Best recommended Steadicam for XH A1 with letus35 Elite DOF adapter? at DVinfo.net

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Old December 31st, 2008, 04:28 PM   #1
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Best recommended Steadicam for XH A1 with letus35 Elite DOF adapter?

Forgive me when I say I'm in the dark a bit.

I need a Steadicam system best appropriate for my setup for making a film.

What is best recommended for the following criteria?

1. Suitable for load of Canon XH A1 + Letus35mm DOF adapter + 35mm lens + rods
2. I may need to run with the system
3. The best budget without compromising on build quality

I did have my eye on the Merlin and sought advice from customer support at Steadicam. They told me the Merlin wasn't suitable for DOF adapters and I'd need a Pilot or Flyer. But which?

I did look on eBay and found the Flycam Pro 6000 from India, but after doing some research on the net, heard the build quality is apparently not good and can fall apart... I'm told you get what you pay for.

Anyone with some experience make a recommendation?

Chris
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Old December 31st, 2008, 09:35 PM   #2
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With the add ons plus a remote focus you are in Flyer territory.
To get "film" look results you will need to attend a Flyer workshop and practice for months.
Is this a one off? Perhaps might be cheaper to hire a pro for the job.
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Old January 1st, 2009, 12:25 AM   #3
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Hi Christopher,

Using a lens adapter with a steadicam is a complicated proposition. First off, it takes 2 people, one to operate the steadicam, and another to pull focus. Second, it's not cheap. You'll need to spend $7000 for a Steadicam Flyer, and another $4000 for a good wireless follow focus system, or around $11,000 total.

Alternatively, you could forget about having a shallow DOF on the steadicam shots, leave the lens adapter off, and get by with a Steadicam Pilot for around $4K.

Either way will probably take you months of practice to get to the point where you want to show your work. So as Nick says, you may want to just hire a steadicam operator.
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Old January 1st, 2009, 09:58 AM   #4
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Hi Christopher,
Alternatively, you could forget about having a shallow DOF on the steadicam shots, leave the lens adapter off, and get by with a Steadicam Pilot for around $4K.
My production has a limited budget plus it is being shot in Spain. I haven't got the budget to fly out a Steadicam op to Spain for a couple of weeks.

My concern is the quality and grade consistency of the footage. I would be prepared to shoot the steadicam scenes without a shallow DOF, but surely the footage will look jarred if I shoot some scenes with a DOF adapter + 35mm lens and others in naked HDV?

Thanks for any advice folks..

Chris
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Old January 1st, 2009, 10:27 AM   #5
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You need to decide which compromise best fits your production & budget.

Hire one of Spain's qualified & equipped Steadicam operators.

Buy all the gear yourself, ship it to Spain, and attempt to pull off professional looking shots with a setup you have no experience on.

Plan alternative shots instead of using a Steadicam.

Good Luck!
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Old January 1st, 2009, 12:18 PM   #6
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You need to decide which compromise best fits your production & budget.
...
Buy all the gear yourself, ship it to Spain, and attempt to pull off professional looking shots with a setup you have no experience on.
Appreciate the advice David... One of the purposes of this project is to learn skills that I've skipped over in the past and left instead to other (qualified) crew. I am prepared to learn and do the hard graft.

To answer another poster above, this isn't really a 'one off' ... The aim is to shake off some of the restrictions that have held me back creatively in past shoots because I'm restricted to sticks or hand held. I would like to broaden my horizons and learn a new craft. I realise to pull off pro steadicam shots takes months of hard graft, I just need to make sure I have the most appropriate tools for the job without breaking the bank!

If my Canon XH A1 at 4.5 lbs + letus35 elite + follow focus + rods could be supported by a Merlin, I'd buy a Merlin but Steadicam tell me it won't do it properly... I'm in Flyer or Pilot territory. My question is which.
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Old January 1st, 2009, 01:12 PM   #7
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What will your total camera weight be??? You must also consider additional sound and on camera lighting.... I think doing the math will get you closer to your answer...

Happy New Year!!

