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Old May 1st, 2010, 09:39 AM   #1
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Learning to fly Canon 7D on CMR Blackbird

I received my Blackbird last night and its not as easy as I hoped but I'm getting there. This new kit included the resting stand and a tripod plate. I'm a complete beginner so I'm hoping you could comment on what I might be doing wrong.

What I've mounted on the stage:
Canon 7D, Sigma 18-50 2.8 EX DC Macro, half-the strap from my optech with quick release.

My balancing process so far:
1) Mount Camera on plate (rear-left most hole)
2) Mount camera with plate on the stage. Slide it forward and back with hand on the gimbal. Try to feel for when it is close to centered. For me, it's the point where it feels heaviest on my hand. It took a while to be sensitive to it. Lock it down tight.
3) Make sure T-Bar is all the way down to start with. I have 0.2lbs weights on each side.
4) Mount the blackbird on the Resting Stand (I have it set on a tripod)
5) Adjust F and R so bubble levels for front and rear are about middle. Each adjustment swings the blackbird so allow for some time to settle before tweaking again. It appears very sensitive to me right now. It takes half a minute for the rig to settle each time I tweak. Smooth Touch isn't engaged as far as I know, I twirled the handle, didn't feel resistance.
6) Once you have a good balance (I don't think there is a perfect setting, or I don't know what it should be like) take it off the resting stand and try "punching" (my term). Then try swinging side to side.

I used Sean's video as a reference:

If the camera doesn't twirl by itself or stay leaning to the side the balance appears right. The bottom may lag after the second swing. There appears to be a trick of moving your arm as well. When doing the test motion try to be even. Think like your hand is on a table and you are moving the camera in a cross "+" pattern.
7) The bottom tends to lag/drag behind the camera at this point. It's like a helicopter doing a banking maneuver. Holding all else equal, move the T-Bar up until it doesn't drag so much. When you punch or swing the bottom should stay mostly horizontal.
8) Put the camera back on the resting stand. The bubble levels show the camera may be leaning again. Makes small adjustments to rebalance.
9) Take the camera out and learn to fly.


Mistakes/Lessons learned so far:
1) Take out the lens cap and hood if you're not going to fly with it. Balance is affected.
2) I tried using recipes for other lenses where I set the plate all the way back, it wasn't right for my lens (it kept spinning despite balance adjustments). Learn to balance per lens before using shortcuts!
3) Secured the remains of the neck strap to the front of the arm (right above the neck of the resting stand). Otherwise it will move around and contribute to pendulum motion.
4) R on the left side is Roll. F on the rear is Forward-Back (Tilt). It's a bit confusing because the markers next to the opposite control!
5) Balance the camera in sequence: Plate/Stage to Gimbal, Roll, Forward-Back, then T-Bar. It helps to keep other variables equal and attack them separately. When adjusting roll, the tilt had the bubble more forward or back to start with. So when I adjust it moves more on the roll rather than both at the same time.
6) Tiny twists make a difference. It needs time to get a feel for it.
7) Tighten the camera on the plate so it doesn't move while in use. Tighten the gimbal to the stage. Make sure the stops on the weights are also tight.

Am I doing it wrong?
1) The bubble level doesn't seem to want to stay centered after using it then putting it back in the resting stand. I've tried tightening everything I could. Is this "normal"?
2) I did push ups and arm curls to prepare for flying it but my deltoid feels worn after a minute (not to point of failure yet). What arm exercises do you use?
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Old May 1st, 2010, 05:39 PM   #2
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Well I took a walk outside with what I had setup, I had yaw and tilt going on. Need more practice.

New lessons:
1) Don't forget to lock down the lens if it's a zoom (sigma has a lock at 18mm).
2) Use two hands!
3) Get rid of things that may unbalance your body (I was walking with a shoulder bag with lenses ... silly me).

I suspect my setup is not bottom heavy enough.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 12:11 AM   #3
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Hi Mike! I think you need more weights. Try putting 2 on each end. Once u get the balance right u will enjoy it.
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 06:37 AM   #4
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Hi Sean, I tried adding a .3 on each side but now it pendulums severely. Tried adjusting the T-bar up to compensate but it was still too much. Going back to the two large weights I adjusted the smoothtouch and it seems to be better. I still have some rock/roll going on though. When I look at the bottom it seems to do a slight circular movement when I walk. Have you seen this behavior too?

Also, when you adjust the t-bar up, does your trim stay the same?
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 08:24 PM   #5
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I finally got it dialed in to something manageable. I raised the T-bar to increase the drop time to 2 seconds then compensate for the motion with my left hand.

