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Did I start on the wrong side?


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#1 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 08 December 2007 - 12:15 PM

Hello everyone

Some months ago I bought the Glidecam Smooth Shooter with the 4000 Pro post. At the time I didn't have the knowledge base around steadicam as I do now, but I have to confess a stabiliser at the price of the SS was quite tempting comparing to those of other companies such as Tiffen's. My camera is a JVC GY-HD 100 and I bought the stabilizer mainly to work with this certain camcorder.

Here's where troubles begin. Since I bought my rig I practised and practised and practised... I also tried it on several shots trying to keep the frame as accurate as possible. At first I was very disappointed by the outcome, which was only natural, considering that "because you buy it, doesn't mean you fly it". I totally understand that.

What's absolutely unatural, though, is that even after several months of practising and several shots, the outcome is still unacceptable from my point of view. My main and biggest problem is that this certain stabilizer is irritatingly touch-sensitive! OK, I understand the manual says that the center-post should only be handled with fingertips but I swear to God it feels as even by... blowing on the post, it will lose its dynamic balance... I've spent hours with this rig and I really don't think its my skills to blame. It's just too light! I've tried adding and removing weight, adjusting and re-adjusting drop time, tightening and loosening arm tension, I move like a.... ballerine and still sooo much sensitivity is practically "killing" every shot I make. Oh, and I don't even begin to think about shooting with a cable atttached.

What I'm trying to say here, keeping it brief, is that inertia is a big case with this piece of equipment. Also, there are a lot of other issues, such as balancing, in which fine tuning is a nightmare with this set of 8 screws (4 to the side, 4 to the bottom). So I am asking it straight forward: Did I buy a piece of crap? Please be absolutely honest. It is just not good for a stabilizer to be so motion-sensitive. I wish I had the chance to test my camcorder on a bigger rig to compare, but I don't.

So, should I just sell it and move on to buy something else, perhaps heavier? If even the slightest touch has so much of an impact on balance, I wonder how I'll ever be able to follow a moving or even a running person... Please, be very very objective.
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#2 Mike McGowan SOC

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Posted 08 December 2007 - 03:28 PM

I don't know that particular stabilizer and I haven't seen you operate but I can throw in my 2 cents.

Some, if not all of this you have already done so if thats the case, I'm not sure what to say...

First, balance the rig. With the rig on the stand (on the gimbal), the whole thing should sit perfectly level. When tilting the camera 90 degrees, it should fall to level (straight up and down) in about 3 seconds (some go with as little as 1 second some as much as 5 or 6) but 3 is a good number to play around with.

Next, pick the rig up with the arm. The arm should be adjusted so it sits perfectly level to the ground (again, some go up some go down but level is a good starting point).

Now, Putting your hand on the gimbal (not on the post) {and were talking about the hand that is on the same side as the arm}, you should be able to move the rig up and down, left and right without the camera or the monitor moving much.

The operating part is just your other hand (the one not on the side of the arm) doing very subtle movements to pan, tilt and possibly dutch.


So, if you have done all that and practiced a bunch and are still not happy with the results, I would suggest taking one of the workshops. Most steadicam operators have taken at least one and they will help a great deal.

As for the specific rig, I cannot comment as I don't know anything about it other than the assumption that an experienced steadicam operator could probably make it work great. I'm guessing it's probably operator error.

mm.
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#3 Amando Crespo

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Posted 08 December 2007 - 10:21 PM

Hi Themis.... I can understand you... You said that you practice a lot...But.... your practices are in right way?. Working with stabilizers (small), you can get so many troubles, because (Glidecam Smooth Shooter ) they have not the precission of other gears. The wind, just your hand,...others... can do your sistem get inapropiate movements. You can send a demo reel or the link in youtoube, and we can help you. But... try work with exercices and shoots to practice in right way.
Best regards
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#4 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 09 December 2007 - 05:20 AM

Mike and Amando

Thanks a lot for your immediate responses, that I strongly appreciate, as always. Well, I can't say I haven't tried all these things you mentioned over and over again. As for the comment that "an experienced operator would make it work great", I wouldn't be so sure about that, Mike. Most operators get an actual grip on their center post, so I only have to guess that fingertip control would be a nightmare to them.

For the workshop issue: I also think it's a very good idea, but from videos I've seen on the web, none of the rigs that the new operators exercise on is a Glidecam Smooth Shooter or even as light as that. I think that says something, don't you think? Just check www.glidecam.com and look for Smooth Shooter (X-10 arm not included) and let me know what you think.

