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Palmcorder Production: Hands On with the Ingenious Dougmon Rig

1/24/2013 11:29 AM Eastern

It was while browsing the exhibit halls of last year’s NAB Show that I was introduced to Dougmon. A pretty lady with Canon EOS 7D got my attention and her DSLR rig reeled it in.

Dougmon is an accessory for small cameras that aids in handheld, on-the-fly operation. It was conceived and built by a working cameraman, Doug Monroe, a 30-year veteran videographer and director of photography with an extensive list of credits.

Camera operator Michael Su with Dougmon

About a decade ago Monroe started shooting with palmcorder HD cameras on documentaries and reality shows; he found that he quickly experienced wrist and arm fatigue from even the modestly sized compact camera. He wanted to come up with a solution that would provide him some relief while maintaining the versatility and maneuverability of the small camera.

While I’ve said for years that I prefer a camera to sit on my shoulder, Monroe feels that position is far too limiting. His invention complements the style of shooting with palmcorders, which can go “anywhere your hand can go.” Dougmon provides support to your wrist and forearm but remains flexible enough to facilitate shooting low, from the hip or high above your head—none of which is really possible with a shoulder rig.

Monroe’s handheld rig mimics the physiology of the arm. A padded semicircle with a nylon strap slips over your forearm and tucks into the crook of your elbow. An adjustable straight arm leads along your forearm to your hand, where it ends in a tension ball joint centered in your palm. The idea is that the padded loop is the first point of support and the ball joint in your hand is the second—together, they mimic the movements you can make with your bare arm and wrist.

It’s a clever idea.

The Dougmon rig, which can accommodate cameras up to 5.5 lb., weighs just over 1.75 lb. (The optional Slingmon allows two hands on camera operation and the use of heavier cameras.)

I got the chance to try out a Dougmon for a while. I brought it with me for a couple gigs, pairing it with my Canon EOS 7D, a Nikon D800 and a JVC GY-HM100U.

Let me emphasize that Dougmon is not a camera stabilizer. Although it might aid in getting somewhat smoother shots than without any hardware at all—if the user is well versed in working with it—it is not going to replace a stabilizer system. This is a tool that minimizes operation fatigue.

When I handhold these smaller cameras, I find that my fatigue doesn’t come from my wrist or forearm; it’s in my bicep and back as the day wears on. The worst for me was shooting for the X Games some years ago with a Sony DSR-PD150 for six to eight hours at a time. My arm fatigue was pretty bad and I was begging for a shoulder rig.

As an experiment, I held a Nikon D800 HDSLR with ikan D7w monitor one-handed and tried a 120mm lens shot. To make it harder, my shot was simply holding still, as if I were shooting a talking head interview. I thought this would give me a good point of reference for my evaluation of the Dougmon.

I didn’t do well at all. My arm lasted about 10 seconds until the shot was so shaky that it would have been unusable. I switched to two-handed operation and held steady for a little over four minutes at 120mm before I felt the shot was suffering from my fatigue. I rested for a couple hours, then slipped on the Dougmon and tried the shot again.

After some consideration, I pulled my elbow in close to my body, adjusted the Dougmon so that my arm was almost straight up—which put most of the weight into the crook of my elbow—and tried the same shot. I lasted two and a half minutes with one hand, substantially longer than when holding the rig with just one hand on the camera’s right-hand grip. With two hands, I was easily holding the camera for six minutes before my fatigue got the better of me.

Keep in mind that I was working with a 120mm lens, something you don’t typically do with handheld, but I wanted a worst case scenario. If I had been working with a 35mm or 50mm lens, I could easily have gone 15 minutes before my fatigue started to affect the shot.

Already the Dougmon demonstrated that it could provide a better platform for me than just my arm—in a certain position.

When I pulled my elbow out from my body, opened my arm out a little more, fatigue set in much more quickly and I found the Dougmon to be more of a liability than without. The added weight of the rig made it that much harder for me to handhold smoothly on a long lens for any length of time.
But there are other aspects to the Dougmon that are pretty stellar. You can quickly slip it off your arm, drop the padded loop straight below the camera, extend the arm and turn the rig into a monopod. This monopod can rest right on your leg if you’re sitting, or on your chair, or if you’re low, it can rest on the floor. It can easily rest on a table or countertop—and suddenly all the weight is off your arms and you can operate like this for as long as necessary. If you’ve got to move again, the rig slips quickly back onto your arm.

Monroe smartly incorporated two very common tripod plates—the Manfrotto 577 and Manfrotto RC2 (each a different model Dougmon)—so you can quickly switch between the Dougmon and your tripod without having to replace the adapter plate.

Overall, the Dougmon’s construction is stellar. The handgrip is a milled aluminum that is smooth, cool and shaped to very comfortably fit in your hand. A tension ball in the grip allows you to lock down the head, or loosen it to your taste with a little tension or none at all. The arm is robust; adjustment knobs are large and easily adjusted with your left hand. The nylon strap under the padded loop adjusts quickly to tighten or remove the rig. It’s obvious that Monroe has put 10 years and many iterations into this design. It’s very carefully considered and well refined.

In addition to the Dougmon arm, there’s a sling (Slingmon). The sling slips over your head and shoulder, the Dougmon padded loop drops into the sling, and all the weight moves off your arms and onto your shoulder. In the Slingmon configuration, the camera’s height is more flexible than on a standard shoulder rig. The Slingmon can be adjusted for camera operation from an eyepiece viewfinder, a flip-out LCD or even a monitor mounted on top of a camera.

The sling was a little confusing to me at first. When I put it on, it seemed that the rig would just slip out the front of the sling. I was sure I had it wrong; unfortunately, the small pamphlet of instructions was of no help whatsoever. It wasn’t until I met Doug Monroe at Digital Video Expo and asked him about it that I got a clear understanding of how the sling works. Turns out I was doing it correctly; it just felt wrong.

The instructions might be the weakest part of the package. It’s basically a couple cartoons of Monroe in various operating positions. It’s more of a marketing demo than an instruction book.

I’ll reiterate that the Dougmon is not a camera stabilizer per se. It does not isolate the operator’s movement from the camera; instead, it integrates the operator’s natural movement. It works very well as a supplement to handheld operation to help lessen fatigue from long hours slinging a camera around.

The Dougmon also comes with a nice little nylon carrying bag that fits the rig and sling comfortably.

Product: Dougmon
Score:
Pros: Lessens operator fatigue. Small, lightweight, very well constructed and designed. Versatile, with handheld to monopod to sling support.
Cons: Bad instructions. No camera stabilizer functions.
Bottom Line: For the price, this is a phenomenal tool for anyone working with small cameras. Definitely get it with the sling. The sling and monopod aspects are well worth the price of admission alone.
MSRP: Dougmon $540, Slingmon $200, Dougmon combo with bag $740