Cinematographers and videographers are, by nature, some of the greatest tinkerers of doodads and thingamabobs that you’ll ever stumble upon. Don’t believe me? Ask a seasoned DP to show you what their current cinema rig looks like and I guarantee you, nine times out of ten, it’s going to be a devious contraption with all sorts of gears, articulating arms, monitors, and rods. The other one out of ten is just traveling and doesn’t want to carry all that equipment. More often than not, a complete cinema rig is much more than just a camera and a lens; it is, in fact, a system of multiple parts specifically designed to aid in increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of a shoot.
While you can, theoretically, shoot 100% of your content with just a single camera and lens without all the bells and whistles, it's much easier with the right tools. An external monitor lets you gauge focus pulls, exposure, and waveforms, as well as compose shots properly. External power solutions allow you to extend your recording times dramatically. Focus wheels and motors help you to nail focus. While many cameras feature a number of mounting points here and there to allow for accessorizing, typically, there are few that allow for full rigging―and this is where the camera cage declares its value.
A camera cage is a tool designed to surround your camera and dramatically increase the number of mounting points to which you have access, thus increasing your ability to accessorize; it is the foundation of many camera rigs. So, how do you go about choosing one? One of the biggest factors in choosing the “right” camera rig for you is personal preference and application but, of course, how will you know what you’ll need unless you know what's available? I’ll offer some of the options and varieties of camera cages and support systems below.
While the mirrorless and DSLR worlds have slowly grown farther apart as mirrorless continues to develop, there isn’t much of a difference when choosing a cage for either of these systems, and some cages are marketed to fit both kinds of cameras. Cages are usually a solid hunk of metal or a chassis consisting of multiple parts, and they typically attach via the ¼"-20 mounting thread found on the bottom of your camera. There is a broad range of cages, but they all lead to the same end goal of facilitating user experience.
The most common type of camera cage you’ll find among videographers is the Full Cage―essentially, it surrounds the perimeter of the camera and provides you with a 360° area of play for mounting points and handles and other accessories.
This SmallRig Master cage, designed for the Sony a7S III, increases the number of mounting points available around the camera. While the camera itself only has one ¼"-20 female mounting thread (not including its two tripod-mounting threads), this cage will completely cover the camera in ¼"-20 and ⅜"-16 threaded mounting points. It also provides a NATO rail, an integrated shoe mount, and some ARRI accessory threads. Thanks to these features, you can improve on the camera’s ergonomics and accommodate more accessories. One of the best things about having a camera cage is the added stability and grip you get from the handles. You can easily pair it with the SmallRig Universal Wood Side Handle to create a more tactile and ergonomic shooting experience.
If you’d like to retain as lightweight a setup as possible, but would still like extra mounting points, half cages might be more appealing to you. These cages are exactly what they sound like―they have the form factor of a cage while encasing only a fraction of the camera. Tilta's Half Cage for the Sony A1 retains several ¼"-20 threads, as well as a shoe mount, all while leaving full, unobstructed access to the control side of the camera.
This cage, in particular, includes a Manfrotto-type quick-release plate, allowing you to integrate it into a variety of compatible tripods and stabilizers seamlessly. For instance, this can be attached directly to the DJI RS 3 Pro Gimbal.
Integrating a baseplate into your camera cage and rig can greatly enhance and hasten your workflow since it acts as an intermediary mounting point between your camera and the rest of your stabilizing gear. By ensuring that the baseplates on all your gear are identical, you’ll be able to swiftly maneuver from tripod to shoulder rig to gimbal without the hassle of screwing and unscrewing your camera on each device.
You can further extend the practicality of your rig by utilizing a plate system with rod support, such as the Kondor Blue 15mm ARRI-Standard Baseplate; with a 15mm rod support you can now introduce a Follow Focus, Lens Support, Battery Plate and a plethora of other pragmatic cinema accessories.
When it comes to rigging out your camera of choice, there are endless routes you can follow to create a personalized system to complement your shooting style; however, there needs to be a foundation to build upon. More often than not, a camera body alone simply will not suffice. By employing a camera cage, you now have a solid base on which to personalize and accessorize your very own cinema rig.
Do you think you would benefit from the inclusion of a camera cage in your setup? If so, what equipment would you deck it out with and how would you use it? Let us know, down below!