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Steadicam Pilot for the HV20?


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#1 David Twelves

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Posted 03 November 2008 - 10:36 PM

I'm a hobby user with a Canon HV20 MiniDV camcorder and I'm extremely interested in Steadicams - and I'm looking for some recommendations! I really enjoy the HV20 and love the picture quality, but I want to improve my freehand footage. I currently have a Poor Man's Steadycam and finish my stabilization in post-production using the Smoothcam filter in Final Cut Pro. It's very time-consuming and doesn't give me results quite as nice as a real Steadicam :D

After doing some research, the Steadicam Pilot, Arm, and Vest look like an awesome combination. I've been reading through the forum here and reading and watching reviews of various steadycam systems online and it's only gotten more confusing the more I delve into it :rolleyes: I like the Steadicam because the the footage looks great and it looks like a well-designed system you can wear for hours on end. It has a vest, arm, and a highly adjustable Steadicam (at least compared to my Poor Man's Steadycam!). Here are some of the clips I was looking at:

http://www.macvideo....rticleid=100761





It looks like a really amazing system - a comfortable, slim vest, an adjustable arm, tweakable for upgrades, etc. Currently I just use the HV20 with a Rode VideoMic, but I'm gradually upgrading my system. My planned upgrades include an MCETech QuickstreamHDV (Firewire Hard Drive recorder), a Cinevate Brevis35 35mm system, and a 7" LCD preview monitor. I'd like to be able to use it with just the camera, and also along with the accessories.

So if you don't mind cutting a newbie some slack and answering some questions, I'd love to hear what everyone thinks! Also, is a 35mm system with a Follow Focus usable on a Steadicam?
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#2 Jess Haas SOC

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Posted 03 November 2008 - 11:42 PM

The pilot is a great little rig that will work great with your HV20 after a lot of practice. Taking a workshop would be a great investment. Even adding some accessories should be doable as long as you don't go crazy.

As far as the 35mm adapters go in order to pull focus you are going to need a remote of some sort as using a traditional follow focus will not work. A BFD(http://www.bartechengineering.com/) is really the way to go but that will set you back close to 5 grand. You could of course rent one when you need it. The other option is just to use really wide lenses stopped down a good ways so that you don't need to pull focus.

~Jess
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#3 Charles Papert

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Posted 04 November 2008 - 05:48 AM

The Pilot is my favorite "little" rig (you can read my review on it here). Whereas a bare HV20 is a bit undersized for it, you can always add weights to the top stage to bring it into a more happy place and with the fully-loaded setup you describe, you should be in good shape.
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#4 David Twelves

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Posted 04 November 2008 - 09:32 AM

The pilot is a great little rig that will work great with your HV20 after a lot of practice. Taking a workshop would be a great investment. Even adding some accessories should be doable as long as you don't go crazy.

As far as the 35mm adapters go in order to pull focus you are going to need a remote of some sort as using a traditional follow focus will not work. A BFD(http://www.bartechengineering.com/) is really the way to go but that will set you back close to 5 grand. You could of course rent one when you need it. The other option is just to use really wide lenses stopped down a good ways so that you don't need to pull focus.

~Jess


I directed the question about the Remote Follow Focus over to the Cinevate forums - if they release a remote with their upcoming system, that'd be really great since it's already optimized to work with the Brevis. As far as focus goes, as a hobby user I'd probably go with a couple fast zoom lenses like a 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 - one for close shots and one for far shots. Having a zoom would be really convenient because I wouldn't have to be constantly switching lenses. However, I'll have to see how much light loss there would be in a zoom vs. say an f/1.4 prime, since it's going from the HV20 to the Brevis35 adapter to the lens.

Also, does the Pilot come with it's own Preview Monitor? I ask because MP3Car has released a really great little LCD that I'm dying to get my hands on. It's a 7" LCD with VGA input and features an LED-backlight along with a special Transflective coating for outdoor viewing.

http://store.mp3car....b_p/mon-052.htm

Some videos of it in action:





http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQuD84sF9wk

It does have a glossy surface, but the newest model is LED-backlit and looks like it can overcome any outdoor glare issues because of the brightness:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-6MVy5Fw7o

That seems like it would be a killer monitor to pair with a Steadicam rig!

Edited by David Twelves, 04 November 2008 - 09:36 AM.

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#5 David Twelves

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Posted 04 November 2008 - 10:00 AM

The Pilot is my favorite "little" rig (you can read my review on it here). Whereas a bare HV20 is a bit undersized for it, you can always add weights to the top stage to bring it into a more happy place and with the fully-loaded setup you describe, you should be in good shape.


