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Looking to make a start, on a $6k budget...


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#1 Sarah Thompson

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 08:39 PM

Hi folks,

I have been pondering getting into Steadicam operating for a couple of years now, and I'm ready to make the push, but I just wanted to respectfully ask a bit of advice before parting with cash...

Firstly, I'm not at this point looking to be an owner-operator-for-hire. That's only something I'd consider after a few years of practice, if then, so at this point I am not looking to acquire a rig that could fly absolutely anything, rather, I'm looking to be able to fly my own camera rig. Specifically, I'd like to fly a Panny AF-100 with an Atomos Ninja HD recorder, wireless FF and video transmitter. This will just about scrape the 10lb mark if I'm careful. The wireless FF is something I'm currently designing and building and will be pretty lightweight (in another life I've designed robotic systems for Mars landers, so I should be able to make something work pretty well I think). My application is low to ultralow budget indie film, where I hope to use Steadicam as a step up from a fig rig and also to handle cases where a jib and/or dolly aren't feasibly usable in the space.

So... a new Pilot, or a used something? Flyer LE? Something else? I'm concerned about being at the top end of the weight range for the Pilot, but being quite honest, if I have the budget to shoot something that needs an Alexa or something in that weight class, I'm going to have the budget to hire someone better than me to fly it.

One other question... I'm pretty tall (6 foot-ish), and fat. Yes, in an ideal world I'd not be, but this world isn't ideal, so I have to deal. What are the considerations for particular vests in this case? I notice (from the operators handbook) that there is an angle adjustment on the vest to arm mounting point, at least on the higher end systems -- is that there on the Pilot and/or the Flyer also?

I can currently scrape up about $6k. I'm based near San Francisco, if that helps.

Thank you in advance,
Sarah Thompson
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#2 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 11:27 PM

A used Flyer will do what you want and IMHO a better choice than a Pilot for the money. Not to disparage the Pilot but the Flyer arm has been around a while and works well enough. You'll have to do some wiring or some out to a P Tap box for powering the accessories but it sounds like you can do that.

I think the Flyer vest will be better suited than the Pilot as well to add / extend straps which it sounds like you'll need to do for your size. Velcro and someone with a sturdy sewing machine will be your friend. Shoe stores sew thick stuff and they're super cheap.

Keep your eye out for a Flyer or put up a WTB notice in the marketplace section.

Good luck!

Robert
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#3 Sarah Thompson

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 07:57 PM

A used Flyer will do what you want and IMHO a better choice than a Pilot for the money. Not to disparage the Pilot but the Flyer arm has been around a while and works well enough. You'll have to do some wiring or some out to a P Tap box for powering the accessories but it sounds like you can do that.

I think the Flyer vest will be better suited than the Pilot as well to add / extend straps which it sounds like you'll need to do for your size. Velcro and someone with a sturdy sewing machine will be your friend. Shoe stores sew thick stuff and they're super cheap.

Keep your eye out for a Flyer or put up a WTB notice in the marketplace section.

Good luck!

Robert


It looks like I can scrape up a bit more, and go to around $8k. Any update on this advice? Any sense in looking at a new Scout?
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#4 Stavros Papastavrou

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 07:02 AM

Hi!

Might as well pitch in (as a pilot owner looking to upgrade)
The pilot vest (as all tiffen vests for that matter) have all the necessary in-out/side to side adjustments that higher-end systems have.
For reference you can check this or this presentation by Peter Abraham (Tiffen’s Director of Technical Services) on vimeo. He covers the pilot, the scout, and the zephyr.
My suggestion would also be to get the scout or a used flyer. Having more inertia is good!
Between the 2, I would go with the scout if the price difference was not to big. I like all the those new little advances they incorporated...
You must consider the expense of a battery system as well (couple of batts+charger).

Good luck!

Stavros
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#5 Sarah Thompson

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 09:22 PM

Hi!

