Steadicam Merlin - First Impressions at DVinfo.net

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Old September 20th, 2007, 02:18 AM   #1
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Steadicam Merlin - First Impressions

Well to my surprise the received my Merlin today. I was really excited and dropped everything to get cracking with it.

The first impression of the Merlin was that it’s a great product. Very well made and they’ve paid a lot of attention to detail. I mean what a box! The parts inside were well protected and the various pieces looked well made. But soon however, I wasn't so impressed. It seemed that they paid a lot of attention to the frills but not the details.

The following are my personal impressions. I expect what I pay for and most times I'll buy new only because I expect the best. I highlight the bad first and then the good. Please also note, that I have not used any other "similar" product. So I'm not comparing the Merlin with another product.

Finish:
First of all it looks like I got a used piece. There were some marks/scratches/dings on the dovetail plate and a little piece from the guide (I learned much later that it was from the guide) just dropped off. If I weren’t sitting on a table where I could have heard a tiny plastic piece fall, I would have missed it entirely. This thing could fall off while shooting and you’ve never know. Even though the exterior of the Merlin if very well finished, when you look closely at the gimbal (practically the most important piece), you'll find that they've scrimped on quality/finish. The gimbal on my Merlin looks worn or filed. Not what you'd expect for the price. Hell, I'll go so far as to say, "I don't care for the box. Give me a well finished product." I’ve only seen something like it in homemade stuff, not factory produced items. I’ve been there, done that and I know that it can be made better.

Grip:
For my hands, I found the grip could be bigger (larger in circumference) as well as taller. Plus they could have provided for a lip on the top to not only keep your hands from slipping, but it would mean that your grip wouldn’t need to be so tight. I mean you do have to carry the weight of the camera and counter balance weights with the one hand. There are so many variations I can think of to improve the grip and maybe not all are workable. But a better grip can be made.

DVD/Manual:
I think the DVD is really of no help. Details, close ups etc. of key parts (by parts I mean steps/procedures) were totally missing and a lot was assumed. Someone new to the product will not get these things. It seemed to me that they were most concerned with delicate parts of the product, not to warn the customer but more so to not have to replace parts, because the areas that they should be spending time on they either don't cover or skimmed over casually.

The other issue with the DVD is that you can’t really go back and watch the section again. You can either continue, or go right back to the main menu and forward through all the sections you’ve already seen and get to the section you want to. Yes, there may be 10 other ways to get there but no menu options to do this. Eventually, after Section 3 I just gave up on the DVD.

The manual is a lot better in my opinion. Or maybe it's just that my expectation of a DVD (where someone has the advantage of using a video to help explain things to the customer is much higher than a printed document.

Balancing the Merlin:
I strongly recommend that you read the manual and understand the basic principles of how to balance, when to use what option and how to know when your Merlin is balanced. There are 2 user supplied cookbook settings for the A1. They are vastly different. Those settings may work because there are many permutations (as well as many variables) one can use to balance the Merlin. So understand the principles and when to use what option and why and do your own balancing. The only thing that you should use from the cookbook is the mounting hole on the dovetail plate to use.

Now the Good part:
Be prepared to use the horizontal and vertical trims each time you lay the Merlin down or during long shooting periods. Not sure why this happens, but it does (maybe it because the tape moves from one side to the other). The more familiar you are fiddling with these (kind of blindly) the better off you'll be. Also note that when you’re almost at perfect balance, even though the camera looks like it’s tilting to one side (left/right) you may need to in fact trim the vertical trim instead. This is normal (It’s not mentioned in the manual) and will happen when you are almost “there”.

Since it took me a while to balance my Merlin (my arms were sore) I ended up placing the grip on the edge of the table with the spars hanging off. I was able to fiddle with the trims without having to lift the weight of the camera.

Once I had the Merlin balanced, I simply got up with the Merlin and walked off. I’ll be posting a few videos in the Clips newsgroup so you all can see. I had no practice whatsoever. The footage is a real rollercoaster ride. I mean Disney style rollercoaster. I was having fun, and the Merlin is a lot of fun. I felt “free”. I shot for about 45 minutes with a 5 minute break in between. I switched hands and sometimes used two hands (for support). You normally use two hands. One to carry the weight and the other (very light touch) to control the pan/tilt.

Shiv
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Old September 20th, 2007, 03:57 AM   #2
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Hi Shiv, this is a very nice review, thoughful & detail especially the rolling tape portion. Please can you also post some good picture of those part that you feel so much "homemade", i certainly won't expect this since it is from Steadicam, perhaps you do receive a used kit.

look forward to your video :D.
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Old September 20th, 2007, 05:55 AM   #3
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Link to Some Pictures

http://photoalbum.matlus.com//AlbumView.aspx/6
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Old September 20th, 2007, 06:25 AM   #4
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I forgot a few more things...

