DIY: Camera Shoulder Rest – Part 2

June 22, 2009 by Derrick Faw · 3 Comments
Filed under: Equipment 

Several people have requested that I give a better explanation of how to construct our Camera Shoulder Rest. It has been several years since I built the device, but I will try to explain the best I can out of memory.

The frame was constructed of flattened steal. I bough a piece with pre-drilled holes. I cut the steal into two pieces, one being the camera arm and the other for the shoulder support. The shoulder support was then bent in a curved shape. Be sure to allow plenty of extra space for the padding to be added later.

The camera arm was then attached to the shoulder support with a nut and bolt. To give added support to the arm, I was able to find a curved bracket and bolted it between the camera arm and shoulder rest. The device is now ready to paint.

The handle was made from a small rubber-handled plastic flashlight. The light head was cut off using a hacksaw. Then with a long bolt and washers it can be fixed to the end of the camera arm.

I purchased some padding from a cloth shop and fashioned it around the shoulder support. Then secured it with needle and thread. Now with some cloth I sewed a sleeve that would fit around the shoulder support. This process proved to be very difficult. In hindsight it may have been easier to fix the padding and sleeve before bending and attaching the shoulder support the camera arm.

To make the design hands free I had to devise a belt system. I used nylon strapping that can be found in most hardware stores or cloth shops. On each end of the shoulder rest I made a loop, similar to a belt loop. After this another strap can be threaded through the loops to act as a belt around the wearers chest. A plastic buckle was used to fastened the belt around the chest. It also allows for easy adjustment. This will hold the camera rest down on the shoulder. To keep it from sliding off and making it a totally hands free design another strap was used. It was attached near the top of the curve of the shoulder support and running diagonally across the back, then attached to the belt strap.

The last step is to fix a method of attaching the camera to the camera arm. I used an extra plate from quick release tripod mount, then with a bolt and wing nut it can be moved and removed easily. I provided a diagram below to hopefully illustrate my design and meanings better.


I would like to add that there are also several good camera rest available for purchase for those not wanting to attempt your own model. Use the link below for a nice selection from B&H.

BH Photo Camera RestS-800 Super Pro Shoulder Support

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The Sony Minidisc

December 18, 2008 by Derrick Faw · 3 Comments
Filed under: Equipment, Filming, Sound 

MinidiscOne of the most valuable items in our equipment bag is the Sony Minidisc Walkman. These handy little gadgets hit the market in 1992 and have come a long way since. They were originally intended to be the replacement of audio cassettes as a recordable CD. They never caught on with record companies, so consumers never really had a chance to experience the advantages over other technologies. Only a few albums were ever printed for the Minidisc. Where the Minidisc did succeed though was in its ability to capture sound. The list of uses for recording sound on Minidisc are almost as big as your imagination. With a microphone you can record live music, dialog, sound effects, background noise, conversations, take notes, etc, etc. Optionally you can record directly through the line in port from any device outputting sound: computers, tape decks, radios, scanners, soundboards, VCRs, DVDs, Video Games, etc, etc. A headphone port allows you to listen in real time as you record. It is small enough to fit in your pocket and yet delivers amazing sound recording capabilities. Not only does it record, it does so at near CD quality if not arguably higher depending on the model you use. Recordings can easily be split into tracks for later review and handling. Tracks can even be edited straight from the recorder. What is even better about Minidisc is that they can be reformatted and used over and over again. Though we use the Minidisc for recording only, todays Minidisc recorders have the ability to not only play mp3s, but can be used as a USB mass storage device as well. The Minidisc offers a very small medium, it measures 7cm x 6.75cm x 0.5cm (2.75” x 2 21/32” x 3/16”). They are known to be virtually indestructible. A good resource for all things Minidisc is (The Minidisc Community Portal). The website is a bit hard to navigate, but filled with a lot of useful information and stories of people and their Minidisc.

