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Old May 18th, 2008, 01:49 AM   #1
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Please Help a Merlin Newbie

So I received my brand new merlin in the mail yesterday and stayed up half the night fiddling with different balance configurations and trying to learn to shoot with it, then repeated that for several hours this morning, and finally tried it out in the later hours of a wedding I had today. My questions ...

Is a recommended order to learning "moves"? In other words, I'm sure some "moves" are easier to learn and teach the basics better, and others are much more challenging and shouldn't necessarily be attempted right away. So can anyone give me an idea of where to start and what to work towards?

I tried to move in a circle around a subject several times, and most of the time I did an okay job until I had to stop the move. At that point I can't seem to stop the motion without the camera reacting wildly and bouncing all over the place. Is there a trick to stopping moves like this?

I also seem to have trouble keeping the unit from rocking vertically any time I try to apply a horizontal move on the gimbal guide. I'm pretty sure I'm not applying pressure vertically, so is there something that could cause this? I have a Litepanels Micro attached atop the camera, so could that be making the unit less stable vertically somehow?

Lastly, is anyone using a focus/zoom LANC controller with their Merlin? I would like to so I can provide variety to my shots without constantly having to ruin the shot to zoom and focus. Any tips for doing this successfully?

Thanks all!
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Old May 18th, 2008, 02:05 PM   #2
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Travis,

Even though our system is like the standard steadicam configuration (PILOT) we do own a JR for adapting to our arm so we can comment on your post.

It seems as though your drop time is incorrect if the rig does anything funny when stopping or starting. I'm sure the drop time is covered in the Merlin information they give you and it needs to be understood in order to get the most out of your system. If your drop time is too short the bottom of the Merlin will swing out when starting/stopping/or direction changes. If the drop time is too long the rig will want go off on it's own as it doesn't have anything to keep it upright.

We have a training DVD that covers a lot of what you would want to learn and there is also a Steadicam EFP video that is out there somewhere.

When doing circling shots, make sure you are facing forward with the camera aimed in towards your subject. If you are facing the subject and walking like a crab (sideways) you will be doing it the hard and more dangerous way (possiblilty of tripping etc.).

The only kind of remote you can use with smaller rigs is the wireless one that comes with the camera. You can stop and start the camera as well as use the zoom although telephoto shots are much harder to do with a stabilizer. Anything that connects the camera to a fixed point that doesn't move like the handle will effect your shot.

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Old May 18th, 2008, 03:00 PM   #3
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Travis,

Even though our system is like the standard steadicam configuration (PILOT) we do own a JR for adapting to our arm so we can comment on your post.

It seems as though your drop time is incorrect if the rig does anything funny when stopping or starting. I'm sure the drop time is covered in the Merlin information they give you and it needs to be understood in order to get the most out of your system. If your drop time is too short the bottom of the Merlin will swing out when starting/stopping/or direction changes. If the drop time is too long the rig will want go off on it's own as it doesn't have anything to keep it upright.

We have a training DVD that covers a lot of what you would want to learn and there is also a Steadicam EFP video that is out there somewhere.

When doing circling shots, make sure you are facing forward with the camera aimed in towards your subject. If you are facing the subject and walking like a crab (sideways) you will be doing it the hard and more dangerous way (possiblilty of tripping etc.).

The only kind of remote you can use with smaller rigs is the wireless one that comes with the camera. You can stop and start the camera as well as use the zoom although telephoto shots are much harder to do with a stabilizer. Anything that connects the camera to a fixed point that doesn't move like the handle will effect your shot.

Tery
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Terry,

Thanks for the response. The instructions for the Merlin suggest a drop time of at least 1 second. I'm somewhere around 2 seconds, so maybe I need to cut that back some?

As for the DVD and classes, that sounds great, but I've already exhausted my budget just to get my hands on the Merlin in the first place, lol.
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Old May 18th, 2008, 04:09 PM   #4
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Travis,

The manual for the Steadicam Flyer (http://www.steadicam.com/images/cont..._Manual_Lo.pdf)
contains many useful exercises for learning basic steadicam techniques. For longer shots I heartily recommend the arm & vest (although I understand your present lack of funds!). It has made a huge difference in the way I shoot.

