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Old March 3rd, 2011, 05:41 PM   #1
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Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

Hi guys,

Just got a new blackbird today! Pretty excited, but I'm trying to figure out how to balance a camera. Mounted is a Sony HVR-A1U with the audio pod, a short XLR cable connecting a Rode NTG-1, a Sony Y lens wideangle, a CA vision lenshood ring for the Y lens (but no lens hood, because it fell off the attaching ring in Florida and I lost it forever), a big Sony battery, a bottom mounted tripod adaptor plate to allow the mini-DV tape to come out without removing from tripod, and finally the camera strap (are you supposed to remove this?)

I feel the microphone and audio pod are the major contributors to making this camera set up off balance, because it's tilting the weight more in favor towards the right side if you're looking at the camera from the back as if you were filming.

I've moved the blackbird plate as far left as possible to counterbalance the HVR-A1U's right-favored weight, but the bubble level still shows it's WAY right heavy. The front/back adjustments are fine and the bubble shows it perfectly even there. But how can I fix the right/left misbalance?

The only thing I can think of is adding way more counterweights to the left side of the bottom bar than the right side of the bar. But the manual says the weights should be even on both sides...so help? Thanks!
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Old March 3rd, 2011, 07:35 PM   #2
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Re: Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

Zhong,

Itís definitely best to keep the counterweights matched on either side of the horizontal bar for two reasons. First with uneven weights the ďdynamic balanceĒ or what happens with fast pans is degraded. This may or may not be noticeable in the shots you take. Probably a more important reason is that horizontal trimming for tilt and roll, like the right/left roll adjustment you are having difficulty with becomes sensitive to the position of the horizontal bar. That just complicates balancing.

I assume you have your tripod adaptor plate attached to one of the left side holes on the camera mounting plate (#1 or #4 on page 8 of the user manual). Also pulling out the view screen on the camera makes a big difference, but you should be able to balance with the viewscreen out or in because you may want it in (and flipped so you can see it) for some shots.

Leaving the camera strap on is not advised simply because it might shift on you.

Now I have to admit that Iím puzzled why you canít easily get the left/right balance unless you are actually using one of the camera mounting plate holes on the right side (#3 or #6).

Not counting the mic, the A1U has most of itís mass across about a 2 in. span and the combination of Blackbird mounting plate hole options and stage adjustment allow more than 1 in. of offset. That means you can position the right side of the camera bottom over the gimbal which should make it WAY left side heavy.

Could you take a picture of your camera on the Blackbird from the back and post it or send it to us. Iím sure weíll be able to help you resolve this problem with right/left trim.
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Old March 4th, 2011, 04:23 AM   #3
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Re: Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

Thanks Rich! I was able to balance it finally - the LCD really helped out too. I think the issue was really the tripod adaptor plate I have which offsets the normal weight balance of the A1. It's a device that has several holes on the bottom for mounting in different positions, but none of the holes made it easy to adjust well with the Blackbird.
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Old March 7th, 2011, 05:07 PM   #4
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Re: Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

Okay, just kidding. It's not balanced again. The blackbird seems EXTREMELY sensitive. I was able to get the drop time to 2 seconds, the front/back balanced, but the right/left trim is completely off. I moved the mounting blackbird plate as close to the center of gravity of the camera as possible, but obviously it is still way off because of the off-set tripod/load cassette adaptor. Then I mounted the camera back onto the blackbird and maxed out the right/left setting as far left (if looking forward from behind the camera as if you're filming). The whole rig is still right-hand heavy (if looking forward from behind camera).

I flipped out the LCD which helped last time, but I remember last time the rig was only slightly off balance on the right/left axis. This time, even with the LCD out, the rig is EXTREMELY right heavy.

Here are the pictures to help describe the problem.

The silver looking hole on the bottom left was used
http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/e...x/c375a233.jpg

With the Blackbird mounting plate attached to camera
http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/e...x/fe715ea3.jpg

Side view of rig. Notice how the front to back is balanced with LCD out.
http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/e...x/90eb47bf.jpg

Close up of the side of rig. Notice the the number on the left and bubble leveler.
http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/e...x/01f9eb67.jpg

See how its right side heavy. And adjustments are maxed out.
http://i228.photobucket.com/albums/e...x/2e134b9e.jpg

Last edited by Zhong Cheung; March 7th, 2011 at 05:58 PM.
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Old March 7th, 2011, 06:49 PM   #5
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Re: Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

First, I think you need to take the extension piece off the gimbal. Unscrew and keep it handy for lighter camera affairs. That is for light cameras setups only, and I think with all you have mounted on there, you are out of that range. I am betting that after that, you will find the balance process is not so hard.

