Do you need to shoot documentary, run and gun style with the Canon C100 mark II? Or any Cinema style camera for that mater. All the kit involved to create a rig for it can be a bit of a minefield, so in this post I’m going to detail how to build a shoulder rig for the Canon C100 Mark II, all the things to consider, along with the options I went for, the prices, and why.
The Canon C1oo mark II is lovely camera! I bought mine over 5 years ago now, and it’s held up incredibly well. It’s just a very well designed machine. You do need to be aware of a couple of it’s foibles and shoot to account for them, but it can produce such nice looking pictures with beautiful colours, which is why so many go to Canon. Hand in hand with that is its use of EF lenses, including the L series, so you can get some decent quality there and also swap them out with your Canon DSLRs. The form factor is excellent, you can make it big or small, and it’s a pleasure to operate. Autofocus snaps right in, built in ND filters – who knows how we could live without them? Dual XLR audio in, top handle, good battery life, fully flexible EVF, optical viewfinder, can shoot in C-log – well they’re my highlights. Oh, and all for such a reasonable price in the world of Cinema cameras.
It could easily be argued I went way over the top shooting all these product shots on a black background. Sorry. I did. But I’m not re-doing them all.
I could go into a few negative things but it really doesn’t deserve it. You can’t expect everything for that price, the world would stop making sense. Plus it’s over 6 years old now. So no 4k, fair enough. Internal recording limited at 35 Mbps, not nearly enough. But we can solve that. Low light can also be an issue for it. And I think that’s gripe over.
Off the tripod is this camera’s home ground. It’s got a hugable hand-held form factor, in as much as you can cradle it and end up with reasonably steady stuff. But the problem so many of us face with these types of camera – cinema cameras – is as soon as you want to do anything at all documentary then the spanner is well and truly in the works. What if your subject is up and moving about in a slightly unpredictable manner? Not confined to one room or space, touring around, meeting new people. What if you just want to point the thing in an area and pick up a few steady cutaways quickly without having to set the tripod up? And if you’re going to have to do this on a regular basis, even on only one shoot, then some extra kit is required to rig the camera onto your shoulder.
To build a shoulder rig for the Canon C100 Mark II is something that at first sounds fairly easy, and there are easy solutions out there. But beware! It just isn’t, and once you start doing one thing it dominoes to another and another and another. As I found out, it’s in for a penny, in for a pound. Once you start rigging it out, you can’t stop. Or I couldn’t, and a little knowledge or route map of the thing would have been incredibly useful to me. I’m sure there are many others in the same boat. When I detailed my experiences kitting the Canon 6D out for video my SEO marketing guy at the time told me it was old news and not to bother. I simply thought it’d have been very useful to me, same principles as this, went ahead and did it anyway and now I find that post generates a huge amount of interest and traffic. So I’m just going ahead and doing it anyway…
The other point to mention is why bother? You could hire or buy a more documentary style camera for the day, right? Well, I personally like to use my own kit as I’m not going to get any surprises when it counts most, and I know nothing is going to break, or at least have an unfounded confidence that it won’t. Then there’s the point that shoot days may be unpredictable or last minute. What if the thing’s on tomorrow and organising the camera hire delivery to the site is just not practical or early enough? You might be waiting for the right weather, or the event and participants could be unpredictable. You may want to do this multiple times, and probably will, so hire costs become prohibitive. Or you may just very much like the look of this camera and your lens, which is a very real thing.
That shallow depth of field and rich colour you can achieve from this camera is simply nicer than what you can get from an expensive industry stalwart like the Sony PDW-850. But here is where the balancing act really comes in. Some situations are still going to need that dedicated design to run and gun. The form factor is more rugged, can fit into tighter spaces, will endure more knocks, doesn’t need to be built up and packed down every time. Even the point where the smaller (tiny) 2/3 inch (8.8 x 6.6 mm) sensor size on most of the dedicated doc camcorders means a greater depth of field than the Super 35 (24.6 x 13.8mm) on the C100, c300 etc.
It might not look all ‘artsy’ but your subject is going to be in focus most of the time, and it’s the difference between getting consistently useable shots, when it counts! A great shot which you mange to get in focus 1 in 5 times sometimes is not going to to cut the mustard.
I have a cheap shoulder rig for my DSLR, but it’s a non starter in my book for the C100. Once all the extra kit I use is on there, like the Ninja Inferno, the centre of balance on this is so far forward you’re arms will have no hope sustaining this position through the day, no matter how many trips to the gym you might make. You’ll also notice that you can no longer see through the viewfinder or se the EVF, so you’ll still need to relocate the EVF as below, adding even more weight forwards.
Everything you ‘need’… to build a shoulder rig for the Canon C100 Mark II…
External Recording Device (Atomos Ninja Inferno, £630)
This first point is not really regarding a shoulder rig, as such. For me its just something that needs to be done to bring the camera up to a minimum standard.
