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Old September 23rd, 2009, 12:37 PM   #1
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What lenses are you using with your stabilizers?

I've been fine-tuning a DIY steadicam and have been trying to figure out the best lens(es) to use. My DIY steadicam is sort of a hybrid of a merlin curved arm.

I really want to use a prime so that I don't have to keep adjusting balance. My 100mm is out of the question it seems, but also my 50mm and 24mm primes don't seem the "right" feeling either when I've been playing with them. In the near future I want to get a 35mm. Maybe 35mm is the "sweet spot" for what I want? All my work will be of people moving, for example, two people walking down the street.
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Old September 23rd, 2009, 04:53 PM   #2
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Which 50mm do you own?

I've got the EF 50mm f/1.4. My big complaint is that it has significant barrel distortion. A Nikon Ai 50mm f/1.8 might be a better choice. In any case, you want a lens that has little spatial distortion, so when you float your camera, the audience will be looking at the subjects, rather than at the edges of the frame.

I've got the EF 35mm f/2.0, and it's no great shakes. It has the build quality of the $89 EF 50mm f/1.8 plastic fantastic, including the five blade iris. I rarely use it, so I don't have much sense of its spatial distortion.

You might be looking at the 35L or a 3rd party lens to get the quality that you want. The 35L might be the ticket though, since Magic Lantern will probably improve the e-Rack focus over time. Being able to do an electronic follow focus could be really important for steadicam work, and it could get pricey to do it with traditional ad ons.

You might want to rent first to ensure that the lens gives you the look that you seek.
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Old September 23rd, 2009, 05:12 PM   #3
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I'm not sure whether you are asking about lenses or focal lengths here. I'm no expert on the particulars of current still lenses, along the lines of what Jon is describing here. However when it comes to focal lengths, there is definitely no "best" answer, it all depends on the style of the project, the shot, and the feeling you want to convey.

(the following refers to 35mm cine format, so multiply by 1.6 to get the approximate focal lengths for the 5D).

The hedge maze scenes in "The Shining" were shot on a 9.8mm Kinoptik, which introduced a lot of great distortion at the edges and increased the apparent speed of the moving shots.

On "Ugly Betty", I flew a 15-40 Optimo zoom and we often shot masters on the 15mm, which showed off the circular motifs of the set nicely.

On the John Carpenter feature I just finished, John was fond of using the 20mm both on and off Steadicam to create an ominous mood. For closeups, we might go up to a 50mm or 65mm on the Steadicam.

For most jobs, I tend to fly anywhere from the 24mm to 75mm range. Occasionally we will go up to a 100, 135 or even 150 for specific shots, but focus tends to be a major concern especially for interiors or night exteriors.

So bottom line--the best focal length is the one that is right for the shot (and that decision is part of the fun and the art of cinematography). If you don't have any way to pull focus, obviously the choices are limited to wider focal lengths.
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Old September 23rd, 2009, 05:24 PM   #4
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I guess I mean more focal length and I do notice a difference in how the image moves on a steadicam depending on your focal length. Obviously 100mm and a little movement by the operator makes a huge movement of the frame. So I guess I'm asking what people use in focal length to have the right balance in camera movement vs what's being recorded movement.

I know is more or less trial and error, tests and personal taste but wanted to just see what others are doing as well.
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Old September 23rd, 2009, 05:36 PM   #5
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There is another factor in what you are asking about, Christopher: the longer the focal length, the more critical the operating ability to avoid over-controlling the rig (and adding unwanted movement into the shot). You might actually be surprised how subtle a 100mm moving shot can look, but this depends considerably on the operator. Imagine walking down a long corridor or a straight sidewalk with a canopy of trees overhead. A wide lens will demonstrate the forward motion of the camera in an obvious fashion; you see and feel the camera move past the foreground in a three-dimensional way. However with a 100mm, the telephoto compression shows less movement and a more gradual change in perspective. Yet this will only be the case if the camera is driving forward in an extremely linear and smooth fashion. If the operator is overcontrolling the rig and causing it to swing and sway around, it will be actually feel much more agressive than the wide angle shot.

