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Old January 3rd, 2010, 08:06 PM   #1
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Getting started - Glidecam, Steadicam, or other?

I'm very new to videography and am looking to purchase a stabilization system for my
HVR-z7u. I am limited to a budget of about $500, (hopefully that will change in the near future.) and would like suggestions from those with experience on multiple systems.

I realize my budget, at this point, will not make it possible to purchase an entire setup with the arm brace, vest etc; so I would appreciate any suggestions geared towards my situation.
The ones that seem most widely used are the glidecam 4000 pro, glidecam HD4000, and the Flycam 5000.

Thank you in advance for your time.
Matt Stewart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 4th, 2010, 02:40 AM   #2
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I think the general concencus is to avoid the flycams. I know budget is a major factor for most but you may as well just go out, burn the money and wash it down the drain.

Glidecam served us well to start with but shortly after had wished I bought the Steadicam Merlin instead. After I got our Pilot I then wished I hadnt spent any money on the glidecam and had saved it to go straight towards the Steadicam but back then to think about spending 4000 on a steadicam would have made me weep.
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Old January 4th, 2010, 05:41 AM   #3
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You should also check out the Blackbird by Camera Motion Research. I just got one and it really works well.
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Old January 4th, 2010, 07:52 PM   #4
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It is worth noting that going into stabilizers on a budget can be either a good idea or a bad idea. For instance, you may find that after buying a lower-cost stabilizer that you are not willing to put in the necessary effort to become an accomplished operator. In this case you might be glad that you did not invest heavily in something that will not get used.

However, if you find yourself like many of us here and fall in love with flying your camera, you will want a bigger and better rig. As Danny mentioned, I do wish that I had simply invested in my Steadicam Pilot to begin with, but instead I went through two smaller rigs first. I was able to sell the other rigs along the way, but it did take quite a bit of time, plus I did take substantial financial losses on each transaction.

Regardless of how you go you want to make sure that you are willing to put in the required effort to learn the techniques that give you great-looking shots.

Think of it sort of like buying a guitar. You can get a budget guitar that will play, but may be prone to going out of tune, or simply does not have good action or tone. A better guitar will make it easier to develop technique and get better results. In either case, the guitar does not play itself. I personally find that I develop better skills and get far better results with professional-grade equipment.
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Old January 4th, 2010, 08:16 PM   #5
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Amen to the guitar analogy! I used that philosophy to sell many guitars and basses to beginners back in my youth...never had one customer come back and complain! Only when they didn't take my advice and bought the cheap ones did they crawl back a few months later saying they had already outgrown it!

A friend of mine started with a Merlin (no vest or arm) and liked it but was never able to get great results and the setup was always finicky. Finally he found a good deal on a Pilot, sold his Merlin and is happy as a clam. Says he wished he hadn't wasted so much time with the Merlin.

I say do it right the first time!
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Old January 4th, 2010, 09:28 PM   #6
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To further the music analogy, whether you buy a cheap instrument or a good one, you'll still have to put in a lot of time to get good at it. Somehow this is a lot more obvious when it comes to musical instruments than stabilizers. And like playing scales, you need to do a lot of repetitive type exercises to become a solid stabilizer "musician".

As a slight digression, I'm a little mixed on people who are very new to shooting in general getting involved with stabilizers. The old adage "learn how to walk before you can fly" is oddly appropriate here; you should have a good grasp of framing and shot design before tackling the mechanics of a gimballed stabilizer. Learning how to shoot handheld is a very important part of camera operating, and while not everyone has the aptitude or co-ordination to do beautifully steady handheld work, there's a lot to learn about framing and movement with an object that melds more directly and naturally with your body than a stabilizer. Just about anyone can pan a handheld camera quickly and come to a dead stop; it takes quite a while to learn how to do that with a stabilizer. My advice to any and all newcomers to the field is to work hard on your tripod and handheld skills first, to the point where you are able to compose on the fly and get exactly the frame you are visualizing. Then, when you start to work with a stabilizer, you can apply these framing techniques and be ahead of the curve. In my many years of teaching I can always spot those who are already experienced camera operators--the actual Steadicam mechanics may be just as embryonic as the next guy but the frame is often right where it "needs" to be.
Charles Papert
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Old January 5th, 2010, 11:06 AM   #7
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I'm curious about the order of difficulty of controlling the various axes of a stabilizer for simple shots. Just stuff like tracking a subject with some slow walking to change the camera position. Let's leave missionary to Don Juan overhead transitions for later...

FWIW, I've used a SteadyTracker for a few years, and am now just starting to build a full rig.

I'm thinking that the pan control is the most critical item. A few degrees of error can translate into terrible framing and jumpy motion. And we rarely have the luxury of leaving the pan in one position. If anybody moves, you generally need a pan.

Next most critical is probably tilt. It still sets your framing and is sensitive, but doesn't get as much of a workout as panning.

Assuming that we want the frame to stay level, the roll position will be fixed. Set a short-ish drop time and it will be self-leveling. And if the camera moves are limited and slow, you don't have to compensate much for swing. On the other hand, if you're off by a few degrees, it can be really noticeable.

The x-y-z axes don't change the framing much. I'm thinking that with a good arm, keeping the z-axis from bouncing isn't bad - and with a cheap arm it could be hell. I'm looking forward to the iso-elastic experience.

I don't have much sense about the x-y axis. Lean wrong and the sled will either hit you or run away and pull you over. But once you get the hang of keeping the elbows at neutral angles, I would think it's just a matter of developing a light touch.

Of course, this scenario - framing and slow, subtle moves only - is the equivalent of playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the guitar. It's far from mastery. And just because a snot nosed kid can play the notes of Twinkle doesn't mean that he makes it sound good. It takes musicality and touch to play a simple melody well.

Anyway, I'll have my lightweight sled finished in about a month. It will be fun - and challenging - to fly that with the 5D2 even without an arm/vest. For short periods anyway. I should probably practice framing on a stand. That will let me practice a light touch with the left hand without the fatigue factor.

In any case, I'll be buying "the bible" before the sled is complete...
The Steadicam Operator's Handbook :: Jerry Holway, Holway Films Inc
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