Mike
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Old January 1st, 2009, 04:27 PM   #8
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What will your total camera weight be??? You must also consider additional sound and on camera lighting....
in general, it's best to avoid on camera lighting for a narrative project, and for best results record the sound double system to eliminate cables to the rig (and/or unmonitored wireless mikes).

Christopher, I'm glad to hear that you have limited your decisions to the Pilot or Flyer, they are best in class rigs. Your main decision I think will be predicated on whether or not you choose to use the 35mm adaptor, with the options and prices that Dave correctly listed. There are opportunities to buy both the rig and remote system used of course, but that often takes time to wait for the best deal, don't know what your time frame is.

I have shot material that is mixed between 35mm adaptor on and off, and it has intercut fine. Ideally one is not cutting back and forth between the two that much, but a decent hand with color correction should make it seamless enough. Consider that many people prefer to use wider lenses when doing Steadicam shots, and often the shallower depth of field is subtle enough that it would not be missed if the same shot was done without the adaptor.

Both Dave and Nick are guys who have fully embraced the passion of operating Steadicam and while it may seem that they are harping on the amount of time and practice that is required to gain the skill, it's only because they have themselves put in the time and effort and have seen what it takes. We see many posts from people who are not really applying themselves but want to know what the "quick fix" is for their operating issues. Depending on how you define "pro Steadicam shots", it may actually takes YEARS, not months to achieve that level of expertise (for myself, about 3 years to get "decent" at the skill but literally 10 to 15 years to get truly "pro"). Again, it all depends on one's expectations of the results.

And yes, I will echo the sentiment that the 2-day workshops offered by Tiffen are highly recommended to start building a solid skill set.

I understand that you were just looking for an answer to "which rig do I buy" (and hopefully that is pretty well answered) but we have seen many people enter into Steadicam without a full comprehension of just what level of commitment is involved, particularly if they have high standards or expectations of the results. I myself just heard about a project where a novice operator plunged enthusiastically into a film with a similar camera setup to the one you described, and ultimately the scheduled Steadicam shots were replaced with handheld and dolly because the Steadicam work was not up to par.
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Old January 1st, 2009, 07:41 PM   #9
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Consider that many people prefer to use wider lenses when doing Steadicam shots...
Now there's an understatement. Unless you're a real pro like Charles, anything but a fairly wide lens starts looking shaky pretty fast. Besides, many shots inside tight spaces just wont work any other way. And if you really need to get closer with a steadicam, you can usually just walk closer.

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Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
Depending on how you define "pro Steadicam shots", it may actually takes YEARS, not months to achieve that level of expertise (for myself, about 3 years to get "decent" at the skill but literally 10 to 15 years to get truly "pro").
Or as Mike McGowan says here:
SteadicamForum.com - A Community of Motion Picture Camera Stabilization Specialists
"I'm going on my 11th year as a steadicam operator and I have found that I suck less and less each year."

I've only been at it a year, and I'm already starting to understand this. At the beginning, getting better seems to happen fast. As you progress, getting better seems to take longer.

By the way Charles, I really appreciate a truly professional op like yourself taking the time to answer all of our questions on the forums. It's helped me a lot. Happy New Year!

Last edited by Dave Gish; January 1st, 2009 at 10:37 PM.
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Old January 1st, 2009, 08:01 PM   #10
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Charles,

Please read my post on the XL2 forum; I could really use some help w/ DB; this cord quote may be my issue... (application = wedding coverage) Thanks

Happy New Year!!

Mike

[QUOTE=Charles Papert;987268]in general, it's best to avoid on camera lighting for a narrative project, and for best results record the sound double system to eliminate cables to the rig (and/or unmonitored wireless mikes).
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Old January 1st, 2009, 08:22 PM   #11
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Mike,

done.
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Old January 1st, 2009, 11:25 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Christopher Warwick View Post
To answer another poster above, this isn't really a 'one off' ... The aim is to shake off some of the restrictions that have held me back creatively in past shoots because I'm restricted to sticks or hand held. I would like to broaden my horizons and learn a new craft. I realize to pull off pro steadicam shots takes months of hard graft, I just need to make sure I have the most appropriate tools for the job without breaking the bank!