I had to remove that for my T3i and and simple tripod adapter I added.

They actually talk about that in instructions and in some of the videos Blackbird has out.
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Old March 7th, 2011, 07:15 PM   #6
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Re: Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

I was under the impression that the gimbal extender you're talking about only affects the drop time? Our drop time right is is pretty close to 2 seconds, which is what the instructional DVD called for.

My main issue is with the right/left trim, but you're saying that removing the gimbal extender will fix this issue? Thanks Chris!
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Old March 7th, 2011, 07:40 PM   #7
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Re: Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

Check out examples of balanced cameras here.

Handheld Camera Stabilizer - Blackbird, GS2 - Camera Motion Research
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Old March 7th, 2011, 10:07 PM   #8
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Re: Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

Zhong, thanks for posting the pics. They help explain what is going on.

I believe the tripod adaptor you use to allow removing tape is the primary reason for the left/right balancing difficulty. It forces mounting the camera to the right side. You have used the correct hole on the Blackbird mounting plate to try to correct for this, but that uses up half the side-to-side adjustment available with the Blackbird.

And it seems that the mike, XLR cable and possibly camera strap are still too much for the stage adjustment to handle. Specifically regarding the camera strap your last pic shows it hanging down on the right side. If you remove it or tie it around the camera can you get a good left/right balance?

Iím wondering if a more standard quick release system like the Manfrotto 323 (
BH (Links)
) which keeps the camera centered would raise up the camera enough that you could remove tape. If so Iím sure you could get balance. (Weíll loan you one if you want to try it)

Or, and this is just DIY, find something to hang on the left side of the camera.

By the way I also noticed you have the camera mounting plate mounted backwards. If you rotate it 180, and of course move the tripod adaptor/quick release to the opposite side hole, the camera mounting plate will not be sticking out the back.

I agree with Chris (thanks for chiming in) that you donít need to use the gimbal extender for your rig. But you are correct Zhong, the gimbal extender isnít the problem.

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Old March 7th, 2011, 10:22 PM   #9
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Re: Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

Hi Chris,

Of course I've checked out that page. That site is where I bought the blackbird from. I've also watched that video and the entire DVD. It does not show what to do when the right/left settings are already maxed out, yet it is still not enough to balance the cam.

It's unfortunate that the Sony HVR A1U is so right-heavy, but that's the way it is. Somehow (by luck) I was able to balance it once, but my friend then messed with the horizontal bar orientation and it screwed everything up. I had such a difficult time balancing it the first time (3 hours), and spent another 2 hours today trying to balance again...but no such luck. It's the same issue...the Blackbird platform base doesn't have a long enough right/left trim range to compensate for the right-heaviness of my camera setup.

I have no idea how I ever got it to balance in the first place. Thanks!

Hi Rich,

Yeah, I definitely felt the tripod adaptor is the issue too. I really want to keep the functionality of it, but it did eat up so much of the available adjustment range for the right/left trimming. I tried moving the XLR cable and camera strap over to the left side, but it made virtually no impact. If you can loan us the Manfrotto 323, how would we arrange this loan? I did buy a Manfrotto 577 PL QR mount w QR plate though. I'll try to see if that raises it enough to remove the tape. I guess I'll just have to ditch the tripod adaptor I'm using now. What I'm so perplexed by is how in the world I managed a right/left balance that one time...

As far as the mounting plate being mounted backwards, I actually tried it both ways - just because I was so desperate to try for anything. In both orientations, I was able to achieve 2 sec drop time as well as perfect front/back balance, but no luck with right/left trim. The one time I was able to achieve right/left balance was when I mounted the mounting plate backwards haha.

Ok, will remove gimbal extender. Thanks everyone!
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Old March 7th, 2011, 10:50 PM   #10
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Re: Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

BY ALL MEANS remove the strap! It will cause you nothing but trouble. Even though it doesn't weigh a lot, it extends far enough from the center of gravity to give you headaches that will mask other problems you may be having. With the strap dangling there it will constantly change your balance and keep you from discovering where your real problems lie.

If you want an easily removable strap, Op/Tech makes one that connects and disconnects really quickly, leaving just two very small connectors on the camera. You can see it here. Look at the Uni-Loop version. I know they sell this at B&H.
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Old March 8th, 2011, 01:43 AM   #11
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Re: Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

Thanks Frank! Will look into your solution.
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Old March 17th, 2011, 01:22 PM   #12
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Re: Need Help Balancing a Blackbird

Solved the issue?
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