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A "letter" of disappointment...


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#1 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 12:16 PM

Hello to everyone and a Happy New Year

It's been quite a while since I last posted here in the forum and I kind of missed it, considering I received great help and encouragement from some of you guys when I first decided to go into steadicam operation. After quite a long time of reading, learning, noticing and mainly practising, I felt the need to share with all of you a personal experience that - although it's silly to admit so - should have occured earlier.

I happen to own a Glidecam Smooth Shooter body-supported stabilizer, with a 4000 Pro post. I bought it about 2 years ago, mainly because of its price. My intention at the time was not to become a fulltime operator but to simply enrich my productions with a little bit of acceptable motion. Till then, I spent a lot of time not only working with my stabiliser, but also talking to professional operators and mainly watching their work closely in every movie I happened to see. I even bought a DVD and a book to help me get started. The thing is, even today, I'm still not satisifed...

As a member of Glidecam's forum as well, I often receive posts notifications from people wondering how to balance their camcorders with the SS. Well, only recently I got the chance to fly both Glidecam's V25 and Sachtler's Artemis HD and all I can say, with absolutely no empathy towards the product, is that the Smooth Shooter is simply a waste of both time and money.

My constant problem with the Smooth Shooter has always been its extremely poor construction, as well as how unbearably light it is, even if you add all of the extra weight provided. Its unacceptable way of balancing all these screws and the need to have a surgeon's hand in order to move the plates only a few centimeters back and forth, followed by the finding that it only takes a... strong breeze to bring the system off balance, are only a few of the whole system's disadvantages, not to mention the non-functional gimbal. God knows how much time I have wasted trying to balance a system after having it necessarily disassembled, in order to carry it on a shooting location.

A few days ago, I paid a visit to the local dealers of both Sachtler's Artemis HD and Glidecam's V25 to do some testing with my JVC GY-HD 100. You can't begin to imagine how dissapointed I got when I found out it only takes me a few minutes to balance the camcorder on top and start shooting. With proper operation, both systems give good results and of course are somewhat forgiving to very light improper handling, contrary to the Smooth Shooter. I was so happy that I didn't have to worry that perhaps a... passing wind will blow out my well-aligned horizon...

I could talk forever about this issue, but I don't want to waste your time or sound prejudiced. All I wanted to say is I'm convinced that, regardless of experience, anyone who claims he has ever made a decent shot with Glidecam's Smooth Shooter is not telling the truth. It's such a pity because Glidecam is a great company with really good products, including the V-25 and the Gold System and I believe the Smooth Shooter is really a vilification of its good image. My advice towards anyone who wants to go into steadicam at any level, is to not go for the Smooth Shooter but instead look for one of Glidecam's, Steadicam's, Sachtler's, MK-V's or other respectable manufacturer's more advanced models. That way he will not lose courage or think he does something wrong, as I did for so long...

Forgive me if I sound offensive or prejudiced in any way... It's just that should I have known the disadvantages of Smooth Shooter, I would have saved time and money to spend on something that was really worth it rather than feel a fool that I do something wrong every time.

May the new year bring to all of you health, happiness and anything else you desire. :)

Edited by Themis Gyparis, 02 January 2009 - 12:22 PM.

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#2 Alec Jarnagin SOC

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 11:23 AM

Themis,

I find your letter a tad amusing since I suspect if you tried a PRO 2, XCS Ultimate, or an Ultra 2 you'd be saying the same thing about the V-25, etc. There are many different levels of rigs at many different price points. After using top of the line gear, it is very hard to imagine using anything else. Really the greatest advantage of high end equipment is that it becomes invisible and lets you concentrate on your job.

That said, I suspect GB could make magic with a broom stick.....
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#3 Richard W. Davis

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 02:29 PM

That said, I suspect GB could make magic with a broom stick.....
[/quote]


I beg to correct you... He DID make magic with a broomstick... it's now just been refined.


On the topic of gear; never have we had a selection of such high quality equipment to choose from... Conversely, never has there been such a bunch of mediocre stuff out there as well. (not besmerching any brands in particular) The old days all we had was a model IIIA, III, II or I. There were no knock offs.
Best,


Rich Davis :rolleyes:

Happy New Year to all!
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#4 Alec Jarnagin SOC

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 04:39 PM

Rich,

The link did not work, but I assume you are referring to his legendary sequestering of himself in a hotel room "chasing the maids around with a broomstick" during the invention process which is why I wrote it!

Hope you're well my friend. What is with Scrubs moving to ABC????
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#5 Richard W. Davis

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 07:55 PM

Alec,

Indeed I was talking about the hotel room thing...


