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Old July 12th, 2008, 03:52 PM   #1
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Steadicam Pilot Review

My long-promised review of the Steadicam Pilot is up at:

http://www.dvinfo.net/articles/camsu...icampilot1.php
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Old July 12th, 2008, 03:56 PM   #2
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It's a great review Charles - very insightful and a good explanation of what your thoughts of the rig are and why, and the test shot was an excellent showcase of what operators of smaller rigs can aspire to.

Thanks!
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Old July 12th, 2008, 07:46 PM   #3
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Great one Charles............

I've never really got my head round these gadets up to now, but your review and that stunning video at the end have really given me a "heads up".

I must say you make it look absolutely effortless, which is one of the things holding me back from diving in and getting one, 'cos I know how much practice you've had.

The other one is the look on my wifes' face when I broach the subject - yeah, THAT LOOK!

Exceedingly well done. Congratulations.


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Old July 12th, 2008, 09:10 PM   #4
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Great review Charles, thanks very much for taking the time to put that together.

Just picked up 5 sony v locks and a quad charger second hand, perfect for the pilot.. its nearly time to make my order.
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Old July 12th, 2008, 09:52 PM   #5
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Excellent review Charles.

It is very helpful in understanding the Pilot.

Regarding your video, you say you used fixed focus.

What distance did you use?

Did you reset the focus for the different shots? (For example, from the wide shot to the closeup toward the end?)

And at the beginning, when the actress walks into a closeup, does she stay in focus, or is this too close for a fixed setting?

Thank you! I know the questions are more about the camera than the Pilot, but the answers would be helpful.
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Old July 13th, 2008, 12:52 AM   #6
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Thank you

Charles,

that was a really good read & I definately did learn a thing or 2 from that. Will definately take your words of wisdom into account next time I play with my pilot.

Loved that video at the end, it really inspires me (and I'm sure many else) to really think and plan out our steadicam shots.
Thanks again!
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Old July 13th, 2008, 01:19 AM   #7
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In the hands of a master. Well done as usual!

It does show how a good DP would set up a good steadicam shot.

Amy and the house look great. Did you rent both of them...HaHa.

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Old July 13th, 2008, 03:15 AM   #8
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Thanks all, glad you liked.

Jack:

With DV (HDV, etc,) I pretty much set the focus at around 5 feet and it holds for anything from perhaps 2 feet to infinity with a wide lens. I imagine I set the focus specifically on the tight shot, but the move was lateral so it held just fine. I purposely kept things simple by not using a 35mm adaptor, as I wanted to show that the use of a moving camera can be powerful enough by itself (and most folks who might attempt to use a 35mm adaptor with a Pilot would not have remote focus capability, which would make these particular shots hard to achieve).

Terry:

haha indeed!
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Old July 13th, 2008, 06:34 AM   #9
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Thanks Charles,

I think this will be the definitive review of the Steadicam Pilot. It's great to hear how the Pilot compares to a real Steadicam big rig. It's also great to see what kind of footage you can get with the Pilot in the hands of a master.
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Old July 13th, 2008, 07:07 AM   #10
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Charles,

I would be extremely interested to know your opinion on how the Pilot operates with lots of additional screw on weights, and how that compares to your big rig.

When I took the class with Tom, they had a Pilot set up with no additional screw on weights, and it felt like a toy. The additional screw-on weights really make a huge difference, especially at the bottom.

Specifically, with the XH-A1 weighing in at 5 pounds (including it's battery), I would add:
- 2 middle weights plus 1 end weight to each end of the bottom crossbar
- 6 middle weights plus 1 end weight to each end of the stage

The total weight for this would be about 9.5 pounds, and the gimbal would be 2-3" away from the stage.

I did a quick photoshop of your picture from the review to see what this would look like (I hope you don't mind). The picture shows the 6 middle weights and 1 end weight on the front of the stage. It looks like this would fit under the lens hood and not get in the way.

This would require a total of 16 middle weights. Since the Pilot only comes with 4 middle weights, you would have to order 12 more. You can order additional screw-on middle weights directly from Tiffen - Part # 801-7920-05, $6.25 each.

I really think Tiffen should include a lot more middle weights with the Pilot. After experiencing the added control with more screw-on weights, I think every Pilot owner will want this. 12 weights would cost $75, which is pretty cheap in the scheme of things. The real issue is the hassle of ordering from Tiffen, and the wait time for the order to ship (I had to wait a month). It would be much better if Tiffen just included these weights so new Pilot users could feel this added control right away.

Anyway, Charles - if you ever get a chance to use a Pilot that's fully loaded up to around 10 pounds, with some of that weight at the ends of the lower crossbar, please let us know what you think.
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Old July 13th, 2008, 11:41 AM   #11
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Thanks Dave. That all makes a lot of sense and I am quite sure that it would make a considerable difference to the feel of the Pilot.

I wouldn't agree that it feels like a toy without extra weight as that implies lesser functionability (I know it is just a term but I wouldn't want to mislead people). After all the bare Pilot will still demonstrate more inertia than the Merlin with all weights up. It is however much nicer and more stable and frankly easier to operate with the added inertia of a compete brace of weights.

I would never expect a Pilot to have exactly the same feel as my big rig. It just doesn't have the mass. However, both the gimbal and arm are smooth enough that they create a similar operating experience, as opposed to various other systems I have tried that force me to overcome their deficiencies in these areas which obviously is a distraction. For rehearsal purposes (like I noted in the article), the amount of weight I was using worked fine as the system was feather-light and I could easily approximate any shot that I would then subsequently do "for real" on my full-size rig. But yes, if the shot was ultimately to be performed on the Pilot I too would want to add ballast up to the full capacity of the system to give it more "oomph".
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Old July 13th, 2008, 12:09 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
I wouldn't agree that it feels like a toy without extra weight as that implies lesser functionability (I know it is just a term but I wouldn't want to mislead people). After all the bare Pilot will still demonstrate more inertia than the Merlin with all weights up...
The Pilot in class had no weights at all (up or down), and with the DVX100 which is much lighter, it was really light. With the XH-A1 and all weights up, it would be much better. With weights on the bottom, and with the total weight up around 10 pounds, I think it feels way more stable, but would be interested to see what you think.

