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But What Good Would Practice DO....

merlin canon hfs30

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#1 tom edwards

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Posted 06 February 2014 - 07:20 PM

hello forum,

i am using a merlin 1 with a lightweight camera (canon hf s30).

i'm on day four and have made improvements but problems remain: at rest, the camera still sways like a fisherman's boat on a gentle sea and as i walk forward, the front of the camera wants to point back at me as if i'm the sun and it's the earth.


for what it's worth, i've read, re-read the manual, watched and watched again the dvd, and have scoured these forums and various videos online.


it seems the common thread of advice is to practice.


but herein lies the rub, if the setup is somehow incorrect, no amount of practice will help.


it's like improperly sighting-in a rifle. if the thing is askew, your shot will always be off. 


i am encouraged by the progress i've made, but the shots i am taking are still unacceptable. 


my camera with battery weighs 1.2 lbs.

i'm using hole M (despite the cookbook setting calling for G -- boy was that off).

i'm using a start weight for the front

a start and an end for the bottom.

stage mark is 4.2

arc is nearly wide open at 10.9

i'm at one thread (although the cookbook calls for 5). 


and i still don't know how to adjust vertical center of gravity (cookbook says 1.4").


i've really spent a lot of time experimenting with different arc settings, different stage marks, different dovetail holes, etc. and i'm even using two hands.


despite that, i still get the gentle boat sway and when i walk forward, the camera wants to turn towards me like it has a gravitational attraction to me.


any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


tom edwards

janesville, wi


ps -- i tried adding a rode videomic to the canon to add weight. it was simply too top-heavy (i have pulled up some wireless mic threads to see if there is an answer)









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#2 Kris Torch Wilson

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Posted 06 February 2014 - 07:58 PM

First off, congrats on realizing your operating is sub par. I'm not being a smart ass. Too many folks think that by simply strapping on a rig, they are steadicam operators. It's an incredibly difficult task and by being intellectually honest about your efforts, you have jumped hurdle one. Unfortunately I'm not sure the average person can (in a timely fashion) teach him/her self how to become a decent operator. We've beat it to death on this forum but here it is one more time. Go to a workshop or hire an experienced op who has teaching skills to teach you. To be honest, I have no idea what any of the instructions you quoted above mean. This "cookbook" you mention sounds confusing as hell. The simple fact that you said you've even tried using two hands suggests you need a workshop. Tiffin has one coming up, look under the 'workshops' thread. Robert Starling in conjunction with GPI offer workshops also. Being a steadi operator is an expensive proposition. You are doing yourself a disservice if you don't seek out professional training. There, you have my two cents worth, which when I started 32 years ago, could almost buy you a cup of coffee. Good luck.
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#3 tom edwards

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Posted 06 February 2014 - 09:05 PM


that's actually very good advice. I've been in touch with the folks at tiifen - they've been some help at least.

i believe a camera with more heft would probably help but it ain't happening at this moment.


as for help, i'm in wisconsin -- i'll seek someone out in milwaukee or chicago. (my wife always said i needed professional help)


thanks for weighing in on a topic that has truly been beaten to death.


tom edwards

janesville, wi


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#4 Ryan Brooks

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Posted 06 February 2014 - 10:10 PM

Hey Tom-

I too am a Steadicam operator from Wisconsin. Milwaukee in fact. I have taken two different workshops. One with Janice Arthur and one with Peter Abraham. Both excellent teachers and operators. I can't thank them both enough. Taking a workshop is the way to go to becoming a great operator. I'd take one a year if it was possible money wise. With that all being said I would definitely reach out to some of the Chicago Steadicam ops. I've met a few of them all very knowledgable. Otherwise when the weather warms up we might be able to get together. I've only been operating a couple years, so I don't think I'd be right for teaching. But I can help watching form if that would help. Safe flying.
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#5 Chris Van Campen

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 01:02 PM

Hi Tom - 
Believe it or not, getting the smaller rigs balanced and set up properly can be pretty frustrating. I used to use a JR years ago and once it was set up it would fly amazingly smoothly and predictably. 
Cookbook recommendations notwithstanding - you need to get your camera's center of gravity (CG) to be directly above the gimbal. That's step 1. That may be the hole they tell you to use and it may not. Use a pencil or something round under the camera (with the LCD in its shooting position!!) and mark the fore-aft and side-to-side positions, then try to get that lined up over the gimbal.
The next part is getting the drop time set up. Just like the big rigs, you want something with a 2-3 second drop time. If you come to a sudden stop and the bottom of the rig keeps going, then you need a slower drop (less weight, etc). 
The trick with a Merlin is that you have 2 things contributing to the drop - weights on the bottom and the arc setting. You're using a pretty light camera in the range of what the Merlin can handle, so I'm guessing the arc is going to be on the more "closed" end. Start at that end of the arc range and add weights until the drop is appropriate. 
As you mentioned, adding weight up top can help. However you have to completely change the arc setting, the CG/hole that you're using, and the weights on the bottom. I would generally recommend getting the camera/mic combo as close to the maximum weight that the Merlin can handle - it will help make the whole rig a lot more stable and predictable (once properly balanced of course). 
What you needed to do when you added the mic was to immediately add some weights on the bottom so that you can go back to step 1 - getting the camera/mic CG over the gimbal. Once you're centered up top, then you can start refining the drop until it starts behaving.
Hope this helps a bit - you can't really practice until the rig is properly set up!! :-)
Oh yeah, once you do get it working, make note of all the settings so you don't have to go through it all again...
Good luck!

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#6 tom edwards

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Posted 08 February 2014 - 01:46 AM

ryan, i get to milwaukee frequently (used to live in greendale). i'd pay good money for some in person training. 


chris, simply outstanding info, greatly appreciated.

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