This article is written for those who are unfamiliar about using Steadicam on their production and are perhaps looking to book an operator for the 1st time.

Today with the wide variety of cameras, Steadicam rigs and Steadicam clones out there, booking the right operator with the correct rig for your shoot, is going to go a long way in achieving better shots and potentially save you money.

All of this is just a phone all away in todays mobile world.

However as with everything a little knowledge and forethought goes a long way.

When contacting Owner Ops, its helpful to have in mind which camera system you want to shoot on (due to the overall weight) plus an idea of the shots required, is also useful.

Not surprisingly the heavier the camera the more expensive the rig that is required to take that pay load.

Most Owner Ops would quote for Steadicam rig and themselves, but NO camera, unless asked to provide a one.

I personally wouldn’t include Follow Focus (FF), in my initial quote, but I would quote for this and Focus Puller (FP) / Assistant separately.

So You would need to check the following

  • Can they provide the camera of your choice (unless you are)
  • What does this actually include? (FF Gear, Camera Assistant, FP)
  • How Much for single/two channel follow Focus
  • How Much for a Focus Puller
  • How Much for a Camera Assistant

Larger Steadicam rigs can be used with the lighter weighted cameras, but they need to have a weight cage. This is effectively a lump of metal put on top of the steadicam sledge, to make up the weight difference between the lighter camera and its optimum designed payload.

At the high-end you may want to fix a matte box and also remote follow focus, so your camera will need matte box rails fitted to mount these onto. Yes you can try and save money by doing away with these things and use a wide-angle lens* (*which gives you greater depth of field due to its optics)

So you hope that things stay sharp;- but isnt that a false economy ?

Radio Controlled Follow Focus

  • Remote lens controls for steadicam are either 1 or 2 channel
  • obviously you pay more for 2 channel

Why do you need 2 channels

  • One would be for the iris and one for focus

I need to save money Do I need both?

Well that depends on the shot, in an ideal world Yes but we dont live in that.

This question should be refered to your Director and DOP.

But in general its possible to light to a stop if that isn’t an artistic compromise too far and use a single channel for follow focus.

If you’re using Follow Focus equipment you need a Focus Puller (FP) and No this isnt a job for an entry-level camera assistant.

Focus Pulling is probably one of the most difficult (and thankless) roles in the industry.

As part of the camera team, they are a senior member. Out side of the camera department it’s not often they get the recognition they deserve.

Pulling focus is difficult enough generally and on Steadicam it’s even more tricky.

When using Steadicam I would always suggest there is a dedicated Steadicam Assistant (FP) even if you not using a follow focus equipment.

At the low-end you can now buy steadicam and steadicam clones for well under £10K, however full size rigs with  Gyro stabilisation and radio controlled follow focus will have set that operator back in excess of £40K.

EG

Master, Elite, or Clipper

MK-V Modular style of high-end rigs

There are Mid-Priced range rigs such as Glidecam and Actioncam

At the lower end of the market you have the Steadicam flyer suitable for use with Sony Z1e and EX1 & EX3

See end of blog for fuller link info list.

These camera models, especially those with fixed lenses dont lend themselves easily for use with remote systems for lens controls such as follow focus and iris control

Even if you can fit a B4 or PL mount lens to the camera (EX3) fitting matte box rails isnt straight forward.

So if planning to use this lighter type of grip equipment on a low-budget music promo you need to be aware of the limitations it posses to your production, and cut the Operator some slack when designing your feature film style shots, because they just might not be possible to do with this set-up.

You will need to light to a stop and lock the camera exposure as well as the auto focus.

Or alternatively you leave them switched on and pray those facilities dont mess up a fantastic shot.

Theres nothing worse than the auto focus losing itself mid-shot and hunting focus or just as bad the iris hunting and so screwing up a shot.

If you have enough lead time all experienced crew will be able to offer advice, but ultimately in todays broadcast world decision’s are led by budget.

At the end of the day thou its true to say if we see a great shot generally we think ‘WOW’ 1st and are taken in by the moment, BUT not which camera or steadicam rig was used*.

(*Unless your in the camera department) Not many of us sit down and start to analyse how it was done or if it was done on a full size rig or Steadicam flyer*

The lighter cameras and cheaper steadicam style rigs do offer creativity at a lower purchase price and too a degree rental price.

However the skill of the Operator isnt in question.

It takes just as much skill to fly a high-end rig as a low-end rig. Different skills are needed for both rigs, as they arent the same, and they require time and practice to master.

Perhaps a good analogy is driving a right-handed and left-handed car, the operator needs time to adjust if they are using a different rig to normal.

So yes you may get your owner operator and steadicam cheaper, by using a lighter camera system, but just remember that with a lower cost comes more compromises on what can actually be achieved.

When is it a steadicam shot

  • If the shots not moving is it steadicam?

This may seem like a stupid question BUT ALWAYS Ask your self the above question.

Ive been asked to do interviews (static) on Steadicam, I think because we had the rig there and due to time and schedule changes we hadn’t used the rig that much that day.

It may seem obvious reading this, but if the shots not moving, about to move or has just finished a move then ITS NOT STEADICAM.

One other point to note in a quiet interview scene is the Steadicam arm can start to creak if trying to hold a lock of shot for a long time.

Not something that earns anyone brownie points in an intimate scene or even Interview.

Although I suggested the interview wasnt for steadicam (A very static sat down interview) It wasnt appropriate to say NO and not use the Steadicam at the start of the interview (I talked about this earlier), but after few minutes we went hand-held… Directors decision!

***************************************************************************

If you havent seen the film Atonement there is an example of one of the best steadicam shots done in recent years by Peter Robinson

Watch the shot here

Near the end of the film Troops were about to be evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk in WWII.

All operators should aspire to be this good and achieve this kind of shot.

http://www.steadicam.com – Tiffen makers of THE Steadicam.
http://www.pro-gpi.com – PRO Stabilising System.
http://www.mk-v.com – MK-V Nexus & AR Revolution modular systems.
http://www.steadyrig.com Rig Engineering. New arm.
http://www.xcsinc.com – Ultimatte Sled and TB6 monitor.
http://www.artemis-hd.com – Sachtler version.
http://www.glidecam.com - For those without the large price tag.
http://www.actionproducts.ch – Swiss based manufacturer slightly Cheaper than MK-V and Tiffen Steadicam

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