We currently use the Sony MZ-RH10 Minidisc Walkman, introduced in 2005. If you plan on purchasing a Minidisc Walkman, be absolutely certain it is a Hi-MD model. which replaced and greatly improved on earlier models. According to Sony, Hi-MD is: Hi-Capacity, Hi-Battery Life and Hi-Quality Combine to Create Ideal Digital Music Solution sonyminidisc Features:

  • HI-MD WALKMAN with large 5 line LCD display
  • MP3 / Atrac3plus direct playback
  • SonicStage for easy music management and unlimited check outs of your favourite tracks
  • Supports all popular digital audio compression formats: ATRAC / MP3 / WMA / WAV
  • Remote control
  • Record from multiple source: USB-in / Mic-in / Analogue-in / Digital-in
  • Extremely fast music transfer from and to PC: 1 CD in less than 40 seconds
  • Capable of storing audio, video and data files on your HI-MD disc (Word, Powerpoint, ATRAC, MP3, JPEG, MPEG, etc)
  • Rechargeable battery, Charging stand, AC Power Adpater
  • Long battery life of 25 hours
  • G-PROTECTION Jog Proof
  • Transfer up to 45 CDs onto a single 1GB Hi-MD disc (with Atrac3Plus compression).

Recording Modes:

  • Linear PCM: (16bits/44.1khz, i.e. CD format) Over 1 ½ hours of recording time on a 1 GB HiMD disc.
  • Hi-SP: (Sony ATRAC3plus encoding at 256kbps) Almost 8 hours of recording time on a 1 GB HiMD disc.
  • Hi-LP: (Sony ATRAC3plus encoding at 64kbps) Approximately 34 hours of recording time on a 1 GB HiMD disc.

ECM-D870PIt is powered by a High-Capacity Nickel-Metal Hydride rechargeable battery. Our model also supports an attachment that allows it to run off a single AA battery. There are several other accessories available, making the Minidisc even more versital and practical than anything else on the market. We often use a Sony ECM-DS70P stereo microphone with the recorder. It captures very clear and crisp sounds, though it is a bit sensitive. Fortunately enough, the Minidisc Walkman has a variety of recording settings, such as mic sensitivity. As a music player it also has lots of features and abilities, but for our purposes the recording is the most important. I leave the mp3s to the iPhone. The only real drawback is that Sony software has to be used on your computer to process recorded tracks. However this can be done with a PC or Mac. If you need a method of recording sounds on location, this device can serve as a primary or at least backup recording system.

Before purchasing a Minidisc Walkman consult the Minidisc Community website to find out about the differing capabilities and characteristics of each model.

Tripod Leveling Made Easy

December 16, 2008 by Derrick Faw · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Equipment, Filming, Photography 

Many times in photography and filmmaking we require the use of a tripod. They are beneficial for panning, low light photography, repetitive shots, etc. The beauty of a tripod is that they can be set up level on virtually any terrain or studio position. Personally I like to always work with a level tripod. For the same reason I try not to hold the camera tilted to one side or the other when I take shots freehand. There are auto leveling gadgets for tripods on the market to assist in this aspect, although I have yet to try any. I am very comfortable leveling with a simple bubble level. I worked for a professional land surveyor for eight years, where use and efficiency with a tripod was a must. One of the first things we ever had to teach a new recruit was tripod leveling. Maybe you find it easy, but believe me most people have problems with it. Actually all that is needed is practice and a few tips. In the end everyone develops their own preferences. After a bit of practice and under perfect conditions, I could set up the survey instrument level and have the field computer on in a minutes time. There is no reason setting up a tripod level for a camera should take any longer, especially since the level of precision needed isn’t even in the same ballpark.

Most tripods come with some method of leveling, either in the form of a circular bubble level or in the shape of a bar. If your tripod isn’t equipped with a level, one can be purchased cheaply at most any hardware store. The main problem with photographic tripods is the weight. They tend to be very light and have a compact design for easy transport. This might sound like an all around good thing, but the drawback is the loss of stability. Even the slightest bump can knock a tripod out of level. To help avoid this problem you can position heavy objects at the base of the tripod legs to help keep them from moving. If your tripod has a rotating head, loosen the motion locks before turning, thus allowing it to move freely to the next desired position. Also be aware that if you are set up for an extended period of time, regularly check your level. Changes in temperature can cause the tripod legs to contract, in result bringing your camera back out of level. The best tripods in surveying are made of wood and fiberglass, they are heavy enough to stay in position and are less effected by weather. The problem there is nobody wants to lug them around all day. When using the circular bubble level, it is also helpful to consider that the sun can draw your bubble away from it’s intended position. It is always best to set up your tripod with the bubble opposite of the sun’s position.

