4 Essentials You Need for the Perfect Wireless Camera Rig

Fri, Jan 05, 2018
How to build a wireless camera rig.
I’ll have the wireless camera rig without the camera please.

The world of cinematography is constantly changing, and now more than ever before, clients & executives are expecting cream-of-the-crop shots from visually wowing low & high angles all in an hour of shooting, like you’re some sort of doped-up camera prodigy.

But that’s the reality of filmmaking these days, isn’t it? Shoots are becoming increasingly faster-paced while achieving higher-quality angles and shots. This means having less time between takes and moving from set to set a lot faster than before. So how do you accomplish so many things with such little time?

Welcome to the world of wireless rigs! Going wireless has some immense benefits, such as allowing you to move quickly and freely, capture better angles and save time on set, ultimately getting you a better finished product. Furthermore, many modern filming tools like gimbals and drones require 100% wireless workflows to move around, which shows how cinema is gradually cutting the cords on set.

Setting up a wireless rig can be a challenge at first, so we’ve written a complete guide to get you started with the bare essentials. Here’s what you’ll need to build your standard wireless camera rig:

Camera Cage

MAKE films with Teradek Serv Pro on set
Small cage, big possibilities. Credit: MAKE films

Wouldn’t it be great if cameras came ready to customize right out of the box? Nah, that’d be way too easy! Instead, you’ll need to get some accessories to build your riggable system from the ground up.

The most fundamental thing here is ensuring your camera has a proper cage for your setup. Accessories need to be mounted on ¼-20 and ⅜-16 mounting points, so constructing a foundation which offers you more of those options is essential.

Depending on your camera and the rig you want, plates will be your best friend here. Most wireless camera setups begin with a base plate (or riser plate), which allows you to connect rods and act as the starting point for the rest. With the camera mounted to this plate, additional side and top plates can be added. These create that outer shell of your camera body which gives you the mounting points you need to configure your accessory attachments.

Take Wooden Camera for an example. The Wooden Camera base & side plates are lined with mounting holes all across the board, allowing you to attach parts wherever you want. Need a top handle to go with it? No problem. Strap a handle kit anywhere on the top plate and you’re ready to go. Need some rods on there too? Strap a bridge plate to the base and get your rods on your wireless rig.

This will be different depending on your camera and project needs, of course. But an easy way to start is by checking out their Accessory Kits, which includes all of the basics for any workflow.

Batteries

The best cinema camera battery for wireless camera rigs.
Batteries need to be both lightweight and powerful to give your rig the juice it needs.

Still plugging that camera into the wall? When you’re building that wireless rig of your dreams, you’ll need a battery that is both powerful and, most importantly, lightweight. For cinema cameras, that means choosing between Gold and V-mount batteries, which offer the best locking mechanisms and watt hours. Now it comes down to which brand offers the best weight to charge ratio.

Cinematographers usually have a nice collection of camera-back batteries at their disposal, but if you’re wondering what the best bang for your buck will be in the battery world, we highly recommend the industry standard, Anton Bauer. AB’s durable, high-powered batteries are designed to stay secured on the camera back while only weighing 2-3 lbs, giving your rig a longer run time on set. Their popular Cine 90 GM/V also offers an LCD with battery percentage and duration, as well as an extra P-Tap to power your other devices.

But with great power comes great responsibility.. to distribute power efficiently! Many cameras and batteries don’t give you enough sources to power your units, which means you’ll need an extension of some sort. Two great options are the Anton Bauer Power Tap Splitter and the Wooden Camera D-Box. The Splitter is a low-cost P-Tap extension cord that gives you 4 additional battery ports, but is on the flimsier side once everything is connected. The D-Box is much more efficient at power distribution with up to 6 ports (including regulated/unregulated options & power draw protection) and seamlessly works with both V- and Gold-mount batteries, but a bit on the pricier side.

Wireless Monitoring

Wireless monitoring is the most important tool to capture perfect shots.

Monitoring is essential for your production team to see the shot, but the traditional way to do it is by extending a long SDI cable between the camera and monitor. Being tethered down is no good when you need to move quickly, so ditch the cables and go the wireless route!

Wireless monitoring systems are just as reliable as their wired cousins these days, with devices able to transmit pristine HD video thousands of feet away with close to 0 latency, allowing the production team to see the shot of a completely mobile camera.

Wireless monitoring can be broken down into 2 types: critical and non-critical. Critical refers to personnel on set that absolutely need to see a live, lossless zero delay feed of the shot, such as the DP for exposure and color, the 1st AC for follow focus, and the Director. These roles really benefit from tools like the Teradek Bolt 500, 1000 and 3000, which deliver video from camera to monitor instantly in 1080p.

For members on set who don’t require a critically live feed, the Serv Pro offers a better solution. At just 4 frames of latency (less than a second), the Serv Pro allows other personnel who don’t usually get their own monitors to see the shot using an iPhone or iPad. The best part is that each Serv Pro permits up to 10 iOS devices to connect, allowing Assistant Directors, script supervisors, gaffers, audio, hair & makeup and clients to see the shot on devices they already own.

Remote Lens Control

Remote follow focus so camera ops can focus on framing.

Camera ops need a lot of space to move around, but that’s easier said than done on a busy set. When your ACs are constantly hovering around the camera to pull focus and support camera ops, combined with other obstacles on set, investing in a wireless follow focus will free up that space tremendously.

Wireless lens control systems are incredibly useful for wireless rigs, and as an added bonus are typically very lightweight as well. Mounted directly to rods, these allow someone else to control the focus, iris and zoom while camera ops handles the shooting. Ever had the focus puller following closely behind the camera with a wired remote like a dog on a leash?

Believe me when I say you don’t want to end up with subpar wireless lens control that may have glitches or phantom movements. Instead, go with Teradek RT (formerly RT Motion). Their lightweight, near-silent brushless motors are secured directly to the rig via 15mm or 19mm rods, and can handle both EF lenses and large cinema PL lenses with ease. The RT controller has multiple axes that can control every lens part, integrate with RED camera functions, and can even remotely start/stop the camera, all from up to 5000 ft. away.

Conclusion

As you already know, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution in the wonderful world of camera rigging. This list is simply a short guide on the essential components every wireless system needs to get going. But what really works for you will depend on specifics like the nature of the shoot, budget, usability and personal preference. But once you find that perfect wireless setup, you’ll be astounded at the shots that camera can accomplish.

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