Gonna CNC my own Stedicam at DVinfo.net

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Old July 25th, 2007, 09:02 PM   #1
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Gonna CNC my own Stedicam

You've probably all seen these posts before, but I figured I'd still throw one up.

I love the look of video with a stedicam. The HV10 is pretty light, so it seems to soak up a lot of hand movement, and I think thats something a stedicam will fix. With my wedding coming up next year, and a ton of other events prior to it (I'm indian so there are tons of festivals leading to it) I figure with the camera in the hands of a relatives hand, a stedicam will help out a lot.

Now I love the look of the merlin, but the pricetag just kills it to me. Why? Well I run a CNC Machine shop with my dad, and I could probably build the thing along with several other stuff I've done in the past.

I guess the main thing is the gimble. I haven't been able to source out a close up, of how it works exactly, and so smoothly. Is there any website that would show a close up, or something similar?

Is there anything that you wish it had, or didn't? This is going to be the first time using a stedicam/building one, so I figured I'd get more details now, during the design stage.

TIA! And yes I will post all images during the designstage here.
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Old July 25th, 2007, 09:13 PM   #2
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The price of a Steadicam is so cheap compared to the time you have to invest to get good at it.
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Old July 25th, 2007, 09:29 PM   #3
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Having access to a CNC machine no more qualifies you to make a Steadicam than owning a video camera quialifies someone to shoot weddings professionally!

The precision engineering that goes into any Steadicam, even a Merlin, is not to be entered into lightly. A Steadicam doesn't "soak up" camera movement, it places the center of mass of the entire camera and the unit itself just a very, very small distance above the gimbal. The gimbal is the heart of the apparatus and not likely to be gotten right without a LOT of experimentation. You must also realize that the precision is not only in the size and shape of the parts, but also in the weights of each individual component. They all interrelate very precisely.

You must also be able to trim the camera (both coarse and fine adjustments) on the stage fore, aft and vertically to achieve the necessary balance. and that is what you pay for when you buy a Merlin. It looks so simple, but there is an AMAZING amount of engineering that goes into it!

I only have 2 Steadicam JRs (now considered a "dinosaur") and I love them both. But to think that you can just drop one of these into the hands of a relative and achieve good results is about as likely as turning me loose on your CNC machine and having me turn out anything of worth.

Steadicam operating requires a lot of practice and specific attention to filmmaking skills. It is not an "out-of-the-box" solution. With appreciable video skill pre-exisitng, I had to practice with it regularly for about a month before I was beginning to get usable and predictable results. Heck, even mounting and balancing the camera for the first time took about 2 and a half hours!

If you are set on getting one, I would suggest you look to pick up a used JR on ebay. That way even if it doesn't work for you, you can turn around and sell it on ebay again.

Last edited by Frank Simpson; July 25th, 2007 at 09:36 PM. Reason: spelling
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Old July 25th, 2007, 11:10 PM   #4
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A number of people on here are also members of

http://homebuiltstabilizers.com/

I think that would be a better resource for the details of making a system for yourself. I would caution you though that cnc-shop or not, it will likely cost you many times the commercial price to do it yourself at anywhere near the quality. While the principles involved are fairly simple, the implimentation is anything but.

The merlin is actually a pretty incredibly precise unit. In this instance, it may be a bit like using a racecar to drive to the corner store. It'll work, it'll work well, but you certainly don't need that kinda power. Just remember that during the wedding, it's one more thing that you understand and others do not, so all questions will be relayed directly to you. Enjoy the wedding, or worry about equipment. When someone's shooting you, and they're holding the device wrong it 1)negates any positive effect the device has, making it handheld with less control... and 2)it takes you out of the moment because you see it and it bothers you that they're doing it wrong.

My best advice would be to hand the camera to the relatives while mounted on a tripod. Or hire someone who knows what they're doing.
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Old July 26th, 2007, 01:51 AM   #5
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Thanks for the info guys.

I just don't have 'access' to the machines. I program and run them daily. We manufacture high precision aircraft ground tooling. We also work with the engineers of our customers to help them design their product more efficiently, so R&D is something that is right up our field.

And for the wedding, of course I'd be hiring pros to shoot the wedding itself and the reception. But I just figured with the amount of family that comes from oversea and all the stuff we do around the home, having a unit that could work in the hands of a newbie is something i'm shooting at making.