Setting a tripod level is as easy as 1-2-3. When setting up the tripod, first do not extend the legs fully, allow yourself a little room for adjustment. Take for example the following image. We have planted the legs (Represented By A, B, and C) and are ready to level.
tripod1Now adjust the tripod legs one at a time so that the bubble rotates in the direction of any one of the legs like so. In this example I moved it to Leg A.


Now Leg A simply needs to be lowered until level is reached. If during this process you find the bubble is not moving towards the center, adjust Leg B or Leg C to put the bubble back in line with Leg A.


So now the tripod is in level. Not precise enough to survey a boundary to layout a new shopping center, but good enough for most photography needs. If your tripod has a rotating head, you may want to install a small bar level if you don’t already have one. Optionally you may use a small inexpensive level like used for hanging pictures or carpentry. Simply place it on top of the head, and rotate the horizontal motion accordingly.


plumbbobIf you have the desire to reproduce shots like Harvey Keitel in the film Smoke by Wayne Wang, you might find the following information beneficial. The first thing I recommend is to have a means of attaching a small plumb-bob to the bottom of the center post of your tripod. You may have to be a little inventive in this process. Use an attachment such as a hook or even a swivel (used on a fishing line) to fix the plumb-bob string from. As long as the string hangs from the center position you are OK. Either before or immediately after you set up the tripod, you need to establish vertical control. On turf you can place a nail or tack in the ground. Be sure to attach some ribbon to the nail, or some other means of easily locating it. They can be easily lost in the shortest of grass. On hard surfaces you can use a marker, paint, sticker, or even carve out an “x”. With the plumb-bob attached and hovering barely over your vertical control marker, you will have no problem reproducing your position. Having your tripod level is also a must. I highly recommend that you always carry a notebook and pencil for taking notes. Using a regular tape measure note the distance from your vertical control point to a fixed point on the camera, such as the center of the lens or even a button, as long as you have it in your notes you won’t forget. To remember the horizontal angle you used in your shots, try rotating the camera until you find a suitable place for another control point. For example, if you are taking a panorama of a lake, turn the camera to a nearby tree. Put a mark on the tree directly at the center point of your camera’s view finder. You can then use this horizontal control as a reference in future shots.


Harvey Keitel in Smoke (1995)

DIY: Building An Editing Station

December 12, 2008 by Derrick Faw · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Computing, Editing, Equipment 

The two basic tools needed to film these days are a camera and a computer. Digital editing has brought filmmaking to a whole new level and availability. Now anyone with a half decent computer can do basic video editing in the comfort of their own home. Though it doesn’t take long to realize, a powerful machine can process video quickly and efficiently. The worst thing about computing has always been waiting on processes. Last year at Christmas, Samantha’s sister gave her a nice collection of flashy gadgets for a computer. We decided we should build a whole new computer to house these treasures. In the process it became apparent we would be building a whole new editing station to run on both Linux and Windows XP. We have never really liked off the shelf desktop systems. The low end models are too basic with junk for components The upper end models are way too expensive. Both are usually stacked with proprietary software and not to mention Windows Vista. I became interested in building my own machines about 10 years ago, and haven’t thought of doing it any other way since. To the novice it might seem frightening or too complex, but it is very easy and affordable. For film editing you basically have two platforms to choose from, Mac or Windows. If your choice is Windows or Linux or both then why not build your “dream machine”. If you prefer running a Mac operating system, you are probably better off to purchase a system from them. Though it is possible to build a machine to run Mac, there are legal issues in doing so. At that time, I also was checking Revitaa pro reviews. I was needing a change of life, and Revitaa Pro gave it to me.

One great advantage of living in Paris is Rue Montgallet. Located in in the 12th Arrondissement, this street and it’s surrounding neighbors are home of more computer stores than can be found anywhere I know of. Paris is funny in that way, if you want computer stuff you can go to the computer street, if you want a guitar you can go to the music street, the same works for photography and other areas of interest. Many of the stores there collaborate together in a website, but be forewarned, use it as a guide only. The stores are sporadic and prices and availability may vary slightly. The best thing to do is establish a relationship with an individual store, which we have, or you are doomed to walk the streets in crowed little shops looking for the right component at the right price. At any means by the end of the day you come home with better deals than you can find anywhere else. Back in North Carolina I found that the Internet is the best place to shop for computer components. For a good place to start, try places like B&H. There you can also find a full range of top quality computers for all your video, audio, and photo needs.

