I have to admit when first laying eyes on the Easy rig in action a couple of years back that I thought it was a bit of an oddball gimmick that I would never have use for in a professional capacity. Fast-forward to now where I’m currently a camera operator for a reality show being shot here in Fiji for Australian television where we’re shooting large amounts of handheld reality on a large format camera and now I’m a believer.
What the heck is it?
No its not a camera stabiliser but a way of relieving pressure on your back and shoulders when doing handheld shooting with large or heavy video and film cameras. Essentially it transfers the weight of the camera off your shoulder and arms through the body harness onto your hips.
Yes it does make you look like a cross between a marionette puppet and a robot. The Easyrig was developed by a Swedish cameraman back in the mid 90’s who was after a way to save his back so that he could keep shooting into his old age.
It operates by having a spring loaded cable which runs up through the overhead bar and out to a clamp which you pull down to attach to your cameras top carry handle. There is a few different variations of the Easyrig which vary according to your cameras weight and hence the amount of tension there is in the overhead cable and bar to support the camera. (There is a link to the Easyrig website below).
I’m writing this on location in beautiful Fiji where we are into shoot day 23 of 28 days with no breaks and a large amount of handheld reality shooting each day. Its not uncommon at the moment to be almost continuously rolling handheld for almost 3 to 4 hours at a time only stopping to change batteries and disks.
I was fortunate on this job to be able to loan a friends Easyrig and both my back and I are extremely grateful (thank you Simon).
It didn’t take too long to fit the harness, which has waist and chest straps with stabiliser bars to transfer the weight onto your harness. I was advised by a couple of other cameraman on the job here who have been using them for a few years on how to fit them. Essentially you want the waistband to fit tight and high on your hips and most of the guys have the chest strap quite loose or even undone in some instances.
The next step is to fit the overhead spring loaded clamp quite near the front of your cameras carry handle (about 5-8 cms back from the front on the Sony 700 & 800 XDHDcam cameras). You are trying to achieve a neutral or slightly lens down balance of the camera when its sitting on your shoulder with your hands off it. It takes a bit of getting use to taking your hands off approximately $70000 worth of camera equipment that you’ve spent your professional career protecting!
- It definitely does what it advertises and transfers the weight from your shoulder/spine onto your hips. The first couple of days I had a little muscle strain in my lower right back but that’s probably more to do with a muscle imbalance I have there anyway. The result of this is that it has definitely enabled me to shoot longer handheld without too much fatigue (the Sony XDcam weighs in at about approx 12kgs or 26lbs with batteries, transmitters etc)
- The two best positions I found when shooting with the Easyrig were stock standard off the shoulder and pulling it down to shoot from the hip. Both worked well. I did struggle with it thou when trying to shoot from ground level as it wants to pull the camera up.
- I also found I was getting a little more strain on my hamstrings and calves which I guess is a result of loading up my hips and compensating with my legs rather than my back which you do when shooting traditional hand-held styles. This is better than back strain and are quite happy to have the pressure there than the traditional lop sided backpressure.
The not so good
- On my set-up I found the attaching hook tended to slide back down the cameras carry handle sometimes, which then loads weight onto your front right hand again. I tried wrapping duck tape around the handle to stop it moving back which helped a little but it still managed to slide. A couple of the other camera guys have remedied this by wrapping tennis racket tape around the camera handle which gives the attachment hook better purchase and stops it from slipping.
- I found it difficult to hold the camera steady on the shoulder when doing tracking or walking type shots. Admittedly we’re working on sand here but the camera tends to jiggle or jump a little as its weight is being supported from above when walking and therefore difficult to hold a steady tracking shot.
- Get use to the fact that if you’re working inside or with low hanging obstacles you are going to bash into them with your overhead suspension bar at least 5-6 times a day! I have been anyway!!
- The price, currently the Easyrig Cinema 3 which I’m using weighs in at a hefty US$3,525 on the B&H Photo Video store. In New Zealand it’s approximately a cool $5000.
Apart from the price or if you can rent one for certain jobs, I have no hesitation in soundly recommending the Easyrig. Some would say what price can you put on the health of your back? I’m definitely a convert and will do my level best to make sure I have one in my kit for future jobs that involve a lot of hand holding.
They also make a range of models for different types/weights of cameras and you can find out more on the Easyrig website http://www.easyrig.com/