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Old June 26th, 2007, 12:18 AM   #1
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Stabilizers - what am I missing?

I have an HV 20. Looking for a stabilzer. Checked out this and other sites. Four products seems to come up quite a bit: Steadicam Merlin, Glidecam Pro 2000, Hollywood Lite VS1, Steadytracker Ultralite.

I've seen footage of all. Charles Papert's work with the Merlin is on this site. Charles (a veteran pro) sees flaws in his first effort and I suppose if someone told me to go find flaws in Charles work I could but it just seems very smooth and acceptable to me. I've seen Glidecam 2000 and VS-1 footage from experienced operators that seemed very smooth. Saw "first time" and pro Steadytracker footage that looked good. Running, up stairs, over rocks, tilt, pan, twirling - to my inexperienced eye (and I acknowledge that is a factor) the footage from all 4 seemed very good. Nothing was jerky, or dolly track smooth, and that's what I expected and found it professional, appropriate and not the least distracting. Most of what I saw was action shots and on a smoothness scale of 1 - 10 ("Blair Witch Project" to a perfect slow "float") I think I would probably have found a 6 - 8 perfect or for something like ballet maybe 7 - 9.

I believe Steadytracker is the least expensive. Unlike the others, no gimbal. A few have commented that the Steadytracker is easy to set up and one can get acceptable results fairly rapidly. The work I saw, amateur and pro, looked good. The makers promote its "one-hand" advantages and that some magazine rated it #1. More than a few people commented that setting up and using the Glidecam was difficult or very difficult. Experienced users got excellent results. Some difficulty with the Merlin also, but good results after learning and experience. I don't have data on setup or learning curve on the VS1.

So I should get the Steadytracker, right? Cheaper, easier to set up, quicker to use, versatile, "one-handed operation", excellent quality on the video I saw. So here is what I don't know. I can afford the Merlin. I don't mind taking the time to learn a skill to get a better result. And Charles Papert is a veteran (so I should listen) who seems rather fond of gimbals. I need to know why. Exactly what is it that the Merlin can do that the Steadytracker cannot and is this a common application or an unusual one? I haven't seen the difference in the footage I viewed. Is there some video someone could point me to and say it would be very hard/impossible to do that with the Steadytracker? Or, look how smooth THAT is, that's a "9" or "10" - can't do that with a Steadytracker. Is there some point at which I'll say to myself, "well, this Steadytracker has been fine, but I need a Merlin/Glidecam/etc. because this Steaditracker just can't........"
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Old June 26th, 2007, 01:51 AM   #2
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Bob,

The Steadytracker can get fairly smooth video in the up and down axis but it has a flaw (as do all non-gimballed units) that the side to side movement will be there.

Here's a test...Zoom your camera in to half telephoto or even more and take video with any system that doesn't have a three axis gimbal like the Steadytracker. Next do the same with a three axis gimballed rig like the Glidecam, Steadicam, or even Indicam (plug). When you review the footage you should see the difference. There will be a lot more side to side movement with a non-gimballed system and this is because you don't have any isolation from your arm to the sled. Don't get me wrong, you can get some good shots with those systems but you need to be in wide angle mode or even have a wide angle adaptor to do so.

Check everyone's video demos and see if they have a lot of bending on vertical lines as they go out of the picture. If there is excessive bending that means there is a wide angle adaptor being used and it's much easier to get smooth video that way.

Guys like Charles P. often have to do shots involving some telephoto use (longer lenses) and the shots still look great because of the three axis isolation. OK, so he's a great operator as well.

I often read the hype found on cheaper stabilizer systems being sold on eBay and chuckle when I read "Just as smooth as the units costing thousands of dollars". It ain't so otherwise no one would buy or need the more expensive rigs. It all depends on the quality of video you are looking for.

There are places where a correctly balanced Steadytracker can get the kind of shot that you want and other places where it won't. However, a quality unit with a good full gimbal can get most of the real good shots you want.

My take...get a rig with a full 3 axis gimbal. Since your camera is light you can shoot some decent length shots without having your arm cramp up on you. For serious shots that take some length of time go with a rig that you can add support to in the future.

Let's hear from you other operators as to what you think.

Tery
Indicam

P.S. I have some rigs that don't have gimbals as well as those that do and I'll try to take some shots showing what I have been talking about.
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Old June 26th, 2007, 03:05 AM   #3
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Watch Nick's work here:

http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=96767

THAT'S what Merlin work should look like. And I believe that it would be tough to achieve this with any other kind of rig of this type--and impossible with a Steadytracker.

Running shots and action and lots of things going on in the frame, just about anything can do that. It's the slow and subtle moves that separate the wheat from the chaff.

