DIY DSLR Cage, Matte Box and Rail System for £25

Hello, peoples of teh internets. I have made an awesome (I say so myself) DIY DSLR Cage and 15mm Rail System. Now, if you're a n00b at cameras, a brief explanation of what these things are.

A DSLR cage serves two purposes, to enable mounting of multiple accessories, such as a monitor, an LED video light or a microphone; and also to protect the DSLR if it were to fall off a tripod or be dropped.

A rail system allows mounting of other types of accessories along the length of camera and lens, such as a matte box, follow focus, or shoulder mount. So the bottom line is, this allows me to:

  1. Attach a whole lot of stuff to my camera without breaking it's hot shoe or using a ridiculous hot should extension arm thing

  2. Look more professional

The "looking more professional" is more important than you might think. It's not just a case of ego-factor, but also the general public respects you more as a filmmaker doing a serious job when your gear looks extensive. You may have a whole tonne of skill, but the public can't see that - you have to fully "display your colours" in order to make them respect you and therefore not try to intentionally ruin shots by walking by in a particularly inappropriate manner or looking straight into the camera lens etc.

I will now break it up into several sections: the cage, the matte box, and the rail system.

The cage was made entirely out of overpriced goods from B&Q (the feeble excuse for Home Depot in the UK). Parts list:

  • 4x 20cm length of Black 20mm Ø Black PVC Pipe (found on the end of the electric section)
  • 4x 25cm length Square C-shaped aluminium bracket (found in the hardware section amongst all the other randomly arranged tall pieces of metal)
  • 4x 27cm length of 4mm threaded rod (doesn't have to be 4mm, just a sturdy number between 3 and 6 to keep down the weight) (found next to the above item, although placing may vary depending on shop)
  • 2x M4x25mm length bolts (or same as your threaded rod)
  • 10x M4 (or the same as your threaded rod) nuts
  • Random piece of wood or metal, measuring 9cm by 20cm
  • 4x large diameter 25mm bolt, countersink head
  • 4x nuts to fit those bolts
  • 10cm of pine wood thing measuring around 2cm x 2.5cm (same as listed below)

For rail mounts on cage

  • 2x 12cm of pine wood thing measuring around 2cm x 2.5cm (large enough to drill 16mm holes in without it splitting)
  • 4x M3 x 25mm bolts (exact)
  • 2x random scraps around 1cm x 4cm x 0.75cm

TOOLS - these tools are not exact. You may be surprised by the amount of different sized drill bits mentioned here, but we (as a family) have a set of 100 useful bits and tools for a good price of around £30 -

  • 4mm metal drill bit (same as threaded rod, etc.)
  • 6mm metal drill bit (same as beefy bolts)
  • 2mm wood drill bit (exact)
  • 5mm wood drill bit (exact)
  • 16mm wood drill bit (exact)
  • 4mm plastic drill bit (same as threaded rod, etc.)
  • Junior / Senior hack saw
  • Pencil, ruler... etc.
  • Wood glue
  • Screwdriver of all sorts to fit bolts

Stuff you don't need but I had so it made it easier

  • S7 Flat head screwdriver bit
  • S4 Flat head screwdriver bit
  • PH2 Philips head screwdriver bit
  • 7mm bolt head grip thing bit (Diameter of threaded rod + 3mm)
  • Black and Decker Workmate or some kind of proper vice

Then arrange it so threaded rod goes through PVC to reinforce it, then through C-shaped metal on both sides followed by a nut on each end to secure it, like this (this photo is sideways)

Then, make two frames in a square shape, with PVC uprights and metal top and bottom. Then drill an M4 hole in the middle of the top metal bracket on both frames, cut another length of PVC pipe 20cm long, put holes in that and then bolt it to the top. Be careful with those bolts and nuts - you'll use them when holding the camera by the handle - very important when having around £1000 of gear on it as well. It should now look like this (ignore the wood bit at the bottom for now)

Then, line up the piece of wood you cut and then cut holes in both the wood and the two metal horizontals.

Nearly there. One last thing and then we'll get onto the rail mounts. Take another 10cm-ish of the pine wood and drill 3x 5mm holes in it in a line. These will act as tripod mounts for the cage. There are three so you can move to cage backwards or forwards on the tripod to counterbalance the weight of the camera, lens and matte box. Then wood glue that to the underside of the cage in a suitable position. This is why in the photo the cage appears to be hovering off the ground. Then take a tripod plate and carefully screw it into the three holes, so it creates it's own thread inside the wood.

Building the Rail Mounts

These are very important in this rig. Don't mess them up. You'll need to make 4 of these - two for the cage, one for the matte box and one for the camera. If you feel really creative you can make more for a DIY follow focus or something. That's the point of a rail system - it's expandable.

So for each one  you need to do this. Take 12 cm of that pine wood. Take the bigger face and measure 3cm in for each end. Then drill one 16mm hole on each place you marked. This is where the rails go through. Then put the piece on it's end and drill a 2mm hole straight down from the end until it breaks the wall of the 16mm hole. This will be where the bolts go in to stop the mount moving up and down the rail.

Take two of the 3mm bolts and carefully screw them into the 2mm holes so they create their  own thread, much like the tripod mount in the previous section.

Once you have made 4 of these, take two of them and wood glue the two random scraps to the bottom of each one, then wood glue those to the cage in a suitable position, to allow access with a screwdriver to the bolts on each end.

Now take one more and drill a 5mm hole in the bottom of it. This will be the mount for the camera, and the hole is to allow mounting of the rails onto a tripod without the cage system, as seen in the earlier photo. Again, take a tripod plate and screw it into the hole to create a thread.

The Rails Themselves

These are basically just two 9" lengths of the 15mm dowel. That's it. If you can find metal, do that, but I couldn't so wood will do.

 The Matte Box

A rather ingenious design, even if I do say so myself. It's made out of an old VHS case, which means it folds flat when you don't need it. First things first, rip off the plastic that covers both sides of it - we won't be needing that.

Then  find two random pieces of plastic (not metal - it's too heavy), measuring about 15cm x the length of the short side of the case.

Use much tape to secure them to each side of the open case and act as a hinge. Make sure it opens and closes without falling off. These act as the side flags. Then take some more tape (I prefer blue electrical tape - it looks more awesome) and Run it all the way around the edge of the case. This stops the lid from hinging in two places - only one in order to keep it less likely to move.

Then cut a hole in the back of the case for the lens to look through. It's going to be around 10mm in diameter larger then the filter size of your largest lens. I did this with a Stanley knife.

Lastly, take your last mounting block and screw it to the bottom of your matte box to allow mounting on rails. For me it was already the perfect height for my DSLR, but you might need to add some more height between the mount and the matte box.

Have Fun

And that was pretty much it. If I've forgotten to make anything clear, drop a comment. Have fun with your new kit, but remember - it's not the gear that makes a movie, it's creativity. Without a good story, good acting and a good idea, all this is useless.

Alex, signing off.