Pro Tips, Reviews

Hand Grips, Pads, and Counterweights: Build a Camera Rig That Lasts


Lauren Hall is a camera gear expert for KitSplit, the camera-rental community.

So you finally took the plunge and bought that camera you’ve been eyeing. You probably can’t wait to start shooting — but most professional cameras don’t come ready to shoot out of the box. You’re going to need a good shoulder rig if you’re planning to shoot handheld, including hand grips, a shoulder pad, and counterweights. While camera manufacturers often include some of these things, you may want to put together your own rig to offers the most comfort and customization.

With so many different options on the market, we’ve highlighted some of the main components you’ll need for a great rig that will last. (Note that this guide doesn’t cover Steadicams and gimbals such as the DJI Ronin and Freefly Movi, which require different rigging and special training.)

Related Post Hands-On Review: DJI’s Ronin-S Handheld Gimbal Stabilizer

1. Hand Grips

When choosing hand grips, the most important things to consider are comfort and function. The holy grail of hand grips is the Aaton wooden grip because it fits snugly in the palm of the hand and doesn’t have a cold metal feel to it. It was also designed to be kept close to the camera’s center of gravity, allowing for the entire weight to be supported by the shoulder and the right hand. If you have a big budget, you might consider the ARRI Master Grips, which provide run/stop, focus, zoom, and iris all from the hand grips. Spidergrips are also a popular, below-the-radar, option made by Camera Accessory Solutions in California. Most starter kits are built up with Vocas, Zacuto, Tilta, or Ikan options, as these are economical and easy to find at any retailer.

More modern designs usually implement two hand grips at the ends of arms extending out in front of the camera. You should go with whichever design is most comfortable for you, but keep in mind that every connection point between your hands and the camera needs to be sturdy, so don’t go for any flimsy options to save money.

Pro tip: Stay away from foam grips, as they fall apart and leave small pieces of foam all over your hands and in your cases!

2. Electronic Viewfinders

While most camera manufacturers, such as Sony, RED, and ARRI make their own viewfinders, you can also find some after-market solutions like Zacuto’s Gratical EVF or SmallHD’s Sidefinder.

SmallHD Sidefinder
The SmallHD Sidefinder

An important thing to keep in mind when using a viewfinder is positioning. You’ll most likely need an EVF holder to move the viewfinder, so that it presses against your eye comfortably while using the shoulder rig and you don’t have to strain to look through it. Wooden Camera’s UVF Mount NATO Rail Kit is great for this and comes with a bracket that attaches to most viewfinders. They also have a variety of camera mounts to ensure proper fit with your specific camera model.

3. Shoulder Pads

Shoulder pads are obviously about comfort, but the most challenging aspect of selecting one is figuring out where it will connect to the camera and still allow for balance. A shoulder pad can be integrated into a traditional broadcast style plate, allowing for easy transition from tripod shooting to shoulder shooting.

The Zacuto VCT Pro is a baseplate and shoulder pad all in one that has plenty of extra space for accessories and balancing. SHAPE also makes a few different options that are widely used, such as a mini shoulder pad with 15mm rod mounts.

ARRI has great shoulder pads for just about every camera out there, too, including one that attaches directly to the Sony F5/F55. If you’re looking for a cheaper DIY solution, you could also cut a piece of foam, wrap it in gaff tape, and use velcro to attach it to your broadcast plate.

4. Weight Distribution

Depending on how you’ve outfitted your rig, you may not find a counterweight necessary. They are most beneficial for DSLR setups where the camera body itself is so lightweight that something is needed to offset it. In that case, you may want to purchase a simple rod-mounted counterweight from Tilta. Another cheaper option is a counterweight from Revo. The main concern with weight distribution is reducing strain on your arms and back so you can shoot comfortably for long periods of time. With heavier cameras, your lens, follow focus, and eyepiece should help balance out the weight evenly.

Revo Counterweight
A Revo Counterweight

It can take some trial and error to find the right rig for you, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If you want to play with different options before making a purchase, consider renting from KitSplit (the camera-rental community marketplace where I work as a gear expert), or stopping by your local camera store. If you do your research and choose high-quality gear, you’ll end up with a trusty rig that should last for years to come.

Do you have questions about any of the items mentioned in this post? Is there gear you use in your rig that you’d like to recommend? What other reviews would you like to see? Tell us in the comments!

Top image courtesy of Kitsplit