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Old March 7th, 2007, 09:59 AM   #1
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Deciding on a Steadicam

It's a very common question that is posted here and elsewhere: "What is the best Steadicam for me?" I thought I'd share a few thoughts that might help those decisions for people.

One of the first of Garrett Brown's designs for a camera stabilizer looked roughly like a handheld jib. Its principle was to spread out the mass of the camera, and reposition the center of gravity. This principle remains true today in any stabilizer from your $14 homemade one to your most expensive professional rig.

It's probably safe to say that most professional Steadicam operators today have, at one point in their life, dabbled in building their own rig, or pieces of. While most eventually went on to purchase a better manufactured kit, the home building exercise was not a wasted one.

In experimenting with different configurations, you can gain a great understanding of the principles behind stabilization systems: isolation, inertia, mass, etc. Whether it is folding up the legs of your tripod to spending years in the machine shop fabricating custom supports, you can quickly learn what the problems are and what the solutions need to be.

In doing that, you can be much better educated regarding what to purchase. You'll know what to look for in different models. You'll know what will best suit your personal needs.

My ultimate suggestion is to experiment a little bit. It can be done for little to no money, and doesn't take a lot of time. Use a tripod or monopod you already have, or go to the hardware store and pick up some pipe. Even if you know it is not what you will end up with as the solution to your stabilization needs, it will definitely take you to a place of much better understanding. That education can be very valuable when going ahead and spending the real money on a rig (small or large).

Best to all,
Afton
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Old March 7th, 2007, 11:21 AM   #2
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As usual, a wise post from Afton, and a good point. Stabilizers only "make sense" after you become familiar with the basic skillset involved. You see many classified ads here and elsewhere for inexpensive stabilizers that state that the owner is "moving on" to a more sophisticated one. A certain percentage of people find that the extra hardware isn't worth it to them, or they get frustrated with the learning curve.

In my freshman year of college I did exactly as Afton suggests and ran around with a video camera on a tripod with the center post extended; think I may have even done some of that in one of my friend's student films. The next year I set about building my own rig (that and circa-1984 'fro viewable here). Can't say as it was a smashing success, but I did learn a lot and it absolutely solidified my interest in eventually getting a "real" rig.

I would add to Afton's words one of my own oft-repeated mantras: you get what you pay for, and you may find that you own your stabilizer far longer than any given camera. I had a Steadicam JR for something like 13 years, and I sold it in fully functioning condition. The original camera that went on it (Hi-8) had long gone to the scrap heap. Just like a tripod, spend the smart money now and you won't have to upgrade in a year or two.
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Old March 7th, 2007, 03:27 PM   #3
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Yeah Charles is right. As tempting as it is to drop money on a new cool camera, tripods and stabalizers should be good long after a camera is obsolete....plus the support equipment will make your video stand out from others.
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Old March 7th, 2007, 09:06 PM   #4
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Id like to fourth it. When we understand the science of stabilization we can also make any system work better for us because we know "how" it works. I'm sure Charles, Afton, Eric, and others have seen rigs come and go and they knew which way they were headed due to their understanding of stabilzation principles.

Anyone can make a simple stabilizer. Heck, just find a way to hook a camera to the handle of a sledge hammer with the heavy part hanging down and then shoot. This will help smooth out shots but you might want something more sophisticated if you are serious about it.

Once I tried out a stabilizer and found that it actually worked I wanted to learn how to get real smooth shots. I'm stared working on it and thought I was getting fairly good...then I saw Charles' reel. Rats! He has a slow Steadicam shot that looks just like a dolly shot. Well, it shows that it can be done.

Terry
Indicam

Charles...how old are you in the picture? I thought the camera systems in 1984 were still side mounted recorders with cable attached cameras. That's what I was using then anyway.
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Old March 8th, 2007, 01:55 PM   #5
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Agree with almost everything here...

The only thing I'd like to stress is the difference between handheld stabilisers and full rigs. I normally use a DSR-450 but always take a PD150 mounted on a Steadicam JR on every shoot. The shots don't compare in any way to pro Steadicam work (demonstrated excellently in Charles' showreel!), but they do add something - haven't had the guts to post anything for criticism yet(!). The big benefit is that its so convenient - camera-in-case, to recording a shot in less than a minute - and usually a shot or two appears in the final edit - it's great fun too.

However, I recently had the opportunity to try out a "full" rig with my 450 and my admiration of Pro SC ops went up by 1000%! Call me a wimp/too fat/unfit, but I simply couldn't handle the weight - I have no idea how you guys manage with fully loaded rigs!

All this long,rambling (probably OT!) post really is saying is that handheld vs vest-based technique is substantially different, and often handheld is fit-for-purpose. They also offer a much cheaper entry-point.
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Old March 8th, 2007, 02:37 PM   #6
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Anyone know the link the clip Charles has?
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Old March 8th, 2007, 03:26 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric Stemen View Post
Anyone know the link the clip Charles has?
If you're looking for his reels, there are links from his profile on this site.

For other great clips, and good commentary too, check out Charles' shots on SteadiShots.org.
http://www.steadishots.org/shots_operator.cfm?opID=10

My favorite is "Die Mommy Die". Congrats on the second most popular shot on the site, Chas. Right behind The Simpsons!

Peace,
Afton
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