Maintaining a machine that has the best of modern technologies is tough. It takes no time at all for technologies to be replaced and advanced. We built our machine early this year, by now better components would be much cheaper. Though this might seem disheartening, if you build a machine that works good for you, stick with it. The number one advice I know to give in keeping your editing station working good is to keep it clean. It should not be your primary computer, limited exposure to the Internet and useless software will keep any Windows based system running a lot better.

There are many issues to consider when building your machine. What editing software do you want to use? What operating system is needed? How does your camera output? There are many guides online that deal with computer components and building systems. A few simple Google searches will yield a world of information. I will reserve any lengthy descriptions of components in this article. To build a machine the following hardware will be necessary:

  • Processor
  • Motherboard
  • Memory
  • Hard Drive
  • Video Card
  • DVD Burner
  • Case
  • Power Supply

Processor: We chose the Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 (2.67 ghz) for our machine. A good trick is to wait until a new processor is released and buy the previous version. The price will have been reduced and you still get something probably better than you had before. For editing video I recommend the best processor for the money you have available to spend, it will be the heart of your system. Research forums and reviews very carefully before you make this choice. For example at the moment Intel makes the best series, next week it could be AMD.

Motherboard: AKA mainboard. First it has to be a model which supports your processor. There are many companies making many models of boards, we chose the Asus P5K. The selection of a board is also critical to the performance of your machine. I would advise a large board with a lot of room for oversized video cards and to allow good air circulation. This was especially a concern for use because we have a Canapus DV Storm video acquisition card that we picked up on eBay a few years ago. Another important consideration is to have an adequate number of USB2 and firewire connections for your needs. Choose a motherboard capable of holding the maximum amount of memory (RAM), you will not be disappointed and it will help you get the most out of your processor.

Memory: We bought 4 GB G-Skill (6400 ddr2-800) of RAM for our machine, don’t go too cheep and get the fastest possible and also made by a reputable brand.

Hard Drive: Any new board you buy now will have SATA connections for hard drives. Which is really beneficial for video editors because of the increased speed. For any kind of serious editing I would advise having new hard drives, and even duplicates for backup. Don’t put yourself through the heartbreak of loosing all your data. There is only one hard drive I recommend, it is the Seagate Barracuda. Get one of sufficient size, recently we purchased two 1 terabyte drives for backups at a very reasonable price. You can do your own research but from our experience you will find nothing more dependable. For more information on how our backup system works, check out a post in Samantha’s personal blog about Building Our Backup system.

Video Card: Even if your computer has an onboard video controller, I highly suggest investing in a dual output video card. When editing it is very beneficial to have two screens running at the same time. We went with a fairly cheap card, the Nvidia Geforce 8400gs. For our purposes it works wonderfully. If you are handling 3D on the other hand, you should get something a lot better.

DVD burner: We went with a Pioneer DVR-212. It has a SATA interface and capability of burning dual layer DVDs. According to your specific needs, you may wish to have the capability of burning Blu-Ray, which we do not at this time since we do not film in HD.

Case: Now you have all you need to process and you need a house to put it all in. I do not suggest getting a case with a built in power supply. These can be noisey or not carry enough watts to keep your system healthy. Since we had all the bells and whistles from Samantha’s sister, we needed a case with a window. Cases can be bought for half the price we paid for ours, but for both of us it was love at first site. We got the Antec Nine Hundred hardcore gaming case. It is simply loaded with features and looks good too.

Power Supply: Don’t go cheap! Get yourself at least 500 watts and preferably by a superior brand. Cheap supplies tend to be unreliable in their power delivery and very noisey. Again, as with all components, Do The Research.

We also added a simple 16 in 1 card reader on the front panel. So with a lot of screwing, plugging, and arranging, we built a great editing machine for a bit less than €500. Note though that price does not include screens or the Canapus card, which we already had. Note: a video acquisition card probably isn’t necessary for your machine, it is an added luxury you can probably do without. Also, you will of course need an operating system, e.g. windows and or linux and your favorite editing software. The night we put it together we took a few pics, the end product looks like this.

OK it looks like a night club, a bit unnecessary for video editing. But it gets the job done and life should be enjoyed.

