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Old August 29th, 2008, 09:48 PM   #1
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Steadycam Merlin and bad back

Okay, I really need a steady cam for an assignment I'm doing. I'm planning on getting a Merlin. However, I've just been diagnosed with degenerative disk disease of the cervical spine. I have back and neck pain and my arm goes numb. I realize these steadycams with A1s put a lot of stress on you to hold but I can't afford the ~2K vest to help bear the weight. Is there any other (cheaper) alternative or work around people have found that works?

Thanks in advance for any help.
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Old August 29th, 2008, 10:54 PM   #2
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You really need the vest. Varizoom may have a cheaper version, as well as Glidecam, but to get equivalent quality, they're all in the same general ballpark. Can you use a dolly instead?
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Old August 30th, 2008, 09:12 AM   #3
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You really need the vest. Varizoom may have a cheaper version, as well as Glidecam, but to get equivalent quality, they're all in the same general ballpark. Can you use a dolly instead?
Thanks, Bill. No I can't use a dolly. This is going to be shot over very rough uneven terrain.

Have been reading the zen descriptions of handling the Merlin :) As a pretty steady handed still phoptog as well, I think I can do this is with practice and if my back will hold up. I can perhaps get away with very short segments at a time. They just need to be visually compelling.

Are you saying I could use the Varizoom, etc., cheaper versions with the Merlin? Or do they need to go with the steadycam of the same brand?
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Old August 30th, 2008, 12:12 PM   #4
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Varizoom has a cheaper system that's similar...a hand held version and then a vest, both together probably around $2K, I don't remember for sure.

I had back surgery some years ago and have shot with a higher end system with a much heavier 2/3" chip camera. I can wear the vest, mount the rig (which hangs on a C-stand spud), do a shot, then set it down again. It's a pain to stand around for very long. I've never used anything with the XH A1 yet, but presumably a Merlin or equivalent with vest would be a lot easier.

I don't know the nature of your back problems, but you might try the Merlin just hand held, if the vest system is unaffordable. Set up a shot, make a run, then put it down. You'll probably have trouble carrying it around for long. One thing with a regular steadycam type system, even with the vest, when the rig floats out away from the body, it's a serious strain. The key to working with it is balance. I got to where I could keep it in close to my body and it wasn't so bad, but that took some practice.

The thing about the vest is that it transfers weight to the hips, and that might or might not be worse for your situation. I don't think the Merlin itself is all that heavy and if you can keep it in close, you might be able to work with it. When I do things that stress my lower back, I do it for short periods, then rest, then do it again. An all day shoot with lots of setups with a steadycam would not work for me. Although...after switching to an XH A1, lighter weight tripod, and fewer heavy bags to carry (using mostly LED lights now or fluorescents), my trips to the chirporactor after a long shoot have dwindled to about zero. My camera bag, set of 3 500LED lights, stands and tripod all weigh less than the old camera and its battery bag with 8 BPL batteries and charger. There are some benefits to smaller cameras, for sure.
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Old August 30th, 2008, 01:18 PM   #5
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Dang-- moved :(

I specifically wanted info from those who've used the Merlin with the A1.

Oh, well. Thanks, Bill. Good info. I'll go on and get the Merlin and see how I do. I'll be able to control how long I spend on each shoot.

One more question if you see this -- do you need to re-balance each time you set it down to rest or is that not a big factor?
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Old August 30th, 2008, 01:44 PM   #6
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Hi Denise,

Among my various Steadicams (3 at last count!) I do have a Merlin and I use it with an A1.

For me, the primary muscle strain that one experiences with a handheld rig is in the arm (wrist/forearm); I will also start to feel it in the shoulder and upper back after a while. I haven't ever experienced a lower back or spinal sensation with that setup. I would think that assuming you have decent arm strength or intend to practice plenty to build that up, you would be fine with the handheld version. I can't be absolutely sure because I'm not that familiar with your particular condition (so sorry, by the way).