Because of the limitations mentioned above regarding start/stop, zoom & focus I never use my steadicam as the only camera for shooting a one-time event. I get a lot of unusable footage when resetting a shot, but the shots themselves are great.

I also find that intercutting static shots with the steadicam shots makes for an easier-to-watch video. A long continuous steadicam shot can be fatiguing if it doesn't stop "to breathe". And holding a steadicam still for long periods in another skill set yet again!

Have fun with the Merlin, it's a great tool!
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Old May 18th, 2008, 08:24 PM   #5
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Travis,

The manual for the Steadicam Flyer (http://www.steadicam.com/images/cont..._Manual_Lo.pdf)
contains many useful exercises for learning basic steadicam techniques. For longer shots I heartily recommend the arm & vest (although I understand your present lack of funds!). It has made a huge difference in the way I shoot.

Because of the limitations mentioned above regarding start/stop, zoom & focus I never use my steadicam as the only camera for shooting a one-time event. I get a lot of unusable footage when resetting a shot, but the shots themselves are great.

I also find that intercutting static shots with the steadicam shots makes for an easier-to-watch video. A long continuous steadicam shot can be fatiguing if it doesn't stop "to breathe". And holding a steadicam still for long periods in another skill set yet again!

Have fun with the Merlin, it's a great tool!
Thanks, Frank. I was originally planning to purchase the Merlin w/ vest/arm all at the same time, but that date was another 6-18 months away. I decided I might as well have the Merlin by itself until I can afford the vest. I got a peak at some of my footage from the wedding yesterday and was pleased to see it looked better than I thought I did yesterday; that's a testament to the performance of the Merlin!

I totally agree on your other points, and I'll check out that link you posted. Thanks!
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Old May 20th, 2008, 09:40 PM   #6
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Travis,

Welcome to the world of the Merlin! I've had mine for about 4 months now, I absolutely love it! I found that I needed to get my drop time set just a touch longer than 1 sec for the type of performance I wanted. If it was less than that, I got "swaying" as the weights at the bottom wanted to stay where they were (objects at rest wanting to stay at rest) which would cause a 'pendulum' effect whenever I started or stopped. Once I got the drop time set to a longer time, it seemed to smooth it out a lot. Course I'm still a newbie, but I love the look, so much that I want to take a steadicam workshop....to bad I'd have to fly at least 600 miles to take one. What is amazing to me, is how much the footage improves, even if you are a total newbie. And then, how much better you can make it as you gain skills. It's just totally amazing to me, I have to fight the tendency to overuse steadicam shots cause they just look so cool!
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Old May 20th, 2008, 10:35 PM   #7
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Travis,

Welcome to the world of the Merlin! I've had mine for about 4 months now, I absolutely love it! I found that I needed to get my drop time set just a touch longer than 1 sec for the type of performance I wanted. If it was less than that, I got "swaying" as the weights at the bottom wanted to stay where they were (objects at rest wanting to stay at rest) which would cause a 'pendulum' effect whenever I started or stopped. Once I got the drop time set to a longer time, it seemed to smooth it out a lot. Course I'm still a newbie, but I love the look, so much that I want to take a steadicam workshop....to bad I'd have to fly at least 600 miles to take one. What is amazing to me, is how much the footage improves, even if you are a total newbie. And then, how much better you can make it as you gain skills. It's just totally amazing to me, I have to fight the tendency to overuse steadicam shots cause they just look so cool!
Thanks for the welcome, Gabe, glad to be in the Merlin world. I'm loving mine too. I have some questions for you.

First, what kind of stuff do you shoot? I shoot mostly weddings, meaning my shots are mostly unplanned, reactionary shots.

Second, do you use the vest/arm, or just the Merlin handheld?

Third, looking back on learning the Merlin, are there any types of shots you would recommend practicing first to build my Merlin skills? Or should I just start out trying everything?

