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Old November 18th, 2006, 08:05 AM   #1
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Advice before I purchase a stabilizer

Hi all,

I'm about to purchase a stabilizer but haven't managed to narrow down my options enough yet to be able to make a decision.

In Australia, it's pretty much impossible to test this stuff before you buy it, so we're kind of stuck relying on the feedback of others.

And I know that this stuff has probably all been discussed before, but I thought that perhaps a generous soul might offer some feedback if they own or have operated one of the following, which I am considering, spefifically in relation to each other.

Steadicam Merlin
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...ughType=search

Glidecam 4000 Pro
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...goryNavigation

Varizoom Flowpod
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...goryNavigation

Steadicam J.R.
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...goryNavigation

There are a few things that I should point out:

1. Arm fatigue is not a concern of mine, I plan on using the stabilizer for specific shots in short films and would gladly sacrifice comfort for a successfully smooth shot, which could be running around, climbing up and down stairs, etc...
2. I am shooting with a Sony HVR-Z1P, so one of these may be better/worse for that camera.
3. Is the Steadicam Merlin a step up from the J.R.?
4. I will be using these gadgets handheld - I cannot afford to purchase the body-pack things - so can I still expect good results.
5. I have no problem practicing over and over to get it right.
6. My budget is no more than $800US - even that is stretching my limit.

Thank you so much for your help,
-- John.
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Old November 18th, 2006, 12:04 PM   #2
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Of the stabilizers you mentioned, I think you'll find the quality of the Steadicam stuff to be a cut above the others. The Merlin is fantastic for what it does, there's nothing comparable anywhere near that price in terms of gimbal quality. When your stabilizer is handheld, there's really only 1 thing that really matters - the gimbal.

Well, that's not exactly true. Another VERY important piece is the topstage - if it takes you 3 hours to balance your rig...the rig is basically useless. I actually was talking to a guy the other day who said he spent 4 hours balancing a glidecam, and it never quite got there. Pay attention to how quickly and easily you can adjust balance. The last thing you want is for production to be sitting there, yawning while they watch you struggling with the simplest things.


In the right hands, the Merlin can do just about everything (and sometimes more) the larger rigs can, though it will be a lot more taxing on the operator. The vests and arms that you see on other systems are meant to relieve the bodie's stress in supporting the weight of the camera, to allow the operator to concentrate more on the shot. If they enhance performance, it is a result of a less fatigued operator, not some magical upgrade. At this price range, you have to consider also that the more elements you throw into the equation (Arm - bearings in arm, arm materials, arm geometry... Vest - vest rigidity, fit), the more steps along the way you have for error or slop in construction. For a rig with no accessories, we can pay in the range of $60,000 to make the system essentially transparent. What does that buy you? A scaled up version of the same principals in physics, designed to carry much heavier cameras for much longer periods of time with a lot more accessories.

If the camera is light and small enough, and the shot is short enough, you should be able to make incredibly subtle moves with the merlin, and in your range I think its quality is a cut above.
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Old November 18th, 2006, 12:11 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Hewat
I know that this stuff has probably all been discussed before
It has. If you run a search or browse through this section, you will find lots of great information and review on most of the rigs in question.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Hewat
1. Arm fatigue is not a concern of mine, I plan on using the stabilizer for specific shots in short films and would gladly sacrifice comfort for a successfully smooth shot, which could be running around, climbing up and down stairs, etc...
Then a handheld unit is a good cost effective option.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Hewat
2. I am shooting with a Sony HVR-Z1P, so one of these may be better/worse for that camera.
Larger cameras need more counterweight to balance. With a realtivly heavy camera it's important that you get the lightest rig possible.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Hewat
3. Is the Steadicam Merlin a step up from the J.R.?
Yes it is. The Merlin is lighter and ~4-times more stable than the JR.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Hewat
4. I will be using these gadgets handheld - I cannot afford to purchase the body-pack things - so can I still expect good results.
Yes. Handheld units are scalled down versions of th ebig rigs, you can expect good results with smaller cameras on the smaller rigs.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Hewat
5. I have no problem practicing over and over to get it right.
Good, it will take some time to get proficiant with a steadicam

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Hewat
6. My budget is no more than $800US - even that is stretching my limit.
In that case you have enough to be able to get the Merlin. Which is in my oppion the best choice handheld rig. The Z1 flies on it very very well.

- Mikko
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Old November 18th, 2006, 04:23 PM   #4
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I use the Merlin every week with an FX1, set up/balance time is about a minute and it works great.
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Old November 18th, 2006, 04:43 PM   #5
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Balancing, like operating, is something that improves with time and experience.

The geared micrometer stage of the Merlin (and the JR before it) makes the delicate issue of balancing a super lightweight stabilizer much easier than the coarse adjustments on the Glidecam 2/4000. I helped a friend out on a DV shoot not long ago and he brought along a brand-new GC4000/Smooth Shooter, so we planned on using that (I thought it would be fun to try out the rig under these circumstances). What I didn't expect was that it was brand new and bubble wrapped in the boxes and I had to assemble it from scratch and balance it, all while under the time constraints of the shoot at hand. I'd never balanced a Glidecam but was able to put it together get it up and ready in about 20 minutes without consulting the manual. However I'm not at all surprised to hear about a 4-hour balancing ritual--the physics of stabilizers are not necessarily instinctual, and the rudimentary stage on these smaller Glidecams don't help matters much.

For most people, they will use their stabilizer with the same setup all the time so it's a one-time major balance with minor tweaks here and there. If one is planning to hop between different cameras it would be worth it to consider the Tiffen products.