OK, I think I'll take Amando's advice. Below, you'll find a link to a portion of a video I shot and edited 2 months ago, for a big hospital here in Greece, concerning the presentation of a new MRI department. THey wanted to present not only the machine but also the waiting room and the friendly environment. I only kept the steadi shots of the video and left the audio out to give you an idea. The hospital's marketing dept liked the whole video a lot and were actually especially impressed by the stability of the certain shots, which was good for me. But if you ask me I say these shots are unacceptable, even for commercial video. Thank God for dissolve in the editing procedure, it made me look a litle better :)

Anyway, check the link (it's better to download the file, the preview mode is bad) and if there's anyone who has actually worked with the Smooth Shooter, I'd be happy to hear from them.

Here it is

Steadishot

Thanks so much in advance

Edited by Themis Gyparis, 09 December 2007 - 05:21 AM.

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#5 Imran Naqvi

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Posted 09 December 2007 - 09:28 AM

Mike and Amando

Thanks a lot for your immediate responses, that I strongly appreciate, as always. Well, I can't say I haven't tried all these things you mentioned over and over again. As for the comment that "an experienced operator would make it work great", I wouldn't be so sure about that, Mike. Most operators get an actual grip on their center post, so I only have to guess that fingertip control would be a nightmare to them.


It might be worth checking out Mike's resume before you tell him what "actual operators do"

As a rule fingertips is right, a gorilla grip is the easiest way to mess up your shot. That's not to say there aren't times when it's neccesary, but more often than not, the lighter the touch the better.

As for light rigs, having flown the Pilot, and the Flyer but with no experience of your rig I know you can produce some very very good shots with them. Whilst I don't love super light cameras, I've seen people pull off beautifully smooth shots with just a Merlin. The rig won't make you an operator, practice, hard work and a light touch might.

Ultimately the weight of the rig is all about the camera not the sled and arm and short of adding weight to the camera a big rig won't solve your problems with the inertia of your system.

Like everyone said, take a workshop, the techniques and principals are universal.
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#6 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 09 December 2007 - 11:59 AM

Well, Imran

If you had read my reply correctly, you'd have noticed that I never refered to Mike or anyone else by the term "actual operator". In fact I used the term "experienced operator", which I have no doubt that Mike is, something that I'm not so sure about you. That's because I believe that a true professional is a combination of someone who's very good at his work but also extremely unassertive as a person. Apart from the fact that Mike can speak out for himself, I'm sure he understood exactly how I meant what I said, which was in no way offensive, unlike your "advice" to check out Mike's resume, which I'm pretty certain is big... Is yours?

Also, I never assumed that a gorilla grip could ever be the way to handle a shot. I may have minimum knowledge and experience but I do know that. If you really wanted to offer some assistance you would do so by checking the link I placed and comment on it. Thanks for all your advices, but you haven't shed any light in the drakness, all you said I've heard before..

Finally, Mike, I'm sure you absolutely understood what I said. I'm just a nobody guy in the stabilizers area, trying to make his way through information like yours. Again I'm deeply grateful for that info and I hope I didn't offend you in any way.
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#7 Alec Jarnagin SOC

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Posted 09 December 2007 - 05:07 PM

Gentlemen,

Play nice - or play elsewhere. This thread has nothing that hasn't been discussed before so I promise you that I won't shed any tears if I delete it.

Themis, take a workshop. The best $2000 you can spend if you want to get into Steadicam. After you do this, you'll have a better idea of what is you and what is your gear.

Thanks,
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#8 Imran Naqvi

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Posted 09 December 2007 - 05:16 PM

Apologies Alec,

Too much work too little sleep. I'm obviously a touch cranky.
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#9 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 09 December 2007 - 06:13 PM

My apologies, too, Alec. Thanks for your advice. I hope I'll be able to find the time and, most important, the money for a workshop. Looking forward to the next post, with the wish that I'll have some progress to mention. C U all
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#10 James Blackburn

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 09:29 AM

Hi Thermis,

I have used the Smooth Shooter with the Canon XL-H1, I have to say it is quite time consuming balancing because of those thumb screws but once it was set it was not as bad as how you have described it being.
Maybe some footage of your operating style and balance setup might provide an insight.

As many have already mentioned if problems are still arising, try and get on a workshop.

James
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#11 Jerry Holway

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 10:07 AM

Thermis-

A friend of ours recently took a workshop. He was constantly complaining about his Glidecam vs. how nice a friend's high-end Steadicam® was.

After the workshop he found that he operated his Glidecam much much better.

