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STEADICAM BLEW OUR MINDS! Part One: Smoothee

January 2, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Originally posted October 25, 2011 on 20K Films.com.

Laura Zinger

20K Films’ Photographer/Director, Logan M Futej and  I (Owner/Director, Laura Zinger) recently took a Steadicam training with Steve O., the Central Regional Manager for Steadicam at Calumet Photographic Chicago and it blew our minds. Let me say that again, Steadicam BLEW our minds!

And it specifically blew our minds because recently we were sitting around the 20K Films office doing a little creative brainstorming about how we can still keep our low/affordable mindset and still have our film projects look incredible. We all decided that one of the major things that would take our films up a notch and help us add dramatic tension would be to have some kind of super steady support system. We foolishly thought, however, that any kind of worthwhile support system for our HDSLR only productions would be out of our price range. Without doing any research, just going by what some of heard in film school, we thought we were looking at a $30,000 investment which is $10,000 over the budget of our highest budget film to date, which is, of course, $20,000. So justifying our gear costs for an HDSLR support system per our cost of production was a complete and utter “uhhhh, no.”

Rewind to a few weeks earlier when Laura (20K Films Owner) met Steve O, the Central Regional Manager for Steadicam at the Calumet Photographic Oak Brook Store where he was showing the staff Steadicam’s newest support system, the Smoothee (made specifically for the GoPro, GoPro Hero, Flip cam, iPod Touch, and iPhone 3GS and 4) Laura immediately knew that she wanted to incorporate the Smoothee into 20K Lab’s Cell Phone Cinema Labs and asked Steve how to get one. Steve’s position at Steadicam depends on customers buying Steadicam products locally and not through online retailers like Amazon.com, so therefore, anytime a customer orders a Steadicam product locally from Calumet Photographic Oak Brook or Calumet Photographic Chicago, that makes Steve happy, and you can email Steve for a free training. (His contact info is at the end of the blog post.) Be forewarned: he will want to see a copy of your receipt to see that you bought local.

Sidenote: You should buy local anyway, because Calumet Photographic is the best camera store with the best customer service you will get anywhere in the city of Chicago. Also Amazon.com is of no help whatsoever in telling you if the Smoothee iPhone 3GS will work for your iPhone 4. For the record, it won’t, because the clip mount for the 3GS is weighted specifically for the 3GS and since the 4 is a different weight, you’ll have a heck of a time trying to get your Smoothee balanced out of the box. And how did I find this out? Not from Amazon.com, not from any online research (I tried and found nothing conclusive), but from Steve, a live human being who is an expert on Steadicam’s products. Humans: 1. Internet: 0.

For the training, we met Steve at Calumet Photographic Chicago early in the morning, and after he figured out that our balancing issues with the Smoothee Laura had bought for 20K Lab’s Cell Phone Cinema Labs was due to my using the Smoothee iPhone 3GS clip mount with my iPhone 4, he gave us a quick tutorial on how to actually use the Smoothee in the correct fashion.

SMOOTHEE

Steve told us two key things to know when using the Smoothee: (1) you MUST use a light touch and (2) don’t ever walk sideways while using it. These may seem like cryptic pieces of advice, but let me explain below:

(1) USING A LIGHT TOUCH (This is harder than it sounds.)

There is a little circular knob right above the Smoothee handle called the gimbal. This little part is meant to help you direct the Smoothee where you want it to point your camera. If you do not use this gimbal to help direct the Smoothee, your Smoothee will just free fly wherever it feels like it, and believe me, you do not have enough power nor magic in either one of your wrists alone in order to control the Smoothee’s direction. So your only option is to take the thumb and first finger of the hand you are not currently using to hold the handle on the Smoothee and you must ever so lightly, LIGHTLY, place them on the front and back of the gimbal. (That means that your first finger is on the front of the gimbal and your thumb is on the back of the gimbal.) Then as you walk (do not walk sideways! See (2) below), you will very very LIGHTLY guide/direct the Smoothee to point your camera in the direction of whatever you want to shoot. This takes practice, but even after just working with the Smoothee the first hour under Steve’s direction, I feel that I got significantly better at using it.

Walking sideways will interfere greatly with your smooth imagery (this tip applies when using the Merlin and the Pilot too). Even if you need to move sideways because you are shooting, let’s say a tracking shot, you still do not want to actually walk sideways. You need to walk forward, but pivot the Smoothee (or Merlin) toward your subject. Your feet and torso should be facing forward, but the Steadicam is pointed toward the subject. In effect, you are shooting with the camera pointed sideways.

(2) DON’T WALK SIDEWAYS (Huh? Really?)This actually was pretty challenging to remember and to actually do, because it goes against everything you’ve probably ever done when doing a handheld tracking shot, but Steve is right, your shot will be much more smooth with the Smoothee (and Merlin) when putting one foot in front of the other while shooting with these support systems.

Like I mentioned before, we are incorporating the Smoothee into the 20K Labs’ Cell Phone Cinema Courses with the iPhone 4. This tool is too affordable and too fantastic to not tell students about it.

And look, I actually got the hang of how to use it in just one hour.

Laura using Steadicam’s Smoothee from 20K Films on Vimeo.

Here’s Steve demonstrating the Smoothee. He’s obviously a lot better at this than I am. (Sidenote: Steve did not walk sideways at any point while walking around Logan and shooting him with the Smoothee. He walked with the bottom part of his body forward and his torso twisted toward Logan with the Smoothee and iPhone.)

Steve demonstrating Smoothee from 20K Films on Vimeo.

This is a bizarre tip I found online for using the Smoothee. I’ve never tried it and have no idea if it actually works yet or not (I plan to try it), but I just wanted to throw it out there: You’re supposed to “guide” the camera by using your thumb to keep it positioned the way you want. This contact added shake to the camera but is needed to keep the camera from drifting while you move with it. A cotton ball affixed to the thumb area with some 2 sided tape provided enough cushion against the thumb contact but still gave the needed control for shooting.

SOME SMOOTHEE ONLINE RESOURCES

You can watch the Smoothee Manual videos on the Tiffen Site here.

Also, you can watch the Smoothee in action and a great quick, simple setup video below.

World of Smoothee from H. Wilson45 on Vimeo.

Also, you can try pairing your Smoothee with a great new iPhone camera mount that records 360 degree video! Check this out: http://www.kogeto.com/ We’re going to get one and test one soon. We’ll blog about that too!

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Read more from Laura Zinger on her Tumblr blog.

 

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