One clarification--balancing is NEVER set and forget, regardless of the rig. All Steadicam operators, big and small, tweak the balance throughout the day, sometimes between takes. It is a process of optimizing the rig for a given shot; alsoit is not unlikely for a component of the rig to be nudged out of alignment when heading "back to one" which might require a little adjustment. I regularly make tweaks to fore-aft, side to side and even top-bottom as we start rolling, sometimes even after the slate.

Again, all of this stuff becomes part of the art and craft, and second nature.
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Old November 18th, 2006, 07:50 PM   #6
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Thanks to everyone for your helpful replies. I think I'll go with the Merlin. B&H have a whole lot of accessories for it as well but I can't fathom their uses.
What is the Docking Bracket used for?
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...ughType=search

And is the Accessory Plate really a good idea or is it just a rip-off? Why can't I just attach my wireless mics to the shoe on my camera?
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/cont...ughType=search

Also, I had a look at www.merlincookbook.com and they give the settings recommended/required for the Z1 and I just want to confirm that the Merlin comes with the weights required to balance it. I can't find that information anywhere either.
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Old November 18th, 2006, 08:39 PM   #7
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Good choice, I'm sure you'll be very happy with it.

I'm not terribly familiar with how the merlin comes packaged, but the coking bracket allows you to set the rig down between takes by "docking" it to a standard (or preferably sturdy c-stand) light stand. Also, that particular bracket has provisions for balancing the rig.

As for the accessory bracket, things like these are meant to simplify your chores of mounting all the possible gadgets you may have. If your mics mount to the shoe, it may be easier for you to just do that, or even gaff tape them to the handle. One thing to consider though, is that the more weight you put above the camera, the more weight (or distance) you need below the gimbal. Stacking a ton of stuff above the camera may put the c.g. so high that you can no longer balance it. By all means experiment first, BEFORE you go to set, and work out whether or not you'll need that plate to get the weight closer to the gimbal. Try your common, or even "fully rigged" situations at home, and be sure that you can not only balance them, but also carry the weight comfortably enough to not fatigue yourself. proper body posture will help immensely.

Charles has a lot of good info there too, and the re-balancing constantly as necessary is a fantastic tip. I set up my rig, checked it, did a shot twice through before noticing that an actor had bumped my battery and twisted my sled. I felt like I was working way too hard, and took the time before take 3 to re-check and straighten/rebalance my rig. Only took about 15 seconds, but SAVED my shot. I should have caught it earlier, but it's another example of the mantra "always check your rig, every chance you get." I didn't, and fought the rig for 2 full takes before noticing. Your control hand should usually only require a musician's touch...if it takes more, it's probably imbalanced.
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Old November 18th, 2006, 11:19 PM   #8
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I'm using the FX1 with the Varizoom Flowpod and Indicam Pilot (improved ver of Glidecam). It is really quite heavy with the FX1 with an extended battery. Stabilisers work on the principal of balancing 2 weights by a pivot. Therefore with the counterbalance weight, the rig will not be light. It definately helps to have a light rig but dun expect it to be that light to minimise adding on to the total weight. Try holding yr Z1 with one hand for 1min. That will be close to what u will experience with the stabiliser.

In conclusion, the Merlin is a nice rig to purchase for the high built quality n lightweight. But do be careful with the rig, we had one guy broke an arm on his 2nd try!
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Old November 18th, 2006, 11:51 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean Seah
...we had one guy broke an arm on his 2nd try!
Holy cow! Really? How did it happen?
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Old November 19th, 2006, 10:13 AM   #10
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I mean, he broke the arm of the Merlin (ha ha) not his own arm ;p
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Old November 19th, 2006, 04:08 PM   #11
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The docking bracket is handy for docking, but not necessary. Start without it and if you find yourself wanting a more convenient place on set to put it down, then buy it. But you can already dock on a the edge of any table or just set the rig down. It is very handy for balancing however.

The accessory plate is not a rip off, it's a very cool little device. I have one myself.
As mentioned, by placing accessories (like a Mic receiver) down below, you turn it into useful weight. Up on the camera it would just need more counterweight below. This really matters with the heavier cameras, like the Z1 for example.

In fact, it's very likely that a Microphone receiver might lift the weight of the Z1 too high for the Merlin. If you are flying a camera near 5lb, the Z1, FX1, DVX100, HVX, etc.. then I would really recommend you get the Accessory plate to mount your mic receiver.
As a side effect, it really makes "Shoulder mode" nicer too. :)

- Mikko

Last edited by Mikko Wilson; November 20th, 2006 at 01:27 AM.
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Old November 19th, 2006, 11:15 PM   #12
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John,

Try Sean's suggestion...
"Try holding yr Z1 with one hand for 1min. That will be close to what u will experience with the stabiliser."

Fairy accurate but you will have more weight due to the counterweights on the bottom. I agree that a Z1p mounted on the Merlin is easier to hold than a side mounted handle like ours but it's still going to be a chore.

I say try the "one song" test rather than the "one minute" test. We've done that and...Oh boy! Remember that you are working on getting good video and not just holding up the thing. After you arm starts shaking you'll see how good the stabilizer really is.

Terry
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Old November 20th, 2006, 01:00 AM   #13
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How and where does the Accessory plate attach to the Merlin?

edit:

Nevermind I see how. It attaches at the bottom.

Here's a link that show how.

http://www.jimfarrell.com/merlin/
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