You do get what you pay for.

A workshop will save you years of frustration (best Euros you'll ever spend).

BTW, Tiffen will soon re-release the complete 2 hour EFP Video Training Manual on DVD - (they found the original master tape!) and that may help in the meantime.

Check the Tiffen site in a few weeks for info.

Jerry
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#12 Fabrizio Sciarra SOC ACO

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 10:15 AM

Mike and Amando

Thanks a lot for your immediate responses, that I strongly appreciate, as always. Well, I can't say I haven't tried all these things you mentioned over and over again. As for the comment that "an experienced operator would make it work great", I wouldn't be so sure about that, Mike. Most operators get an actual grip on their center post, so I only have to guess that fingertip control would be a nightmare to them.

For the workshop issue: I also think it's a very good idea, but from videos I've seen on the web, none of the rigs that the new operators exercise on is a Glidecam Smooth Shooter or even as light as that. I think that says something, don't you think? Just check www.glidecam.com and look for Smooth Shooter (X-10 arm not included) and let me know what you think.

OK, I think I'll take Amando's advice. Below, you'll find a link to a portion of a video I shot and edited 2 months ago, for a big hospital here in Greece, concerning the presentation of a new MRI department. THey wanted to present not only the machine but also the waiting room and the friendly environment. I only kept the steadi shots of the video and left the audio out to give you an idea. The hospital's marketing dept liked the whole video a lot and were actually especially impressed by the stability of the certain shots, which was good for me. But if you ask me I say these shots are unacceptable, even for commercial video. Thank God for dissolve in the editing procedure, it made me look a litle better :)

Anyway, check the link (it's better to download the file, the preview mode is bad) and if there's anyone who has actually worked with the Smooth Shooter, I'd be happy to hear from them.

Here it is

Steadishot

Thanks so much in advance

Hey Themis,
I had a look at the video you've linked.
Let's keep it simple. Forget for a second dynamic balance (which i don't know if it is even possible to reach with your rig), and will affect your operating only in few circumstances (i.e. pans)
Once Static balance is reached, and with a reasonable dropping time, (your choice, but to keep it easy start with 2 sec) you should be able to get simple shot like the one in the video without too many troubles, let's say for example a straight forward walk.
Instead, what is showing in your shots looks like an overcontrol on a post that won't to be where you want to put it.
Again, that could be for many reason, like a non balanced sled, a too heavy touch, wrong movements of your spine transmitted to the sled and the list can go on and on and on.........
As all the other fellow ops suggests, if you go for a workshop, it will save your time and will gives you the basics to start up in the best way, avoiding mistakes that can be easily avoided with the proper knowledge; if you can't afford it, try to get in touch with an operator close to your place that will probably help giving you advices. All the sleds will moves if you blow on it, it has to be like that, the more the gimble is sensitive and friction free the better it is. The total weight of the unit has nothing to see with the correct balance of it, inertia will show up on starts and stops for example, but won't help you during a simple walk (think about all the owners of the little Merlin when you talk about weight).
Have you tryed to operate the sled without touching it? This will reveal a lot, if it's in correct static balance won't go anywhere.....in this way you'll discover quickly if it's your touch affecting the shot.
Don't give up, keep us informed on your improvements that undoubtely will comes with perseverance and practice.
Hope it helps
Fabrizio
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#13 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 02:37 PM

[/quote] Have you tryed to operate the sled without touching it? This will reveal a lot, if it's in correct static balance won't go anywhere.....in this way you'll discover quickly if it's your touch affecting the shot.
Don't give up, keep us informed on your improvements that undoubtely will comes with perseverance and practice. [/quote]

By far the best words I've heard in this forum! Many thanks are in order to each and every one of you who replied to this post, but Fabrizio must get a special credit for the warmth of his reply :) Well, neighbour :D (Greece, Italy and Egypt are really close geographically, right?) my intention is just that: to practise my best and as much as I can. I'll try re-balancing my system and give some shots without touching the post. If only I had the money to attend a workshop, but, unfortunately I can't afford it for the moment. I happen to have have a series of exercises on a Steadicam's leaflet (walking the line, over the shoulder, the switch, the reverse switch etc.) that I plan to work on as much as I can. I believe this will help in the long run.

As for your advice to contact an operator near me, Fabrizio, I actually did, long before I become a member to this forum. And you know what? I couldn't have made a better choice, because the guy I turned to for help, proved to be not only perhaps the best here in Greece (I'm sure and abroad considering he operated for several films in Europe and the States) but also a wonderful person, always there when his cell phone rang. We didn't know each other before but still we met a couple of times and we communicate frequently. It's just that I don't want to take advantage of his readiness to help or be a burden, because I know that he works a lot, and as such I often turn to this forum for answers.

