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Old March 9th, 2017, 04:31 PM   #1
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Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

I just received my Steadicam Solo. Yay. (That $149 sale was too good to pass up.)

And I have light stands from a crummy, old Lowell piece to a really solid Matthews stand. (Plus I have music stands, mic stands, guitar stands...)

What I don't have is a way to dock the stabilizer on any of the stands.

The Solo manual lists part number 804-7900. It's just a simple bracket, but it costs as much as I paid for the Solo(!) And not everybody stocks it.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produ...g_bracket.html

As anybody with stabilizer experience knows, even with a little EOS-M on the Solo, it's tough to hold it long and steady enough to get a good balance. A docking station is a need more than a luxury.

So, what have others done? Are there other "budget" solutions out there?

And does anybody know the dimensions of the "pin"? I can easily craft something in the workshop, if that's the way I solve it.

And then there's the use case... I'd like to be able to take this, "solo", on the road with just my camera backpack and the Solo in hand or in a small case. I'd like to have a small docking rig without stand that I can clamp to a table, or a counter or something available. I don't want to carry a light stand around when shooting on foot.

I will probably get a carbon fiber rod that I can belt mount as a light, cheap pseudo-vest. I wouldn't use it for walking shots, but it can take weight off the arms when making like a human jib stand. I could use that rod as part of a portable docking contraption.

One nice thing about the Solo is that it quickly extends as a monopod. That means that you can simply extend it, take a load off, and shoot interviews or other somewhat locked-down shots. Collapse it, and you're back to the stabilizer configuration.

I can't be the only one who buys a stabilizer needs to mount it. Tell me your stories!
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Old March 11th, 2017, 08:36 AM   #2
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

I'm in the same boat for a couple of years now, but I've just made do with a regular sturdy (but not overly heavy) light stand for both balancing and docking. The brand-specific brackets are too expensive in my opinion. To me, the few extra inches away from the stand that the bracket gains you isn't worth the money. I think you could assemble one from readily available parts, but I haven't gone to that effort to find heavy enough components that I could be sure of standing up to the leverage of the offset load.

For "docking" while on the regular stand, I simply loop a strong rubber band around the stand to two convenient points on the bottom sled. The sled has a shape between the weight plates that the stand nestles into and it's easily secure enough to do any work on the camera including changing lenses. Crude? Yes, but it works.

I just have 3 identical regular model stabilizers, not any with monopod capabilities, so taking a stand or two along is pretty much a necessity for me. My stabilizers have standard 5/8-inch openings in the handle so they work on normal stands.

I also use a lightweight stand with a V-notch attachment at the top for help in balancing the rig around the center axis. I've posted this photo here before:
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Old March 13th, 2017, 03:26 PM   #3
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

Thanks Jay,

On the Solo, the hole in the handle is less than 5/8". I haven't measured it yet as I've been busy on other projects, but's it's probably 10mm or 7/16" or so.

Your dynamic balancing rig looks nice. According to the Solo manual, as long as I keeps the bottom weights symmetrical, once the unit is balanced, it will automatically have proper dynamic balance. That makes sense in theory. If the weights at one end are dynamically balanced, proper static balancing at the other end must be symmetrical as well. That makes sense, but it's always good to confirm things.

Thinking about it, rigs with monitors and batteries at the bottom wouldn't have that guarantee, so those more-complex setups need dynamic balancing as a critical part of the setup.

I'm thinking of shopping for a nice C-clamp or wood clamp and adding the balancing adapter there. As long as it has a smooth surface on the jaws, I could clamp it to a table or desk. If I give it a 90 option, I could clamp it to a door. Unlike a stand, that would fit in a backpack.

One thing for certain, any practical stabilizer or rig needs a way to be at rest. Even on a busy project, unless it's a continuous, live event, the camera spends much more time waiting than shooting.
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Old March 13th, 2017, 07:37 PM   #4
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

Yes those modern "lightweight" cameras get heavy quickly when you use one hand to hold them, the stabilizer with weights, and any accessories, as smoothly as you can for minutes at a time.