That's good to know, thanks for the awesome review! B) Your footage makes me grin...it just looks so good! :D It seems like the Pilot is a very mature product...comfortable vest, lots of evolutionary Steadicam features incorporated, a training DVD, and even a nice backpack to put it all in. I love it when a company takes the time to take care of their customers and pay attention to the little details that makes products nice to use and own! I see that you can get the Pilot with the 5.8" monitor or the Co-pilot with the 3.5" monitor...with the creative use of weights, do you think it would be possible to mount that 7" monitor from MP3Car I linked above? Or am I better off sticking with their stock system?

Yeah, it's definitely not that the HV20 is heavy - it's so small and light that I could hold it by hand all day - but just being able to get awesome-quality shots with the Steadicam system is what makes me interested in the Pilot. Ideally I'd like to be able to use it with a basic setup (HV20, VideoMic, QuickstreamHDV) and then with a heavier 35mm setup (HV20, VideoMic, QuickstreamHDV, Rails, Brevis35 with lens, Remote Follow Focus), and since the Pilot can take up to 10 pounds it seems like the one to get. I'm also interested in the upcoming Scarlet digital camcorder from Red, so hopefully that fits within the Pilot's constraints as well (November 13th can't come soon enough!).
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#6 Dave Gish

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Posted 04 November 2008 - 03:14 PM

Yeah, it's definitely not that the HV20 is heavy - it's so small and light that I could hold it by hand all day - but just being able to get awesome-quality shots with the Steadicam system is what makes me interested in the Pilot. Ideally I'd like to be able to use it with a basic setup (HV20, VideoMic, QuickstreamHDV) and then with a heavier 35mm setup (HV20, VideoMic, QuickstreamHDV, Rails, Brevis35 with lens, Remote Follow Focus), and since the Pilot can take up to 10 pounds it seems like the one to get.

It sounds like you may want the Steadicam Flyer LE. The 10 pound weight limit includes the battery, weights, camera, and anything else you add (lens adapter, follow focus, rails, etc). The Pilot is much better with some weights at the bottom, and the battery weighs about 3/4 pound, so I would say you want to keep everything on top around 8 pounds max.

Adding a lens adapter to a steadicam is not trivial. In order to do this you will need:
1) A lens adapter and 35mm lenses (obvious)
2) A really good wireless follow focus system ($4K and up)
3) Another person to pull focus
4) Lots of custom cables

I'm also interested in the upcoming Scarlet digital camcorder from Red, so hopefully that fits within the Pilot's constraints as well (November 13th can't come soon enough!).

You may want to wait until after the Scarlet is announced to make your decision, and then add up the weight of all the accessories. For example, the Red One camera body weighs only 10 pounds, but typical Red One setups weigh 20-35 pounds with the accessories.

In any case, the $500 two-day steadicam workshop is a great way to start. They provide you with the steadicam rigs for training, and you'll get to use both the Pilot and Flyer.
http://www.thesteadi...grams2Day.shtml
http://www.thesteadi.../schedule.shtml

For more info on the Steadicam Pilot, check out the DVinfo
http://www.dvinfo.ne...-steadicam-etc/
and my Q & A
http://www.dvinfo.ne...-started-q.html

If you buy the Pilot, and want to be able to fly without the lens adapter, make sure to buy 8 extra weights:
http://www.bhphotovi...nce_Weight.html

Edited by Dave Gish, 04 November 2008 - 03:18 PM.

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#7 Charles Papert

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Posted 04 November 2008 - 03:22 PM

I would imagine that by the time Scarlet actually is available, there will be other stabilizer choices including those from Tiffen that will complement that camera. Just because RED announces it, doesn't make it an immediate reality.
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#8 David Twelves

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Posted 05 November 2008 - 12:39 AM

Adding a lens adapter to a steadicam is not trivial. In order to do this you will need:
1) A lens adapter and 35mm lenses (obvious)
2) A really good wireless follow focus system ($4K and up)
3) Another person to pull focus
4) Lots of custom cables


If you don't mind pandering to an admitted newbie, can you explain pulling focus? I don't quite have my head wrapped around it...I did some googling and from what I understand, it's the trick of focusing on a subject and then refocusing on another subject. Now, can't you do that by just looking at the preview monitor? Or is the preview monitor not detailed enough to get accurate Full-HD (1080p) focus? My only "adjustable lens" experience is with 35mm SLR lenses on a dSLR camera, which I focus either manually by hand or using auto-focus. With those, all I have to do is peer through the viewfinder, make sure the subject is in focus, and then snap the shot. It seems like I could just follow the subject around and adjust the follow focus by hand if I had a remote model via the preview screen. But then, I've never done it before so I'm open to getting some education here :)

I saw a movie called "Hancock" this past summer where Will Smith played a bum superhero and notice that a LOT of shots were out of focus - noticeabley out of focus. Was this issue caused by not properly pulling focus?
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#9 David Twelves

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Posted 05 November 2008 - 12:40 AM

I would imagine that by the time Scarlet actually is available, there will be other stabilizer choices including those from Tiffen that will complement that camera. Just because RED announces it, doesn't make it an immediate reality.