Thanks for that link Jaron. I just recently came across that site as well, and have been looking thru it.
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Old July 26th, 2007, 02:32 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amish Solanki View Post
[...] having a unit that could work in the hands of a newbie is something i'm shooting at making.
Unfortunatly a Steadicam type stabilizer is not the tool.

They are fine instruments that take LOTs (monthes, years) of practice to become good at operating. You really can't just pick one up and get stabilized footage with it - that's what OIS is for.

Take a read of some of the threads of people here on the forum (who are experienced videographers) who have trouble trying to user their commerical units for the first time.

Handing off a Steadicam to a newbie to "shot some quick shots" would be like handing someone a violin and asking them to "play a quick tune". It's just not possible.


That aside, by all means, experiment and build your own unit. There is no better way to learn how they work and what is important in the technology. If nothing else, it's great experience if you where to every buy a commercial unit, you'd understand it better.


- Mikko
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Old July 26th, 2007, 03:02 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Amish Solanki View Post
having a unit that could work in the hands of a newbie is something i'm shooting at making.
That's probably imposible... just trimming a steady cam of ANY sort is a trick - I've had a few different inexpensive ones, the JR is the easiest to trim, and only if you've figured out the physics already...

And the physics for a light cam like the HV10 are a whole 'nother issue. I've got an old Hollywood VS1 that flys my HC7 just right, it's got pretty good bearings in the gimbal/handle - still takes a bit to trim, but it's the cutest little "mini steadi-cam" you'll prolly ever see, and so light it's manageable handheld. That HV10 with the vertical orientation could be real interesting balancing if I had to guess...
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Old July 26th, 2007, 03:35 PM   #8
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That's probably imposible... just trimming a steady cam of ANY sort is a trick - I've had a few different inexpensive ones, the JR is the easiest to trim, and only if you've figured out the physics already...
Thanks for the vote of confidence there, but just because you haven't tried something, doesn't mean its not possible. 15 years ago if you told me that there were small units called cell phones that could be used to talk to someone and display video, people would probably say thats impossible to feed it live. Today its possible.

Take a small electric gyroscope, run a small battery to it (hook onto waist) and mount it onto a stabilizer and i'm pretty sure anyone would be able to hold it with the right settings. R&D makes the impossible, possible.
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Old July 26th, 2007, 03:53 PM   #9
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I just don't have 'access' to the machines. I program and run them daily. ...
By "having access" I meant "programming and running". The point still stands. It's a completely different skill set. You may know how to mill things, but not necessarily engineer them.

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Originally Posted by Amish Solanki View Post
...Thanks for the vote of confidence there, but just because you haven't tried something, doesn't mean its not possible.
By your comments on making the impossible possible, you seem to have a very high estimation of your skills, so why are you trying to rip off the Steadicam gimbal? Especially if you're so sure that gyroscopes will make a stabilizer that works in the hands of the inexperienced.

If you had done any real research at all you would know that Garrett Brown experimented with gyroscopes early on and abandoned them as unfeasible in most cases. If you put one on a newbie I can all but guarantee that they will not be able to pan or tilt smoothly.

Since you clearly do not like the answers to your question you ought to go ahead and do your own research and development, create your own stabilizer that's so simple that anyone can use it effectively without any training and then you'll be the one we come to for answers to our questions.

Until then remember that just because you don't like the answers you've received does not make them wrong. You said yourself that you have never used one, and those of us who've responded have. Some of us have limited experience (like myself) and others like Mikko have extensive experience. He very generously contributes his knowledge on not only this, but many other forums. We should treat his advice with the respect it deserves.
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Old July 26th, 2007, 04:40 PM   #10
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By your comments on making the impossible possible, you seem to have a very high estimation of your skills, so why are you trying to rip off the Steadicam gimbal? Especially if you're so sure that gyroscopes will make a stabilizer that works in the hands of the inexperienced.
All I was trying to say that things that seem impossible are certainly sometimes possible. I never said that I COULD do it. I never said I was 'ripping' off the stedicam gimbal either. I also never said that I was going to make a gyroscope stabilizer that works. These are IDEAS. Something that goes into R of R&D.

