I receive a lot of email from people asking me which shoulder rig they should buy. My usual answers swing between the Shape WLB Sumo or a small Zacuto rigs, depending of the expected usage.
The problem with these suggestions is they, while valid, are out of the budget for a lot of shooters (starving students, I am looking at you). This is why I decided to look around and see it if was possible to design a complete rig kit for about 200$ that would be decent enough to be used on small paying gigs.
A basic kit requires at least a shoulder rig (duh!), a viewfinder and a light. Some people could argue that you dont really need these two accessories but past experiences has shown to me that you do. You could even add a mic into the kit if you need audio for your line of work.
I had to look long and hard to find something decent and cheap. In the end, to stay within budget, I had to compromise on build quality. Priced under 22$, the CowboyStudio Shoulder Support Pad is a steal. It is not as stable as bigger rigs and does not allow you to plug any other accessories but it gets the job done at a ridiculously low price. I tested it for about 30 minutes and, while it is far from perfect, it is a big improvement over shooting hand held.
Lights can be expensive, especially when you want LED. And trust me, you want LED! Other lights are too heavy or dont last long enough. While LED may not be the strongest lights, their flexibility and small size mean you can use them pretty much everywhere.
LED lights have come a long way in the last two years. LitePanels used to be the only decent option in this market segment but, since then, things have changed. While the LightPanels Micro Pro hybrid is an incredible product, it is totally out of our budget. This is why I suggest the CowboyStudio Led VL-126. It is ridiculously cheap (under 60$) while providing a decent amount of light. For the price of a single LightPanel Micro Pro, you would build a 1′x1′ light out of these!
Note: I have yet to confirm, but this light looks strangely like the Opteka VL-126 Ultra, which is a bit more expensive.
Here comes the most expensive part of our kit. Yet, at 99$ the LCDVF is an excellent investment and very easy to resell once you get an electronic viewfinder or external monitor. I have been a big fan of the Z-Finder but since I tried my friend LCDVF, I think I prefer the LCDVF. The magnification ratio is better fir the current HDSLR LCD screen pixel density.
There you have it, total price is under 200$, including shipping! And, once you have more money, it is quite easy to upgrade the rig to something more stable while keeping the viewfinder and light.