The Gezornenplatz screw
The way I had the camera mounted (Stage positin "0"), this screw if used would hit against the iris ring on the lens. So I didn't use it and personally, if you've tightened the camera securly to the dovetail plate you should need this screw for the A1.

Mounting Screw
I gone through many tripods in recent times and I've yet to come across one whose mounting screw can come loose and therefore get lost. Now I understand that this might be difficult to do since the dovetail plate is a "generic" plate intended to fit all cameras.

Here is one suggestions:
Provide a threaded hole on the dovetail plate (in one corner somewhere) so one can screw this screw in there when not in use.

Guide Latch Button:
It was the guide latch button that fell off when I unpacked the Merlin. In the manual it states that the Guide is unscrewed 3 full turns from the factory. Mine was fully turned in (in the first detent position).
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Old September 20th, 2007, 07:09 AM   #5
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Thank you so much Shiv, just finished the download, both your photos & videos have open my eyes BIG BOLD SHARP !

Despite some imperfection homemade impression of Merlin kit, I do love your video a lot, you must have a very strong arm to float A1 like that.

I love your suggestion of improving the handle to be slightly longer with a stopper at top to make better grip support, I highly recommend you suggest the idea to Steadicam, one day we may be able to upgrade the handle just like your idea :D.

Thanks again, wonderful stuffs.
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Old September 20th, 2007, 07:20 AM   #6
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And that gimbal does look a bit... *used before*, should you check with your vendor or Steadicam ?? so does the plate as you described, not so meet what we would expect from Steadicam.

But the floating picture still amazes me. by the way did you turn off the OIS ? I've seen a bit of jerky move, I wonder perhaps my computer couldn't play the large movie smoothly or the OIS was on.

thanks~
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Old September 20th, 2007, 07:44 AM   #7
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Ing,

Thanks for you comments!
OIS was turned off. The jerkyness is due to a lower bitrate while the video is fast moving action. I'll post some higher bitrate versions. They'll be larger files :)

Yes, my strength might have allowed me to fly the A1 in the moves that you see in those videos (or for longer periods).

One way to see how long you should be able to go with a Merlin would be to try holding the camera in your palm (palm facing up, elbow at 90 deg. and camera on top of you palm). Remember also that you're carrying more than the weight of the camera (battery + tape + the weight of the Merlin + weights).

Using two hands, you can achieve quite a few moves. Essentially, moving from low angle to high or high to low keeping the camera just below your shoulder height and going as low as possible. These positions don't strain your arms much.
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Old September 20th, 2007, 10:39 PM   #8
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Thank you Shiv, I got to practise your tips and strengthen my arm before I order my Merlin. I've used to keep the camera higher then my shoulder, actually at eye-level and only change the camera height by bending my knee... and my knees have been injuried more then 6 months, I shall use my arms more then, thanks for your tips again.

downloading... 6% :D.
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Old September 21st, 2007, 12:35 AM   #9
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Thanks for the review mate, you have given us a lot of details and that's what we want to hear.

I really value this review since i'm personally considering buying one of these.
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Old September 21st, 2007, 02:21 AM   #10
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Shiv,

I absolutely respect your comments. And I definitely agree with a lot of your experiences. I thought that when I got my Merlin, it wasn't 100% 'new' as I would have expected, though I do not think that it was quite as 'used' as yours sounded.

I however, had different experiences with the product. For me, it was quick to grasp. I haven't even viewed the DVD... though I've been meaning to. But the concept of balance came pretty natural to me and I have gotten some pleasing shots so far. I would post, but honestly, I'm not too tech saavy as far as internet is concerned.

But again, my Merlin did have unexplained usage marks that I know I did not put on it... odd...

Thanks for posting your footage.

All and all- for those thinking about purchasing- The Merlin is not a 'perfect' product by any means. BUT it is a great product for acheiving smooth shots if you can put the effort into it. It has great design for it's size and value that will rival other steadicam systems 4x it's price. But again, I believe it may take a lot of practice and don't expect to get the perfect take in one shot. this may sound silly, but if you are really looking to get the most out of this product, go exercise and increase your strength, especially in your shoulders and biceps, and take it out for a few spins. Those that know, understand that to be a great steadicam person requires fitness and strength.

For the most part though, the Merlin will do the job in most instances in my experience.

Nicholas
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Old September 21st, 2007, 08:01 AM   #11
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Nicholas,

I had no problem grasping the Merlin either :) (as you can see). I also believe the Merlin is a fantastic produt.

I agree with you that (like with most things) it will take practice. I mean using a tripod and getting a pan/tilt shot takes practice, so... It is physically demanding, but you can keep your shots really short.

For example if you need a dolly and pan shot say of moving from one side behind the talent to the other side and then move to the front of the talent while the camera is tracking the talent. This kind of shot is not physically demanding (since it's so short) but will require Merlin skills.

You'll also need a good grip. That is over and above forearm and biceps, I think a good grip will allow you to use one hand when required, or switch hands when required. For longer shots, you'll need biceps and forearms.
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