Last edited by Dave Gish; July 13th, 2008 at 02:27 PM.
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Old July 13th, 2008, 12:13 PM   #13
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Yes, I think we agree on this.
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Old July 13th, 2008, 12:19 PM   #14
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Hi Charles,

May I ask what level of dynamic balance was achieved on the pilot+XH-A1 rig of yours? I'm thinking of trying to mimic your pilot setup with my xh-a1 (no wide angle, same level of merlin weights and post length) just to see how comfy and stable it feels compared to my usually setup.

Thanks in advance.
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Old July 13th, 2008, 12:42 PM   #15
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I got a chance to use a pilot the past week with both an A1 and XL2. Here are some observations:

I used a Giottos quick release adapter and extra long plate. It makes front to back balancing a lot easier and it definitely beats unscrewing four screws each time to remove the camera. The Giottos also comes with levels which are a great help. Monfrotto also has a QR plate but no levels (This also add a bit of extra weight to the entire assembly) The qr lever needs to be tweaked a little bit but it will work fine with an A1 and does lock securely in the tight space between the camera and mounting plate.

Keep a few pennies around for removing the mounting screw. Cheaper than a screwdriver, easier to replace and works fine.

The heavier XL2 (about 8 lbs) feels a lot more stable but it is pushing the limits of the arm (the front spring is fully cranked to the max). If I put a anything else on, it will start to sag down.

On the A1, extra weight really helps. I put the Steadicam weights on the bottom (battery and monitor). I was able to mount a shotgun and wireless receiver on the camera itself + the extra weights and the feel was much nicer than no accessories and weights.

I definitely like the feel of the XL2 but with some extra weight the A1 come very close. 7-8 pounds seems to be the top limit on the Pilot even though they claimed 10 pounds. I would really like to see them fly a 10 lb camera on that rig. The total weight of an XL2 + sled came to around 14 lbs on my scale.

The product has a far more substantial feel than a Merlin - If you are comparing a Merlin + Vest vs a Pilot + Vest, the extra $1,000 (25%) is well worth it (still not cheap though).

A1 focus - Use manual fixed focus if you can. The A1 likes to hunt around on the focus and it has ruined some shots in the past. (Not sure if this is a defect on my camera or an A1 flaw in general). Another tip for A1 users, use manual gain set at -3 if you can - the A1 loves to boost gain in auto mode and it generates a lot of ugly grain and noise. At -3 gain, the image is silky smooth if you have sufficient light.

The vest - I don't know why they placed the velcro with the hook side exposed. If you are wearing short sleeves, it will scrape your arm. In the future, if they reversed the velcro it will be a lot more comfortable. For now, I have covered parts of the velcro with another piece of velcro and my arms don't get scratched. Velcro is fine for the belt and chest portion but I wish they would have used buckles on the top so the setting can be locked and snapped it without having to guess where to place the velcro. Buckles only cost a few dollars and it might be a worthy retrofit.

Right vs Left. The stock unit came with the arm fitting for right side operation. I switched my unit to the left side. This allows me to view the A1 flip out monitor and controls a lot easier. I still used the A1 screen to monitor camera functions and audio. Make sure you balance the rig with the screen flipped out with tape and battery.

The case - as mentioned in the review, the foam insert that comes with the case is useless. Trying put everything back into the foam cut outs will require excessive takedown and set up. The backpack case is fine, you will need to reconfigure the components to fit with minimal reassembly. Steadicam also sells an extra large "Merlin" case - currently <$70 at Amazon that is perfect for the A1 - makes a great matching set of luggage.

You will also need a stand - I am currently using a C stand that is heavy and not very portable. There is a custom steadistand available for about $160 - $200 - I have been told by the factory that there are 2 versions. A new version has just been released with a few new features and will fit into the backpack case. You may want to confirm which version a dealer is selling before making your purchase.

Training - If you search for steadicam on youtube, you will find a bunch of videos on how to use a steadicam but the best I found so far is the EFP DVD available through Tiffen for $20. The DVD that comes with the pilot is marginal.

Practice - The only way to use this effectively is by practice, practice, practice.

Steadicam and HDV - If you are familiar with the HDV format, you should have learned that fast camera movements are a No No. I found the best results are obtained when you perform you moves in super slo mo. The slower the better.

Operator fatigue - Depending upon what physical shape you are in, you will feel the weight of the unit after wearing it for about 15 minutes. After a week I was comfortable with wearing in for about 30-45 minutes. Contrary to the advertising, I doubt anyone can wear a Pilot and Camera continuously all day long.

Give a kid a hammer and the whole world looks like a nail - It is not necessary to use a Steadicam when you can achieve the same shot with a tripod or monopod. I loved playing with the unit but a 30 minute Steadicam sequence is very boring - even 2 minutes of a continuous shot can be boring. It is a specialize tool than can achieve some incredible shots. Using this tool appropriately is one of the toughest thing to master.

Overall, a very well built unit. It is not cheap, (>$4,000 when completely configured). It is a very specialized piece of equipment that will require a lot of practice before producing quality shots. It is not a magic wand that will instantly transform shakey shots in smooth footage. It takes time to set up balance and tune. Not ideal for run and gun and I am still learning to how to use it effectively for continuous event videography such as concerts.
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