As stated, the C100ii can record at 35 Mbps MP4 or 29 Mbps as an AVCHD file internally, at 8 bit. It’ll get you over the line and looks OK. But if you want to push the grade in any way or want to regain a few more blacks and highlights, or even just have lots of sky or grass then the shot falls apart with banding or noise. From my pint of view those native formats are not acceptable professionally. Put it this way, if you want to use the footage for TV broadcast then it’ll have to be at least 100 Mbps these days. It should be noted that when the C100ii came out the TV requirement was 50 Mbps, so at no point was it broadcast worthy.
But the C100ii has a full size HDMI socket out, and you can feed that to your recording device of choice. I started recording Pro Res to the Atomos Ninja Star recoding to CF Fast cards, which gives you rates of 220 Mbps (HQ), 150 Mbps (422) and 100 Mbps (LT) all at 10 bit.
Atomos Ninja Star
And I did it like this for a long time. So what’s the issue? Well, it’s twofold. Firstly, slow motion (50fps Pal) is not recorded to the Ninja Star and every time I had to go back to the native files on the SD cards. Then I also decided I needed a proper monitor for the camera. In the studio setup situation the bigger the screen the better, and Canon’s 11.5mm OLED screen wasn’t giving enough detail to nail the shot, I was forever getting into the edit, seeing it on the big screen and saying ‘oh if only we’d done this or got rid of that’. So I went and got the Atomos Ninja Inferno for around £600, and that is a beast to be reckoned with. It’s all singing and dancing, and I’ve never looked back. The clarity is excellent at 120px and 1500 NITS (with a hood for bright sun), it has peaking, zebras, guides, histogram, HMDI in and out, and built in and loadable LUTS and is just solidly made. Record can be set to trigger from a record press on camera (as can the Star), and the large tally light and red recording square round the screen act well. And yes, it will recorded slow motion at 100 Mbps +.
Above: Atomos Ninja Inferno. Below: mounted on rig
Record rate options are similar to the Ninja Star, using Apple Pro Res 422 or Avid DNxHD, at 10 bit, but also at 4k (if you’re going to use it for a device with 4k output).
The buts? Expensive media: I use an Angelbird AtomX SSD mini 500GB drive for around £150. That gives something like 11 hours recording at 100 Mbps, so all day. But if you do run out of room it’s an expensive prospect to have another drive, or you need the laptop there to transfer the files. For which, it should be noted you need the Atomos USB 3 docking station, add another £60. File numbers for the video files are sequential, but reset to zero as soon as the card is reformatted. It’s no biggie, but without unique file names it’s more prone to linking issues with editing software. Oh, and last but not least… it eats batteries! Literally will eat them for breakfast. After breakfast, a new NP-F battery, after lunch a new battery. And the weight of large NP-F batteries is also going to unbalance the camera rig. So I mount it on top of the camera. Granted, it makes for a very tall rig.
I use an articulated monitor mounting arm from Smallrig part no 2070, @£45 which is excellent. Smallrig produce high quality cheaper versions, and there are a tonne of others, but I ultimately paid a little bit more for something that ensured the monitor was going to be rock solid, which I consider essential.
Relocation Onto the Shoulder
The idea to build a shoulder rig for the Canon C100 Mark II is to put the centre of gravity through the shoulder, and give a secure anchor point, which is the key to a steady, useable and sustainable handheld shot. But by doing so everything on the camera is essentially out of reach and out of sight, that being the record button and viewfinder especially.
External Viewfinder (EVF), £570
When I bought the Ninja Inferno I must confess I had visions of mounting it out on the side of the rails, so you could use it as the viewfinder. But that doesn’t work. At all. It’s way too heavy on wide side, way to cumbersome. So it was back to the drawing board there.
I spent a long time stunned at the price of a third party viewfinder, such as the Zacuto Gratical X at around £1700 inc VAT at only 1280p resolution. Then this came onto the market at £400, and it seemed to be ticking enough boxes:
Above: Portkeys LEYE EVF. Below: mounted on rig
The Portkeys LEYE EVF. A 1440p resolution, 4k viewfinder, 2.4″ screen, in a solid metal housing, with peaking, histogram, battery indicator, and all the right monitoring stuff…. well, almost.
- • Only a 300 nit display
- • The viewfinder image is only of a usable quality with your eye square on to it and fully connected, i.e pressed right onto the eye cup. It does the job, and for the money I’ll take it. But as a long term shooting proposition I’d be wary, and might invest a little more. However I consider that I do this infrequently enough not to warrant it.
- • No record light. So you are going to have to check the camera itself that the record press has worked.
- • No timecode display, which for me is all about timing the shots. So you have to count in your head.
