Quick Tip: How to make a DIY “Cinesaddle” with a sandbag and polystyrene beads

Aug 24, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Aug 24, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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I hadn’t heard of the brand Cinesaddle (buy here) until watching this video. After looking it up, though, I realised I’ve used this type of product before. It’s essentially a shaped beanbag that sits underneath your camera to provide more filming options.

While Cinesaddles look to have some excellent reviews, they are a bit pricey. In this video, Chung Dha walks us through how to make our own DIY camera saddle using a sandbag and some polystyrene beads.

What is a camera saddle?

This type of product has been around for ages. It’s essentially a beanbag shaped in a way that makes it useful for photographers and filmmakers. From looking at their prices, Cinesaddle appears to be at the upper end of the quality spectrum.

They’re designed to let you mount your camera on rough or uneven surfaces while keeping your camera settled in a position for filming. Lots of camera rigs may have accessories, such as matte boxes, that may prevent putting it directly down on the ground. Or the ground might be so rough that it scratches the bottom of the camera.

Such a device can also be used to help provide a more stable platform for resting your camera on thin edges. Say, on a thin wall, or along the length of a metal pipe. It helps to prevent your camera from slipping, providing a more stable result.

How do I do this on the cheap?

Chung Dha’s solution is much less expensive than buying a Cinesaddle, though. He just purchased a large cheap sandbag, the type used with light stands, and then he filled it with about three litres of polystyrene beads designed for filling beanbags.

While it doesn’t have quite the same shape as the Cinesaddles, it does provide a lot of similar versatility.

It allows you to set your camera lower down to the ground than most tripods will allow, whilst preventing the camera form actually touching the ground. You can double it up to get a bit more height and you can also use it over the tops of pips, walls, fences, open car windows, etc. to help give your camera more stability.

They’re not something I find myself using all that often when I’m out filming or shooting photos. But at the times when you need them, they’re absolutely invaluable. And while a sandbag filled with polystyrene beads isn’t quite the same shape as a Cinesaddle and is a little more limited in its uses, it’s potentially going to be close enough for a lot of filming and photography tasks.

What else can I stuff it with?

If you wanted something that was a bit more stable but still much less heavy than sand, you could also try filling it with buckwheat instead of polystyrene beads.

Buckwheat is a more environmentally friendly option, but do note that you probably won’t want to use it around water. If it gets wet, you’ll want to dump the contents, fully dry it out and then refill it with fresh buckwheat.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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3 responses to “Quick Tip: How to make a DIY “Cinesaddle” with a sandbag and polystyrene beads”

  1. Once_Born Avatar
    Once_Born

    Alternatively, you could fill one of those waterproof bags with the roll-up tops, used to keep gear dry during outdoor pursuits.

    They wouldn’t leak, would keep the filling dry – and you would have a waterproof bag if the ‘camera saddle’ idea didn’t work out.

  2. Old Fart Avatar
    Old Fart

    Is that really a Sony VX1000 on the right beanbag in cinesaddle.jpg? Wow.

  3. Old Fart Avatar
    Old Fart

    You could also use (recycled) polyethylene chips as a filling. More weatherproof than buckwheat, heavier than polystyrene beads. I was sewing my own beanbags using sheets of cordura, waterproof zippers and/or velcro fasteners. That’s probably not up to professional standards, but served me well in the past. If you put the fillings in an additional net bag, you can take it out without creating a mess and repurpose the outer shell, e. g. as a protective gear bag.