Once you figure out the exact dimensions of the handle opening in the solo, maybe an adapter that goes from a standard 5/8 inch to the Solo would also allow use of any stand in addition to your clamp idea.

The great thing about horizontal rotation balancing is how quickly it reveals where any problem is. Once the rig has been statically balanced in the vertical position, swing it into the V-groove. Slowly rotate the rig about the center axis using just the tip of one finger. You can sense the amount of force changing and if the imbalance is great enough, the rig will roll away from your finger as you push the heavy point over the top. Make tiny adjustments, then recheck the vertical static balance. Repeat resting horizontal and vertical positions making smaller and smaller adjustments until satisfied. Then move the rig around as you would normally use it, but starting and stopping much more rapidly than normal and see if you get any swing.

It still takes a lot of time, but with the two stands much of the frustration and extra exertion before you've even begun shooting is eliminated.

Also I'm a big fan of small magnetic trim weights. It's much easier to adjust one (or two) of those by several millimeters than to undo thumbscrews and move a weight plate or the camera stage only 1mm.

Last edited by Jay Massengill; March 14th, 2017 at 07:22 PM.
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Old March 14th, 2017, 04:46 PM   #5
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

Great tips!

On dynamic balancing, even when not needed in theory, I totally believe you about learning more by spinning the rig. My own experience with static balancing is that it's hard to know the perfect setting. There's a point at which it's "close enough" and it's hard to know if you've really nailed it or which direction of adjustment would improve it. Spinning would amplify any problems.

Then again, I'm wondering how important that last micron is. At what point is it just feeding the OCD?

The magnetic weight solution sounds great. I have some flat, round magnets that would work perfectly. I like cheap, tool-free solutions!
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Old March 14th, 2017, 07:03 PM   #6
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

I've also mentioned here before that my favorite "free" source of weights to place on those small but very powerful magnets are the salvaged rubber-coated steel balls from some old computer mice. (Some are heavy but not steel so they don't stick.)

The rubber coating and the power of the magnet keeps them from moving on their own, but if the magnet is 1/2-inch in diameter, you have about 8mm of adjustment space to roll the steel ball around on the magnet and they are heavy enough to make a noticeable difference.

It can seem like a mental fixation chasing the perfect balance, but once you achieve it (until you pack the stabilizer away and totally lose balance of course) the difference in fatigue from constantly fighting an imbalance for an hour of use versus being able to shoot without even guiding it with your off hand is worth it. It's like magic!
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Old March 16th, 2017, 09:02 AM   #7
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

Here is the one that came with my Blackbird kit. It goes on any stand and comes with a clamp for table edges. Compact enough for your backpack $54.00

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produ...geID/accessory


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Old March 16th, 2017, 12:20 PM   #8
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

The docking bracket serves two important functions: to hold the rig when you aren't flying it and to allow one to fine tune balance without having to hold it. Both are critical in avoiding fatigue. With handheld rigs I think there is more of a tendency to lay the thing down on a table etc. because they are lighter than body mounted rigs so one can bend over to pick it up, however this will almost always knock the rig out of fine balance so it is less desirable.

I have seen some place the rig onto a stand via the hole in the handle, which is also not a great idea because it's a real pain to make adjustments to the camera etc. with it bobbing around.

There should be a simple and inexpensive docking bracket made for the Solo--maybe I'll check in with my friends at Tiffen on that one.

In the meantime, for pure docking (no balancing), have a look at bicycle clamps--there may be a quick-release one that could be pressed into service somehow.
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Old March 16th, 2017, 04:48 PM   #9
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

Our Blackbird universal docking bracket should work fine ($58 + shipping). Can be mounted on a light stand, tripod or table edge.

Blackbird and Accessories - Camera Motion Research

There's even a video showing use of it on the Blackbird main page.