Might as well pitch in (as a pilot owner looking to upgrade)
The pilot vest (as all tiffen vests for that matter) have all the necessary in-out/side to side adjustments that higher-end systems have.
For reference you can check this or this presentation by Peter Abraham (Tiffen’s Director of Technical Services) on vimeo. He covers the pilot, the scout, and the zephyr.
My suggestion would also be to get the scout or a used flyer. Having more inertia is good!
Between the 2, I would go with the scout if the price difference was not to big. I like all the those new little advances they incorporated...
You must consider the expense of a battery system as well (couple of batts+charger).

Good luck!

Stavros


Looks like I'm going to order a Scout, most likely some time next week. Gulp!

Sarah
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#6 Chris Cartwright

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 11:17 AM

Hi!

Might as well pitch in (as a pilot owner looking to upgrade)
The pilot vest (as all tiffen vests for that matter) have all the necessary in-out/side to side adjustments that higher-end systems have.
For reference you can check this or this presentation by Peter Abraham (Tiffen’s Director of Technical Services) on vimeo. He covers the pilot, the scout, and the zephyr.
My suggestion would also be to get the scout or a used flyer. Having more inertia is good!
Between the 2, I would go with the scout if the price difference was not to big. I like all the those new little advances they incorporated...
You must consider the expense of a battery system as well (couple of batts+charger).

Good luck!

Stavros


Looks like I'm going to order a Scout, most likely some time next week. Gulp!

Sarah



I'm 6' and 250lb my provid vest fits me fine and with the velcro there is alot of room to expand, mine and another Provid have been on here for about 2 months atleast for around 4k, sounds like you are handy and could swap out the SD monitor for an HD LCD etc ... flyer isn't the only game in town!
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#7 Sam Morgan Moore

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Posted 01 July 2012 - 07:28 AM

My newb journey.

Steadicam is shockingly expensive.

My pilot now cost me way more than $6k!

To me doing any form of camera operation (sticks, rig, whatever) I want to do three things..

See what I am shooting
Sustain focus
Not have a flat battery

Having any camera system where I cannot do these basics, seems, flawed, unusable

A viewable in daylight monitor is something I guess you will want, and one of those could be $2k at least

Now, focus, with 2/3 chip cameras you may blag focus, maybe even with an AF100, but, IMO if you are going down the large sensor route you are going to need a follow focus and the one I have cost $2k and frankly is not much good (unsuprising when a proper focus solution cost up of $10k)

And power, I spent up of $1.5k on Vlock batteries and dual charger , and custom cabling to make it all work

Just saying I dont think 'scrape together (funds)' and steadicam should really go in the same sentance

You end up frustrated, or trading up at a loss in a very short time..

Of course if you a buying a rig to learn and do a few indypop vids, you will be fine with any rig, but if you take a shilling, even on a low grade corporate*, then focus, composition and not conking out become the acceptable minimums.. IMO

* in fact a lograde corporate can be most challenging and least forgiving, as the client may be clueless to the cost and complexity of high level Steadicam work

S

Edited by Sam Morgan Moore, 01 July 2012 - 07:33 AM.

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#8 Sarah Thompson

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Posted 01 July 2012 - 11:53 AM

My newb journey.

Steadicam is shockingly expensive.

My pilot now cost me way more than $6k!

To me doing any form of camera operation (sticks, rig, whatever) I want to do three things..

See what I am shooting
Sustain focus
Not have a flat battery

Having any camera system where I cannot do these basics, seems, flawed, unusable

A viewable in daylight monitor is something I guess you will want, and one of those could be $2k at least

Now, focus, with 2/3 chip cameras you may blag focus, maybe even with an AF100, but, IMO if you are going down the large sensor route you are going to need a follow focus and the one I have cost $2k and frankly is not much good (unsuprising when a proper focus solution cost up of $10k)

And power, I spent up of $1.5k on Vlock batteries and dual charger , and custom cabling to make it all work

Just saying I dont think 'scrape together (funds)' and steadicam should really go in the same sentance

You end up frustrated, or trading up at a loss in a very short time..

