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SURVEY: Building a used professional rig on a budget. How did you do it?

Robert Starling SOC

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A lot of veteran and aspiring operators here have scrimped, saved and used creative problem solving to piece together their first rig or maybe even next rigs because they didn't have the money or they didn't want to overspend or go into debt. Some people are just tinkerers and like to piece together random spare parts into their own personalized "Frankenrig". Whatever the reason doesn't matter unless you want to share it.


The challenge I hear and read on the Forum all the time for a new person is knowing where to start. There are a lot of people out there who could benefit from and see how others have done it without breaking the bank.


Please share your story of your rig specifics, what parts you used, approximate cost, how other operators or the Forum helped you etc..


Keep it positive, simple and concise written in a way to help others. Please no bickering if possible and remember this is about building a professional level rig, arm and vest system.


Thanks for sharing.



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I'd start with a vest. That way you could just click into any other op's rigs to try them out without screwing up their adjustments or practicing with an ill-fitting vest/harness. Of course this means you have to go out and meet other ops (or hopefully you are already working as an assistant so you've stepped on a set before)


Arm -- in my humble opinion I'd say start with a 3A, Steadyrig, or Luna arm.


Sled -- again my opinion...Pro. Affordable used parts are all over the internet. Awesome customer service and solid, simple gear. Many are still using 15 to 20 yr old rigs and they just keep going. Throw a 3A gimble on it and upgrade to a slicker Pro/XCS later if/when you want. If you want new stuff, they have a lot of stripped down/upgradable stuff too.


Monitor...who cares. As long as you can see it to frame an image and it mounts solidly and balances well.

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I bought my current sled on a steal! XCS post/gimbal w/ SD wiring, Pro2 electronics & battery hanger, and a DB3 for $12k cash. I spent $2500 with David Hable and had the wiring upgraded to HD and the electronics modified to support HD-SDI and Tally. Add $3500 for a monitor (Marshall), bracket (Cinetronic), and yoke (Tom Wills). Add $500 for sled cables, and $500 for a dock & stand. My ready-to-work sled was $19k. Veteran ops please correct me, but I feel like the bang-to-buck ratio is tipping heavily in my favor.




It's a pretty bulletproof sled and the most rigid I've flown, I can pile on the heaviest of Alexa packages with ease. This XCS gimbal is the lightest and smoothest out there (and also bulletproof), plus I can upgrade my electronics to any of the new stuff because the post wiring is current. I wouldn't say it qualifies in the franken-rig catagory, I just had to piece together all of the readily available components I had been scoping out over the years. I wouldn't expect a newbie to be able to find some of these parts let alone know that everything will be compatible. And at least once on every set, I get the comment "your sled looks so much cleaner than the other ops I've seen". So in that sense, it's definitely no franken-rig.




I hurried together a Master arm & vest for $8k so I could get onto the sets I had booked without wasting another penny on renting. Those will be the components I upgrade first.




The kicker is that I did it all interest free (with some creative accounting). Now all you veterans know that you can just double or triple that cost to accommodate for accessories alone. Hell, a good Preston FI+Z package costs more than what I paid for the sled! So there were a lot more expenses than I listed above, but that got me out the door to satisfy my immediate production demands. Even still, all of that gear (plus the aks/brackets/toys that got added on later) was bought and paid for within the first year, without a penny of interest.



Edited by Mike Germond
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My first 'big rig' after a Flyer was a used rig from this forum. I was lucky to get a compete setup:- a 3A arm, a 3A vest and a hybrid sled from Nikolay Kerezov.


The sled has been great for me and I've consistently found work (at my level) and improved my operating every day. The monitor and electrics handle everything from composite to HD. The stage is original 3A, the electrics are Betz, the monitor arm is GPI and the battery hanger from MK-V so it could not be more of a frankenrig. The arm can handle more than I can fly comfortably.


I bought a bunch of cables from Terry West - you can never have enough cables, gaffer tape, electrical ties or velcro!


Most of my work is Alexa or Red with the occasional C300 and I have not had any issues (apart from the occasional minor dovetail palaver). If you have enough of the above (cables, gaffer tape, electrical ties, velcro) you can solve any problem.


No the prettiest rig but I have had the opportunity to sample the work of many suppliers.


I also bought a used Bartech and have a couple of video options (Camwave and Paralynx) on the menu. I haven't had a shoot recently that didn't expect the operator to be able to source these.


I bought a Klassen vest (again from Fabrizio on here) and that is my favourite bit of kit.. ever....


I've built another 'frankenrig' in recent months which allows me to adjust the stage on the fly and has a longer post & more robust gimbal. I need a few more cables (and spares) before using it for paying gigs.


I have enough PAG L95 batteries to power my rig and accessories for two days. I found these easy to pick up from Ebay over time. You can check the amp hours before purchase so you have a pretty good idea of what you are getting. If I were do consider batteries from scratch, I would go with v-mount as these are more common on UK sets. I do have v-mount to PAG plates in case of emergencies though.


I'm currently dithering over my next steps - either a backup arm (I have 2 or 3 of everything else) or an arm upgrade. I'd like to think that an arm upgrade will improve my operating but truthfully, time and practice will do that too! If I upgrade my rig or arm, I can bring my Klassen vest, Camwave and Bartech with me. I think all the old pros here will tell you how important modular kit is.


Box your weight - don't invest 30k and think work will come because you have a big rig. My advice is start with a workshop after playing with smaller rigs. When you are ready to step up, buy some older but battled hardened kit and make your mistakes on the way up. Don't buy a big rig and offer to work for free - you'll get caught out and your karma will be ruined. The worse the rate, the less enjoyable the gig every single time.


Above all, don't ever ask questions on here at night when you've had a few beers/wines. Someone will be needlessly rude to you, you'll tell them to 'foxtrot oscar' and you'll wish you hadn't :)


All the best,






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I bought a 2nd hand package in a neighboring country that started me off great. $30k For sled, Steadyrig Arm, 3a Vest & 2x Analog Bartechs.


It started fine but then I unfortunately had a lot of issues with the Sled in the end the manufacturer and I came to an agreement and I returned it.


I was then lucky enough to stumble upon a Pro1 which had been on the market but awhile but no one wanted to touch it. I purchased it for a steal at $5k and picked up a steadyrig battery hanger from Hugo. Terry West wired it up for me before it was shipped down under. Add a cinetronic monitor bracket, a transvideo cine3a SB, Decimator 2 and a few new kip handles and I had a wicked sled for around 10k. Still only SD but works fine.

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