Thanks again to all for everything, especially Fabrizio (you are certainly entering my friends list). I'll practice as much as possibe and hopefully get back with better results.

C U all soon
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#14 Jess Haas SOC

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Posted 10 December 2007 - 09:38 PM

If you can't afford one of the weeklong workshops then take one of the 2-day Flyer workshops. The workshop is much cheaper and since it is with a smaller rig it will be a bit more in line with the type of stuff you seem to be doing.

~Jess
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#15 Charles Papert

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Posted 11 December 2007 - 02:51 AM

Themis:

Wrote this post earlier today and forgot to send. A lot of this may now be redundant (several of my points were subsequently suggested by Fabrizio), but I'll post it anyway in case it helps.

I can offer my experience with this exact rig. A friend asked me to shoot a staged dance piece for him, there was some interesting lighting challenges so I gave him a day. He mentioned that he had just bought a Glidecam with the then-new Smooth Shooter and was bringing it along. I thus scheduled a few shots for it, and when I went to the other room to grab it, I discovered the rig still sealed in the box! Thus I had to build the whole enchilada from scratch and get it working as fast as possible. I mention this only because for most uninitiated to the Steadicam concept, this is a process that usually takes hours if not days of additional tweaking. Without referring to the instructions, I got it built, balanced and working in perhaps half-an-hour. Again, this is not any brilliance on my part, it's just plain familiarity with the functional concept (and I've seen the 4000 at trade shows so at least I knew what it looks like)!

So when it came to operating it, same thing--those used to the big rigs know that when they go to a smaller one, it's just a matter of dialing down the influence. One doesn't use any less fingers on the post of a Glidecam or Flyer/Pilot etc, you just modify your mental approach and the fingers will follow. The Merlin is the only rig I've used that requires a new way of thinking as you have such a tiny surface area to control.

How did I do with the Glidecam that day? I'd say OK--not as good as I would have in a Flyer or Pilot, because of the design limitations of the Glidecam. To answer your question, no, you didn't buy a piece of crap, because it is a system that is capable of producing smooth shots. It is in my opinion notably harder to do so than with the comparable Tiffen rigs, because the Glidecam gimbal and arm throw certain issues at one has to overcome to get the same results. If you were to spend enough hours in it with the right approach, you could probably get there (I say probably because one can also practice the cello for years and not sound like Yo-Yo Ma, or even Yo Mama).

I looked at your clip and it looks like you are overcontrolling the rig. I know you feel like it "has a mind of its own" but understand that it doesn't, it's attached to a piece of meat that is influencing it in ways that are hard to understand at first. The pitch of your hips can cause the rig to want to slide away from the body, which causes the operator to grab on to keep it from doing so--fine, except that should be the hand on the gimbal only and many will exert some sort of minute force also through the post hand, which enters into the shot as a blown horizon.

The best way to learn what the rig is doing vs what you are doing to it is to take a little walk with the rig holding only onto the gimbal, no hand on the post. You can start the shot off operating normally, then once you are proceeding at a standard pace slowly release all influence of the post hand. Focus instead on your gimbal hand--try to drive it in a straight line through space, both horizontally and vertically, without any jerking around or erratic behavior. Record a little of that walk. It's OK if the rig starts to pan off to one side or another (in fact that will tell you something about the build of the gimbal). Then record the same walk with your hand on the rig. If the earlier footage looks more smooth, you'll know exactly what you are adding in to screw it up! If that panning is occurring, you likely have a non-linear gimbal which are quite common with this model. Contact Glidecam support and let them know and they can walk you through it and hopefully send you shims, I hear that they do this.

As far as workshops, taking one of the two day Flyer workshops would both teach you the skill of controlling a very similar mass to the rig you own and also give you some insight into the differences between the way the rigs handle, and whether you should indeed jump ship.

Finally, blowing on a rig will not put a rig out of dynamic balance, or any balance. Stop blowing, and it will return to the same balanced state. Finding that state when the rig is at rest is a function of static balance. It's critical to understand how to statically balance your rig; dynamic balancing is more complicated (and it is in fact possible with your rig due to the moveable nature of the counterweight discs) but it is not an immediate concern for the issues you are experiencing. Just put equal stacks of washers the same distance from the post and you'll be fine for now.
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