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|| News Item: Posted 2010-12-07

A newspaper’s shooter’s DSLR video rig in progress

By Crystal Chatham

This summer a revelation hit me. It became evident that I better get on the video bandwagon before technology and job skills left me in their taillights.

After hours of web surfing, blog reading, video watching and virtual window shopping I decided building a HDSLR rig was within my reach and -- more importantly -- within my budget if done carefully.

Photo by Mike Daniels

Photo by Mike Daniels

Photojournalist Crystal Chatham of The Desert Sun carries a Canon Rebel T2i-based personal video rig while on assignment at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., on October 6, 2010. Chatham was shooting stills
My goal was simple: build a video kit that I could learn on right now without spending money on the wrong gear. My foray into video has been completely self-funded so I knew I had to spend wisely. One of my top priorities was to buy gear that would be compatible with other cameras for when my newspaper eventually upgrades to video-capable bodies.

My friend and the Sports Shooter Academy’s video guru Myung Chun was a tremendous help. He willingly answered my many phone calls and emails asking the most basic questions. Do I really need a mic? What's this BeachTek thing I've read about -- do I have to buy one of those?

I'm a couple months into this now and am ankle deep in the video water. Here's how I've pimped my rig-in-progress so far...

Canon Rebel T2i/550D
I went with Canon based solely on what glass I have access to and I chose this body specifically for the price. I use 1DMkIIs for work so I was leery about buying a Rebel. I looked up video comparisons online and decided that waiting to buy a tougher-bodied and more expensive 7D or 5DMkII would only put me further behind our industry's leading edge. For me, the T2i was an affordable way to jump in without jumping into debt. I use the T2i as a dedicated video camera and didn't need the bells and whistles I usually look for in a still body. The T2i records full HD 1080p video and is under $1,000 out the door with a kit lens.

BeachTek DXA-SLR Active DSLR Adapter
This is a "must-have" item. I tested a 7D body last spring and loved the video quality but an interview captured with its on board mic was just terrible. The BeachTek adapter offers a place to plug in mics and monitors. This is a crucial piece of equipment and gives you the chance to capture audio on par with the video quality these cameras shoot. The box sells for $399.99 and mounts to the bottom of the camera.

Delkin Snug-It Pro camera skin
I bought this black silicon skin to give the T2i's plastic body one extra layer of protection. Rebel bodies just aren't as tough as the pro bodies I'm used to. For $29.95 the skin is an inexpensive investment. The Snug-It Pro covers the body and fits buttons tightly so camera operation is not hindered. The skin has cutouts to leave primary dials and necessary hatch doors accessible for the audio input, memory card and battery slots.
Photo by Crystal Chatham

Photo by Crystal Chatham

Chatham's Canon Rebel T2i HDSLR rig.

Windtech CM21 Video Hot Shoe Mic Clip
The Windtech hot shoe mic adapter is a $5.95 solution for mounting an external mic. It fits the secondhand mic I'm using perfectly.

Express 35 Run N' Gun Duo
I remember looking at HDSLR rigs and cages online for days and days before I came across the Express 35 site. I was overwhelmed by the seemingly endless variations that are out there. I did some test shooting and realized that hand-holding the T2i with video rolling wasn't going to cut it. I needed a simple and affordable way to widen the base and steady the camera. There are hundreds of rig options and you can spend several hundred and even thousands of dollars. For my needs, the Express 35 Run N' Gun Duo at $229 is perfect. I love this rig. The rig comes with 10" rails, a camera plate, a 10" cross bar, and a pair of handles. It is well built and easily expandable into a shoulder rig. Express 35 sells upgrade kits as well as extra rods and plates to turn an entry-level rig like the Run N' Gun into whatever I might want or need down the road. The handles on this are not as slick as those used by higher-end manufacturers like Red Rock Micro but frankly I don't mind. I got a kick opening the box -- a simple USPS priority postal box -- and finding the rig inside with no instructions. Thankfully, it's pretty self-explanatory.

RC2 Quick Release $30-ish
A quick-release plate is the latest addition to my rig. The Express 35 comes with a regular tripod screw to attach the base plate to the bottom of HDSLR or in my case the BeachTek adapter. During a couple test shoots I found it time consuming to screw and unscrew the rig mount when I wanted to move the camera over to a tripod. I was also uncomfortable having a loose screw to keep track of. I ordered the RC2 Quick Release system and now keep the base permanently mounted to the rig's camera plate and the quick release plate screwed to the bottom of the BeachTek audio adapter.

What's next?
As I mentioned before, my rig is very much a work-in-progress. Future add-ons include a viewfinder by either Zacuto or IDC and an adjustable neutral density filter like the Fader ND from Light Craft Workshop to combat the cloudless skies and harsh desert sun we have shoot under in Palm Springs, Calif. A good shotgun mic from Sennheiser is also on the wish list to replace a borrowed mic I'm using now. While not rig-related, I'm also looking to pick up a GoPro Hero HD cam or two for capturing unique b-roll when the story lends itself.


Fader ND

GoPro Hero HD

Crystal Chatham is a staff photographer at the Palm Springs Desert Sun. You can see her work on her member page: A video assignment she turned around into a video can be viewed at this link:

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