A shoulder rig has been on my shopping list for a long time. Why? Ever spent a day filming handheld footage with a full-sized camera cradled in your arms like a newborn baby? Needed painkillers that evening for the muscle cramps?

DSLRs and small camcorders have made it easier to go handheld, but smaller and lighter also means less stability and sloppier footage. And so the shoulder rig was born - those weird contraptions with a set of bicycle handlebars, metal support rods, a shoulder pad and a few lead weights stacked on the back to balance out the weight of the camera on the front. They're pretty common nowadays and you can make up your own if you shop around for components.

Varizoom's Media Rig caught my eye because it fills a gap between a shoulder rig and a steadicam rig by using a spring-loaded rod in combination with a velcro waist band to support the weight of the camera. It is a poor man's steadicam to a certain degree. While it does a good job of cancelling out unwanted movement, it is not a full-featured vest, arm and sled by any means and if you really want super smooth handheld footage you'll probably still want to look at a proper steadicam rig. However it is priced really well compared to other rigs so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get one.

It arrived soon enough. And I immediately started...modifying it!


The first thing to go was the small counterweight. I fitted a 2kg gym weight (thanks Hendrik) which is perfect for my FS100 with a heavy 35mm cine lens and follow focus unit fitted. Like most shoulder rigs I suspect the Varizoom rig is probably more intended for DSLRs and smaller cameras, so you'll probably want to look at more counterweight on the back if you are going to use it with a heavier camera. Next came a Libec quick release adapter and a Genustech follow focus unit. To get all this fitted I had to build a Frankenstein rig with a Genustech cheese plate, a few parts cannibalized from a lens support rig and a set of short 3" Lanparte rods. While this is a sturdy setup and the follow focus works well, the cheese plate does add a lot of weight so I'm still looking for a better solution.

After my first full day shoot with it I'm happy with my Varizoom rig. It is good value for money and solidly built. Like most special camera rigs this will require some practice - any steadicam rig is only as steady as the operator handling it and this is no different. While the rod and waistband does a good job of spreading the weight of the camera from your arms to your torso and dampening the worst movement, this will still give you a workout when you add a camera, batteries and monitor to it.

However my footage is much steadier than it was without the rig and I no longer need to kill my arms on longer shoots. Good luck finding this locally in South Africa though. Mine came from my good friends over at B&H in New York.