I am doing well as I hope you are. SCRUBS is on ABC now. We shot those episodes over the summer starting just after the writers strike. I finished in August and then did 15 episodes of "Worst Week" as A cam Steadi. That was fun also, shooting ARRI D-21's . My new favorite HD camera. Who knows SCRUBS may get another season or they may spin it off or who knows. it's hard to predict what studios are doing these days. Thanks for the good words. Wishing you and Jendra a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2009!

best,

Rich Davis
LA

PS More warning next time you are coming to town, I would like to drink a pint with you!
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#6 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 04:22 AM

Well, thanks for your replies. I didn't expect to get any since I think all of you have more serious things to do than post answers to complaining newbies, so I was kind of pleasantly surprised :)

To confirm what you said Alec, that was exactly my point. Should I have known, I would never have gone for the Smooth Shooter myself. The thing is, as I understand now, all the other rigs from Steadicam, Sachtler etc. certainly balance and work way better than this piece of useless stuff I bought. I was mostly disappointed from the fact that all this time I thought it was mainly my operation to blame for the poor results, come to find out that it was never that, but simply a non-functional product - certainly it's no coincidence that the post was originally designed as a hand-only and not a body-supported stabilizer. It's very discouraging to do everything by the book and still not get acceptable results.

As for Mr Garett Brown's skills, naturaly the inventor would be the the best operator, not putting aside the other "magician", mr Larry McConkey and many other accredited operators. I must disagree with something, though. I've watched the "Shining's" making of many times and Garret Brown's primitive rig may look like a broom compared to today's rigs, but it's certainly way more functional than the useless Smooth Shooter. Even then, the bottom weight of his system was a much more functional way to balance a rig for a fast motion scene than the stupid round pieces of metal the Smooth Shooter uses. Maybe mr Brown would handle the Smooth Shooter better than most operators - in fact I've seen him fly Steadicam's Pilot, also a light rig - but I bet even he would be very disappointed with the outcome of this poorly constructed system. That's why I insist that should one want to go into steadicam operation, it's nothing but a waste to even check Smooth Shooter's web page...

Again, thanks a lot for your interventions
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#7 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 09:10 AM

In fact, let me give you an idea of what I'm talking about. In the link below, you'll find a couple of shots I used on the final cut of a health-related video I made a while ago. Not proud of them but just consider I barely touched the post in order to achieve only necessary movement. This rig is as light as a feather... Just watch it... I'm really sorry about the aspect ratio issue :)


Sample

Edited by Themis Gyparis, 04 January 2009 - 09:13 AM.

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#8 Charles Papert

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 02:51 PM

Themis:

I watched those clips and I'm not quite sure what you are referring to specifically here.

There are two issues that you describe: the complication of balancing and trimming the GC (which is well-known) but also something more diabolical about it losing balance and/or operational issues. Without a doubt the smaller GC's are a pain to dial in, I have done it a couple of times and it's amazing that they are still using the same design after all these years. I was asked to demo both the 4000 with Smooth Shooter and the V20 for a college that owned them and had to build them both before the demo; the students were arriving while I was desperately wrestling with the settings on the V20, not believing that it could possibly be so arcane.

One factor that you may be experiencing is that the GC gimbals are often non-linear, which is to say that the three axes are not aligned around the central point of the gimbal. This will result in a shift of balance as you pan the rig.

The question of operator experience is still a relevant one. I used the Smooth Shooter on a small shoot once where I was helping a friend, mostly out of curiousity. I was able to get very useable shots out of it, although I felt like I had to work much harder to do so than with the Steadicam brand units. Losing horizon when one wraps around a corner is something that takes a long time to conquer, and is that much harder with a small rig, but certainly possible.

Finally, the rig that GB used on "The Shining" was a second generation production model that was years after the "broomstick" phase. The Model 2 was arguably sleeker looking than a GC but--here's the irony--it was unknowingly built way out of dynamic balance with no way to fix it, unlike the adjustable weight system used on the GC! And there was no right to left adjustment on the top stage, one rotated the battery at the bottom which was another DB no-no.

If you want to see the spiritual ancestor of the handheld rigs (i.e. the early prototypes of the Steadicam), watch the "Chapter 1" video here, the documentary comes in about halfway through the clip.
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#9 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 05:01 PM

Wow, great links there, Charles, I can't thank you enough for them. Some of the best people in the business... it's almost a small treasure!