When evaluating footage, pay close attention to the top of the frame. Watch how the background moves against that hard line. The lesser the rig, the more likely you are to see choppiness and instability up there.
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Old June 26th, 2007, 03:35 AM   #4
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I actually started off with the Steady Tracker, still have it, and let me tell you that the Steadicam Merlin blows it out of the water.
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Last edited by Nick Tsamandanis; June 26th, 2007 at 06:49 AM.
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Old June 26th, 2007, 11:06 AM   #5
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You guys are great. It is so helpful to hear from the pros. Really appreciate the data. Nick, could you elaborate? How does it blow it out of the water? Before it was.... and now it's..........

Steaditracker makers/sellers/users/video magazine reviewers please jump in here. Need your input. These old gimbal jockeys are stuck in their ways - the Steaditracker is as good or better because.........
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Old June 26th, 2007, 11:32 AM   #6
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..it's cheaper.

And that's all.

The basic principles of camera stabilisation systems are:
- Expansion/seperation of masses of the system to increase inertia (resistance to change in velocity)
- Placement of the Center of gravity to a point at which it can be directly controlled
- Isolation of the camera's angular (more important) and spatial (less important) position from the operator.


Generally most all stabilizers, including the Steadytracker, achive the first 2 - though seperation of masses isn't generally as large on the "pan" axis than the "tilt" & "roll" axis'.

A system with a good gimble also achives the requirement of angular isolation (an arm-mounted system also provides spatial isolation), allowing the operator to move independantly of the camera. If the camera isn't isolated from the operator by a gimble, every movement the operator makes will influence the camera.

The increased inertia and access to the center of gravity provide the Steadytracker with basic stabilisation caipabileties that are somewhat effective over handheld in resisting tilting and rolling (but not panning). However without a gimble, the Steadytracker relies on the operator's wrist to twist & flex to dampen the operator's movements before they affect the camera. A good gimble is frictionless, your wrist isn't.



In reallity, in adition to a lack of gimble - which, by the way, is left out, purly to save on production costs - the other major problem with the Steadytracker is that it uses shear mass (it's heavy!) to increase stability. These problems compound, because the wrist you are supposed to be holding all that weight with, is also supposed to be providing finess and carefull control... you can see where problems begin to arise.
Grabbing the system and dooing a 5 second shot running up a flight of stairs is easy to do, however when you need to actually perform a precise shot - slower, with a longer lens, longer, more complex - the system falls far short.

- Mikko
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Old June 26th, 2007, 02:24 PM   #7
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Once you get good with a gimballed unit, you can even get some acceptable results out of a straight monopod in a pinch. It is part machine, part practice. Good units can make up for some operator inexperience, but good operators on the same units are a miracle (see any of our pro ops portfolios.)

I like the Merlin and if you can afford the extra $, go for it. Also add Indicam to your list of considerations. The link is in Terry's post and Terry has designed a lot of portability into it.

A footnote, once you get used to it, the Glidecam is pretty easy to setup. The Merlin is a breeze because of the thumbscrew adjusters. The Glidecam is sort of hunt and peck loosening and tightening 4-6 screws (2 and 4 for front/back and side to side). Cannot comment on the rest. The Merlin travels better than my Glidecam.
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Old June 26th, 2007, 02:26 PM   #8
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Bob, you might find this article helps explain the concepts, even tho it's about actual Steadicams:

http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/steadicam.htm

There are also some good links on the last page.
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Old June 26th, 2007, 07:28 PM   #9
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Bob,

Here is a demo I did today which shows the difference between a non-gimballed rig and a gimballed one. I shot it in full telephoto mode so that any movement would be exaggerated. I tried as well as I could to make the video as smooth as possible but full telephoto shows any movement. There is an obvious difference between the two.

One good thing about the non-gimballed rig is that it was easier to control with the breeze that was blowing.

Here's the link to the video: It's titled "Gimbal vs Non-Gimbal Demo"

http://www.indicam.com/media/Flash/flvplayer.html

Smooth Shooting...

Tery
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Old June 27th, 2007, 04:53 AM   #10
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Terry, nothing subtle about those differences! The non-g clips look basically like home movies. Very useful demo. Thanks!
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Old June 27th, 2007, 12:28 PM   #11
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Thanks very much to all. This is very useful information. Terry, I appreciate your taking the time for the demonstration and I'm sure others do as well. I see it, I understand. Bob
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Old June 27th, 2007, 02:47 PM   #12
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Bob,

I did this demo because of the hype by many manufacturers that state that their lower priced rigs are as good as the expensive ones. While they do stabilizer to some extent they can't do what a full floating gimbal can. Make no mistake, a good gimbal is expensive.

I'm not knocking the less expensive rigs for what they can do but just want uninformed buyers to have the knowledge they need in order to choose the rig that will serve them best.

You can put a wide angle lens on any camera and get much smoother shots but the movement is still there-just not as visible. Not all operators need the higher end rigs for the shots they want and hence the lower priced systems are available. BUT, if you are a serious filmmaker you might want to save up for a nice system. Remember, you will use your stabilizer long past your current camera.

Smooth Shooting,

Tery
Indicam
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