Upgrading from PD150/Steadicam jr to Z1/merlin at DVinfo.net

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Old June 21st, 2007, 10:05 PM   #1
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Upgrading from PD150/Steadicam jr to Z1/merlin

I've been using a PD150 with a jr for a couple of years for steadicam bits, and the advantage of such a portable system is that it goes to every shoot along with my bigger cameras.

I recently got a good offer on my PD150 so have decided to upgrade to a Z1 and as the JR won't cope with this cam, I've got an excuse to get a merlin!

So, a few questions ... (CP and Mikko take note!!!)

1. As the "principles" are the same, I guess balancing and operating will be similar to the JR? Easier, more difficult to set up? I had some fun with the JR beacuse my 150 has a WA/big battery and is (technically) way over the weight limit (just under 6lbs), but got it balanced in the end.

2. I've always suspected the "plastic" build quality of the JR - I guess the merlin is all metal and much better? - that said the JR's hasn't broken in 2 years of use, but every time I hear the "crack" when the lower spar is folded I worry!!

3. I notice Tiffen are offering a gimbal bearing upgrade (as part of the new vest kit). Is there a problem with the "standard" gimbal, or is it simply that the vest allows heavier cameras to be flown, and therefore needs a heavier duty gimbal.


Many thanks in advance

Graham
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Old June 21st, 2007, 11:24 PM   #2
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Graham,

I'm not Mikko or Charles but I believe the new gimbal is to help with the heavier cameras according to what I've read about it here and there.

I have a JR as well because we needed one in order to make an adapter to fit our support system. Because of this I've had to balance the JR a few times. It is a bit tricky but once dialed in it works well. The Merlin is a much better JR type system with some nice improvements.

There is a post by Nick Tsamandanis on this forum who has a video using the Z1U and the Merlin. His video is excellent-looks like it was done using a larger rig. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlblLOLj8IQ

He'd be a great one to ask.

Tery
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Old June 22nd, 2007, 03:45 AM   #3
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Hi Graham, there is nothing wrong with the plastic gimble, only it's weight limit of 5.5 pounds. The metal one allows a heavier payload of up to 7.5 pounds and it has 6 ball bearings instead of 2. Tiffen claim on their website that this improves stability - cool. I do own a Z1, but I always fly with the FX1. My Z1 always has an external mic/shockmount/windjammer and radio mic reciever attached, way over the weight limit. I'm looking forward to the metal gimble so I can operate with a small light on the FX1.
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Last edited by Nick Tsamandanis; June 22nd, 2007 at 07:11 AM.
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Old June 24th, 2007, 02:09 PM   #4
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Hi Both

Many thanks for your replies - I'm going to go for the standard Merlin and see how I get on - I think the metal gimbal is a user-fit add-on although I can't find a price in the UK - only for the upgrade with the vest.
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Old June 25th, 2007, 02:19 AM   #5
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Hi Terry

Just re-read your post - didn't mean to cause offence by mentioning CP and Mikko...
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Old June 25th, 2007, 08:19 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nick Tsamandanis View Post
Hi Graham, there is nothing wrong with the plastic gimble, only it's weight limit of 5.5 pounds. The metal one allows a heavier payload of up to 7.5 pounds and it has 6 ball bearings instead of 2. Tiffen claim on their website that this improves stability - cool. I do own a Z1, but I always fly with the FX1. My Z1 always has an external mic/shockmount/windjammer and radio mic reciever attached, way over the weight limit. I'm looking forward to the metal gimble so I can operate with a small light on the FX1.
Hi Nick, I'm very impressed with the results! How did u do that on a hand held?? Very stable! The rig must be pretty heavy even with an empty FX1 with the merlin for one hand.. any photos of you in action with the kit?
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Old June 25th, 2007, 09:01 AM   #7
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Thanks Sean, practice. Here's a still from the "A" camera as the bride & groom walk past it on the first shot of my showreel.
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Upgrading from PD150/Steadicam jr to Z1/merlin-me.jpg  
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Old June 25th, 2007, 11:46 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Graham Risdon View Post
Hi Terry

Just re-read your post - didn't mean to cause offence by mentioning CP and Mikko...
Graham,

Not bothered at all. I know both of them and they are great guys with a lot of valuable knowledge. Mikko is a Steadicam guru per say as he is "Steadicam all the way". Sometime ask him about his Lego rig. It's amazing!

Charles is the smartest person I know on steadicam usage and the very best at explaining how things work.

We are all lucky to have their (and others) knowledge available for free.

Tery
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Old June 28th, 2007, 01:41 AM   #9
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Well - I guess I'm responding to my own post in case anyone else is thinking of upgrading - I got the Merlin and Z1 yesterday...

The Merlin is much better built than the JR and smaller and neater. The all-metal construction feels more solid and robust. I remember that when I got the JR a few years ago, I was slightly disappointed with the quality and felt it wouldn't last - I was wrong as it has performed really well and nothing has broken, but the merlin definitely feels better engineered.

The range of adjustments on the merlin is much better - the variable caliper angle is so much neater than bolting on different plastic stop blocks, and the stage adjustments (micrometer type) on the merlin just feel so much more positive than the JR. However, once set up I guess these settings never change.

Balancing was pretty simple, and the experience with the JR definitely helped - I took a few days to get the JR sorted (having had no previous steadicam experience), but I had the Z1/merlin balanced to a usable degree within about 30 mins, although I'll continue to tweak for a while - the cookbook helped(!). I think the most difficult thing (with all Steadicams?) is knowing when it's right. The only real objective measurement is "drop time", and with the extra adjustments on the merlin, it;s difficult to know when you've fully optimised the balance. Any ideas anyone?

One thing missing from the merlin kit is the the small plastic table stand that came with the JR - it makes balancing much easier as you're not having to try and hold your "supporting" hand still constantly.

So, operating...

Well, it's still a bit early to say(!), but experience with the JR helps a lot because the technique is identical - however, at risk of stating the obvious, the merlin is no lighter than the JR if you use a heavy camera, so whilst it may be lighter initially, once balanced for a Z1, it's still heavy!!

The only negative I can see with using the Z1 is that its size makes it impossible to see the spirit level on the back of the stage easily. Keeping the stage precisely level is one operating problem I have, and the bubble is a useful indicator, so I'll have to think of a way around this at some point, but I have shot some test stuff, and the overall quality "straight out of the box" is as good as the JR stuff I've been doing, so with a bit of practice, it should be better!

I was a bit concerned that the Merlin had no monitor, buit the Z1 monitor appears to be fine, although I'll reserve judgement on that one until I've used it a bit more.

So, there you go... anyone want to buy a Steadicam JR with PAL monitor?
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Old June 28th, 2007, 11:10 AM   #10
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Very useful feedback on the Merlin experience - thanks for that Graham.

Please do keep us in the loop with your continued experiences please!
(I am considering getting one too).
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