The Digital Journalist
Overcoming the Tyranny of the Right
Fun With PVC Piping...
November 2006

by James Colburn

In last month's issue I was bemoaning the fact that modern-day video equipment seems to be right-eye-centric. A large number of video cameras and virtually all after-market shoulder brackets and braces are designed to put the camera on the photographer's right shoulder, meaning that if you use your right eye to focus and compose you're okay but if, like me, your left eye is the dominant one, you're screwed.

A month of research and a few visits to my local Home Depot later I have a few ideas that may help those of you out there who have bought yourself a video camera like Sony's Z1 or Canon's GL.

Sony, it turns out, makes a wonderful little bracket that fits tightly against the camera and allows you to brace the camera against your shoulder or your chest.

It not only works pretty well but when the "stock" is folded and the little arms are collapsed it even acts to protect the buttons at the rear of the camera.

There are two problems with the Sony bracket. One is that there's a lot of plastic in its construction and it doesn't feel like it's built for "the long haul."

Now plastic isn't necessarily a bad thing and it wouldn't be so annoying if it wasn't for problem two. The thing lists at almost $400 and has a "street" price of almost $300. $300? Give me a break.

I only know one other photographer that admits to doing this but sometimes, if I have a spare hour, I'll go down to Home Depot and wander around just to look at things. I'm not looking for anything specific most of the time, just looking at things and filing them away for the day when I have a problem and the whatever-it-was in the gardening department makes me go, "I know what I can use THAT for."

So I went to their plumbing department and looked in all of the boxes. Then I went to the electrical department and looked in those. The PVC piping and fixtures made for plumbing (to carry water) are white and allow right-angle bends while the PVC things for outdoor lighting (to carry wires) are grey and have no right-angle bends, just curves.

The straight white plumbing pipes will fit easily into the grey electrical junction boxes and the right-angle thingys from plumbing will mate with the curvy grey piping thingys from electrical. So I bought a bunch of things, took them home and started cutting and gluing. Here's what I came up with.

A crude variation on the Sony bracket. It uses a junction box, a bit of 3/4-inch piping and two right-angle bends. You can drill a hole in the top of the box for a 1/4-inch screw and wing-nut and brace your video camera against your chest or your shoulder. It'd be up to you to custom-fit it in terms of pipe length and I'd suggest taking off the four little screw brackets from the junction box and cutting in down by an inch or so to make it sit a bit better in your hand.

This next one is a version of a traditional shoulder bracket using a junction box, some straight pipe and two curved pipes from the electrical department. Again, it'd be up to you to customize the length to fit your body.

This is what I am now calling the Colburn Shoulders Brace (notice the plural spelling). I've done some research and it seems as though nobody has come up with this or something similar. By using a junction box, four curved bits of pipe and two right-angle bends you can put together a brace that will let you hold the camera IN FRONT OF YOU. The support goes on BOTH shoulders and positions the camera so that it'd be in a place familiar to still shooters.

In my "finished" version I've cut the box down by an inch, glued some rubber padding to the top and added some pipe insulation to pad the shoulder bits. The black paint helps too.

I'm trying to draw up some plans for a "real" version of my Shoulders Brace and then I'm going to see if someone can make me up a prototype in metal. Maybe then I'll even find some way to sell my finished, collapsible version.

But until then please feel free to make your own Shoulders Brace (or any of the other things). I would ask, in the spirit of computer "shareware," that if you put it together and like it enough to use it, you'd think about giving a $10 donation to your local food bank or children's charity because if you send me the money I'll just blow it on more PVC piping.

A few hints:

- Spend $10 to buy yourself a PVC pipe cutter. It looks like a vise-grip and will give you a quick, clean cut. This tool will save you lots of time (over using a saw) and means that you won't have to clean up lots of little bits of plastic.

- A small can of PVC cement will cost you $3.00 or less and will hold enough to build around 60 of these braces. Use this stuff in a WELL-ventilated area because, well, once you smell it you'll understand.

- Get off your sorry ass and vote on Nov. 7. When apartheid ended thousands of people stood in line, in the African sun, for two days to cast their first vote. NPR reported that voters in The Congo were standing in line for hours, in the pouring rain, with nothing more than small pieces of cardboard to cover their heads. People in some countries risk death in order to exercise their right to vote so if you can't spend an hour to drag your sorry butt to your local polling station, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

© James Colburn
Contributing Writer