My Journey In Creating A Mini Digital Cinema Rig

I decided to create an easy-to-use, high-quality mini digital cinema rig. This blog covers some of the trials and tribulations I went through to conceive and set up the rig.

I own several cameras and various rigs for how they’re deployed in a variety of shooting situations. I have a bare-bones documentary rig for larger cameras like the Canon C300 MKII and the Sony FX9. I have a gimbal rig. I have a multi-camera live streaming setup utilizing three mirrorless cameras as well as various ways to live stream the program output. What I don’t have, though, is a small handheld cinema rig that’s easy to transport and easy to shoot with over a long period of time. I’ve always wanted a rig like this too. I finally decided to do something about it and embarked on a journey to assemble a rig that could fulfill this function. I needed a rig that’s relatively small and light that would record in high quality but not cost a fortune either.

Mini Digital Cinema Rig Criteria

  • Must utilize a camera I already own (easy, I own three Fujifilm X-T3 as a multi-camera and live rig production system).
  • Must be small.
  • Must be relatively lightweight (Heavy enough to avoid micro jitter when shooting handheld but not so heavy it becomes a pain to carry for hours).
  • Must have the ability to record internally or externally.
  • Must be capable of recording at least in 4K resolution.
  • Must have an external screen so I can judge critical focus.
  • Must have the ability to swap from native AF lenses to manually focused cinema geared lenses.

In going over my list of requirements, I realized that none of them seemed outlandish or unattainable. The approach did require some careful thought about how to accomplish the design goals for the mini digital cinema rig. 

This image shows some of the parts I had laying around including the Tilta follow focus, the Atomos Ninja V recorder, Small Rig baseplate, 15mm camera rods and the Fotasy Swiss Arca base and camera plate. All of the other parts though were recently acquired to build the rig.

Raid The Parts Bin

Over the years, as I’m sure many of you have, I’ve amassed quite a collection of various base plates, rods, rosettes, handles, tripod plates and other camera configuration objects. In searching through some of the parts totes, I came across a few items that I thought might be a good starting point to creating a mini digital cinema rig. I recently also acquired a pair of Came-TV Mini 99 V-Mount batteries that I believed could serve as the basis for powering the camera and the Atomos Ninja V I planned on using for this rig. I was able to locate a baseplate that accepted 15mm rods and some spare rods of various lengths. I also dug up a spare Swiss Arca Camera Plate and Mount.  

I knew that this rig build would require a baseplate, a camera cage, rods to somehow mount the Mini V-Mount to the rig, cables to power my Atomos Ninja V and the X-T3 itself, a way to mount the Ninja V to the cage and a few other odds and ends. I was planning on utilizing a few of my vintage Nikon Ai and Zeiss primes with this rig, so I knew I’d need a rod support to hold a follow focus unit, whether that was manual follow focus like the small Tilta unit I owned or the possibility of adding a Nucleus Nano powered remote follow focus unit.

Acquiring The Rest

I still needed to figure out how I could mount the Mini V-Mount battery to the rear of the rig. I checked with some of the best parts sources that I’ve bought from before like Zacuto, Tilta and Wooden Camera, but I couldn’t find a simple, small, light and inexpensive V-Mount baseplate that would attach to the rear rods of my mini digital cinema rig. I needed to still be able to view the X-T3’s screen occasionally, just to change and check the camera settings, adjust the white balance, frame rate, etc. The only way I could think of to make that work would be to build a longer and therefore bulkier rig that kept the Mini V-Mount clear of the screen or to have to remove the battery from the rig every time I had to adjust the camera settings, which would be an obvious pain.

The Small Rig Dual 15mm Rod Hinge Battery Plate was the key piece that really allowed the entire rig to work by mounting a Mini V-Mount battery to the back of a small mirrorless camera, but allowing it to swing out of the way to change the camera’s video settings via the rear screen.

The Key Piece Of The Puzzle

A key find that excited me was when I stumbled across a new accessory piece on the Small Rig website called the Dual 15mm Rod Battery Hinge MD2802. This hinge piece could be inserted into the Small Rig baseplate I was using as the foundation for the whole build. There are many different V-Mount battery plates available that could attach to the hinged battery plate on the battery hinge piece using a few small screws. Once attached, this would allow me to not only mount a Mini V-Mount battery to the rear of the rig, but I’d also be able to loosen the hinge retaining tie-down and swivel the battery out of the way for full access to the X-T3s LCD screen to format cards and adjust camera settings. Genius!

