If it can go wrong, it will go wrong!! Pilot Error! at DVinfo.net

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Old September 3rd, 2008, 12:53 AM   #1
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If it can go wrong, it will go wrong!! Pilot Error!

Well, I had 2 days of trouble-free Pilot use, then something went weird with my gimbal! The day it arrived I adjusted the Pilot so it was both statically and dynamically balanced. I used it in my house on 2 nights, and left it on the Steadistand each night. Last night, I was about to use it, when I had the idea I'd try to rebalance it to see if I could get the gimbal a little closer to the camera. After achieving static balance again with the camera pointing to the right, I turned the camera 180 degrees. To my amazement, the front lifted about 15-20 degrees and the bottom spar swayed out by 30 degrees! I rebalanced again, and rotated the camera 180 degrees again. Same result!

Balanced - Unbalanced - Unbalanced

I shot an email to Tiffen technical support and had a reply by 8Am this morning... they said it was possible one of the screws in the gimbal may not have been tightened enough, and they'd send me the special screwdriver required for the job and detailed instructions, or I could send it back to them for a warranty repair. Since I live about an hour's drive away, I asked if I could drop it off at the Tiffen factory and wait for it. "No problem" was their response.

This morning, I drove to Tiffen, in Glendale, where I met Robert Orf. Robert took me onto the factory floor where I met pretty much everybody who has anything to do with making the various Steadicams. I was teamed up with a young guy named Moe, who checked out the problem with my Pilot. It stumped us, so we got backup. After about an hour, we had about 6 people all trying to figure out what was wrong with it. If you're waiting for a Steadicam and its production has been delayed, I'm sorry... they were probably trying to fix my Pilot! :-) Moe swapped out the yoke and that appeared to fix the problem so I drove back to south Orange County. I took my Pilot to a local community center where I used one of their Activity rooms, with mirrors along one wall. I set up the Pilot on its Steadistand and... urrgh... the same problem!

Since I was there, I spent 3 hours practicing with the Pilot. My girlfriend came over and was good enough to allow me to chase her around for a while, going along corridors, up and down stairs etc. I showed her the problem, just to make sure I wasn't imagining it. She confirmed she saw the problem, so I called Robert Orf again. Looks like I'll be going back to Glendale again tomorrow morning to have the entire gimbal replaced.

While it's a pain to have these problems, I have been nothing but EXTREMELY impressed with Tiffen's technical support. From their very fast email responses, to the friendly greeting you get when you walk in the door, and the happy, smiling workers who all took an interest in what was going on. Good job Tiffen!
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 05:12 PM   #2
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Follow Up...

I went back to Tiffen, Glendale this morning and met up with Robert Orf and Michael Craigs. We had all come to the same idea, which was to make sure I (the newbie operator) was not doing something dumb during the setup of my Pilot. Other than placing the Pilot on the docking station incorrectly (doh!), it appeared I was doing ok, so we checked out the weird balancing problem. Thankfully we were able to replicate the problem. A detailed visual inspection gave no obvious indication of what might be wrong or how to correct it. Michael and Robert agreed that the best course of action, in this case, was to replace the gimbal, a task which basically involves taking apart the entire rig, including the wiring harness, and rebuilding it. Michael did this and the Pilot was back to its smooth, perfectly balanced self. Problem solved.

I'll admit that it can be frustrating when a new piece of equipment doesn't work or breaks, or what-have-you, but in this case, I actually really enjoyed this bit of "misfortune"! I got to go to Tiffen and saw Steadicams of various shapes and sizes being built. I got to meet some very cool people who were smart, helpful, had good senses of humor and who genuinely wanted to get my Pilot's issue fixed. I had many of my technical questions answered and Michael even gave me a mini-workshop on operating technique which will help me enormously until I can get to one of Tiffen's 2 day workshops. I met Frank Rush, Tiffen's VP and Steadicam General Manager and got to spend some time picking his brain about many things Steadicam-related. I was very impressed with their level of service, and all-in-all, it was a great way to spend a few hours. I would certainly not have any problems buying Tiffen/Steadicam in the future and look forward to the time when I'm ready to purchase an Ultra2! :-)

So, if you'll excuse me... I'm going to suit up!
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 06:07 PM   #3
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Nice you hear you got it working - and you got to meet everyone - very nice.

