DSLR cameras have revolutionized many aspects of independent filmmaking, bringing high quality Full HD video into a compact, familiar package and allowing users to take advantage of the huge range of accessories available with established SLR camera systems. Unfortunately, DSLRs aren’t really built for video shooting, and there are a whole range of ergonomic difficulties to be overcome if you want to use them in a serious video production. Two of those difficulties are shooting stable footage without a tripod, and following a moving subject with manual focus.
A whole industry has sprung up to provide accessories for DSLR video shooters, and one of the companies whose products interested us was Jag35. We contacted Jag35 to see whether they would be willing to provide some gear for our documentary about speciation in the Solomon Islands, and they graciously agreed. Now, with three short expeditions under our belt using the Jag35 Full Shoulder Rig v2 and Sidekick Follow Focus v2, we’ve gained enough experience with these products to write a review.
First, the Jag35 Full Shoulder Rig v2. The point of a shoulder rig is to get the camera out of your hands (unstable!) and onto your shoulder (more stable). To make the whole setup as stable as possible, most shoulder rigs have a counterweight behind the shoulder that balances the weight of the camera so that your (shaky) hands don’t need to. After reviewing the plethora of shoulder rig possiblilities, the Jag35 Full Shoulder Rig v2 looked like a great choice for DSLR video shooting on the go, and we were excited to try it out.
We found the Full Shoulder Rig v2 to be comfortable, well balanced, and stable. The rig makes capturing smooth static and moving shots much easier than handheld — a huge improvement over shooting handheld. The ergonomics are also great. All of the adjustment knobs (a snazzy orange color, by the way) are large enough to allow for easy, quick adjustments, but not so large that they get in the way. Most of the rig is aluminum, so the rig is also very durable. Aluminum parts also keep the rig pretty lightweight. Its construction is modular, so you can break it down quickly into very compact, manageable components (excellent for traveling and filming expeditions that requiring trekking).
One of our favorite features of the rigs is how easy it is to reconfigure into a variety of forms. The full shoulder rig is an “offset” configuration, meaning that while the rig sits on your shoulder (the right shoulder in the standard configuration), the DSLR mounting plate is offset to the left, so the DSLR’s LCD screen is right in front of your face. We’ve also used the included components to assemble a compact shoulder rig (without the counterweight behind the shoulder) and a counterbalanced top-handle rig for moving handheld low-angle shots. The rig can be tripod-mounted. Since the rig uses industry-standard 15mm rails, you can attach lots of accessories without modification. If necessary, the supplied rails can be replaced with longer rails to accommodate larger gear. On an upcoming shoot, we’ll be using a new external monitor, and we’ll be able to re-configure the rig — using some longer rails, not included — into a straight (non-offset) form to accommodate this additional accessory. Easy!
Overall, we’ve been really impressed with the build quality and versatility of the Jag35 Full Shoulder Rig. Neither Nate nor I have worked with some of the more expensive options (those made by Zacuto, Redrock Micro, etc.), but based on our experience with the Jag35 rig, we don’t see any reason to spend more!
Finally, just a few minor caveats: when fully assembled, the shoulder rig is not small, and has a slightly awkward shape. We tried carrying it, fully assembled, on some long hikes over rough terrain, and that wasn’t fun. So don’t do that. It’s pretty quick to break down and set up again, so that’s the way to go if you’re moving around a lot.
The only improvement we could think of, and one that would be easy to implement, would be to add a quick-release system on the camera mounting plate. The best option would probably be the standard Arca-style system, perfect for all those photographers who are transitioning into shooting more video.
Overall verdict: This is a solid piece of gear and makes a huge difference when you’re shooting video without a tripod. Definitely recommended.