That's okay, I'm on a hobbyist budget so it actually works out just fine :lol:
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#10 David Twelves

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Posted 05 November 2008 - 12:45 AM

It sounds like you may want the Steadicam Flyer LE. The 10 pound weight limit includes the battery, weights, camera, and anything else you add (lens adapter, follow focus, rails, etc). The Pilot is much better with some weights at the bottom, and the battery weighs about 3/4 pound, so I would say you want to keep everything on top around 8 pounds max.

Adding a lens adapter to a steadicam is not trivial. In order to do this you will need:
1) A lens adapter and 35mm lenses (obvious)
2) A really good wireless follow focus system ($4K and up)
3) Another person to pull focus
4) Lots of custom cables


Based on this information, it sounds like I would be better off completely avoiding a lens adapter on the Steadicam altogether. It sounds like a lot of hassle and difficulty. Plus I don't see too many shots where it looks like one is being used - most of the shots I see (on TV at least) look like Charles' sample here:

Posted Image

Nice and clear, with the subject and everything else in perfect focus.

In any case, the $500 two-day steadicam workshop is a great way to start. They provide you with the steadicam rigs for training, and you'll get to use both the Pilot and Flyer.
http://www.thesteadi...grams2Day.shtml
http://www.thesteadi.../schedule.shtml

For more info on the Steadicam Pilot, check out the DVinfo
http://www.dvinfo.ne...-steadicam-etc/
and my Q & A
http://www.dvinfo.ne...-started-q.html

If you buy the Pilot, and want to be able to fly without the lens adapter, make sure to buy 8 extra weights:
http://www.bhphotovi...nce_Weight.html


Wow awesome, thanks for all the links! The workshop looks like a lot of fun. Think they'd mind a wannabe filmmaker with a toy camera? ;)
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#11 Dave Gish

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Posted 05 November 2008 - 01:11 AM

If you don't mind pandering to an admitted newbie, can you explain pulling focus? I don't quite have my head wrapped around it...I did some googling and from what I understand, it's the trick of focusing on a subject and then refocusing on another subject. Now, can't you do that by just looking at the preview monitor? Or is the preview monitor not detailed enough to get accurate Full-HD (1080p) focus? My only "adjustable lens" experience is with 35mm SLR lenses on a dSLR camera, which I focus either manually by hand or using auto-focus. With those, all I have to do is peer through the viewfinder, make sure the subject is in focus, and then snap the shot. It seems like I could just follow the subject around and adjust the follow focus by hand if I had a remote model via the preview screen. But then, I've never done it before so I'm open to getting some education here :)

I saw a movie called "Hancock" this past summer where Will Smith played a bum superhero and notice that a LOT of shots were out of focus - noticeabley out of focus. Was this issue caused by not properly pulling focus?

Most video cameras are made so that everything is is focus. In other words, they have a large depth of field (DOF). The main purpose of a lens adapter is to provide a shallow DOF with a video camera.

In still photography and feature films, a shallow DOF is used to guide the viewers attention to a specific subject. In feature films, there is a dedicated assistant cameraman (AC) that is in charge of keeping the focus as the distance from the camera to the subject changes. A good AC can keep focus by simply eyeballing the distance from the lens to the subject, but many also measure the distance during rehearsals. This is how they did it in the old days, and is still prevalent today. An SD monitor is usually not detailed enough to pull focus for HD or film. On a tripod, an AC generally uses a whip to pull focus, but on a steadicam you need a wireless solution.

Now the subjective part. I believe that for no/low budget stuff, a shallow DOF is not absolutely required for steadicam. The movement of the shot is often enough to guide the viewer's attention. Please don't flame me - just my opinion. On sticks, a shallow DOF makes sense, and it's possible for one person to work the camera and pull focus. But for steadicam, a shallow DOF makes the whole process much more complicated. There have been some A/B comparisons with/without lens adapters, and besides a little less light (which can be iris compensated), there is little or no difference besides the DOF. So my opinion is that you can mix footage with and without a lens adapter for no/low budget projects.