- • It needs an external d-tap power supply, as there is no dedicated battery mount as such. Enter the battery supply unit, catering for this EVF, the Inferno, may as well chuck in the camera itself, and any top mounted light. But with this amount of kit a battery power supply made sense anyway, regardless whether the Portkeys needs it.
You can up the game with Portkeys and buy their OEYE-3G EVF, which is offers a full HD 1920p display, but at only 200 nit, for around £1100.
The next step is to mount it on rails, which is a Krypton factor challenge in itself:
The parts I use are:
- • SmallRig EVF Mount to NATO Clamp, part no 2113, @£70
- • SmallRig Safety NATO Rail with 15mm Rod Clamp, part no 1856, @£40
- • SmallRig Single 15mm Rail Clamp, part no 1549, @£20 x 2
- • A 15mm x 6″(15cm) carbon fibre rod, @£10
- • Rail block / support. To mount to the two 15mm rails. Smallrig part no 942 @£10
Rail block close-up (with rail clamps)
Grip Relocation, £300
When up on the shoulder, you’ll also find the trigger grip is now too far back to operate, and there are a few separate parts required to reposition it. What you get for your money here is to physically move the grip further away from the body and take the button functions with it . It doesn’t sound much, does it? Frankly it’s not, and why it costs so much is beyond me. But it means you get the iris control, and in my case I map the auto focus to button 7 on the grip, so I can still jab away at that as I shoot. A lot of people don’t trust autofocus, but when it comes to the Canon C100ii I definitely do, it snaps right in there and gives a very decent result quickly.
If all you need is the record press, then a simple 3.5mm jack will carry that signal from the camera to your relocated grip. Just that. You can even take it upon yourself to solder a multi core cable to male and female 6 contact connectors to get all the functions.
Here’s what I went for:
- • Handgrip relocator consists of a cable and rosettes to bring the mounting point of the trigger grip forward, Wooden Camera, @£230
- • 8SINN Shoulder Arm (8-SA-SR) is the physical metal arm to work in tandem with the above, can’t have one without the other, @£70 direct from 8SINN
Power Supply + batteries, £750
As mentioned, I wanted to power the Inferno, the camera, and the viewfinder together. This setup can run for around 4 hours on a 160Wh battery, so you’ll need at least a couple of those.
I mostly went through Hawk Woods, who are based in Kent and ultimately couldn’t have been more helpful. They have a reputation for a high quality product, and it is just that. It might not quite be the cheapest but you need these things to be reliable and durable.
- • Hawk Woods VL-C302 (3 x d-tap) battery mount. Unit to mount the v-lok battery itself onto, with 3 x d-tap outputs and one additional 2.5mm connector rated for the Canon C series. @£200
- • Hawk Woods DC-15A rail mount. Mounts the above onto 15mm rails. Can’t have one without the other, again. @£100
- • Swit S-8113S x 2 160Wh batteries. I opted for these as they seemed to give the best bang for your buck, and at the present time you can take 2 x 160Wh batteries on a plane in your hand luggage. 2 x £225
Shoulder Mount, £515
Just getting everything to mount both on your shoulder and then lock quickly and easily onto the tripod is not as easy as you’d think, but this is what the whole thing has been all about. There are really 2 component parts here, with a couple of small accessories.
- • Shoulder Baseplate: universal VCT, quick-release. This is a VCT baseplate to mount the camera on top of with a shoulder mount below. The trick is that the shoulder plate also has a quick-release VCT mount. Get it from Zacuto, Wooden Camera, or Smallrig for what seems a really good price actually. The only drawback is there does not appear to be provision for any rear rails with the Smallrig. I went with 8SINN @£340
Shoulder Baseplate with VCT Tripod Plate
- • Tripod VCT quick release adaptor plate. This mounts to the tripod, and the VCT mechanism allows the quick release and mount of the rig (via the above baseplate). A word on manufacturers here. VCT is a Sony standard, what it stands for I’ve no idea (if you can help I’d love to know), which has been adopted as standard and reproduced by all sorts of other manufacturers. The recommendation is if you chose one company, like 8SINN, then stick with them and all the bits will slot together with minimal issue. So I ignored that and went for the Smallrig version @£140. And it works just fine.
- • Set of 4 x 15mm rods. 2 for the front and 2 for the back. I mount the back battery unit on 10cm ones at the back, with 10cm or 15cm ones at the front. £35
Matte Box, £100-£300
What I have not, or at least thus far have not gone to the lengths of, is adding a matte box, sometimes aka ‘barn doors’ though that’s really for lighting equivalent. What do you need a matte box, or flags for? Well, in case you don’t know it’s to prevent lens flare by flagging or blocking off direct sunlight from reflecting internally in the lens and scattering across the sensor. But hey, it can look good. For example when I shot the introduction elements to this piece I took off the lens hood and shot directly into the sun.