Two questions:
1) Did you make the composite video cable?
2) Have you taken the plastic off the monitor yet?
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 06:52 PM   #4
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Ah, Dave... it's like you know me so well!!

Yes, I made a composite cable from the one you suggested in your Pilot Primer that's available on Amazon... I just cut it down to size and soldered it back together. I used some heat-shrink tubing to make it look half-way decent.

Um, no... the plastic is still on the monitor! I'm sure all the guys at Tiffen thought that was pretty funny, but they were kind enough not to make fun of me to my face! :-)
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 06:58 PM   #5
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Julian,
I've been getting to know my new pilot this week and hope we can learn some things from one another. It was quite a thrill flying a steadicam for the first time and I look forward to taking it outdoors soon.

Out of the backpack the vest had me confused for about 10 minutes but it is comfortable.
Still haven't reached perfect dynamic balance but I'm pretty close, (using my canon A1).

How were you docking the pilot wrong?
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 07:00 PM   #6
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By the way, here is a picture of my Pilot. Looks like we're using the same Manfrotto Tripod adapter.

One thing I've found that really makes a difference is the extra weights. Noticeably more stable. I use 4 up top (2 back, 2 front), 4 on the bottom (2 back, 2 front), plus the round end weights at the bottom (1 back, 1 front).

But your XH-A1 is about 1 pound lighter than my HVX, and you don't show any wireless stuff, so you would probably want to try even more weights up top. This will move the gimbal much closer to the camera (click on my picture) which also seems to increase stability. So for your rig, I would use 10 weights up top (5 back, 5 front), 4 on the bottom (2 back, 2 front), plus the round end weights at the bottom (1 back, 1 front).

The extra weights are 4 oz. each, cost $6.25 each, Tiffen part# 801-7920-05. I ordered 12. Cheap! Maybe you can even pick them up and save the shipping.

Hope this helps.
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If it can go wrong, it will go wrong!!  Pilot Error!-p9030095.jpg  
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 07:03 PM   #7
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Nice rig dave! Have you maxed out the weight limit?
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 07:18 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Travis Fadler View Post
Still haven't reached perfect dynamic balance but I'm pretty close, (using my canon A1).
I've found the best way to get dynamic balance with the Pilot is to move the whole bottom crossbar. There's a hex screw in the middle where the vertical post joins in. Loosen that with your yellow-handled hex driver and move the whole bar forward or back (be careful) to get a coarse static balance, then tighten the screw. This works a lot better than moving the battery and/or monitor around. I always leave the battery and monitor in the same place and just move the whole bar.

Another thing that really helps me with testing dynamic balance is PERFECT static balance. When you spin it, if the static balance is just a hair off, it will wobble, even if the dynamic balance is right. So I use the pole of the SteadiStand to judge static balance, and then I turn it around and do the same thing with the lens pointing in the opposite direction. If you can't get both right, then the post of the stand is a little off. In this case, you split the difference to get perfect static balance. In other words, you do the static balance so it looks the same against the post with the lens pointing in opposite directions. I use this method for both front/back and side to side static balance. In other words, I check static balance with the lens pointing in 4 directions. It gets fast after you get used to it, and it definitely helps with your sanity when you're doing dynamic balance.