There is another side of this coin, and that is that when shooting in an environment that has a lot of linear geography such as a corridor, small variations in the angular axes (especially roll) will show up much more obviously on a wide lens. With the tighter lens, the eye is drawn more to the subject than the environs.

Probably more information than you were looking for, but it all has to do with the particular skill of the operator. Otherwise, I think somewhere around a 35-50mm range would be the most generally favorable.
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Old September 24th, 2009, 02:59 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
Probably more information than you were looking for, but it all has to do with the particular skill of the operator. Otherwise, I think somewhere around a 35-50mm range would be the most generally favorable.
I found this fascinating. Please don't be discouraged from providing 'too much information' :-)
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Old September 24th, 2009, 07:32 AM   #7
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Charles,

Feel free to ramble on about anything Steadi-cam related. We are all listening intently :)

As for lenses, I have been using my 24mm 1.4 for those shots. We usually use our Glidecam for 2nd Lines at weddings. There is a lot of moving around and we need to get as much in the picture as possible. I have used the 50mm a few times for indoor shots that didn't require as much movement.
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Old September 24th, 2009, 10:57 AM   #8
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I third this Charles! Thanks for your post. It's funny because it clicked in my head as, "oh yeah that makes sense" when I applied my knowledge of different focal lengths and the characteristics I'm familiar with in still reality and started moving an image in my head. So thanks for the post to open my mind.

My DIY steadicam is not the best and I'm but a novice at the movements needed to operate any sort of stabilizer, but now I want to have these skills and tools in order to have those choices at some point. Yay another thing to try to learn and master, gets me up in the morning, hahaha.
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Old September 24th, 2009, 11:22 AM   #9
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Christopher,

The normal-wide shot of two people walking down the street is cool, but using a long lens with the camera raised above head level on a crowded New York City sidewalk can be a great establishing shot. The long lens crowds everybody together. Use a small aperture on a bright day so you can set and forget your focus.

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Old September 25th, 2009, 08:00 AM   #10
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I use an old Stedicam Mini (current equivalent is the Pilot I think). It was made for DSR500's etc, up to 20lb cams. So I have to add extra weights, this helps to smooth even more.

It works very well with the 5D. I usually use the stock 24-105 with IS on when shooting with this rig.

I have used my Canon 17-40mm as well, very nice and wide.

For normal but narrow DOF I use a Nikon 1.4.

I have tried the 70-200L f2.8 IS as well, it works very well on the wider end, past 135 or so it is to hard to keep really smooth.

It is always easier to be steady with a wider lens, but with a longer lens the level horizon is not as important, you can be tight and have no horizon at all.
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Old September 27th, 2009, 12:56 PM   #11
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Gyro stabilizing

I temporarily have a Kenyon KS-6 and shot a quick handheld test this afternoon with it. The effect is pretty dramatic on 200mm and I'm looking forward to trying a real shoot with it. The drawback is that spinning tungsten flywheels at 22000 RPM in a vacuum creates an intense high-pitched whine can be heard for at least 10 km. Ow, my ears!
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Old September 27th, 2009, 01:03 PM   #12
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K6 on a still camera, I would think it would be pretty dramatic! (and of course, power hungry and loud). That technology sort of falls down in the face of OIS, no?
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Old September 27th, 2009, 06:31 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
K6 on a still camera, I would think it would be pretty dramatic! (and of course, power hungry and loud). That technology sort of falls down in the face of OIS, no?
I use a KS-6 AND OIS for aerial work. My testing has shown they are complementary. The sound isn't a factor since I plug into the ships audio. But I don't find the KS-6 very practical or necessary for ground based video.

EDIT: Well I just tried the KS-6 for some hand held, along with the 70-200L at 200. It is nice and smooth; it would be practical for something where sound isn't important. I just used a hoodman, without a shoulder mount, and it is too heavy to hold steady very long. You would want a shoulder mount plus some counterweight and it should do a great job.

Last edited by Charles W. Hull; September 27th, 2009 at 09:13 PM. Reason: add comment
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