My Steadicam Pilot VLB (finally) Arrived! at DVinfo.net

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Old August 30th, 2008, 01:24 PM   #1
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My Steadicam Pilot VLB (finally) Arrived!

After what seemed like an eternity (close to 2 weeks), my Steadicam Pilot VLB system arrived via UPS yesterday! The VLB version is a special order item, so it took longer than normal to get to B&H.

Anyway, after getting home from work, I set up the vest and balanced my XH-A1 with Canon WD-H72 wide angle adapter on the sled. Getting the A1 balanced was pretty easy and took MUCH less time than the it took to do the same thing with my Glidecam 4000 Pro. The vernier-type thumb-screws REALLY help getting the balance just right. I found that I needed all the supplied weights on the bottom of the sled to counteract the weight of the camera and wide angle adapter. From memory, I'm guessing the gimbal is approximately 3 inches from the camera plate and gives me a 3 second drop time. The dynamic balance was pretty much spot on, without me having to play with it at all. I think it could be fine tuned, but for a late night test, it was fine. I think the hardest thing to do, so far, other than actually operating the rig, is going to be adjusting the vest and setting the arm properly so that it's perfectly matched to my body. I did a lousy job setting up the vest last night because I just wanted to wear it and try it all out! The Velcro creaked like crazy and the rig was very hard to control -- flying both away and towards me at random points.

I put the first battery on the charger, while the other battery was used to balance the rig. The supplied 2-battery charger charged the first battery in about 1.5 hours (it comes partially charged). The charger is, as I said, a 2 battery charger. It charges the first battery and then charges the second. The instructions say it takes 3 hours to charge each battery, and defines the charger as a "quick charger." I thought the VLB setup came with an "overnight charger", so I was quite happy to see it charges a battery in substantially less time than I was expecting.

After the initial setup was complete, I put the vest on and carried the rig around for maybe 20 minutes. Slowly but surely, THAT muscle began to complain! You know the one! I'd felt that before, with the Glidecam, but it usually came on within a just a couple of minutes when hand-holding the Glidecam. I'm still feeling the effects this morning, but I can't wait to set it all up again *properly* and fly the rig this "weekend" (I work Friday thru Monday, so my weekend starts Tuesday). I'm sure I'll have lots of questions!

Oh, and to all you professional Steadicam operators... my hat goes off to you. It's not as easy as you guys make it look! But we all knew that already, right? :-)
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Old August 30th, 2008, 01:32 PM   #2
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Julian:

Congrats on your new baby!

Regarding having to put all of the weights up at the bottom: not that this is a bad thing, but were you extending the post also? If you have reason to want to reduce the amount of weight at the bottom, this will achieve a similar result. It's actually more desirable to do it the way you did, but of course if you add any more accessories you will need to have some adjustability (plus you have a bit of wiggle room on the gimbal height as well). Many ways to skin the cat.

And as far as your vest adjustments, walk in place for a number of steps and then stop; see which way the rig wants to fly and make your adjustments from there. While standing still, it's easy to start leaning one way or another which will affect the attitude of the rig. The idea is that when you are standing fairly neutrally, the rig hangs right where you want it. It sounds like you are not far off in that it was going away from you and coming back in at you--it's when it goes hard one direction that you really need to pay attention. The last 20% of "adjustment" happens at your own hips. Over time your body will learn how to maintain the proper attitude to the rig automatically. Think of the two-axis adjustments as being the coarse adjust, and your hips the fine adjust.

Have fun!
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Old August 30th, 2008, 02:13 PM   #3
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Thanks for the reply, Charles.

I think I'd like to add my FS-C to the rig at some point, though I haven't yet worked out quite where to put it! If I find somewhere to put it on the bottom spar, that'll mean I can remove some of the weights, but I'd have to route the firewire cable, which will be a pain. As someone suggested a while ago, I might need to invest in a scale to weigh everything, just to make sure I don't go over the weight limit. If necessary, I could always remove the wide-angle adapter, though I think I'd probably want to use the WA more than not.