Blackbird Camera Stabilizer | Camera Motion Research

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Old March 17th, 2017, 01:23 PM   #10
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

Great tip on the bicycle clamp solution.

One thing I'm confused on: A key function of the docking solution is for balancing, but Charles recommended not to support it by the handle.

In my experience, when I hold the unit without a vest, I can't stay still enough and comfortable enough to sense if the unit is perfectly level. I envision mounting by the handle, holding the unit steady, fine-tuning the balance, letting go, and allowing the unit to stabilize. Then I can look at the bubble level, walk around the unit and really see that it's balanced and straight.

When docking on the collar, the unit would be more stable and easier to adjust, but I'd need to pick it up to check balance. Of course, checking dynamic (spin) balance would be easier on a collar support.

Maybe the right answer is that we want both. A handle mount allows comfortable static balance checking, and a collar mount is best for general use, camera adjustments, and dynamic balancing.

Did I make any poor assumptions here?
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Old March 17th, 2017, 03:14 PM   #11
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

I think he meant that you need a bracket to have both the handle spigot for balancing and the docking position for doing everything else.

He was saying having just a stand alone was insufficient for making adjustments to the camera because of the instability of the free gimbal.

That's why I tether the bottom sled of mine while just using a single stand with no docking bracket.
It overcomes the instability enough to work on the camera without having to move the whole rig from one mounting position to the other.
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Old March 17th, 2017, 09:20 PM   #12
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

Yes. The two functions of a modern docking bracket are independent of each other. There's nothing wrong with balancing the rig on the dock, that's half of what it's for. The earliest docks didn't have balancing pins, but the holes in the gimbal handle were 5/8" so you would just take the dock off and mount the handle directly on the spud. It was a cumbersome way to work, especially with a sled weighing 40-50 lbs!

Just so you get a sense of it, the best dock out there for full size rigs is this one. Lots of great features as you can see. $950. No one ever said flying a big Steadicam was cheap!


Also for fun: most experienced operators are able to make balance adjustments to all axis of their sleds in under a minute, often as short as 20 seconds. After the initial spin balance at beginning of day, most changes like filters and lens changes can be done very fast and often in conversation with director, DP etc. By the end I got "lazy" about balancing and would wait until we were about to roll camera, pick the rig up off the dock and walk to first marks while adjusting drop time and fine tuning left/right and side/side balance as I went. Sometimes I'd be just finishing up literally as the slate would drop into frame!
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Old March 19th, 2017, 11:22 PM   #13
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

That docking video was perfect. It gives me a good idea of what I want to achieve with my do-it-yourself design.

FWIW, square aluminum tubing is great for these types of projects. You can pick it up at the local hardware store. You can cut it with standard wood-cutting blades - but wear protection, the but that you cut off usually goes flying. It doesn't take much to grind or sand the rough edges off. You can drill holes in it easily too. They won't be threaded, but with a creative selection of hardware, you can often make it tool-less. I've made shoulder rigs and passive stabilizers (wrist gimbal) this way. (I think it's the half-inch stuff that can accept a bicycle hand grip, so you don't need to hold bare, square metal.)

One advantage is that when something isn't the way you want it, another trip to the saw and/or drill press can deliver that custom fit. The bad news, compared to gear that costs actual money, is that it generally doesn't fold up or easily disassemble, so it's bulky to transport.

In any case, square aluminum tubing is great for prototyping things or for building that custom something that you can't easily buy.

Now all I need is some time to do it...
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Old March 19th, 2017, 11:27 PM   #14
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

Square aluminum stock--taking me back to my homebuilt Steadicam from 1984! Never built anything of note prior to that but spent hour upon hour in my parent's basement coaxing something that resembled a Steadicam out of scrap, including plenty of square stock!
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Old March 20th, 2017, 11:53 AM   #15
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Re: Steadicam Docking Bracket - What's your story?

Great photo!

With WD40, duct (or gaffers) tape, and square stock aluminum, one can do almost anything. Add black foil, and one is invincible. ;)
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