Of course if you a buying a rig to learn and do a few indypop vids, you will be fine with any rig, but if you take a shilling, even on a low grade corporate*, then focus, composition and not conking out become the acceptable minimums.. IMO

* in fact a lograde corporate can be most challenging and least forgiving, as the client may be clueless to the cost and complexity of high level Steadicam work

S


So current plan is, pick up a Provid for ~$4k-ish, Batteries & charger for ~1k, Marshall 6.5" daylight viewable HDSDI monitor for ~2k, spend another ~1k on parts (electronics, metal stock, fasteners, tooling etc), and commit to spending some machine shop time fabricating a monitor/battery rail system for the bottom of the sled, replacing the existing housing and making it possible to dynamically balance the sled. I also intend to make my own wireless follow focus, but I already have most of the parts for that.

The wireless FF design goes basically as follows. The motor will be a Dynamixel servomotor, basically a digital servo with a serial interface and the ability to tweak the parameters of its internal PID controller loop. This will drive a largeish drive gear, mostly because the servo is limited to a 300 degree range. These servos are powerful, fast, extremely accurate and don't use much power. This will be rail mounted and adjustable in 2 axes for fit to particular lenses. For my prototype I am intending to use a single square section rail, mounted from the top of the camera, for light weight and torsional rigidity and also to help maintain a less skewed lateral balance by having most of the mass directly above the centre line of the sled. This will also allow the camera to be mounted directly to the sled, keeping the CG lower. Control for the servo will come from a small box containing an Arduino Uno microcontroller and an Xbee radio module. The remote will basically consist of a second Arduino Uno/Xbee and a follow focus knob attached to a high linearity analog potentiometer. My intention is to have the box at the camera end implement some setup logic where the servo goes into low speed low torque mode and hunts for the hard stops at both ends of the lens's focus range, then maps this to the full range of the potentiometer on the remote. Distance wise, this should manage about 300 feet with line of sight, 100 feet without it. This basic design should be good enough, I think. My only concern is that the AX25 servo I have currently might not drive a really stiff lens, but Dynamixel make some extremely badass bigger servos that wouldn't have any difficulty at the cost of a bit more weight. Making something with a smaller drive gear that looks more like a commercial system would be doable, but sufficiently fiddly that I would be happy to live with the big drive gear. I can make it out of Delrin, so it won't weigh much anyway.
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#9 Sam Morgan Moore

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Posted 01 July 2012 - 04:52 PM

Well If you have all those skills then it should work out

I was just cautioning the to money pit this can become

My error was to stretch myself kitting up - really I should not have bought a rig at all and just bought the crXp you need to keep doing corporates.. more lavs, and more lights, then earned till I could afford a proper rig

By the time I had bought all that .. and got a half usable rig Id cleaned myself out :)

S
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#10 Janice Arthur

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 08:51 AM

Sam;

Couple of assumptions you made that you can work around.

1) you should modify a pilot-don't!
2) Its not worth it and not for what you are trying to do with it.
3) Don't change the monitor, again not worth the money.
4) Seldom are you outside very much and you can figure out with a shade or positioning to see some kind of an image then when you put the rig on the stand playback the good takes and make sure they're find from the camera lcd which you can see.
5) Follow focus again clearly needed in a perfect world but either make the shots work for the rig without it or don't take those jobs. I have a pilot and when it comes to shallow DOF cameras I either say no or that you can get pieces of those shots for editing. Corporates are usually pretty bright and usually pretty wide. Your operating also gets better, if you have to stay 6 feet from someone to keep it in focus then you learn to do it, without even mentioning it to the director.