But you don’t always want that. You may well never want that.
I’ve talked about it before, but the easier option is just to use a lens hood (or lens flower). The matte box should do it more effectively, but they’re a big bit of kit to add for an almost imperceptible gain, especially outside the film industry.
I do have a cheap one which I bought for my old DSLR rig, below:
The theory there was that the lens couldn’t accommodate both hood and the required extra ND filter ring. That’s not the case with C100ii with built-in NDs, and I’ve never been pushed to the point where I think I need it. It only leaves the point that it looks like you mean business. That the client expects certain standards… and here they are! Well I think the rest of the kit does a good job of that, you’ve got the job already, and where they really need to be wowed is in the edit – that’s the part where they judge if they ever want to see you and your flagging matte box again.
So, in the interests of due diligence, and fun, I stuck it on the rig anyway. But I also had a quick look what’s out there. As suspected you can easily pay £300, I see a Shape product for over £600, but I think I’d settle for the SmallRig 2660 at around £100. It looks like it does the job, and in my experience SmallRig make some really nice quality, sensibly priced products. My cheapo alternative is not sufficient build quality to be able to recommend, the entire DSLR shoulder rig was only around £100 so yes it’s great value (or a great price), but the matte box does fall down as the flags, well literally fall down. You’re forever screwing and retightening them, if anything I’d just lose the side ones.
Is it worth doing all this instead of just buying another camera?
Good question! All up, to build a shoulder rig for the Canon C100 Mark II comes in at around £3,000, on top of the price of the camera.
The Sony PDW-850 costs over £25k and is also just HD and only 50Mbps, so in that respect, worth it. But you can get a second-hand PDW-F800 for £2,500, but that one’s maybe going back a little too far.
The current Sony ENG stable ranges from around £10k for the PXW-X320 to £25k for the PXW-Z450.
Other things you could add…
- • It should be noted all the ENG camcorders will provide a power (canon cine servo) zoom, which can be mega useful on a doc, and mega expensive to add to the above kit, and a can of worms I’ve not touched on! These powered lenses are for a Super 35 sensor, check, and as true cinema lenses lenses using T-stops, they cost a small fortune, £4,500+.
- • The other obvious, but more affordable addition is a follow focus – which can be useful in order to fine tune the focus, stay focused, and actually just to access the focus ring on the lens through all the rig. Something like the Edelkrone FocusONE, at around £200 would get my vote.
I think doing all this is very worthwhile though, the servo zoom excepted (for me). I mean obviously I went ahead and did it myself. A decent ENG camera is expensive and this setup covers most situations, so if the job requires I will hire in the ENG camera. For me the autofocus is so good on the C100ii that you can generally get those tricky shots. For a long day off the shoulder, it is admittedly less that ideal. If you need some good mobility on the shoot, for example getting in and out of cars – it’s less than ideal. Then maybe ditch the Ninja. If you need to guarantee focus and positioning on every shot, if it’s all quite unpredictable, maybe you are as it says on the tin ‘News Gathering’, then it’s time to go for the dedicated ENG cameras instead.
But what do you get after all this investment? You get a data rate equivalent to the C300ii in HD, 220 Mbps. Though the C300ii trumps it with 410 Mbps at 4k. The Inferno doubles as a really nice monitor, and you get a massive recording hour capacity. The v-lok battery and power supply means you’re still set for the day, no problem. And you can jump on and off the tripod at will. So you’re achieving a lot more than just relocating to the shoulder.
A drawback is the setup time, and I have just purchased a Tenba Cineluxe Shoulder Bag 24 for this purpose, the idea being that you can fit a fully rigged out C100ii into it.
And it works perfectly, with a moderate (within reason) amount of breaking kit down, i.e. detaching the Inferno, hand grip and even top handle actually, though it makes for a far, far easier setup and is 100% worth it. In fact, it probably saves 45 crucial minutes on every shoot. After using it for a little while I can say that the quality is honestly first class, I could not ask for a better design, with lots of extra padded pouches and wraps, it has unexpectedly consigned my peli-case to the attic by absorbing all my kit.
A final point is that you can transfer all this kit should you choose to upgrade, as long as you stay in the Canon fold – to the C200 or C300ii or even C300iii (for a cool £10k). The Sony FS5 mark II or FS7 mark II for example would need some re-investment in the handgrip relocator, and to look at modifying the power supply with Hawk Woods.
In conclusion and in my opinion the C100 mark II is such a great camera that any way you can go ahead and use it on your shoot, do. You get so much quality for a very, very reasonable price in the first place – that spending a bit of money kitting it out is not unreasonable, and at the end of the day is something which you eventually have to do with these cinema cameras.
If you have any further questions or feedback, or if there’s anything you feel I have missed or would be useful to add, please do let me know in the comments.
If you want to get in touch for a quote for video production, feel free to get in touch.