs may start getting a bit steeper, setting you back anywhere from $20-25 all the way up to $50 totals, depending on which bits you go for.
Here's a variation from Vu Le on Vimeo, with details on limitations and potential improvements in the description:
As far as appearances go, I love the look of this particular homebrew rig (below), also featured previously by Lifehacker -- it looks like something out of BioShock, appears to be readily adjustable, features a nifty spot for an external mic and mount, and has an adjustable counterweight system. It was devised and created by Instructables user benfloom for only $25 -- the shopping list is included in the user's original post:
Finally, here's Caleb Pike from DSLR Video Shooter highlighting a rig with gear from CowboyStudio. It's not technically a build-it-yourself job, but the total price is still so low, it's definitely worth a look:
What do you guys think of these rigs -- clever and cheap, or a little too cute to use on set? Have any of you guys built a rig based on these guides, or another not included here? Or, have you devised your own rig that may be comparably inexpensive but superior in some ways? Feel free to share links, lists, prices and parts below if so!