When faced with a blank canvas, a painter must first choose their brush, colors, and subject before they even make a single stroke. Similarly, a filmmaker approaches a shot by first choosing the right tools that serve their story. Some of the most impactful tools to how a shot both looks and feels are camera rigs.
Camera rigs are camera support systems that help cinematographers add specific movement to a shot. However, they can also be camera gear that move a camera in a completely unique way. We’ll break down the most fundamental camera gear and camera rig systems that will enable you to create the iconic shots that you envision.
Watch: Ultimate Guide to Camera Gear [Shot List Ep. 5]
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Overview of Camera Gear
What are the types of camera rigs?
No matter the budget or scope of your next production, there are a variety of camera equipment available. Each gives a shot certain properties that aid in the overall visual storytelling. When you understand what they advantages and disadvantages might be, you'll be better "equipped" to make the best decision of which camera rig to use.
Here's a collection we populated in StudioBinder's storyboard software. You can download and use these images as a reference when you storyboard your next project. Follow the image link to see both the silhouette and final shot versions.
Handheld Camera Rig
First on our list of camera gear is the handheld camera rig. Handheld shots utilize mechanisms such as the camera shoulder rig. Camera shoulder rigs hinge on the movement of the camera operator. The result is camera shake and movement that establishes subjectivity, creates intimacy, or heightens intensity.
For this reason, handheld camera rigs are often used when filming fight scenes. Check out our analysis of this epic fight scene from Mission: Impossible - Fallout. Note how the scene is almost entirely handheld to ramp up the intensity.
Handheld camera rigs can produce camera movement that takes a scene up a notch if used correctly. However, not every scene calls for this. Sometimes camera shake can be distracting. So, filmmakers opt for our next camera rig system.
Camera tripod stand
The tripod is the perfect camera gear to shoot a static shot — a shot with no camera movement. A tripod is a type of camera stand with a fluid head to which the camera is mounted. If the camera does need to move, tripods can also pan or whip pan left and right and tilt up and down for smooth controlled movements.
The tripod serves the story in this scene by creating a separation between the two characters through separate, static frames. Other times tripods can create a sense of stability when it is mixed in with handheld shots. This scene from Se7en mixes both handheld shots and tripod shots to reflect the headspaces of the different characters.
A tripod can serve a story in various ways depending on the context of the scene. Sometimes filmmakers need a little more camera movement to tell their story, which is where our next few rigs come into play.
Camera Gear Types
When filmmakers need to move the camera vertically in smaller movements, they opt for the pedestal. Pedestal shots are great for matching the movements of actors. They’re also great for reveal shots, which few do better than Quentin Tarantino.
Check out how he uses a pedestal shot in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds to create suspense.
Tarantino uses the pedestal often for these reveal shots, so be sure to keep an eye out for them in some of Tarantino’s best movies. Sometimes directors and cinematographers need to move the camera vertically, but in larger movements than a pedestal allows.
Film crane rig
Film crane and camera jib
Though the scale of the rig may differ, the terms "film crane" and "camera jib" can be used interchangeably. Both versions of this type of camera gear utilize a jib arm to extend a camera outward, enabling the camera to move up, down, left, or right in large movements.
In film crane movements can also reflect a character’s emotions as it moves away from them. This is often used in moments of helplessness and isolation.
Crane shots and camera jibs can create smooth, large movements that have resulted in some of the most iconic shots of all time. They immediately elevate the production value and spectacle of a scene. Cranes can be incredibly expensive, but there are various camera jibs that provide an affordable option to all filmmakers.
Overhead Camera Mount
Overhead camera rig
The overhead camera mount is perfect for shooting top down shots of action and spaces. They’re typically used for unique insert shots from a bird’s eye view perspective. One of the masters of the overhead camera setup is Wes Anderson. To get an idea of how the overshot can be used, here is a supercut of every Wes Anderson overhead shot.
Overhead camera mounts are great for establishing a more objective, omniscient point of view for the audience. It often diminishes characters in the right shot composition creating distance between the audience and them which can greatly serve a story. Overhead camera setups can be achieved various ways. Overhead camera mounts can be rigged to a studio’s grid. They can also be rigged to an overhead tripod.