Filming in Widescreen

December 7, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Equipment, Filming 

Yesterday we filmed an exhibition opening at an art gallery in Montmartre, Paris. As i mentioned in an earlier post, I intended to film in Wide Screen (16:9) for the first time. Our camera, the Canon GL2, offers two options to film in Wide Screen:

  • The first option is to display two lines (one of top, one of the bottom) showing the limit of the 16:9 frame. You can then film in 4:3 and, when post-producing, generate a 4:3 version and/or a 16:9 version. If you respected the lines while filming and framed making sure that no important information was outside the limit, both versions will be OK.
What you see in the viewfinder

What you see in the viewfinder

The resulting 4/3 image

The resulting squared ratio image

The resulting 16/9 image

The resulting wide image

  • The second option is to modify the aspect ratio and film in 16:9. In that case, in the viewfinder, you will see what you are framing but resized to a 4:3 ratio. It will make everything look squeezed and distorted but when played back in the correct ratio, the image will be perfect. While you film, you can rely on what is and what is not in the frame which is the strong point. The weak point of course is that everything you see through the view finder is deformed by the 4:3 ratio.
The image as seen in the viewfinder

The image as seen in the squared viewfinder

The same image as seen in the widescreen movie

The image as seen in the resulting wide screen movie

As this was my first time filming with that ratio, I expected difficulties framing but it actually came naturally. The only thing that disturbed me at first was that I had to place myself a little bit further away from a painting to film it entirely since, to film 16:9, the camera has to blow everything up a little bit. I quickly adjusted to that and all my instincts fell back into place.

As for what the ratio brings, well, it enables to put more characters or more action in the frame which brings more depth, more life to the images. It also looks more like the movies we’re now used to and I think it is now a necessary thing for video makers to do. We just can not afford to keep using 4:3 when everything else people watch is shot wide. At no point did I feel like I missed the 4:3 ratio, I doubt I will be going back.

Please don’t hesitate to comment on your experience if you already switch to 16:9, let us know why and when you switched and what you like and dislike about this ratio.

DIY: Camera Shoulder Rest

December 4, 2008 by Derrick Faw · 3 Comments
Filed under: Equipment, Filming 

Rather you are a professional or amateur camera user, you probably have experienced fatigue after shooting for extended periods of time or had difficultly keeping the camera steady under certain situations. A few years ago Samantha came to the conclusion that we needed a shoulder rest for our camera. One day she came home from work with a piece of paper of a rough design and told me I was going to build one for her. After looking at several models available for purchase, we came to the conclusion it was a good idea to give it a try. No one model at the time had all the features we thought would be beneficial and would of stretched our pocket book at the time. We set a budget of €50, roughly equivalent to $65. This price also included the tools needed for construction, such as a drill, file, and hacksaw. I had just moved to Paris and unfortunately I had to leave behind a multitude of tools back in the US. Our first stop was Leroy Merlin the French equivalent of stores like Lowes Hardware and Home Depot. I have always like to design things in the hardware store, looking at pieces and get inspiration of what all can be possible. The design was simple, piece of flattened steel, some nuts and bolts, a flashlight (for the handle), and a nylon strap. We then went to a fabric store for cloth and foam padding. The most expensive piece of the whole design was the purchase of a €16 tripod mount from Fnac. With tools in hand I put together what we affectionately call the Cam-Perch. The hardest thing in the whole construction was sewing the shoulder pad together. We’ve had great success with the Cam-Perch. It offers a stable and adjustable method of holding the camera. It can be strapped on offering more control and hands free filming as Samantha discovered while she used it while riding a bicycle through NYC. Actually she was even stopped by a filmmaker who inquired about it. I told her I wished she would of sold it to him on the spot, but she would in no way part with it. The Cam-Perch was first designed to mount a small camcorder, but holds our Canon GL2 just fine.


For those of you wishing to build your own shoulder rest you can take ideas from my design or ask questions, which might lead to another post of how to construct it. You can also check out for a very good tutorial on how to make a simple and cheap shoulder rest.

NOTE: This post has been continued DIY: Camera Shoulder Rest – Part 2

There are several good camera rest available for purchase for those not wanting to attempt your own model. Use the link below for a nice selection from B&H.

BH Photo Camera Rest

S-800 Super Pro Shoulder Support

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