6) Don't get disheartened, what I have learned is it takes you down toward your whole demeanor and you start with what you can't do instead of what you can't. Most of your dilemas have been struggled through by every operator here; it doesn't end just because you buy a bigger rig and spend more money on gear.

Good luck.

Janice
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#11 Sam Morgan Moore

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 02:33 PM

Sam;

Couple of assumptions you made that you can work around.

1) you should modify a pilot-don't!


Ive done all of these mods already!

Im very happy that I have a cool rig now - just I went way over budget - luckily I had that budget and was not 'scratching around'

I love my Transvid monitor, its got further uses for me for example as a remote monitor on various cranes, car rigs and other stuff I dabble in and should last for ever

And I also love that Ive bought into Vlock - which power my handheld/sticks rig too and are compatible with LED lamps if I go that route at any time

Unlike a lot of newbs (maybe) I have professional standards for any work I do; in terms of kit - screen dazzle, flat batteries, fuzzy shots, and the like do not fit my work ethic (however newb an operator I may be)

Achieving those (technical) standards on a rig was tough

Focus, the game has kind of moved, I now have an FS100, not a DSLR, which has auto focus which is excellent within its limits (ie the simple shots I would attempt)

I would not buy a radio focus again with todays technology (at my budget level)

As a small camera zealot - I think big cameras are yesterdays tech - I hope I can stick with the Pilot for a while.. remember the BMD camera be near an Alexa and will be easy Pilot material

Small camera are actually super exiting (witness Tango) in that 5 years ago people like me could not have touched a lot of shots that excite us; be that Steadicam or vehicle mounts

As for how well a low inertia rig can be operated - even by the best - thats probably for another thread.. as is the financial implications with the low entry wall to the gear..

Best wishes

SamMM
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#12 Sarah Thompson

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 05:36 PM

Focus, the game has kind of moved, I now have an FS100, not a DSLR, which has auto focus which is excellent within its limits (ie the simple shots I would attempt)

I would not buy a radio focus again with todays technology (at my budget level)

As a small camera zealot - I think big cameras are yesterdays tech - I hope I can stick with the Pilot for a while.. remember the BMD camera be near an Alexa and will be easy Pilot material

Small camera are actually super exiting (witness Tango) in that 5 years ago people like me could not have touched a lot of shots that excite us; be that Steadicam or vehicle mounts

As for how well a low inertia rig can be operated - even by the best - thats probably for another thread.. as is the financial implications with the low entry wall to the gear..


Yes, all good points, I think. The Provid I'm most likely buying is a heavier weight class, more like the current Zephyr, which was a conscious choice. I think the AF100 is a bit heavier than the FS100 by default (probably the same if you take the handles off), but I didn't want to be jamming up against the top end of the weight limit on the rig. I'd like to be able to experiment with antlers, etc., even gyros. As for focus, all reasonable points. If push comes to shove, I could probably get away with using my old HMC150 on some shots. I'm actually not a huge fan of shallow DOF anyway -- my stills photographic influences were not at all in that direction (I'm a huge f/64 group fan). If I can get enough light, I'd far rather shoot at f/8 or f/11 than at f/1.4, but this really is quite a different aesthetic to what seems to be popular these days. It makes composition way more critical, for sure -- you can't rely on just throwing the background out of focus, so it has to formally be part of the composition. Overdone, I think it can pull you out of the experience (some of Barry Lyndon does that to me), but got right it can be awesome. To use a couple more Kubrick examples, The Shining (of course), and Clockwork Orange really nail it, for me anyway.

I'll most likely heavily modify the Provid, partly because I just can (and tend to have fun doing that kind of thing), and partly to get it doing what I want.
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#13 Jess Haas SOC

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 12:56 AM

So current plan is, pick up a Provid for ~$4k-ish, Batteries & charger for ~1k, Marshall 6.5" daylight viewable HDSDI monitor for ~2k, spend another ~1k on parts (electronics, metal stock, fasteners, tooling etc), and commit to spending some machine shop time fabricating a monitor/battery rail system for the bottom of the sled, replacing the existing housing and making it possible to dynamically balance the sled. I also intend to make my own wireless follow focus, but I already have most of the parts for that.