Like you, I noticed a good improvement when I got my drop time closer to 1 second. It was at 2 seconds at the wedding I filmed this past weekend, and afterwards I did a reconfiguration and got it down to like 1 1/2 seconds and it seems to perform better (or maybe I just got better?).
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Old May 21st, 2008, 05:30 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Travis Cossel View Post
Thanks for the welcome, Gabe, glad to be in the Merlin world. I'm loving mine too. I have some questions for you.

First, what kind of stuff do you shoot? I shoot mostly weddings, meaning my shots are mostly unplanned, reactionary shots.

Second, do you use the vest/arm, or just the Merlin handheld?

Third, looking back on learning the Merlin, are there any types of shots you would recommend practicing first to build my Merlin skills? Or should I just start out trying everything?

Like you, I noticed a good improvement when I got my drop time closer to 1 second. It was at 2 seconds at the wedding I filmed this past weekend, and afterwards I did a reconfiguration and got it down to like 1 1/2 seconds and it seems to perform better (or maybe I just got better?).
Travis,

I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I will attempt to answer everything I can.

First, I'm a typical one person video production company. I pretty much do whatever pays the bills, TV spots, weddings, freelance news for CNN, Weather Channel or in state TV stations, corporate videos, contract work for the local PBS station, sports/event shoot, live video webcasts for the state, websites, pretty much anything and everything. You can see some of my stuff at my website www.gforcevideo.com (I used the Merlin in the 'dispatchers' spot and the 'Prospector Hotel' spot) I actually am in the process of creating my website but there's a lot of stuff up you can look at.

Second, like you, I want to get the vest/arm but chose to start out with the Merlin handheld and upgrade later. I didn't have the money for the whole set up and figured I could at least get the hang of things with the Merlin while I wait for my clients to actually get me my money! I just got done working on a film, and talked with the steadicam guy a lot, he helped me with the drop time on my Merlin.

Finally, I usually use my Merlin on TV spots. It's a good place to use it, because the whole spot is 30 seconds....none of the shots are too long! I found that when I was starting, "boom" shots were the easiest....what I mean by that is start with the Merlin over your head and 'boom' down to the floor or vice versa. There isn't the 'pendulam' effect you get if you are too bottom heavy while walking....you can pull off some smooth shots that look like you are on a crane. After you get the boom shots down, I just walk with the thing and let it point wherever it wants, just to get the feel of it for awhile....and see how it behaves. Then I slowly start trying to control it....you really need a light touch. I did a concert with it, but mostly use it for TV spots where I can plan my shots. Using it at weddings and trying to react...while thats harder, as I am not great with it yet. I will use it at my next wedding for 'specialty' shots, but it is kind of hard for me as I am a one man shooter at weddings and so I am running between cameras usually. Probably good for me that I don't do too many weddings, I just won't do them for what a lot of people want to pay, as I feel it isn't worth my time. I think I did a grand total of maybe 8 weddings last year. I'd say if you have other shooters that you trust, it would be great to use the Merlin for the walking up the aisle shot, and I can think of a TON of other specialty shots to use it for in a wedding, but not as the main cam. The problem for me is, I can't get the 'quick release' tripod plate to attach, so I have to pull out a screwdriver and unscrew the camera from the Merlin, screw in the tripod plate to the bottom of the camera, and mount it on the tripod. Takes a minute or so and when you are the only shooter you don't want to miss things!!!
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Old May 21st, 2008, 11:48 AM   #9
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Nice spots.

I've pretty much got booming and basic stuff down, but what kills me is when I rotate around a subject and then either try to stop the rotation or change the direction of the rotation. I get all wobbly then. I haven't had a chance to try it all again since I reconfigured the Merlin and got my drop time to 1.5 seconds though (had to let my arm recover after practicing and shooting with it for 3 days straight - out of the box!).