Quote:
If you had done any real research at all you would know that Garrett Brown experimented with gyroscopes early on and abandoned them as unfeasible in most cases. If you put one on a newbie I can all but guarantee that they will not be able to pan or tilt smoothly.
Sorry I haven't done any research. Maybe you should check out http://www.camerasystems.com. Too bad they didn't abandon gyro-stabilized camera gimbals.

Quote:
Since you clearly do not like the answers to your question you ought to go ahead and do your own research and development, create your own stabilizer that's so simple that anyone can use it effectively without any training and then you'll be the one we come to for answers to our questions.

Until then remember that just because you don't like the answers you've received does not make them wrong. You said yourself that you have never used one, and those of us who've responded have. Some of us have limited experience (like myself) and others like Mikko have extensive experience. He very generously contributes his knowledge on not only this, but many other forums. We should treat his advice with the respect it deserves.
I not once was in disagreement with anyone on the forums. I AM doing my own R&D (try reading my posts). I also never said anyone's answers were WRONG. You seem to be putting a lot of words into my mouth.

Infact Mikko is the ONLY one who said to experiment and build your own unit. That I appreciate, as he gave his advice, but didn't end up saying tough luck.
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Old July 26th, 2007, 06:15 PM   #11
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Infact Mikko is the ONLY one who said to experiment and build your own unit. That I appreciate, as he gave his advice, but didn't end up saying tough luck.
The consensus seems to be that the sole purpose of constructing your own is so when you inevitably buy the commercial product after failing, you are better able to understand its workings and thus use it more effectively.

Building one's own steadicam unit has rarely resulted in a usable product that compares to its professional equivalent.

That said, I saw a really nicely well-built steadicam on this forum a while back...the arm looked to be constructed with anodized aluminum with patterned holes in it...anyone remember that?
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Old July 26th, 2007, 11:09 PM   #12
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Amish,

I congratulate you on you desire to build a stabilizer. At least you have the tools to do a good job and you are doing your research (by reading this forum). Building a good stabilizer can be done if you know the principles involved and they can be found at the HBS forum as well as here. There is a lot of reading that you'll need to do but I say "Go for it".

The others are correct in their assessment about giving a quality stabilizer to an inexperience operator. They'll have a heck of a time figuring out all the nuances involved in getting smooth, floating video but it should be fun to watch them attempt it.

Good luck,

Tery
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Old July 27th, 2007, 01:01 AM   #13
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Just a little follow up clarification on my original post...

If you are mechanically inclined, etc.. then getting a stabilized camera is no problem. The tough part is CONTROLLING the camera when stabilized (isolated from outside influence).

Everyone goes through this control dificulty when they first use any system. It is something that every new operator will come to face; it really helps to know beforehand that it's coming, and that with practice you can get past it.



Good luck on your project. Please do sign up to www.hbsboard.com, there are some VERY talented people there who can help you and provide a huge sources of info for R&D and beyond.



- Mikko
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Old July 27th, 2007, 01:18 AM   #14
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Amish, you certainly have a huge advantage over many people who enter this endeavor. CNC time for those who don't OWN their own mills/lathes can be astronomically expensive, so you certainly have a leg-up on other experimenters there. If you are able to have the machines down long enough to do your own work, then by all means start lettin the chips fly! But even as an avid experimenter with an inventor's spirit, you should heed some of the warnings from people here and on other sites. The physics of steadicam-style rigs are somewhat simple, but translating that into a usable prototype is the hard part. Garrett didn't get it all right overnight - it's taken 30+ years to get where we are now with arms, and as someone who owns one of the new G-series arms, I can attest to the evolutionary brilliance.

The Merlin is another step in the evolution of the stabilizer rig in its simplicity. As a machinist, you probably understand that the simplest looking devices generally get that way through the most intensive engineering. And generally, people don't start experimenting full-scale, full-price. You seem to have a lot of excitement for this project, so I'd recommend making the simplest model possible, to FEEL the physics of the rig. Instead of starting with the Merlin as a model, start with the Model I. A google search of "dynamic balance primer" should provide you with force diagrams of how the original model 1 was able to overcome physical limitations of steadicam rigs that many modern setups can't deal with. The model I is simplicity itself, and with your skills, you could probably construct something similar in little time. It won't be as sexy as the merlin, but as a first attempt, it will most likely work. Once you have that and know how it feels, you'll be better equipped mentally to progress and refine. Note that the Glidecam 2000 and 4000 are knockoffs of the Model I physics.