This image shows the perfect height fit that the AndyCine V Mount Plate allowed me to achieve. I had to try a few different plates to find one that was the correct height with the mounting holes for the screws in the right position to fit onto the Small Rig Battery Hinge.
This image shows the battery tilted down so I can access the X-T3 rear screen and menus/settings.

Experimenting To Find The Right V-Mount Fit

I ordered the Small Rig MD2802 and then ordered a couple of different V-Mount plates so I could see which one would work best and position the Mini V-Mount battery height-wise where I wanted it. After some experimenting, I ended up having the best result with an AndyCine Mini V-Lock Plate.

Check the price and availability of the AndyCine Mini V-Lock Plate on Amazon.

This plate easily attached to the Small Rig Battery Hinge and placed the Mini 99 V-Mount at the exact height I wanted. Just as I had hoped, it also allowed me to easily unlock the hinge and tilt the V-Mount battery down to access the X-T3s menus and settings. I ordered the Small Rig (notice a theme here with Small Rig?) Fujifilm X-T3 cage so that I could attach a handle and monitor mount to the cage allowing me to mount my Atomos Ninja V to the rig for monitoring, focusing and recording the output from the X-T3 in glorious 4K log 4:2:2 10-bit ProRes.

Once I had the entire rig assembled, I weighed it. It came in at almost 7 pounds. Hefty but not so heavy that I can’t hold it to my chest to film for long stretches. Heavy enough to mitigate the dreaded micro jitters that are usually apparent in small mirrorless cameras when shooting longer focal lengths handheld for video because they lack the inertial weight to mitigate the jittering, especially when operating handheld on 50 and 85mm lenses.  

I mounted the Tilta Follow Focus unit to the Small Rig base plate utilizing the single rod and rod mount that the Tilta Follow Focus came with.

How Does It Perform?

Overall, I have used the rig on one client job where it performed exactly as I hoped it would. I have a three-camera shoot where I’ll be using it for one angle handheld later this month, so hopefully, it will work well. My favorite lens so far with it is my 25mm Zeiss that I had Duclos Lenses declick the aperture, mount a Leitax EF mount to and install a focus gear ring. I’ve also used the rig with my Fujinon EF18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 OIS LM lens to try out the autofocusing ability, and so far, it’s decent. The Fujifilm X-T3 AF is usable in some situations but not great in others, depending on lighting, contrast and exposure. 

This shot shows the Came-TV Mini 99 output ports, one D-Tap being used to power the Atomos Ninja V and one USB being used to keep the battery on the X-T3 topped via USB A on the battery to a USB C connection on the X-T3. 

I’ll finish off this blog with a list of parts I utilized to create the mini digital cinema rig with links to Amazon U.S. where you can buy them. You’ll have to do some hunting on the Amazon for your country if you’re not in the U.S.

None of these parts, other than the camera cage, are specific to the Fujifilm X-T3, so you can utilize a different mirrorless camera for your rig obviously, just buy the appropriate cage for your model camera. Happy mini digital cinema rig building.

  1. Mirrorless Camera Baseplate: Check the price and availability on Amazon.
  2. SmallRig 15mm 4 Inch Rods: Check the price and availability on Amazon
  3. SmallRig Dual 15mm Rod Battery Hinge MD2802: Check the price and availability on Amazon
  4. Fotasy 50mm Arca Swiss Type Clamp and Camera Plate: Check the price and availability on Amazon.
  5. SmallRig Camera Cage for Fuji X-T3: Check the price and availability on Amazon.
  6. SmallRig Universal Mini Top Handle MD2393: Check the price and availability on Amazon.
  7. Small Rig Monitor Mount (I use it for my Atomos Ninja V, but any small camera monitor can be utilized with it too): Check the price and availability on Amazon.
  8. Came-TV Mini 99 V-Mount Battery (you’ll also need to buy some kind of V-Mount D-Tap or plate battery charger if you don’t already own one): Check the price and availability on Amazon.
  9. Depending on your model of mirrorless camera, you can power your camera from the Mini V-mount battery via USB C utilizing one of these cables as I used for the X-T3: Check the price and availability on Amazon. Or you may be able to purchase a Dummy battery to D-Tap cable for your camera.