I agree that the Merlin seems more suited to planned shots, but I think once I get good with it I'll be able to "play" more at a wedding without fear that I'm going to blow a money shot, lol. I shoot mostly weddings, so I'm going to need to make the Merlin work for more than just planned shots to make it worthwhile. Luckily I charge enough to pay for a 2nd shooter, and I have a few decent ones on call.
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Old May 21st, 2008, 12:03 PM   #10
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Nice spots.

I've pretty much got booming and basic stuff down, but what kills me is when I rotate around a subject and then either try to stop the rotation or change the direction of the rotation. I get all wobbly then. I haven't had a chance to try it all again since I reconfigured the Merlin and got my drop time to 1.5 seconds though (had to let my arm recover after practicing and shooting with it for 3 days straight - out of the box!).

I agree that the Merlin seems more suited to planned shots, but I think once I get good with it I'll be able to "play" more at a wedding without fear that I'm going to blow a money shot, lol. I shoot mostly weddings, so I'm going to need to make the Merlin work for more than just planned shots to make it worthwhile. Luckily I charge enough to pay for a 2nd shooter, and I have a few decent ones on call.
Rotating around a subject is kinda tricky. Once you get it going the Merlin wants to keep going (the laws of physics and all). So when you try to stop the rotation or change direction, the Merlin doesn't want to. To stop the rotation, you need a good touch, I can get it to stop, but doing it without ruining the shot (the 'bobbling thing') is hard...same thing with changing the rotation, I can do it, but usually not without a bit of 'bobbling'. If I was you, I'd start just using the Merlin during certain times....during the wedding photos would be a good time, some tracking shots of the location before the wedding, tracking into the cake, posed 'music video' shots with the bride and groom, in other words some shots that add 'spice' to the overall production, but I wouldn't try to use it during the main events, not until I was really good at reacting to things and knew I wouldn't ruin those 'only happens once' shots at a wedding. Since you do primarily weddings, I'd think the arm and vest would really be a BIG help to you, you could wear it for the entire ceremony and shoot once you got good!. By the way, what camera do you fly on the Merlin?

P.S.
You got some good stuff there too. Proof that 'great minds think alike', I have a local spot that is kind of similar to one of yours....LOL
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Old May 21st, 2008, 12:15 PM   #11
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Oh, I'm definitely not using it during a ceremony yet. I need a lot more skill and consistency first. I'll be using it during preps and the photoshoot, as well as for location/detail shots ... but in 2 weeks I plan to also use it during the reception for the 1st dance and maybe some other stuff. I'll have my 2nd shooter with a wide-angle lens and a wide "safe" shot, and then I'll get to play.

I think the issue with the Merlin and stopping rotation and changing direction is that you have very little surface to control on and the unit is very light. The bigger rigs have a sizeable pole and more weight to them, so you don't have to be quite as precise probably with your fingers. The Merlin is just so small and touchy. Not that it can't be done, but it definitely requires some serious skill for those types of moves I think.

I can't wait to get the vest, because that will work so well for some things I think (like toasts). I don't know about going with the Merlin for an entire ceremony, though, because in churches I won't be allowed much movement anyways, and outdoors I will often have to deal with wind (Idaho can be pretty windy!).

I'm flying a Canon GL2 on the Merlin.

Oh, and thanks for the compliment on my "stuff". All of those spots were low budget, so I just did what I could. d;-)
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Old May 21st, 2008, 12:47 PM   #12
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Oh, I'm definitely not using it during a ceremony yet. I need a lot more skill and consistency first. I'll be using it during preps and the photoshoot, as well as for location/detail shots ... but in 2 weeks I plan to also use it during the reception for the 1st dance and maybe some other stuff. I'll have my 2nd shooter with a wide-angle lens and a wide "safe" shot, and then I'll get to play.

I think the issue with the Merlin and stopping rotation and changing direction is that you have very little surface to control on and the unit is very light. The bigger rigs have a sizeable pole and more weight to them, so you don't have to be quite as precise probably with your fingers. The Merlin is just so small and touchy. Not that it can't be done, but it definitely requires some serious skill for those types of moves I think.

