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Steadicam! Newbie!


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#1 Cristian T

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Posted 16 July 2008 - 03:37 PM

Has anyone tried the FS PRO STEADICAM?
http://www.fsprostab...glish/index.htm

Sounds a good choise for my budget (2825 $ CAD) ! They say is capable of supporting cameras from 5 to 20 pounds (2.27 to 9 kg)!

I don't know but my rig is a little bit heavy and 20 pounds is just perfect for that price!

What is your opinion ?

Thank you!
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#2 Ale Reynoso

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 02:48 PM

Have you tried in steadicam.com? steadiforum.com? hbsboard.com?
Good luck!!



Has anyone tried the FS PRO STEADICAM?
http://www.fsprostab...glish/index.htm

Sounds a good choise for my budget (2825 $ CAD) ! They say is capable of supporting cameras from 5 to 20 pounds (2.27 to 9 kg)!

I don't know but my rig is a little bit heavy and 20 pounds is just perfect for that price!

What is your opinion ?

Thank you!


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#3 Jaron Berman

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 08:49 PM

There's a lot of great info out there about the various systems, capabilities, prices, features, etc. But I'll save you a bit of research and just lay out the (mostly) stock response. Before investing in ANY piece of gear, make sure you know exactly WHY you want it, if you need to own it, how much you'll use it, how much it will cost you in the long run, and where you're going to get it, insure it, and use it. Whew!

As of late (last few years), it seems that inexpensive stabilizers have literally exploded onto the market. First there was the lone kid on the block - CP/Steadicam, then Pro, then all the rest. Not to say the original is best, BUT it is important to understand where these things came from at the highest level before deciding you need to buy a low-level knockoff. At least know what technology you're looking at and what its lineage is.

Steadicam, now owned by Tiffen, is the baby of Garrett Brown. Garrett invented the Steadicam, and continues to be the major innovator in the body-worn stabilizer field, along with Jerry Holway, Peter Abraham and the rest of the Tiffen collaborators. PRO, XCS, and MKV all do a lot of really great things, but they owe it to Garrett, Jerry, and with the Flyer - Peter. Aside from Steadicam's Master, Ultra, G-50/G-70 offerings, all stabilizer arms are loosely based on the "3A" design. It is an old design by technical standards, and the patent has run out - which allows these many knockoff brands to produce what are essentially replicas, without legal trouble. Some are more successful than others - PRO's arm is loosely based on 3A theory, but is absolutely INCREDIBLE! A few other brands produce excellent 3A designs - Baer-Bel, RIG engineering, etc. Most companies produce poor copies that LOOK like nice 3A arms.

I'm making a bit of fuss over arm lineage because it's essentially one of the two most important technical features of a rig. The gimbal and arm are why people pay big bucks for stabilizers. Compromise either and the whole magic of steadicam vanishes. Sure you could fight a poorer rig, but that defeats the purpose. The whole idea of steadicam is to remove the desire and ability to overcontrol a camera. That means overcontrol by natural impulses - the movement of the body as you walk or run, as well as forced impulses like steering the shot in space or axially. The more you can isolate the camera from your body's movement, the smoother and more precise you can be with the shot. And at it's very highest level, steadicam can be a VERY precise instrument. Less force input means more precision; so the less drag the gimbal adds, and the less vibration and movement the arm allows, the more control you have over the camera. And that's the whole idea.

Now back to the broad, philosophical questions. Why do you need a stabilizer? Make sure you understand when it is and is not appropriate. Gratuitous steadicam has become de-riguer. In many situations it can take more time than it saves... and in some situations it's just completely inappropriate. Take for example the slowly creeping side-track in 35mph winds. Wrong tool. (can be done, but it's essentially torture). I saw a great clip that Garret showed from his lecture. A difficult ER shot that the operator simply could not get. They threw the camera on the dolly with a gear head, and between the op and dolly grip, performed an absolutely beautiful sequence that at first glance you would swear could ONLY be done with a steadicam. Even when it feels like the only tool, in the majority of situations it's not. The steadicam operator and equipment are almost always replaceable.