Well, practically we're saying the same thing. Maybe I haven't been crystal clear about what I wanted to say but it all comes down to a matter of choice - and certainly a bit of ignorance at the time the Smooth Shooter was purchased. If I had my present knowledge a few years back I'd have certainly gone for a different, more descent rig. You see, I'm now 35 years old, I work as a freelance editor and camera operator, thank God my work-schedule is pretty busy, so time is actually money for me. Every time I look back and see how much time I have wasted balancing and re-balancing a faulty piece of equipment, when I could have cleared with this issue from the very beggining and focus on improving my skills, I really feel like a loser. I know in time even my stabilizer could give better results with a lot of work, but good tools are made to make our lives easier. Effort and tenacity are essential for everyone who wants to be good at something but so is a good head start. And in my case that wasn't an option earlier.

Anyway, no more whining. I think the best thing to do is get rid of Smooth Shooter and look for something else. I really liked Sachtler's Artemis HD and DV Pro. I'd like to hear from you, Charles, or anyone who has ever possibly worked with this rig and lighter camcorders, like the JVC GY-HD100 for example. Any info is really welcome.
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#10 Charles Papert

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 05:18 PM

From what I've seen of them at trade shows, the Sachtler sleds are nicely designed but I haven't been impressed much with the operation of the arms. The Steadicam brand rules the small stabilizer market in this regard--you can't beat the Flyer and Pilot arms. Definitely recommend you try those before making a decision.
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#11 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 09:42 AM

From what I've seen of them at trade shows, the Sachtler sleds are nicely designed but I haven't been impressed much with the operation of the arms. The Steadicam brand rules the small stabilizer market in this regard--you can't beat the Flyer and Pilot arms. Definitely recommend you try those before making a decision.


Could you be more specific about the Sachtler arm, Charles, if I don't get you in too much trouble? What's better in the Flyer? There is a significant price difference between the two rigs, but I always thought the Stadicam brand was mainly to blame for that...
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#12 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 09:58 AM

I mean I've only seen the rig on the web and I was always curious how it is possible that its very thin post could ever be functional, especially with a heavier camera like the one appearing on the product's leaflet...
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#13 Charles Papert

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 01:44 PM

I'm not going to get in any trouble, my rig is made up of 5 manufacturer's gear and last I checked no-one was paying me to endorse their wares, so...

If you have ever used the top-of-the-line arms, such as the PRO or G-series, you would have a benchmark to compare all others against. The Sachtler arms to me are similar in feel to the old 3A style design, which is to say that the further they are exercised to one extreme or the other, the more force it requires from the operator, which makes them more springy in feel. Nearly every 3rd party arm feels like this to one degree or another; your old Smooth Shooter arm is no exception. The better arms out there require very little force throughout their boom range, which is more comfortable to operate and will ultimately provide better isolation. The Flyer arm (which was further refined and scaled down for the Pilot) magically achieves this through the patented iso-elastic design. I guarantee that if you were able to audition one, especially after the time you have spent in the Smooth Shooter, it will be a revelation to you.

I understand your reservations about the Flyer sled (I have many myself). I personally am more of a fan of the Pilot sled. However the two most critical elements of any stabilizer, assuming the rest of the components are solid, are the arm and gimbal. We tend to forget this but these are the only two moving parts on a rig, and the success of the isolation and ultimately the photography rests on their shiny little shoulders. While 3rd party gimbals in the small stabilizer world have improved over the years, only the Steadicam brand has raised the bar on arm performance. I myself have purchased a Flyer arm for use with my running rig and I have found that it is as close as I could hope to the feel of my beloved PRO arm. You owe it to yourself to audition the system and I think you will be delighted.
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#14 Themis Gyparis

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 07:32 AM

Charles, I can't thank you enough for your info and your time. Well, you got me intrigued with the Flyer... So much that I can't wait to go and see it. I only wish our local dealer here has the ability to help me in that area, because on the last Photovision exhibition two years ago, he barely had the Flyer out of the box, so at the time I wasn't able to fly it - you see, he is not a Steadicam-only reseller, so it's higly likely that he lacks specific-staff to help me balance and try the rig.

Anyway, I took some time to e-mail Mr Peter Abrahams on the matter of a Tiffen organizing a possible workshop here in Athens, Greece. His reply was very warm and he said he would contact their representative in the UK about this. Let's hope someday it will happen.

By the way, I laughed a lot with your last message's intro :lol:

Edited by Themis Gyparis, 06 January 2009 - 07:34 AM.

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#15 Charles Papert

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Posted 06 January 2009 - 02:08 PM

I will be interested to see what you think of the Flyer once you try it, Themis. Have fun!
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