Stabilized Camera from Sailboat?? at DVinfo.net

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Old November 16th, 2005, 08:49 AM   #1
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Stabilized Camera from Sailboat??

There's a shortage of info out there on shooting smooth video from a sailboat...if indeed this is at all possible. Even small boat movements have confounded me like in the long rotating pan here:

http://rapidshare.de/files/7425011/ending.wmv.html

I've looked at these: http://www.horizontrue.com/ but their mounts only do 1 axis. So my question is basically what the stablizing gurus would suggest for a platform that yaws, pitches and rolls with an amplitude at times of several feet. Under sail, the boat is heeled over at up to 45 degrees, but relatively stable in this axis.

I'm not convinced that anything will work given the amplitude of motion, but I wonder if a small gimballed jib clamped to the boat would work. The jib could easily handle a 4 foot vertical range.
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Old November 16th, 2005, 10:01 AM   #2
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This is actually one situation where the Steadicam is a perfect tool.

One of it's key principles is the angular isolation offered by it's gimble.
The example normally used to describe a Steadicam gimble is a gimble compass on a boat.. so definatly coming from the right direction.

The key question is mounting and stregth.
A big Steadicam can take 1 foot "bumps" [potholes in a road for example] when hardmounted, and 2 foot "bumps" when worn by an operator.
The Steadicam Merlin manual says to limit the forces to 1.5G - But i'm suspecting that is the limit for it's full capacity, using a lighter camera it shodul be able to take a bit more of a beating.

Either way, if you are shooting in rolling seas (even with bigger waves) this should not be a problem as the actual moves are generally prety soft - now chrshing through hard waves is a differnet story and theat could jar up a rig prety bad if you hit hard, but would you be shooting then?

Of course a big factor is your camera. If it's a big (shoulder mounted) camera then you'd need a full rig. And this is a different kettle of fish ;)

But I'm going to hazard a guess that you are using a handheld camcorder, in which case I think the Steadicam Merlin would be a perfect solution for you - nice and light to carry with you on the boat, and folds away nice and small for stowage when not in use.
It should be available any day now.

- Mikko
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Old November 16th, 2005, 10:24 AM   #3
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I was looking at the Glidecam but was thinking that it simply would not be able to handle the range of motion in the vertical axis. In looking at the steadicam designs I don't understand how they would isolate large vertical changes.

My other question is using a small stablilizer in wind and on a pitching deck. Is this possible? From what I've read here and elsewhere, wind is an issue, and shielding is impossible on a racing sailboat. I haven't invested in (nor have I attempted to use) a stabilizer for these reasons. I'm pretty sure no one rents the equipment locally...otherwise I'd try it.

The camera is the GS400 with a WA lens and RODE VM mic.

Thanks for ringing in on this Mikko. I was hoping for a voice of experience like yours...
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Old November 16th, 2005, 10:33 AM   #4
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Hard-mounting a Steadicam to a boat can be a difficult concept. I did this once (with an Imax camera, lord help me!) and found that once in the open ocean with minor swells, I had to expend a great deal of energy absorbing the vertical movement to keep the arm from bottoming (and topping) out. Body-mounted would have likely been better for this, but worse in terms of maintaining balance--Steadicam becomes rather unpleasant if the "ground" underfoot is constantly shifting its orientation. The smaller the rig, the less this effect however, so a little camera on a Flyer might be OK and certainly the handheld rigs.

Another thought is to eliminate the arm and mount the rig directly to the deck, via vehicle mount/clamp to a structure etc. This will allow the gimbal to do its work of stabilizing the pitch and roll but will still include the rise and fall; however, this may be preferable in some instances. If shooting boat-to-boat, it likely won't be noticeable; if including some of the foreground boat in the picture, it will reduce the apparent movement of said boat.

In all instances, wind is the enemy and care should be taken to provide proper wind screening. If possible, use the wheelhouse or other structure to provide a natural block from the headwind.
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Old November 16th, 2005, 10:48 AM   #5
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Yeah.. Wind...
As the real voice of experience (CP) says, you would need ways to shield your rig from the wind.
Once you isolate an object form the ground/a mount/person etc, it becomes much more suceptable to outside influence.. most notably the wind.

As Charles said, find some natrual wind shelter, the wheelhouse, behind the sail (or even in front of it at times), use your (or someone elses) body. - dont' forget you can also backtop the wind be beeing upwind of somehtign wolid like a wall. If it's really windy then might be advisabel to close the LCD on the camera, but then framing is up to your instincts (which can be done with a bit of practice).

That's another nice thing about the Merlin's size it has a very small area succeptabel to wind, even the weights are arodynamic.


As for vertical movement.. this is somehtign that you will always have ot deal with, short of having a HUGE rig that would support the camera (like a big Steadicam arm) in space it's not feasble, but very often it's uncesarry.

If you are shooting people on the same boat as you, then you would probably want to move with them. And if you are shooting between boats as Charles said, or (especially) at scenery, then 4feet really isn't very much.

Mostly smoothing your shots depends on that angular isolation, and those the rigs can handle. With a nice light camera liek the GS400, the Merlin should be able to handle prety decent sized bumps too, I doubt you'd have any problem of it failing.