Now, on to the next broad idea. At this point, you're still convinced that steadicam is the only way to go. Fair enough, it's a beautiful and elegant solution in many circumstances and can certainly add production value when done right. BUT the kicker is - it takes an unhealthy amount of practice to do steadicam at a poor level. To do it at a master level takes YEARS of working and practicing daily, with harsh and unwaivering critique. If its for your own projects, jump in head-first and have fun. Don't expect much and you'll be pleased. If you're shooting for money, for someone who actually understands what steadicam SHOULD look like, you could be in for a shock and sudden end to your steadicam career. Just the harsh reality, and it is harsh.

How much to spend? The sky's the limit, and it never ends. If its for your own personal projects, then you make the budget. If you're going to sell your services, start working on your credit. You can definitely find rigs pretty cheaply, but once you add all the necessary accessories, you'll find that you've tripled (or more) your budget. My rig cost me about $35,000 used. The accessories cost a couple times that. And unfortunately, there are no real "cheap" solutions for acc's that work reliably enough to rent along with your services. Remote follow focus and wireless video are the absolute minimum. After that, it depends on what genre you're looking to get into as to what other accs you'll need next.

Now, down to rigs. You really really absolutely get what you pay for. A $2000 rig will not perform like a $10,000 rig like a $100,000 rig. The physics are roughly the same, yes, but the precision of every single part exponentially affects the precision of the rig. It's NOT a linear progression where twice the price gets you twice the rig. They all have more-or-less the same parts, but spending more generally does get you a much better product. The big exception to the rule here is the Steadicam Flyer series. It really is far better than the price would suggest. It's about 2-3 times the price you mentioned, BUT it utilizes the most modern arm design, and the physical quality of the machining and overall rig is outstanding at any price. The upper weight-limit of a rig shouldn't be your main criteria when selecting a rig. Yes, it's very important, but when comparing the FS and the Flyer LE (both have the same 20lb limit), there is absolutely no comparison. The Flyer is a well-sorted current generation professional rig. The FS is a knockoff of a knockoff of a 30 year old design. If you're looking at that 20lb limit in order to fly a RED, don't forget accessories! Follow focus, drives, downconverters and cables all weigh something! And you don't want to end your career by saying "sorry, you can't shoot to the drive because I can't fly it." There are certain things you can (sticky topic) refuse to fly, but if its a basic item and you've already agreed to come in and do the project, it's very bad for your reputation to say no to the director or DP. Even a 20-30 yr. old used rig will perform at a whole nother level from any of these knockoffs, so keep an eye on the used market too.

So, with all that said, here's the most important question. Why do you want to do this? It sounds rude and forward, but seriously - if you haven't asked, you HAVE to ask before you spend any money. There are many reasons to get into this, but make sure you're 100% behind whatever that reason is. If it's a 1-time deal, it's DEFINITELY not worth it - you can probably find a very high-level op to come and do the shots at a rate that makes you comfortable Or perhaps (PERHAPS) even free if the project or shot is interesting or challenging enough. If its a case of gear-lust, there are other things to buy way before a stabilizer, items that will yield far better returns on your investment. Low-level stabilizers in rental will likely never make back their cost. High-end rigs are poor rental investments too, as most ops own their rigs, and rent only in case of emergency. If its an owner-op situation, make sure to budget about a year JUST for practice before ever taking money. And if there's any uncertainty as to the reason behind a stabilizer purchase.... no, before ANY stabilizer purchase, consider taking a workshop. I say consider, but it should be a requirement. You'll save yourself years of frustration and a possibly HUGE amount of money if before investing, before learning poor habits, you take some classes. It is without a doubt, unanimously, the most important investment in the field of stabilizers! Ask ANY successful op. Even if halfway through the course you decide not to buy a rig or get into it, at least you'll have far more knowledge of what the rig can and cannot do - and you'll be a more informed opinion when you need to hire someone to do a shot. Or, you'll fall in love with it, sell all your worldly possessions, make tape lines all over your house and practice every day until you're comfortable taking money for your services. No matter what way you go, a workshop should be above the top of your list of priorities and investments.