Dolly camera rigs
Camera dolly and slider rig
A dolly is a wheeled apparatus to which a camera is mounted for smooth horizontal movements. There are different types of dollies such as the platform dolly. A platform dolly has a flat dolly surface that other rigs can be placed on such as a tripod. These dollies are typically cheaper.
Other, more expensive, dollies are more functional. They often have a fixed head or camera stand that the camera can be mounted to. Dollies are often combined with other camera gear to be more versatile such as the dolly crane or the dolly pedestal.
The dolly camera rig is used for small push ins, pull outs, and tracking shots. Dollies can also start or stop at a static frame which allows for precise compositions. The smooth movement of a dolly makes it a great tool for lateral tracking shots.
Dollies entail the use of tracks that the dolly moves along. A dolly moves on a camera rail system composed of various tracks. This can make the dolly camera rig quite expensive and cumbersome. A more economical and ergonomic option is the slider rig. Slider rigs can produce similar horizontal camera movements on a smaller scale.
Steadicam vs Gimbal
One of the most common rigs in the industry today are camera stabilizers. The most typical camera rig stabilizer on major productions is the Steadicam rig. A Steadicam rig combines the stability of a tripod, mobility of a handheld camera, and the movement capability of a dolly.
Steadicam rigs are the perfect rig for shooting long takes, complex movements, and dynamic blocking and staging. Check out our breakdown of how the Steadicam captures all three in this scene from The Wolf of Wall Street.
Steadicams can also be rather expensive, but gimbals are another type of camera rig stabilizer that utilizes battery power to stabilize a shot. There are a range of gimbals, many of which are more affordable for lower budget productions. There are even gimbals for iPhone camera rig setups that have been used for feature films.
Camera body mount
The Snorricam is a more specialized camera gear system that mounts a camera to an actor’s body, hinging to their movements. Also known as the bodycam, chestcam, body rig or camera body mount, the Snorricam is used to create vertigo, dizziness, or panic as in this scene from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Snorricam shots can immerse an audience into the perspective and experience of a character in a film. The camera body mount puts us in the shoes of a character while also allowing us to see their reactions. These experiences may be the physical influences of drugs, disorientation, or uneasiness of a situation. They also played a major role in the early formation of Darren Aronofsky's directing style.
Car camera mount
Vehicle and car camera mount
The most practical way to shoot any scenes in a vehicle is the vehicle mount. Car camera mounts can be used either on the exterior or in the interior of a vehicle. This is ideal for shooting dialogue scenes in a car, helicopter scenes, or as in Skyfall, some of the best car chase scenes.
Car camera mounts allow filmmakers to capture shots and mount a camera where a camera operator cannot safely shoot from. They also hinge on the movement of the vehicle which creates some unique shots. There are various types of car camera mounts that differ based on what the shot calls for.
Aerial camera Equipment
Aerial cinematography has really taken flight (no pun intended) since the invention of the drone. Prior to the drone, aerial cinematography was limited to the use of helicopters. But the size and maneuverability of the drone has resulted in some amazing drone footage that would have been impossible not too long ago.
Drones are great for shooting expansive landscapes, chase scenes, and establishing shots. Drones have also opened up access to aerial cinematography to filmmakers of all budgets.
Specialty camera Equipment
Camera motion control system
Motion control is a device that allows for the complete control and precise repetition of camera movements. Camera motion control systems are used for stop motion, time lapses, and most commonly visual effects.
However, filmmakers have found ways to use motion control to create unique shots that rely on the precise repetition of camera movements. This shot from The Rules of Attraction uses motion control to combine two different shots into one.
Motion control is a necessary logistical tool used in VFX, but can also be a creative choice that filmmakers make to achieve unique shots.
Waterproof camera housing
Underwater camera housing is a completely waterproof housing that allows control of the camera while fully submerged underwater. Waterproof housing can be used when completely underwater to capture action happening in a pool or ocean.
This is important for films that focus around the action below the surface such as the film The Meg where waterproof housing was absolutely crucial.
Underwater housing can also be used on the surface of water, bobbing in and out, which creates an immersive shot. Choosing to shoot with underwater housing this way can make a shot more intimate or subjective in a way no other camera equipment can capture.
Types of camera angles explained
After learning about the various camera gear and tools at your disposal as a filmmaker, it's important to understand the different compositions and angles they help capture. We’ve compiled the ultimate guide to the most fundamental types of camera angles every filmmaker should know.