I can't wait to get the vest, because that will work so well for some things I think (like toasts). I don't know about going with the Merlin for an entire ceremony, though, because in churches I won't be allowed much movement anyways, and outdoors I will often have to deal with wind (Idaho can be pretty windy!).

I'm flying a Canon GL2 on the Merlin.

Oh, and thanks for the compliment on my "stuff". All of those spots were low budget, so I just did what I could. d;-)
Ya you are right about the 'touchy' thing. I actually have been considering taking a steadicam workshop, I think the idea of having a 'real' rig that has more substance to it would be awesome. Of course I'd want to take the workshop first and see if I could actually fly the bigger guys, and judging from the fact that I'd probably have to fly to Seattle and pay a $700 plane ticket on top of a hotel room and workshop costs....OUCH. Probably not going to happen for awhile.

As for the windy thing...I totally understand that one as I live on the ocean.
I actually was doing a shoot a few days ago inside and was using the Merlin to do a 'walk through' of a business. Walked into one of the rooms and the camera started spinning uncontrollably on the Merlin......you see someone in the room had a fan on across the room and that sent me 'spinning'....kinda funny actually.

I have been lucky with my last few weddings, maybe it's cause I'm by myself, but the churches have let me move around. Maybe the benefits of living in a small town and knowing almost everyone.

As for low budget spots.....I do those too, well I consider them low budget, the businesses seem to consider them high budget and I've actually been asked to do things for $150 (which I politely declined).

What part of Idaho do you live in? My wife's family is from Kalispell, Montana and we usually fly to Seattle and rent a car and drive over. So we go through parts of Idaho, my wife has a friend in Coeur d'alene. I also LOVE Sandpoint, nice town and very pretty. We usually spend a couple nights somewhere like that and play tourist.
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Old May 21st, 2008, 01:12 PM   #13
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I live in Boise. It's pretty nice and I don't really have any complaints.

I'm sure a bigger rig would be nicer, but for me it's probably impractical since I do mostly weddings and there's no point putting a GL2 or an A1 on a full-size rig. I was going to practice outside with my Merlin today but we've got like 20-30mph winds. Arg. Guess I'll practice walking down hallways, lol.
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Old May 22nd, 2008, 09:36 AM   #14
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I'm sure a bigger rig would be nicer, but for me it's probably impractical since I do mostly weddings and there's no point putting a GL2 or an A1 on a full-size rig.
The Steadicam Pilot is made for these types of cameras. The weight range is 2-10 pounds. This includes anything you add to the camera (e.g. shotgun mic, light, etc.), so the GL2 or A1 will fit nicely. You can also add the Merlin weights to the top & bottom to make it more like a big rig - more stable. With the camera, camera accessories, and weights totaling just under 10 pounds, I can wear mine for hours. If you're looking at the Merlin Arm & Vest, you might want to consider a little more for the Pilot. By the way, the backpack case for the Pilot includes a foam cutout spot for the Merlin, so it seems that many folks are using both.

Here's an interview with Garrett Brown (Steadicam inventor) that shows the Merlin, Merlin Arm & Vest, and then the Pilot.
http://www.macvideo.tv/camera-techno...ticleid=100761
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Old May 22nd, 2008, 05:00 PM   #15
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The Steadicam Pilot is made for these types of cameras. The weight range is 2-10 pounds. This includes anything you add to the camera (e.g. shotgun mic, light, etc.), so the GL2 or A1 will fit nicely. You can also add the Merlin weights to the top & bottom to make it more like a big rig - more stable. With the camera, camera accessories, and weights totaling just under 10 pounds, I can wear mine for hours. If you're looking at the Merlin Arm & Vest, you might want to consider a little more for the Pilot. By the way, the backpack case for the Pilot includes a foam cutout spot for the Merlin, so it seems that many folks are using both.

Here's an interview with Garrett Brown (Steadicam inventor) that shows the Merlin, Merlin Arm & Vest, and then the Pilot.
http://www.macvideo.tv/camera-techno...ticleid=100761
Thanks. I'll check that out!
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