My DSLR rig

I kept holding back, thinking that I’d go 2K when the Digital Bolex comes out – but I couldn’t put it off any longer. So with some apprehension, I’ve taken the plunge and gone DSLR. Why the concern? The Canon 60D that I purchased has a lovely large sensor (22.3 × 14.9 mm ), which with a bit of tweaking gives lovely picture – what’s wrong with that? Well, I’m a bit old school and I like a video camera to look like a video camera. I like XLR inputs for audio that give phantom power and are line/mic switchable. I like to plug in headphones and monitor sound. I prefer something I can pop on my shoulder if I need to walk about. I like a motorised zoom control so I can re-frame quickly and easily. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently it is – and for the price it’s no surprise. I paid just over £500 for a 60D body – which is about a fifth of what you’d normally expect to pay for a video camera with anything like to sort of image quality you get from this DSLR. And when a client asked me to record an interview with a DSLR, that tipped the balance. So after trying out a friends camera, I’ve had a busy few weeks putting my DSLR rig together – and this is what it looks like…

What I describe here is the kit that suits me – what suits you will differ. For one thing I already have some equipment that I’ve used to make up this rig: a Mamiya 50mm, 28mm prime and Canon EFS 18mm to 55mm lenses, Female R/L RCA to 3.5mm adapter, SQN3 field mixer, Headphones, Base plate.
Note: A reasonable replacement for an SQN is the Beachtek DXA-SLR Pro. I’ve used one a few times and it has the flexibility to cope with most input configurations. It’ll set you back around £350, but it’s money well spent.

Camera: Canon EOS 60D body –  £542 (from Procamerashop), 2 x PowerPlanet LP-E6 Batteries – £23.80 (from Amazon), 2 x M42 adapter rings  £12 (from BV-electronics via Amazon), Sandisk SD/HC Extreme Pro 64GB  – £88.31 + VAT and delivery (from PMDmagnetics).
Camera mount: DSLR Rig Shoulder Mount – £39.99 (from ebay – seller: qualirdvdgps), Metal bar, metal drillbit, wing nut – £10 approx. (from B+Q), 1 x Double Head Stud with 1/4″ to 1/4″ thread (Double Head Stud – 1/4″ to 1/4″) – £1.16, 1 x Double Head Stud with 1/4″ to 3/8″ thread (Double Head Stud – 1/4″ to 3/8″) – £1.52 (from CoolLCD).
Monitoring: Lilliput 668GL-70NP/H/Y 7″ On Camera LCD Field Monitor w/ HDMI – £130 (from CoolLCD), SQN 3 Type M 5 pin din B output to stereo mini jack -35db attenuation – £41.40 (from SQN), Secondhand FiiO E5 Portable Headphone Amplifier – £12 (from ebay).

The Canon interface is ok, but not well suited to video recording, so I’ve installed Magic Lantern firmware on the SD disk which provides an enhanced viewfinder interface. Also, to increase the dynamic range of the recorded image, I’ve installed Technicolor ‘cine style’ as a picture style option.

Yes, you can get your video camera to give you some nice bokeh effects – but it’s a bit of a struggle. And building a DSLR rig that acts something like a video camera is a faff – but I think the results are worth it:

Extract from an interview with Jochem Hendriks at the John Hansard Gallery, Southampton.

Please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Resources: Much of what I’ve learned about shooting DSLR has come from the free – DSLR Cinematography Guide. Also, One Lone Dork provided useful advice on audio monitoring.

This post was originally published in September 2012.

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