I have the post collapsed all the way in at the moment. I'll probably extend it a bit (adjusting the gimbal etc accordingly) and see how that works for me too. It's a shame I have to work, or I'd be spending a lot more time getting used to this cool contraption. I have the Steadicam EFP DVD and will watch it again to get extra tips on adjusting the rig for proper operation. A Steadicam seminar would be great, but a little too expensive for what is, essentially, just a hobby for me at the moment.

BTW, when my Pilot arrived, my girlfriend sent me a text message, which read only... "Oh well, it was nice knowing you! Are you going to name it?" Suggestions welcome! :-)
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Old August 30th, 2008, 02:28 PM   #4
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Julian:

You'll know when you are at the weight limit; your arm will be tuned up as high as it can go but will be not able to float the weight.

Your best path of least resistance if you did need to route the FW cable to the lower spar would be off the front of the camera platform down to the monitor and then along the spar to wherever you mount the FS. This will allow you to make nearly all shots, but will affect your ability to spin balance so you would want to do that without the cable then add it afterwards. We had cables down the front of the rig for many years (and support posts to boot! seehere) and we managed somehow...

p.s. naming your rig: if you are looking to save face with girlfriend, would suggest a male name, like Fred...!
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Old August 30th, 2008, 02:48 PM   #5
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Charles,

Maybe Steadicam should cut a small access hole at the top and bottom of the main spar so operators could drop cables down it for accessories? The holes could be covered with a small rubber cover when not in use. That might make life easier than dragging cables outside the rig.

One thing I did notice during my late night, half asleep tests last night, was that the arm seemed very "bouncy". When boomed down or high, it seemed to want to oscillate a bit, rather than return to neutral. I'm sure that's normal, and correcting for that is just part of the operator's learning curve. Like I said, this is all early days... so much to learn.

Fred, eh? Hmmm. I was thinking of something a little more, exotic? ;-)
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Old August 30th, 2008, 03:22 PM   #6
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I don't have a Pilot here or I could look at the method which Tiffen used to attach the center post to the top and bottom stage. With some rigs you can detach the post and feed your cables through as required. The center post is carbon fiber which doesn't "like" to have holes cut in it.

Not sure what to say about the arm, it should be smooth as goose grease as they say. If it continues to bother you, take some video of this operation and post it so I can see what's going on.
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Old August 30th, 2008, 03:38 PM   #7
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Now you mention it... I think they just drop the video and power lines down the center of the post, which is accesible if you pop the top plate off. I didn't look to see where the wires come out at the bottom spar, but dropping a firewire cable down there is a definite possibility. I'll post more on the arm later, after I have a bit more than 20 minutes experience with it.

Last edited by Julian Frost; August 30th, 2008 at 03:40 PM. Reason: Typos! Grrrr.
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Old August 30th, 2008, 04:16 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Julian Frost View Post
As someone suggested a while ago, I might need to invest in a scale to weigh everything, just to make sure I don't go over the weight limit.
U.S. Postal Scale, 10 pounds, $40. Cheap!
Product: USPS 10lb Digital Scale

Quote:
Originally Posted by Julian Frost View Post
I think I'd like to add my FS-C to the rig at some point, though I haven't yet worked out quite where to put it! If I find somewhere to put it on the bottom spar, that'll mean I can remove some of the weights, but I'd have to route the firewire cable, which will be a pain.
You might want to put the hard drive up top. The more weight up top, the closer the gimbal is to the stage, which means your hand is closer to the camera. It might be my imagination, but I think this makes things less shaky. In addition, you can add the stock weights on the bottom for more pan inertia.
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Old August 30th, 2008, 04:34 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Julian Frost View Post
After the initial setup was complete, I put the vest on and carried the rig around for maybe 20 minutes. Slowly but surely, THAT muscle began to complain! You know the one! I'd felt that before, with the Glidecam, but it usually came on within a just a couple of minutes when hand-holding the Glidecam. I'm still feeling the effects this morning, ...
Try practicing hands free. Keep your hands around the normal position for safety, but let go an inch or two, and try keeping the sled in position with just the balance of your body. When you're completely in balance, the strain on THAT muscle is way less, and it makes your shots more stable as well.

