Micro Filmmaking

The Steadicam Merlin 2 employs a counterbalance system that helps stabilize your shots.

To address the awkward handholding capabilities of your average DSLR, there are a number of companies like Camtrol, Cinevate, ikan, Redrock Micro and Zacuto that produce camera cages and rig support systems. These give you a better, more comfortable way to hold your camera during extended takes, but they also allow you to attach a number of other accessories to a DSLR like lights, matte boxes, monitors, focusing systems and sound gear. A typical still camera only has a single hot-shoe mount, while adding a cage or rig will give you a number of machined mounting points for building a filmmaking system.

But to truly achieve floating pans and smooth tracking shots like the shots you see in a film, counterbalance is required. Steadicam (tiffen.com) manufactures a junior version of its famous stabilization system for DSLRs and low-profile camcorders, the Steadicam Merlin 2 ($399 MSRP). While it doesn’t have attachment points for accessories, the Merlin 2 employs a very sophisticated counterbalance system that steadies shots no matter what kind of fast movements you’re making. This is of particular importance with DSLRs since they’re so prone to picture wobble. There’s definitely a learning curve to setting up and balancing the Merlin 2, but once you have it mastered, your shots will look very clean and you even can use it as a substitute for rail or slider movements. The Merlin 2 supports cameras weighing up to five pounds, or the optional Steadicam Merlin 2 Camera Stabilizing System with Arm & Vest Upgrade Kit ($949 MSRP) provides a more relaxed support system that extends weight capacity up to seven pounds. For an alternative choice, Glidecam (glidecam.com) also manufactures similar DSLR stabilization devices like the HD2000 ($499 MSRP) and HD4000 ($599 MSRP).

The Hoodman CH32 Compact HoodLoupe is a good monitoring solution for achieving critical focus.

Its efficient body is a primary advantage to working with a DSLR. At the same time, the LCD screens are much too small to gauge anything but an estimate of focus. A professional monitor is a great solution for circumventing this problem. Marshall, Transvideo, ikan, SmallHD, Ikegami and Sony all make great professional monitoring solutions for DSLRs, but at an additional cost of several hundred to several thousand dollars, it may make sense to explore more affordable monitoring solutions like loupes or electronic viewfinders. The Zacuto Z-Finder Pro (zacuto.com) and Hoodman loupes (hoodmanusa.com), for instance, are compact devices that give you the best of both worlds—a monitoring solution that still allows you to shoot with a DSLR from cramped quarters. The Hoodman CH32 Compact HoodLoupe ($99 MSRP) is an ideal choice because it folds down to 50% of its size and has a lanyard so you can wear it around your neck. Zacuto makes the similar Z-Finder Pro optical viewfinder ($299 MSRP), and on the more expensive side, the popular Zacuto EVF (begins at $649 MSRP), a 3.2-inch electronic viewfinder that’s compatible with any DSLR and camcorder capable of an HDMI output. Zacuto also offers a shoulder and tripod extension rig that the EVF models can affix to. It’s available in four models, starting with the EVF Snap, which pops on and off of the camera’s LCD screen.

While the focus rotation on a still lens is ideal for photographers quickly tracking a subject, the oversized barrels you’ll find on a cinema lens are far superior when tracking a moving subject or racking focus between multiple subjects during a take. Follow-focus units are one way to achieve a much more precise rotation. They also frequently come with marking discs for making repeated focusing movements that are difficult to execute with a standard still lens and almost impossible to see accurately on the LCD screen. Follow-focus units are expensive, however, and they usually require the additional purchase of a rig system to anchor them to a DSLR, as well.

Rokinon’s series of affordable cine lenses has become popular with DSLR filmmakers. The lenses have larger barrels that give you a longer focus throw.

Another solution is to consider moving to a cinema lens. Now that DSLRs have become so popular for video, there are a number of companies producing affordable cinematic lenses in native Canon, Micro Four Thirds, Nikon and Sony mounts including Tokina, Sigma and Samyang, which is distributed as Rokinon in the U.S. Rokinon (rokinon.com), in particular, has come out with a versatile selection of extremely affordable prime lenses with cinematic barrels. They lack autofocus, hence the price, but this isn’t a problem for motion work, of course. Currently, the line includes a variety of prime lenses ranging from two 14mm superwide-angles and an 8mm ƒ/3.5 fisheye to an 85mm ƒ/4 portrait lens. Most of the lenses are available at street prices far under $400, and they’re also available as kit systems through Amazon if you’re looking to pick up a basic lens package in one purchase, like the Rokinon Full Cine Lens Kit with 85mm, 35mm, 24mm, 14mm and 8mm lenses ($2,399 MSRP), or the Super Fast T1.5 Cine Lens Kit with 35mm, 24mm and 8mm focal lengths ($1,599 MSRP).

The Metabones Speed Booster increases light transmission, as well as field of view.

You can also swap lens systems and use older models through lens adapters. The Metabones Speed Booster system (begins at $399 MSRP, metabones.com) actually increases light transmission for a boost to shutter speed and aperture as well as field of view, which is widened by 0.71x on most mounts, especially useful to Micro Four Thirds cameras, which have a wide-angle-killing crop factor of 2.0x. There are a number of adapters from the company that allow you to adapt competing digital lens mounts or secondhand market lenses to virtually any DSLR or mirrorless system, including Blackmagic, Fuji X, Sony NEX, Micro Four Thirds and Nikon E cameras with lenses from ALPA, Canon EF, Contarex, Contax Yashica, Leica R, Nikon F/G and Sony A-mount.