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Zvi Twersky
video camera stabilizer
on Jan 15, 2010 at 3:08:29 pm

Our production studio just got HD video cameras and are looking for video camera stabilizers.

I wanted your advice as to what kinds do any of you use and what good and bad can you advise me?

The ones we are looking at seriously are:

1.Glidecam X-10 ( http://www.glidecam.com/product-x-10.php )
2. Movacam Avant S (http://www.youtube.com/user/Movcamfans)

The advantage of the second one is that it supports also bigger cameras - so we can use it for the big DV Panasonics and JVC's that we have as well. (A little more pricy though).

Please tell me your thoughts.
Thank you



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Todd Terry
Re: video camera stabilizer
on Jan 15, 2010 at 9:20:59 pm

Well, the Glidecam stabilizers do work... but yes they are one of the lower-end units and you do get what you pay for.

I'm an old Steadicam guy (or at least I was before my back got so ancient), and I try not to be too smug and jaded about the Clone-lizers. Some of them are pretty good.

I liked the Movcam one a lot more, after looking at their website they do seem to be much more of a professional rig. There's a shot of one of their bigger models flying a MovieCam SuperAmerica... which is a big and heavy high-end professional 35mm camera. You'll never see one of those on a Glidecam.

I would caution you though, NOT to get a rig that will potentially handle a much bigger camera than you plan to primarily use. If you have a camera that weighs 4 pounds, DON'T get a rig that will handle 30lb just because you might someday need it for that. As a longtime Steadicam operator I can tell you that it's nowhere near as easy or effortless as the pros make it look. Operating a stabilizer takes work, skill, and a lot of practice... and the big rigs are beasts, they will wear you out after only a short period of time. Our Steadicam rig is an older model (they don't even make it anymore) which will fly about 25lb worth of camera... which is fine since our usual camera rig weighs in at about 22lb. But the couple of times I did put a small camera on it, I was sure wishing I had a little Merlin after not too long.

Also, don't go into stabilizing with false expectations. They are great, yes... but a novice can't take one right out of the case and be shooting like Garrett Brown right off the bat. They take work to learn and learn well. The Steadicam schools are good... but expensive. A better way might be to learn from another operator... that is, if they are doing it right. The guy in the video you linked to, for example, is making a lot of physical mistakes. AND, his cameras are terribly out of "dynamic balance," as Steadicam calls it. You should never balance a camera so you can freely spin it around like it did, and it continue for almost infinite resolutions. If you shoot like that, there's virtually no way to avoid the "rolling horizon" look that is the dead giveaway of a Steadicam shot.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Zvi Twersky
Re: video camera stabilizer
on Jan 15, 2010 at 10:17:42 pm


Thanks for the reply.

You mentioned, "You'll never see one of those on a Glidecam..." Actually, I saw on their site many models and there was one (I think X-22) that can hold up to 25lb. I also put the model x-10 into youtube search and saw people operating the Glidecam and it looked pretty cool and comfy. I'm not denying your experience but because of the price difference, I'm asking can it be that they have come some way with their newer models? How can I compare to other companies? What specifications do I look for in a stabilizer to know if it's a high or low end piece of equipment?

You also mentioned schooling. I am a video editor and not the one who will be operating it but as an editor, I am self trained via books and online courses. Can a stabilizer operator also just "get a hang of it" by practicing or does he have to go through some more "serious" training.

Thank you very much.



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Todd Terry
Re: video camera stabilizer
on Jan 15, 2010 at 11:50:41 pm

The biggest price difference (aside from build, fit, finish, and design) has to do with the hoops that you must jump through to balance the rig. A stabilizer is a very very finely balanced thing. The better stabilizers will have little adjustment knobs on the top camera plate (the part called the "stage") that moves the plate fore and aft in tiny and very controllable increments. On the cheaper stabilizers, this balancing is done by physically putting on (and taking off) weights on the bottom of the rig (the part called the "sled").

I hadn't looked at their products in a while, so I glanced at the Glidecam website. It looks like their very top-of-the-line model now has an adjustable stage... a very good thing. But as you can see in the pictures, their other cheaper models still have stacks of weights on the sled. This can make fine-tune adjustments difficult... and these guys are not something that you set up once and forget... they have to be carefully adjusted before the shoot, and sometimes many times during the shoot. So, the easier it is to do it, the better. The very top-of-the-line Steadicams actually have very tiny motors that make these calculations for you and move the stage automatically!... but those are the pushing-six-figures rigs.

I'd really try to go for a model that has an easily adjustable and fine-tunable stage... it will make a world of difference in ease of use.

Similarly... the position of the pivot on the center column (the "gimbal" and the "post") must also be as easily adjustable... as well as the tension of the springs in the articulated arms.

[Zvi Twersky] "Can a stabilizer operator also just "get a hang of it" by practicing"

Yep... if he practices a lot and practices the right way. I was self-taught, from using instructional videos a billion years ago. But I also developed some bad habits and learned to do some things the wrong way. It took a bit of work with another (really good) Steadicam op to straighten out some of the things I was doing wrong. And... the bigger the rig, the more difficult they are to master. My mother could probably learn to use a little Steadicam Merlin, but it takes a lot of work to master the big pro rigs.

Incidentally, Garret Brown, the guy who invented the Steadicam a couple of decades ago now, says there are only about a half dozen guys in the world that he considers "really crackerjack Steadicam operators" who can do it absolutely flawlessly (and he's one of them). There are tons of guys who are quite good, but absolute mastery is pretty hard (watch Guy Norman Bee's work in countless movies and all the early episodes of "E.R.".... wow). I definitely didn't get there... I'm pretty darn good, but not great. Even though I'm an experienced operator with my own rig, if I had a shoot with a lot of precise Steadi work to do I'd probably just hire some whiz-bang operator who is better at it than me (and save my back to boot).


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Emre Tufekci S.O.A.
Re: video camera stabilizer
on Jan 19, 2010 at 1:47:42 pm

Hi Zvi,

First off I recommend not to get movecam. I had a chance to demo their product at NAB a few years ago and it was very poorly constructed and functionality was very limited. I can get into much more detail but I dont want to throw out a lot of steadicam jargon.

Glidecam has good products but they are 10 years behind the technology from steadicam gear.(IMHO)

Generally you can use any brand glidecam, steadicam, movecam..etc and still get excellent images. The difference is how easy the rig makes it for you. Steadicam has the latest tools and widgets that allow you to fine tune the rig to make it easier for you to achieve your desired results and believe me it is a big difference between these rigs.

The best place to ask this is http://www.steadicamforum.com

Goto the newbie section and re-post you question. The operators there are people the best in film and production.

Also if you have the option find a steadicam operator in your area and look at the gear it would be much easier to explain the differences in brands in person than over a forum. Try it on,fly the rig, see how it works out.

For training I would highly recommend it. The week long training you get from Rockport, Arrowhead classic or the SOC workshops will last you a lifetime.

I have been operating for 10 years and I am still learning. The initial classes I took gave me an incredible head start and I have been building on that. I recently taught a class and all the students were saying "You guys make this look so easy but it's just so smegging hard". That was my exact words 10 years ago and it took me a year to produce useable images (by my standards). So take the classes, they are an excellent investment.

good luck





Emre Tufekci
http://www.productionpit.com



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