If my Canon XH A1 at 4.5 lbs + letus35 elite + follow focus + rods could be supported by a Merlin, I'd buy a Merlin but Steadicam tell me it won't do it properly... I'm in Flyer or Pilot territory. My question is which.
Hi Christopher,

It looks like you're serious about buying a rig and putting in the time to get good results, so here are your options:

1) XH-A1, lens adapter, rails, Steadicam Flyer LE ($7000), wireless follow focus system ($4000), and another person besides you that is experienced at pulling focus ($??).

2) XH-A1, no lens adapter, Steadicam Pilot ($4000)

3) XH-A1, no lens adapter, Steadicam Merlin (no arm or vest) ($1000)

4) XH-A1, no lens adapter, Steadicam Merlin with arm and vest ($3000)

5) XH-A1, lens adapter, rails, cheaper brand steadicam rig ($??), wireless follow focus system ($4000), and another person that is experienced at pulling focus ($??).

Given that you are serious and want to learn the craft, I would recommend getting the Steadicam Pilot (option #2) to start off.

Later you'll probably want another bigger rig, but the Flyer (option #1) probably won't cut it. For example, the Flyer doesn't work well with the RED One, since the rails and other RED accessories usually put you over the Flyer limit. And with the Scarlet and Epic coming out, I'll bet that they will come out with new steadicam rigs that target those specifically. So I wouldn’t bet on the Flyer being very future-proof.

Also, one assumption on option #1 is that the focus puller person must be able to eyeball distances very accurately. Pulling focus for steadicam shots is more difficult than pulling focus for a dolly or sticks, since a steadicam operator rarely walks the exact same path twice. If your focus puller person doesn't have a lot of experience, then you'll also need wireless video monitoring system, preferably high-definition wireless system, which will cost another $5000. As I said in my earlier post, running a lens adapter on a steadicam is a complicated proposition. You could rent wireless follow focus and wireless video systems, but then you could also rent a RED one, meaning that by that time, you'll want t bigger rig than the Flyer.

You could just start out with a Merlin for $1000 (option #3), but your arm will get tired pretty fast, and the results won't be as good. From the way you describe yourself, I think you'll want something better than this.

I wouldn’t recommend the Merlin, Arm, & Vest combo (option #4), since the Pilot is only a little more, and the monitor on the bottom makes a huge difference. Also note that for some strange reason, Steadicam doesn't offer an upgrade path from the Merlin to the Pilot. In other words, even though the they both use the same arm and vest, Steadicam doesn't seem to sell the Pilot sled separately.

As for option #5, I used a Glidecam V-20 ($5000) on a student film once, and it worked fairly well, but it took a long time to set up and re-adjust for each shot. For example, to simply adjust the sled tilt, you have to loosen 8 knurled brass thumb-screws, adjust the stage position with an allen wrench, and then re-tighten the 8 brass thumbscrews. On the Steadicam rigs, you just turn 1 knob to do the same thing. For changing how high you want the arm to ride, the V-20 requires you to take off the sled, and then use a socket wrench to tighten a bolt, then put the sled back on. Again, on the Steadicam brand rigs, you just turn 1 knob to do the same thing. No need to take the sled off, just raise the sled a few inches while you're adjusting.

I've also seen a FlyCam 6000 in use, and this seemed to have a problem with gimbal accuracy, so I wouldn't recommend that.

I’ve heard good things about the ActionCam rigs, but these start at $15,000, and can lift film cameras up to 50 pounds.

The point is that the Steadicam brand rigs actually do work better. They're quicker to setup and adjust to a specific scene, and they're more precise in use. It's not like a designer where you just pay for the label.

I see the Steadicam Pilot as something that will tend to be a valuable tool for a long time to come. Cameras in the 4-8 pound range are flourishing, and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight. So I would guess the Pilot will have a fairly good resale value. Here's an instructional video for the Pilot:
YouTube - Steadicam Pilot - How to demonstration

There's also a video of Garret Brown (inventor of the steadicam) using the Pilot here:
YouTube - Steadicam Pilot with Garrett Brown
and the Flyer here:
YouTube - First Look at the Steadicam Flyer LE

I used the Flyer at the 2-day workshop, and it didn't seem noticeably different than the Pilot with additional weights. In fact, the Pilot is much easier to dynamic balance, since the whole bottom crossbar can move forward or aft.