- Mikko
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Old November 16th, 2005, 11:21 AM   #6
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Ok, so it sounds like a small stabilizer is worth a try. Now without rehashing all the glidecam vs steadicam discussions, what are your opinions on using the Glidecam 2000 in this situation? I have a well equipped shop so fabbing up an "industrial" variant is also not out of the question...but I'd prefer to stick with a commercial product. The Merlin looks and sounds good on paper...but price (and I'm sure it's worth it), is an issue particularly as this is still just a hobby. I just bought a collection of Bogen grip heads, cam mount, superclamp, and 20 feet of 5/8" aluminum rod....so hard mounting on one of the rear stanchions/rail is entirely possible. Thanks Charles..I've seen your reel, nuf said!

Last edited by Dennis Wood; November 16th, 2005 at 01:03 PM.
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Old November 16th, 2005, 03:51 PM   #7
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Compensating for Sea State motion is very much one of the 'Black Arts' - ask any Naval Architect and has been the subject of long study for centuries (for firing guns and weapons etc)

That aside I personally would recommend shooting with a HD camera and take a DV patch from that - aided and abetted with some serious motion stabilisation software, and it is here where I would sink my funds rather than a mechanical solution. Also shoot relatively high shutter speed >1/250sec and use a motion blur package to restore the blur based on the motion vectors within the stabilised footage
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Old November 16th, 2005, 07:40 PM   #8
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Generally a mechanical stabilizer will work wonders before a electronic solution.
Also, a HD cam is rather pricy.

The GC2k is an ok rig.
Personaly I prefer the Steadicam Merlin (or a JR - available cheap on e-bay (or even new for same as a GC2k)) becuse of the way you hold it, and the overall weight of the system.
The GC is pretty heavy, the JR and Merlin are much lighter (_especially_ the Merlin).
And more importantly, the Gimble on the JR and Merlin is above your hand, so the wight of the system is on your hand. With the GC's the gimble is off to the side, putting continuous leverage on your wrist increasing fatigue.

Any of the handheld rigs (with a gimble) will work very well for you.
One major thing that the increase in price can be viewed as, is an increase in shooting time before you get tired. And in my personal oppinon the Merlin does a much better job of stabilizing the camera too.

- Mikko
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Old November 16th, 2005, 08:45 PM   #9
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Charles, Mikko, and John, thanks very much for your experienced input. You've all given me a few things to think about. I have done some experiments with vdub and deshaker then cropping 16:9 to 2.35. The output is pretty good and I can see where starting with HD would help...but I'm not going anywhere near HD until the media, standards and price issues resolve themselves (as they will). My next cam will almost certainly be a DVX100b or an XL2.

Mikko, I understand the fatigue issue well as I've been playing around with intertial stabilization a bit on the cheap. One thing on the Junior and Merlin vs. the glidecam (keeping in mind I've never used any of these) that I've wondered about is isolated vertical movement. With the Steadicam products, it would appear that movement straight up or down would be directly imparted to the platform. The GC2K looks like it would flex at the handle with your wrist taking the vertical component. Is this a fair analysis or am I missing something fundamental? I would assume once either is solidly mounted (like to a stanchion), this becomes a non issue?

Edit: I just read the Merlin manual online. The purchase price is certainly justified. I'm amazed at the level of detail and engineering that's gone into it....very slick.

Last edited by Dennis Wood; November 16th, 2005 at 09:15 PM.
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Old November 17th, 2005, 01:03 AM   #10
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Dennis,

As I was reading these posts I thought that a 3-axis stabilizer would hold vertical better with the rig bottom heavy. This normally would cause pendelum problems but if the sailboat is going at a constant velocity then maybe it would work. An interesting thing to try out.

I've shot on the back of powerboats and the wind was the biggest problem. Zooms were very tuff too (shooting waterskiers). The rig did take the bounce out of the shot though.

Smooth shooting,

Tery
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Old November 17th, 2005, 06:15 AM   #11
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Dennis,
If you look closer, and consider carefully how gimbles work. both are nothing more than a fulcum on all axis at the same point.

In a JR/Merlin the central point is inside the lille "ball" looking bit that is the gimble. In the GCs the cental poin is in the center of the post in the middle of the gimble yolk.

In either design, all the gimble does is allow the handle to pivot around this point. (angular isolation) Niether really has any 'give' in the vertical domain.

That beeing said, you are correct about the wrist taking some vertical movement with the GC. Because the handle on the GC is out to the side, if you move your arm arm up sudenly and let the handle twist a little in your hand, it can move up a little, turning around the gimble as it does (in the same way a tripod pan handle would when you tilt.) The result would be a little 'give' on the vertical axis. BUT you really don't want that handle loose in your hand. - That in fact is one of the GC 'features' I don't like, because each time you bump, that twisting action puts tourque on your wrist.
You could also hold the handle of the JR/Merlin out ot the side and get the same effect - though the handle of course can't be turned as high up because of the stage.

As your assumption about solid mounting points out; opertaing them (holding them solidly) correctly, both rigs will give you the same [theoretical] isolation.