I practiced hands-free for 7-days solid after the 2-day workshop. At the class, I would always start everything in balance, but when when the framing of the shot became challenging, the teacher kept reminding me that I wasn't "under the rig". So when I was thinking about being in balance, I was in balance, but when I was thinking about something else, I got out of balance. I realized that I had to get to the point where the balance thing is second nature - something I wouldn't have to think about. So a practiced hands-free for a couple of hours a day, 7 days straight. After the first few days I could walk the line hands free and position the sled pretty much where I wanted it. After 5 days I could change positions mid shot hands free. After 7 days, it became second nature.
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Old August 30th, 2008, 04:43 PM   #10
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Hi Dave,

Yes, now I remember... you were the one who initially recommended I buy a scale! Thanks! I'll definitely do some hands free practice (it's now illegal to drive a car in California while operating a Steadicam, so we have to buy hands-free Steadicam kits now <grin>). Like I said before, I've only had 20 minutes "experience" with the Pilot since getting my hands on it last night, so I'm not overly concerned about not being able to operate it like a pro at this juncture. I know for a fact that I didn't set up the vest properly, or the vest-to-arm connection, so those will be my first adjustments when I get home from work tonight. Well, that and watching the Steadicam EFP video again.

Please keep the advise coming.
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Old August 31st, 2008, 05:02 PM   #11
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I got to play with the Steadicam Pilot again last evening. I more closely followed the instruction manual on setting up the vest and re-balanced the rig after extending the mast a little. I made a pigtail cable for the video signal from the camera to the top of the sled and got the monitor working for the first time. Then I did what I all new Steadicam Pilot owners do... ran around the house like a lunatic, taping all kinds of stupid stuff! Come on, you did it too! :-) Tonight, provided I get off work in time, I'll watch the Tiffen EFP video again and really dial in the vest-to-arm block. Right now, the rig doesn't want to stay where it's put... though that's more than likely me shifting my hips too much. I can do the duck-walk when shooting firearms, but not while shooting with a camera. Weird.
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Old September 1st, 2008, 02:29 AM   #12
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Dave:

I think I've followed your hands-free suggestion with this clarification in the past--at the risk of repeating ourselves:

Practicing hands-free is a good concept but it should always be done as just one of the many aspects of a practice session in my opinion. It's important to stress that the fingers be kept as close as possible to where they will ultimately be deployed at the gimbal and the post for a new operator, otherwise the body will learn some bad habits. With a little rig like the Pilot, the change in body attitude between having the hands at the rig vs by your side etc. is significant. Thanks to many misleading sales pictures over the years, there are a significant number of operators who think that Steadi/Glide/Fly/whatever/Cams are operated with one or no hands anyway, and can't figure out why the thing is always rotating away from the subject.

Julian, again, don't fret too much about the absolute perfect position for the socket block screws. You can be off by a few turns in any direction and still be in the ballpark. As I said before, walk in place for a bit then come to a stop with your weight naturally distributed and watch which way the camera wants to fly. If on multiple passes it goes a little one way, then a little the other way etc., you are close enough. The rest is up to your body, once it gets used to managing the balance you won't have to think about this any more.

The key is that at any time during a shot, you can let go of the rig with both hands and have it stay put. Most new operators will tend to lean in to the rig, something psychological about getting closer to the monitor. This is obviously a bad idea.
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Old September 1st, 2008, 12:38 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
...walk in place for a bit then come to a stop with your weight naturally distributed and watch which way the camera wants to fly. If on multiple passes it goes a little one way, then a little the other way etc., you are close enough.
Thanks Charles, I'll definitely try this. I watched the EFP DVD again last night, lots of good stuff in there to try. My 3 day weekend starts tomorrow, so I'll be able to dedicate a lot of time to Steadicam practice and working on the tips and techniques you and Dave have mentioned. Frankly, I can't wait to take the rig out of the house and practice somewhere a little less restrictive.

I know it's been said before, but it's worth saying again: It's good to have such great resources available in the people on this forum, and the rest of us are lucky that you're so willing to share your wealth of knowledge with us. Thank you all very much.

P.S.
I guess you were right, Charles. My girlfriend likes the name "Fred." The Pilot is now officially named... Steadi-Freddy! Sheesh!
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