The Merlin/A1 combo is pretty chunky for handheld operation but when spread out via a vest and arm, becomes marginal at best. Most people find that the weight essentially "disappears". Again your particular condition may affect this but it would be worth investigating. Hopefully you are able to visit a dealer that may have the complete package so you can at least try out the different options. As far as third party vest/arms that are less expensive than the Steadicam version, most are not immediately compatible but I would contact Terry at Indicam to see if they make a mating post for the Merlin. His is an affordable alternative.

In any event, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to learn the particular skill of working with the Merlin. It's not the sort of thing you want to pick up the day before.

p.s. which section of the forum did you have this post in originally? If it was the A1 forum, understand that your question relates much more specifically to the Merlin than it does to the camera--the weight bearing issues would be virtually identical with a Z1, HVX200, etc.
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Old August 30th, 2008, 09:39 PM   #7
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Denise
I have the A1 and the Merlin. Personally I don't think it is the greatest combination and suggest you either have the vest (I don't) or consider a smaller lighter camera. I have a Sony HDR HC1 for HD work and a Panasonic DVC30 for SD work. Both balance out very well and are easy to "fly" on the Merlin. Even so these two small cameras are heavy after a day's shooting.
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Old August 30th, 2008, 09:47 PM   #8
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Thanks for the input, guys. I originally posted on the A1 forum mostly due to wanting to know about the weight balance of this cam with the Merlin but I'm happy to hear of any similar experience.

Thanks again.
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Old September 5th, 2008, 01:32 PM   #9
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I have an XH A1 and a Merlin.
Personally I don't think that I'd want to risk it if I had a bad back. It's quite ungainly.
You can hold it into your body and use both hands to support. The strain then seems to be mainly on the forearm but I think that it must in turn be distributed up the back too.
I'd get someone else to do the shooting if that's an option.
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Old September 5th, 2008, 11:04 PM   #10
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Thanks.

Well, I got it today and have been watching the instructional DVD. I'll try balancing tomorrow during Hanna since I'll be inside.

I don't notice many if any women posting on using this thing. That kind of worries me too. I'm not very big either -- 5'3" and 115 lbs soaking wet. I guess I'll just have to see how it goes.
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Old September 6th, 2008, 09:28 AM   #11
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I wouldn't let your size be of concern. There are many women Steadicam operators flying even the biggest of rigs. Technique is far more important than size!

I once read about a workshop where there was a big football-player type guy who was having difficulty getting a shot. Then they put the same rig on this tiny woman who was barely over 5 feet tall. She really knew how to fly and embarrassed the poor guy by not only getting the shot but making it look easy!

I guess that balancing a Steadicam is a great indoor activity during a hurricane! Have fun and let us know how it goes!
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Old September 6th, 2008, 12:20 PM   #12
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I wouldn't let your size be of concern. There are many women Steadicam operators flying even the biggest of rigs. Technique is far more important than size!

I once read about a workshop where there was a big football-player type guy who was having difficulty getting a shot. Then they put the same rig on this tiny woman who was barely over 5 feet tall. She really knew how to fly and embarrassed the poor guy by not only getting the shot but making it look easy!

I guess that balancing a Steadicam is a great indoor activity during a hurricane! Have fun and let us know how it goes!
Hi Frank,

Was this woman using a vest arm thingie?

Hanna pretty much just missed us. I mean by maybe a mile or two east. Still, I'm inside trying to get up the courage to get this thing going. I'll let you know.
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Old September 7th, 2008, 05:00 PM   #13
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Denise-

Yes, she was wearing a full big rig with a 35mm film camera on it.

Glad you're safe from the storm Still, it is a great excuse to get acquainted with the "Noble Device".
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Old September 7th, 2008, 06:16 PM   #14
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still working on it

I haven't got it perfectly balanced yet but I was up till 2AM messing with it last night. I think I'm pretty close.

The good news is, although I haven't actually gotten it out there and shot anything yet, I have been practicing holding the weight and the handling techniques with the viewfinder and I may be okay for short periods of time. Techniques I used to hand hold my Canon 1D Mark II still cam for long periods, which could get quite heavy with certain long lenses, may work to help me out here as well.

We'll see. I'm little but determined ;)
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Old October 17th, 2008, 09:42 AM   #15
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Hey, Denise, did you ever get it balanced and use it on a job?
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