Last edited by Dave Gish; September 3rd, 2008 at 08:03 PM.
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 07:23 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Travis Fadler View Post
Nice rig dave! Have you maxed out the weight limit?
Yeah, I did that once by mistake. Normally, I weigh everything with a postal scale:
Product: USPS 10lb Digital Scale
and use a spread sheet to calculate total weight. But one time I screwed up and went over max. What happens is that the arm won't go up to level, even when you turn the blue thumbscrews all the way clockwise. So I quickly realized that I had mis-calculated the weight.
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 08:15 PM   #10
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Thanks for the tips
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 09:11 PM   #11
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Dave:

Just curious why your monitor is dialed back a few inches from the end of the post? If you drive it out to the end and then slide the crossbar back to re-balance, you would be adding a bit more inertial stability.
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 10:22 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Travis Fadler View Post
How were you docking the pilot wrong?
I was placing the gimbal on the dock, rather than resting the top stage on the docking plate.
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 10:31 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Gish View Post
Looks like we're using the same Manfrotto Tripod adapter.
Yes, it looks remarkably similar!

Quote:
One thing I've found that really makes a difference is the extra weights.... [snip]...
So for your rig, I would use 10 weights up top (5 back, 5 front), 4 on the bottom (2 back, 2 front), plus the round end weights at the bottom (1 back, 1 front).
I spoke with Michael about getting the gimbal higher (closer to the camera). He advised against using many weights on the top stage as it can actually cause the metal top stage to bend/distort slightly. I may have found someone who can make me a box for my FS-C, something akin to the Bebob Box FS. If he's able to make me something useable, I'll likely add that on the top stage, under the camera. That will add about a pound to the top. Right now, there's about 4" between the top stage and the gimbal. If I keep my weights at the bottom (for now at least), I'll be maximizing the inertia, which I think will help me as a beginner, no?
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 11:53 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
Dave:

Just curious why your monitor is dialed back a few inches from the end of the post? If you drive it out to the end and then slide the crossbar back to re-balance, you would be adding a bit more inertial stability.
Hi Charles,

I started with the monitor in that position so I could spin it easier for dynamic balance. I guess it's also a little easier to see with the lens pointed over your left shoulder. Also, I kind of felt like it would be safer if the weights stuck out further than the monitor.

I haven't worn a big rig like you, but it seems like there's plenty of pan inertia with 1.25 pounds of screw-on weights at the ends of the bottom crossbar. In fact, I have to feather out the end of the pan to keep it from bouncing back. Also, in order to keep the gimbal close to the camera, I've added extra weight up top, which may increase the inertia as well, but I'm not sure how much.

But hey, I'm no where near your experience level, so I would be really interested in your impression of how the Pilot flies with 1.25 pounds of screw-on weights at the ends of the bottom crossbar, and some extra weight up top to keep the gimbal close to the camera. Maybe even more pan inertia would be better.
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Old September 4th, 2008, 12:19 AM   #15
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Dave:

More inertia should actually help the "bounceback" factor when stopping a pan (less inert rigs will be easier to influence and over-control). All Steadicams require feathering in any axis for this reason.

I would be inclined to maximize the inertia of the Pilot whenever using it and would have done so for the article I wrote except that I ran out of weights, needed all of them for the top stage to weigh down the bare A1 that I was using. But I am also used to a 60lb sled, which of course has more inertia than the Pilot could ever have (except perhaps if one had a 6 foot long camera on top!) The "ideal" setup is one where the three axes are as close together in feel as possible; of course the reality is that tilt exhibits the most inertia and pan the least, so that's why it's great to add the weights at the ends of the spar and camera platform to help slow things down.

Julian, glad you had a good experience with customer service at Tiffen. I was actually due to go in there myself today and thus we might have met--will be going in tomorrow morning as it turns out.

By the way, speaking of docking "wrong"...this isn't the biggest deal and you may have figured this out, but for dynamic balance it is best to mount the docking bracket on the stand using the hole furthest from the balancing pin, so that you can get the rig as far from the stand as possible which will allow a 360 degree spin (this observation based on the third of your pictures from an earlier post in this thread).
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