However, one of the payoffs for the big weight and gimble design is that I'd presume the GC gimble to be much stonger when it come to brute forces it can take-- so with a heavy camera and jaring bumps (unlikly shooting conditions) it would probably last longer.


It is a very interesting project you have going. Keep us posted and let us know how it goes.

- Mikko
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Old November 17th, 2005, 09:31 AM   #12
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Well, it was -10C here this morning (although Lake Superior won't freeze until Jan/Feb, so the update post is going to take awhile :-)

I am considering using a shortened version of my jib, on a gimballed support (like the GC centre bearing) and taking advantage of some the principles of the various stablilizers. Having it counterbalanced however won't help as the same inertial changes would apply to both camera and counterweight. This I would presume is why the articulated vest arms use springs. If you were to jump a bit in a full steadicam vest/arm config, is the arm calibrated to maintain the camera's position in space?
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Old November 17th, 2005, 02:18 PM   #13
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-10C.. BRRRrrr.. winter is coming for us north-hemisphearians .. I think it was about -5C here in Finland this morning.

Hmm.. a big steadicam using a jib.. interesting idea.
Check out this thread on HBS for a similar project involving Kite Buggies on a beach: http://hbsboard.com/index.php/topic,1328.0.html

Yes, the idea of the arm on a full rig is to hold the weight of the sled in space ireletive ot the movements of the operator. And "Iso-Elastic" system will keep teh sprign sin balance with the weight of the sled and it won't move at all as the opertor/mount moves unless moved. A non Iso-elastic arm will more springy and return to the cental point, so if you step up onto a curb from the street; the rig will (smmothly) boom up with you. - Both systems have their merits.
Of course once you totally isolate the sled, you need to control it or it won't move at all!

- Mikko
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Old November 18th, 2005, 08:08 AM   #14
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Interesting discourse there. I loved his footage. Rigid mounting is a heck of a lot simpler..and works great for on-boat shots. In fact, a gimballed/stablized mount would not be my first choice for filming crew work (on the same boat as the camera) during a race. I've found that transitions like tacks and jibes look better with the camera position fixed relative to the boat. Even though the boat and crew may move through 90 degrees of horizon during a tack, the focus is on crew work, so the wildly fluctuating horizon is not an issue.

It's when filming the action around you that stabilization becomes an issue. During an A-fleet start, it is not uncommon for 20 boats, each from 8000 to 20000lbs to be converging on a 200 foot start line, from different angles at up to 10 knots of speed. What I've found is that to capture the essence of these moments, you need first to have some of your attention off the camera to anticipate upcoming encounters, and be very quick to set up for these shots...by very quick I mean seconds. As the boat I'm shooting from is also racing, a sudden tactical call may result in crash tacks, etc during which the boat will change it's deck angle by up to 90 degrees and the leeward rail, at the back where you can stay out of way, can become submerged. So, long story short, I need to be ready to move in an instant, over a distance of about 8 feet, dodge a boom swinging by, keep myself from falling overboard, brace myself on a wet 45 degree slope (sometimes more) and still have decent video. I end up using my tripod as a monopod for starts....which is OK, but by no means stabilized. I've also found that hanging the whole rig overboard and holding the tripod (701RC2 on 028 legs...heavy!) just under the head keeps the rig relatively level. Very often I have a leg hooked on a rail to keep myself from falling back into the boat.

You know, it sounds like I just prescribed a small hand held stabilizer like the Merlin didn't I?

Last edited by Dennis Wood; November 18th, 2005 at 10:13 AM.
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Old November 18th, 2005, 09:32 AM   #15
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Dennis,

Shooting on a racing boat is a whole different situation than any other marine shots. Cruising boats, commercial boats, etc. are usually more laid back with adequate room to work. Steady rigs, bulkhead bracing, shooting from your knees to lower your center of effort, these are all options on open deck venues where people are not vying to be the first to throw you overboard if you get in their way.

I live and work on the Gulf coast and we do a lot of work in the marine environment, including racing sailboats. I have tried most, if not all of the suggestions made here and found none of them satisfactory. Nomally, due to the limited amount of room and the need to be able to move quickly, duck a jibing boom, not get tangled in sheets, or getting an elbow in the gut by a zealous tailer, your body and camera are it.

My final conclusion is there is no better solution in these situations than to just practice holding the camera and letting your body feel the rhythm of the boat, then moving with it. Holding the camera away from your eye and using the flipout is the place to start. After that, just loosen up, feel the boat reacting to the wave action. Learn to anticipate when the bow is going to crash into a wave. The vessel will have a little stutter at that point. Feel for it, anticipate it, prepare for it. If you are on a run, the vessel will have a tendency to roll side to side. If you pay attention you will begin to notice a rhythm. Go with it.

Not everything you shoot will be glass smooth but, that's okay. The deck of a race boat, especially on a start or tack, is an action scene. Let the camera go with it.

By the way, If you are rhythmically challenged as I am, get a friend to teach you some dance moves. That's really what you are doing on the deck of a rolling pitching boat anyway. Just practice, it will eventually become second nature.

Robert
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