Speaking of the 2-day workshop, you might want to take that before you even buy a rig. They provide the rigs for the workshop. They won't let you use your own rig for insurance reasons. So you can try the Flyer and Pilot for yourself, talk to the instructor, and then figure out what you want to buy. In any case, take the 2-day workshop, either before or after you buy the rig.
The Steadicam Workshop Solution authorized by Tiffen instructed by Peter Abraham

Hope this helps.
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 04:04 PM   #13
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As someone who just wrapped on a film with a 35mm adapter, on which I was the Steadi op, I'll echo Charles's sentiment of running without a camera for Steadicam. On our film, we had the problem of having a quite heavy Redrock M2 Flip rig, with big Nikkors on the end (quite the beast - about 2 feet long from front to back as kitted out), something that I'm not sure my rig could fly - let alone dealing with the focus. So, the director, DP, and I decided to roll with a second camera, using only the stock lens, on the Steadicam.

Now, this made a good number of very nice solutions. For Steadicam shots, where the shots traditionally moved through more locations, lighting was much less critical, since we weren't having to battle two irises, plus the light loss of the adaptor itself. Also, without the worries of focusing, we were free to compose shots that required movement towards and away from our actor, allowing for a lot more freedom, rather than hobbling along, trying to keep at a consistent distance from the actor (since we didn't have, and weren't in a position to rent a remote Follow Focus). Also, when finally viewed on a nice HDTV, we were pleasantly surprised that with some work from our DP in matching the cameras, they looked surprisingly close. (I in fact preferred the stock's look for a lot of the shots - but hey, not my call to make!) Also, because we had two cameras, and I kept the Steadicam built throughout the shoot, we were able to shoot as if we were using 2 units. We could light once, shoot a tracking Steadicam shot, and then add more light, and move right in with the 35mm kit for other shots in the same location, without having to re-balance or re-equip every time.

Overall, it worked out quite well, and we pulled off some incredible shots. (And some not so incredible ones, but that's more my inexperience as an op than the fault of our camera choices!)

Now, in terms of which rig to choose, I think that the Flyer is a beautiful choice, if you can take the cost. I've got a rig with a similar weight capacity to the Pilot (an overcomplicated hybrid of way too many different things - but with a Merlin Arm and Vest), and while it's worked out beautifully for every prosumer camera I've thrown on it, it would really be nice to have that extra capacity to know that if something bigger did come along - like the lovely ENG camera I've been using a lot up at school - I could fly it. The only time I've had to think about turning something down because of weight capacity was the above discussed job, and as I said, we were able to find a solution (going stock), but I have had worries about moving up, especially as I become a better operator. It's probably not something you'll quickly run into, but with rigs costing what they do, the future is always something to think about.

Good luck on your project, and hopefully whatever choice you pick will work out for you and your project.
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 04:30 PM   #14
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To answer your question I think the flyer is your best bet. The pilot will be really pushing the limits with all that gear. Patrick Moreau just shot a wedding with all 35mm and had the Brevis mounted to his flyer with exceptional results. I would pm him and ask him what it was like, as he didn't have a focus puller and had to really think his shots through. So in essence the flyer will accomplish your needs and the pilot will be pushing the weight limit.
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Old January 2nd, 2009, 09:02 PM   #15
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The pilot will be really pushing the limits with all that gear.
If you're using a lens adapter on steadicam shots, I would say the Pilot won't work period. Too much weight. The only way a Pilot will work is if you leave the lens adapter off for the steadicam shots.

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Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
I have shot material that is mixed between 35mm adapter on and off, and it has intercut fine.
Charles, didn't you have a link to a site that has side-by-side comparison frames with and without the lens adapter? I looked for that link and cant find it now.

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Originally Posted by Tom Wills View Post
So, the director, DP, and I decided to roll with a second camera, using only the stock lens, on the Steadicam.
Hi Tom! Haven't seen you since the 2-day workshop. How's it going!
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