If your sled comes with a working monitor I would wait on upgrading it. Also don't worry about dynamic balance. If the sled works then spend time using it before you go changing things otherwise you won't know what your needs really are. That said the Marshall monitor is great especially for the price.

The wireless FF design goes basically as follows. The motor will be a Dynamixel servomotor, basically a digital servo with a serial interface and the ability to tweak the parameters of its internal PID controller loop. This will drive a largeish drive gear, mostly because the servo is limited to a 300 degree range. These servos are powerful, fast, extremely accurate and don't use much power.

Ditch the servos and use either an optical encoder(like current digital focus motors) or a decent potentiometer(like analog focus motors). The servos seem like they will make life easier but everyone who tries this seems to ditch them in the end so save yourself some time.

If there is anyway you can I highly recommend buying a used bartech system instead of making your own. A wireless follow focus is one of those things that seems simple but always seems to turn into a much bigger project with mostly questionable results.

This will be rail mounted and adjustable in 2 axes for fit to particular lenses. For my prototype I am intending to use a single square section rail, mounted from the top of the camera, for light weight and torsional rigidity and also to help maintain a less skewed lateral balance by having most of the mass directly above the centre line of the sled.

Screw engineering concerns, go with a standard. Turn that square rail down to a 15mm rod (you can keep part of it square for mounting to the camera). When an idiot AC sets your wireless follow focus down on the ground and it gets run over by a truck you need to be able to mount someone elses wireless follow focus to your camera in a hurry.

~Jess
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#14 Nicholas Davidoff

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 11:10 AM

I think the key perspective here Sarah is not what rig should you buy for 8K, but what your real goals are, both long and short term. Do you plan to be a professional, working camera operator in the next few years, or are you content with this as a hobby, filming student short films or your freind's weddings. If it's the latter, then the little pilot or scout or whatever will suit you just fine. But certainly don't expect to get any high or even medium pay jobs with this piece of equipment. Having been a working operator for the past few years, I can guarantee you, nobody will take you seriously with this little piece of gear. If it's just a stepping stone to a larger rig, something to hone your skills, then fine, I guess it's a start. But to enter a professional level you will need to invest in your business a rock bottom minimum of 50-60K, and that's for a beat uo, ghetto, minimal full size rig with essential accessories. So prepare yourself for this if you intend to do this professionally someday. You cannot expect to book any decent paying jobs with a flyer/pilot/scout/jr, etc. Pro cameras are NOT getting smaller and not getting lighter. I've heard many stories from DP's who hired a steadicam operator who showed up to work with a mini rig. Needless to say, their number was deleted from that DP's phone. Don't know your market, but nowadays, there are so many people with "rigs" and the rates are so competitive, it's harder than ever to break through and make a career out of it. Keep all this in mind and plan ahead with your budget. You will very quickly outgrow that little rig and will reach a crossroad wether to move up to a bigger rig, or give up on steadi and dump that flyer that's not bringing in any return. Just some advice from a working operator.

Oh and by the way, building your own wireless follow focus: Bad, bad, bad, bad idea. Even if you do succeed at creating something that actually functions in the real world (i.e. long range, through walls, extreme weather, etc), NOBODY will take a homebuilt follow focus seriously. This is a joke, I can assure you. Redrock is currently designing something that'll cost a couple grand, but anything less than a Bartech is money in the trash.

I wish the good people of this forum were a little more honest and realistic when giving advice. It would save many aspiring operators alot of money and heartbreak.
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#15 Sam Morgan Moore

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 11:23 AM

Pro cameras are NOT getting smaller and not getting lighter.


Nick I dont want to derail Sarahs equiries maybe you would comment? http://www.steadicam...showtopic=16298
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