In engineering school, I built a steadicam-style rig for fun, based on simple statics calculations. It worked, surprisingly well, though I SERIOUSLY lacked the skills to control it. Having now spent a lot of time in a rig, I could certainly build a far better one, though I choose not to. That's not to say operators are content with whats out there. Quite the contrary - you'll find that the majority of professional operators are, formally trained or not, brilliant engineers. The nature of the medium forces us to be resourceful, and the small market forces us to customize. One of the most interesting things about a workshop is this budding of new ideas. Everyone brings a different perspective to the table, and it is at these classes that new equipment is often invented or improved. If you call 10 ops, it's likely that 9 will be working on something "cool and new." So despite our warnings, don't think that anyone is trying to kill that tinkering spirit.

As for gyros, some people do use them on steadicam setups. You'll find that they are less and less popular because they fight the very nuance that makes steadicam such a powerful tool. I'm not entirely sure who initially invented the application, but Brant Fagan machines "antlers" which essentially amplify the physics that make steadicam work, as opposed to working against them like gyros. The most popular small gyros are kenyons - OLD technology that require AC power to run. That means an inverter from battery power. And they aren't terribly efficient or light. In crane, boat, or other specialty applications, gyros can be extremely effective...but there's a reason you don't often see them in the handheld realm. Maybe you can machine a smaller, lighter, more efficient gyro that is responsive to the kind of touch that nuanced operating requires.

Just realize that people aren't trying to personally attack you. A lof of guys and gals on here have gone into the same battle you're facing, and have some good feedback from their experiences. And while the underlying theme is "you'll end up buying one in the end," know that its not necessarily because they lacked design or machine sense. Time is money. Even with cnc at your fingertips, by the time you get to a generation of your product that works exactly the way you want it to, you'll likely have paid off a mainstream rig many times over. Just a caution.
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Old July 27th, 2007, 03:55 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Amish Solanki View Post
Thanks for the vote of confidence there, but just because you haven't tried something, doesn't mean its not possible. 15 years ago if you told me that there were small units called cell phones that could be used to talk to someone and display video, people would probably say thats impossible to feed it live. Today its possible.

Take a small electric gyroscope, run a small battery to it (hook onto waist) and mount it onto a stabilizer and i'm pretty sure anyone would be able to hold it with the right settings. R&D makes the impossible, possible.
Amish -
I'm all for doing the impossible! I'm just saying that getting a rig that balances well is not easy, balancing that rig is also tricky, and getting one a "novice" can walk up to and use effectively... that's one TALL order, at least if you want to produce one with a budget under that of a small country...

That said, let's take a gigantic leap - gyros may not work well if they are simply the means for mechanical input - I suspect this would be a problem simply because it's tough enough to dynamically control a rig against ANY motion... throw another "input" into the equation, you made things worse not better... just speculation from my experience with the inexpensive steadycams I've fiddled with.

NOW, let's take that leap - what about using very small gyros (so you don't need a massive power supply) as some form of dynamic input to a computer balanced (micro motors?) balancing system...

Think "fly by wire" - a small microprocessor "knows" where the camera "should be" in space, and based upon the movement the gyro detects, corrects thousands of times per second... You'd still need some form of manual input for pans and tilts I would guess... any "deliberate" movements would have to be accounted for. I would expect some ability to program the sensitivity and motions would be good.

Probably off the deep end here, but I agree that with sufficiently novel approaches to the problem, coupled with lots of microprocessor horsepower (that's cheap nowadays...), you just might be able to build a rig "smart" enough to think faster than the operator... OIS obviously "tries" to do this but can only work effectively in a minimal range of motion... so the concept isn't entirely out of the question... We've got aircraft that "couldn't" fly without computer assist... why not a steady rig?

I guess I'm seeing a sort of Borg like contraption that melds with the operator to create a sort of computer controlled crane/tracking beast with the added mobility of the human underneath it all... HMMMMM, time to go out to the secret laboratory... here kitty kitty kitty....

I'm sort of tongue in cheek here, if it wasn't already obvious, but maybe there's something to my madness... and you might be quite mad in a good way too! Don't let the initial critiques discourage you! I for one would love to see where you're going with this!
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