What Are the Risk Factors of Being a Professional Camera Operator?

Camera ergonomics are no joke—just ask all of the veteran camera operators with back problems.

If you lug around a camera all day, maybe you work in journalism or documentaries, you know that all of that standing and carrying has a serious impact on your posture, body, and overall health. South Korea's Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine conducted a study last year on the risk factors of "work-related upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders", or WRMSDs, in male cameramen and their findings are pretty interesting.

The team asked 166 broadcast cameramen questions regarding their work schedules, including average work/break duration, health habits, physical burden, and "musculoskeletal symptoms, which include localized/widespread pain, aching or stiffness, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and more. Here's a bit from the introduction, which gives a little bit of insight into the perspective of the study:

Cameramen are usually divided into two groups. The first group works with a portable camera that weighs about 10Kg or heavier. As all types of the portable camera are right-handed, they cannot change the shoulders during working. In the face of these facts their musculoskeletal disorders are mostly influenced by the weight and contact stress. The other form of work is to control a studio camera that is fixed on the ground. They do not get any weight or contact stress from their work. Instead of that, they have to keep their posture all the time during working hours. In both type of work, they usually raise their arm and shoulder for a long time. Comparatively, their lower extremities are ergonomically stable. And they can stretch or change their lower extremities position while they are working. In consideration of their working posture and contact stress from the heavy camera, upper extremities will get a more harmful influence than lower extremities. Thus, we only focused on the upper extremities in this study.

They learned that 14.5% of all participants reported symptoms in their shoulders, which was the highest recorded (the lowest, at 6%, being in the arms). This obviously makes sense since these types of camera operators carry heavy cameras on their shoulders for long hours with few breaks. However according to the study, there are more risk factors that play a role in increased reports of shoulder symptoms other than how many hours one works, including BMI, physical burden, and ergonomic factors. The team concluded with:

The most serious musculoskeletal disorders of male cameramen were shoulder pain. Ergonomic factors and physical burden were the most significant factors affecting WRMSDs in cameramen in this study. Cameramen should be educated to be able to improve the ergonomic occupational environment and to set up preventive measures against the risk factors during work.

Though it was created by RedShark News to promote the Sony PXW-X400, this infographic touches on a few of these statistics from the study. I mean, you can just as easily replace the camera model with "a well-balanced, lightweight, and ergonomically sound shoulder-mounted camera." But even though part of the problem stems from having to carry heavy and unwieldy cameras around all day, part of it is non-occupational. This means that there might be some things you could do at home, like exercising regularly, that may help you lesson some of the risks of being a camera operator.

Credit: RedShark News

Your Comment


I hardly work with shouldercameras (usually tripods, sliders and gimbals).
But I do know that yoga and using a Flexchair help me to keep my back in strong.
The Flexchair really helps when you do a lot of deskwork as it prevents inactivity of backmuscles and forces you to sit up right. No more (lower) backpains after a long day on set.

Most people don't know the Flexchair yet:
A Dutch invention by a physiotherapist who wanted to prevent people to come back with the same back problems every year.

October 28, 2016 at 4:17AM

You voted '-1'.
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer

I was just talking with my fellow AC on a long run and gun shoot the other day. We both had heave C300 rigs and full tripods to occasionally rely on but not always, etc.

Yoga certainly is a must. But you certainly feel the pain come along with time. I am fairly younger, but my cinematography professor from film school always said you put up with it until 45. That's when your body rebels on you and you become a creative.

Anyways all interesting. Great read too! Cheers.

October 28, 2016 at 9:00AM

Evan Kidd

I was a news cameraman for about 8 years. One day I remember I woke up and could not get out of bed. Couldn't stand up. Went to the chiro for a couple of months and he fixed me, but kept having back and shoulder problems. Now I just edit, but years of carrying that gear really messed me up and I know several other people that went through the same thing.

November 6, 2016 at 2:36PM


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