Canon 7D + Tokina 11-16 (no strap, no lenscap, no hood):
-Camera mounted on #4 (right, rear if upside down)
-Plate set to 11
-T-bar set to 22
-R:7 + a smidge
-F:midway between 8 and 9
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 09:46 PM   #6
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sounds ok to me. You can mess around between 2-3sec drop time by adjusting the t bar up and down. this is very much your own preference how you like the bird to behave.

BTW, I am assuming you are using the long weight bar. I found it better. Watch the included video, its pretty informative. Would be great if you throw us some test footage when u have time. Have fun!
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Old May 4th, 2010, 05:43 PM   #7
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Thanks for the tip on the long bar. I haven't tried that one yet. Some of the problems I had were documented in the manual. I didn't understand what was being described the first pass (and second). I'm sure I missed some key concepts when I watched the video. In my case, I need to experience the problem before understanding the significance of the setting.

Right now, I'm trying to get back the "magic" settings I documented above. Somehow it's off again after unmounting the camera from the plate then putting it back. Later I find that the lock for the gimbal to the stage was loose. So who knows how I've changed the height of the stage now (there are no markers for that). This teaches me to rely less on the markers and bubble level. Learning to balance the camera appears to rely more on intuition given how the precision of the markings only gets you to the ballpark and isn't 100% repeatable (at least in my case). When I get frustrated, I cheat by turning up the Smoothtouch and/or increasing drop time.

One side note: Was so anxious to learn to fly that I took the blackbird on my business trip. I asked an airline agent who showed it to TSA if they'd let me carry it on with me. I think the company name on the bag made it easier. The X-ray screener wondered what it was. I explained and was send on my merry way. Was I lucky? I'll find out on the trip back.
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Old May 5th, 2010, 12:58 AM   #8
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Thaz why u need an additional quick release plate on top of the given one. That way you can leave the bird balanced everytime you put the same camera config on top. Good luck with the screeners!
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Old May 8th, 2010, 10:09 AM   #9
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I had to add small weights to balance with a Giottos M621 assembly (4oz=0.25lbs). I'm on the long bar now too. The M621 makes the camera a bit higher on the stage which I hope makes it better. Now I have 3 kinds of leveling devices but they don't all agree. Very interesting.

Oh, TSA didn't even ask me anything on the return trip.
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Last edited by Mike Dulay; May 9th, 2010 at 06:37 AM.
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Old May 8th, 2010, 11:34 PM   #10
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Got my BBird yesterday (longest day of my life waiting for UPS who didn't deliver it til 6:30pm signature required!)
Spent time playing around with it and this morning got serious did the setup as per instructions. For the record, T2i with battery grip/2 batteries, Tokina 11-16 with protector glass and circular polarizer, no hood, Manfrotto 577 QR plate.
This being my first foray into stabilizers, it went better than expected.

I think part of my early success can be attributed to almost 10 years of my life as a band geek marching around with a trumpet! I still seem to get a bit of bounce with my footsteps but as I read somewhere, my arm was probably propped up against my body at those parts. I also was walking in deep playground sand which is probably the most difficult thing to do smoothly.

Setting the balance was not terrible and the only thing I'm seeing is a tendency to lose horizon on occasion. Does this mean I don't have enough weight on the bottom? I am using the short bar with 2 large weights on each side.The bar height is at 6. My drop time is about 2 sec. I weighed the camera at about 3.5lbs including QR (not the whole plate just the camera part)

As everyone else getting into this area, I want it NOW! But understand this is gonna take a while before it really starts to happen.
I'll post some footage soon and get everyone to rip it apart.

One last question, I was filming my kids running around and found it best to put a little downward tilt when balancing it so I could keep them in frame. Is this normal?
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Old May 9th, 2010, 06:10 AM   #11
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Wow, your first flight is much better than mine.

I cheat by using Smoothtouch. When I turn it all the way up it slows down the lean. If you push the blackbird side to side you'll notice the T-bar may lag behind the camera which gives it that lean. I think its the speed of the hand too.

Canon T2i with battery = 1.16lbs (530g)
Tokina 11-16 = 1.23lbs (560g)
Manfrotto 577 QR = 0.2.0lbs

Not sure how much your grip and stuff weighs. But it looks like you are definitely around the 3lbs mark (surprised me, given how the T2i is so much lighter). I'm flying with the 7D mostly which is 1.98lbs (900g). I prefer to raise the T-bar to around 22 which gives me slightly more than 2 seconds. I followed Sean's advice and tried the long T-bar. It seems a bit more stable.

As for the bounce, also try bending your knees a bit and see if that helps.
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Old May 9th, 2010, 08:37 AM   #12
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raw video and sound from the first few trials
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