That was a very long-winded response, BUT hopefully something in there is useful. It may sound like I'm trying to dissuade you from getting into steadicam, but just the opposite. I see far too many guys blowing their savings on gear they don't understand or need, due to misinformation. Know what you want and why you want it, and if it all makes sense, dive in head first and don't look back. $2800 is a relatively small amount of money for a stabilizer, but it can feel like a lot - just make sure you know what you're getting into. Straight talk is a good thing with so many companies and people telling you "you NEED this" or that your quality will suck until "you buy our gear," or this is "better and cheaper than the one used in _____movie!" It's too easy to get sucked into marketing claims.

Good luck and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me or (probably) any of the other steadicam ops on this board. Steadicamforum.com is also a great resource with tons of searchable info. It deals very little with the mechanics of low-end rigs though, so if that's your main concern steadiforum may be a better place to ask around. As for the business, politics, and technicalities of operating, however, steadicamforum can be a valuable networking and informational resource. Good luck, hope to see another unstoppable knight of the green screen.

Edited by Jaron Berman, 26 July 2008 - 08:52 PM.

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#4 Michael Belanger

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Posted 26 July 2008 - 10:55 PM

Fantastic response Jaron.

I myself have been looking at the Pilot which seems to be a 2/3 scale version of the Flyer. Have you tried it? How does it compare to it's big brother?
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#5 Jaron Berman

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Posted 27 July 2008 - 01:47 PM

Ah the pilot. It's a beautiful rig, and in some ways the sled is more sorted than the flyer. The Pilot allows you to vary your pan-inertia like a big rig, which can be VERY useful. If you're doing a shot with whip-pans, it's nice to able able to tune for it, just as it's nice to be able to tune for a shot with slow movement and very delicate pans. It's likely that the next generation Flyer will incorporate some of the features of the Pilot. As for the arm, it's exactly a scaled-down version on the Flyer arm, which is basically a scaled-down version of the G-series arms.

The term Steadicam uses for the style of their arms since the Master-series is "isoelastic." That means the arm will behave ideally under any load, and use minimal force to raise, lower, and hold it in space. Until that design, all "3A" arm designs could be considered "centered" arms - they try and fly basically level and deviation up or down takes effort. The "3A" exception to this is the PRO arm, which takes about 1/2lb pressure at any point but center. Centered isn't a bad thing, it's just a different design. (The G-series arms can actually tune their isoelasticity either way - towards the Master/Ultra feel or towards the 3A/PRO feel). I learned on a Flyer, and loved the feel of it, so stepping into the G-series was natural and easy. Some people love the feel of the centered arm, so stepping up to a PRO arm is the natural choice. But back on topic - the Flyer / Pilot arms feel very isoelastic, and are both top-of-the-line in that weight and price range. By far. Feel a pilot or flyer arm, feel a G-series arm, feel a Pro arm. They all feel right. Try just about any other arm and you'll be in for a shock.

The one other misnomer I forgot to mention is the idea of weight and machismo. Again, weight range seems to be the big selling point of so many rigs and the bragging rights of many beginning ops. "What's the heaviest camera you can fly," or "how many one-leg squats can you do with ____ on your rig?" Not really that important. If you're learning, a high-quality light rig will teach you good habit a lot faster than a heavy rig will. Steadicam is based entirely on inertia - P=MV. Inertia = Mass * Velocity. Decrease mass or velocity and you decrease stability. Starting off with a light rig means that as your body learns to control the rig, your inputs are more critical and delicate. If and when you step to a bigger rig, the weight may be a bit shocking at first, BUT your control will be extremely precise. It's a lot easier to get used to more weight once you have good posture and habits than it is to relearn your skills on the occasion that you have to fly a light camera. Most ops have a weight that feels right, a comfort zone...but working both above and below this range is healthy to avoid that panic when things feel different. And working at much lighter setups is always good practice for delicacy.
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