If you are not going to fly a lens adapter on a steadicam, then the Pilot should be fine. In any case, the 2-day workshop is an excellent investment.

Hope this helps.
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#12 David Twelves

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Posted 05 November 2008 - 01:19 AM

If you buy the Pilot, and want to be able to fly without the lens adapter, make sure to buy 8 extra weights:
http://www.bhphotovi...nce_Weight.html


Awesome Q&A thread, thanks for posting so much detailed info on the Pilot! Just to sum things up:

Steadicam Pilot Kit:
[ ] Steadicam Pilot-AA (including Arm & Vest) * AA model for battery convenience
[ ] 8 Extra Weights
[ ] SteadiStand
[ ] Slotted Screwdriver
[ ] Additional 10 AA plastic battery holders
[ ] Addtional screw-on middle weights
[ ] EPP Training DVD
[ ] Steadicam Mini Low-Mode F-Bracket
[ ] Steadicam Mini Low-Mode Kit w/ F-Bracket and Handle Clamp

Steadicam Pilot Training:
[ ] Review prep materials (howto video, quickstart guide, and arm & vest quickstart guide)
[ ] Watch the Tiffen Training DVD
[ ] Follow your Steadicam arrival checklist to get it setup initially
[ ] Take the training workshop at Tiffin
[ ] Practice, practice, practice!

Anything I'm missing? And one question, what's the difference between the Low-Mode F-Bracket and the Low-Mode kit with the F-Bracket and Handle Clamp? Are both needed or does the latter simply add a handle clamp to the F-Bracket?

Although I'm a hobby user, this is a pretty serious investment of both time and money, especially as it is a personal purchase and will cost more than my last car did, lol. I have several projects in mind and it would also be nice to act as a videographer alongside my wife, who is a photographer that occasionally does weddings. I really love my little HV20 and it's perfect for what I do with it both now and for many future projects that I'd like to pursue. I have a big project that I'd like to do later in 2009 that involves documenting the building of a homebuilt aircraft, and I think the Steadicam Pilot will give me exactly the kind of shots I want - gliding around the aircraft as it's built up, flying around following the builders, recording how to do building techniques, etc. Moving in 3D space, smoothly, would just add so much more dimension to the project. Having never done any kind of Steadicam work aside from with my $14 Poor Man's Steadycam before, how long should I expect before I get reasonably professional results? A few months with daily use? Also, is there a reference for common Steadicam shots somewhere that are used on film I can review and practice?

Totally unrelated, but has anyone worked with mounts onboard aircraft before? I've seen some gryo kits for stabilization and remote tilt/pan movements, but they mostly seem oriented towards larger cameras...

Edited by David Twelves, 05 November 2008 - 01:19 AM.

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#13 Dave Gish

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Posted 05 November 2008 - 01:36 AM

Steadicam Pilot Kit:
[ ] 8 Extra Weights
...
[ ] Addtional screw-on middle weights

these are the same thing.

Steadicam Pilot Kit:
[ ] Steadicam Mini Low-Mode F-Bracket
[ ] Steadicam Mini Low-Mode Kit w/ F-Bracket and Handle Clamp

You don't need either of these. I don't have them. If you can flip the image in your editor without any quality issues, then you don't need the handle clamp. If you wan't your low-mode shots to be 8" lower, get the Low-Mode F-Bracket.

Although I'm a hobby user, this is a pretty serious investment of both time and money,

I don't want to scare you off, but the investment in time is considerable. It will take weeks or months for your steadicam shots to look really good. Not for the faint-hearted. It's a lot of fun learning though!

Edited by Dave Gish, 05 November 2008 - 01:37 AM.

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#14 Dave Gish

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Posted 05 November 2008 - 08:01 AM

The workshop looks like a lot of fun. Think they'd mind a wannabe filmmaker with a toy camera? ;)

The 2-day workshop is a lot of fun, and they would welcome you as a wannabe filmmaker with a toy camera. The people in my class all came from very different backgrounds, but we were all basically starting out with Steadicam, so that gave us something in common. I wouldn't be surprised if there are other people like you in your class.

The 5-day workshop seems to be a different thing. I've heard of some newbies in there, but many have more experience. They fly the heavy rigs, and it looks like the general focus is to become a professional steadicam operator for hire.
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#15 Dave Gish

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Posted 05 November 2008 - 08:21 AM

Also, is there a reference for common Steadicam shots somewhere that are used on film I can review and practice?

The Flyer manual has a section with excercises for common moves and postions. The second half of the EFP training DVD goes into a lot more detail. Info on both in my Q&A.
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