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September, 2015

  • Our premier stabilizer, the Steadymaker Tank PLUS 32-bit edition (with wireless or joystick remote control) has recently been upgraded.

    Our goal has always been to provide the worlds’ most affordable, ready to run, complete stabilizer solution, and we are always trying to improve our line of products in order to make them more user-friendly. We regularly listen to customer feedback and whenever we can, attempt to improve and build upon our technology to meet consumer demand.

    Here is a short guide to our latest upgrades to the Tank PLUS. Firstly, we have kept the price the same, so these upgrades won’t cost you any extra.

    stand aThe stand is a central component to the stabilizer, and a unique addition. It makes the day-to-day balance and operation much more simple than a separate attachment that you have to carry along with the other components. Our stand enables both easy ongoing adjustment, and a stable base to set the stabilizer down between takes. Now we have improved the stand further by making it detachable, and giving it more points of adjustment. You now have the option to shoot with, or without it, as desired, and to tweak it until you get a stable base of operation. Removing the stand doesn’t affect your pre-balanced setup so you can shoot with or without it and retain the same level of control.

     

    We have added a battery meter to the top handle so it is easy to see how much of a charge your stabilizer has remaining, to plan your downtime more effectively.

    remote oneThe wireless remote has gone through a significant upgrade now, enabling easier and more accurate control. Instead of separate dials for Pan and Tilt control, we have upgraded the remote to match our joystick-controlled Tank PLUS with a single thumb-mounted controller to enable full control from one place. Not only that, but we have now enabled a reverse switch on the side of the remote, to reverse the up-down-left-right controls, depending on the users’ preference. The aerial is smaller, and to complete the setup, we now have a charging and power LED, the on-off power switch, and top attachment to allow the controller to be fixed to the top handlebar for easy usage as a part of the stabilizer.

     

    handles and remoteThe part that arguably gets the most use out of the Tank PLUS are the handle attachments. We have now made them detachable, and standardized the screw attachments. They are more durable, and easier to grip, with extra adjustment points for your comfort. If you don’t like them, you can always replace them with other handles now, for your ongoing comfort.

    In other upgrades, our carry case has been upgraded to a harder enclosure and a combination lock, for extra durability, protection and security.

    We have enabled a visual measurement system on the points of balance around the cradle. Manual adjustment is now possible with easy adjustment screws, and it is easier than ever to pre-balance the stabilizer using our printed scales. You can also write down balance points for future reference, making the process quick and easy.

    Stay tuned for further upgrades to our shop. We are planning to add accessories so you can purchase the upgrades separately, buy additional batteries and handles as needed, and MORE….

     

     

     

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  • Bonzo – Making a short film with just a stabilizer

    Earlier this summer I had some free time and decided to collaborate with a local burlesque performer called BonBon Bombay on a short film. To ensure that the collaboration was as fun, creative, and free as possible, nothing was arrainged in advance, apart from a preliminary meeting, where a character was discussed. She has been working on a new performance piece based around a clown, but hadn’t had the chance to use the costume yet, so we thought it would be an idea opportunity to make something around this new costume.

    IMG_20150625_065133-2On the spot, that afternoon, a short film emerged, based on a day-in-the-life of a dark, moody clown, called Bonzo. For Bonbon, this was the chance to try out the new character, for me, it was a chance to use the Steadymaker Tank PLUS 32-bit stabilizer for an extended period of time, to see how it handled during the shoot. I had used it for shorter periods of time during other corporate gigs, but this was a chance to use it exclusively in this shoot. I decided to shoot only with the stabilizer setup.

    The shoot was not storyboarded, it was to remain organic, utilizing whatever locations and setups we found during our one-day shoot, which was to challenge our sense of story, setup, and composition (not to mention continuity), but as there were to be no script, and the film was to be edited as a music video, certain narrative constrainsts could be relaxed.

    I had recently purchased a Panasonic GH-4, with 4K resolution, and this gave me an opportunity to not only try that out, but also, thanks to the Anamorphic upgrade to the firmware, I could shoot with my anamorphic lens and test the workflow.

    IMG_20150617_193911

    The picture of the camera setup was taken with a rig ‘cage’ attachment, but for size and weight purposes, I attached it to the stabilizer without this. For the lens-porn-nerds amongst us (which is also kinda me), this is the setup I had:

    At the base is a ZhongYi Lens Turbo adapter. This is basically a poor-mans’ Metabones Speed booster….it is set of glass and lenses that allows 1 extra stop of light, increases the field of view by 0.72 (a great bonus with a cropped sensor such as the Panasonic GH-4) and allows lenses of different companies to be attached to the camera. Win-win, basically.

    On the front of the speedbooster, is a prime lens. (This means a fixed lens that doesn’t zoom). Nikon 35mm f/2. This lens is the widest you can go with an anamorphic setup, as is evident at the widest open settings, you can see some vignetting…but since theres so much frame size to play with in 4k, then its not a problem to zoom or crop out the distorted edges of the frame as needed in certain shots. Without making things too complicated, this lens on this camera, with the lens turbo, works out the same as a 58mm f1.8 lens would on a full frame camera (without the lens turbo).

    Attached to that, is a KOWA Prominar Anamorphic 8-Z lens (this is the big chunky silver and black setup in the center/top of the image lens setup). This is basically a lens which distorts the image, it allows more than twice the width, while keeping the height. (I won’t go into details, as this is not about anamorphic filmmaking).

    It allows for frame sizes of 6656×2496, which  will give you a final resolution/aspect ratio of 2:67, which is wider than Cinemascope, but with some cropping/adjustments ends up being around the standard cinemascope resolution of 2.39. (This means the image is over twice as wide as it is high…or, when you watch on tv, the images that have large black borders at the top and bottom.

    Here is an uncompressed frame of the finished film. (It won’t open to the same size as noted above unless you have a huge screen, so there is an option to download the image from the page it opens to, just right click and download to your computer.)

    ssss

    The final component is a Tokina Achromat +0.4 diopter, which is basically a final piece of glass that goes on the front that enables the anamorphic setup to focus at closer distances to the subject than would normally allow. One of the downsides of anamorphic setups is that they do not have a great depth of field and do no focus well to things closer to the lens….in fact, focussing in general is difficult, as you have two lenses to control, the prime and anamorphic lenses.

    SO, I realize that I have probably lost half my readers in that last paragraph, and the other half wondering when I am going to talk about the stabilizer, but the reason I wanted to detail the setup is so you have an idea about how to get a closer-to-accurate cinematic resolution and feel to your setup. It removes a lot of the ‘digital’ feel, with attractive lens flares, and the way it renders the scene, this will go a long way to making the shot look more ‘filmic’ and less ‘digital’ (if that is a desirable look for you).

    On to the filming itself. We filmed, quite literally, from dawn to dusk. I woke at 3.45am to get to the center of Montreal for around 5am, first light, so we could capture shots in and around the usually busy city streets. This allowed for some surreal footage of Bonbon running uninterrupted up and down the city center roads, free of traffic, surreal in the early light.

    I travelled to the shoot with the camera set up in the stabilizer. The idea was to shoot the entire day with the same lens and stabilizer setup, so I travelled there with an already constructed stabilizer and balanced camera. As nothing was to change during the day, it made sense to travel with the completed setup, rather than assemble things there. This way, I could arrive ready-to-shoot, and quickly adapt to a variety of situations. Of course, the downside is the bulk, carrying it between locations was not particularly user-friendly, and the camera would need rebalancing at each new place, as the length of the lens meant that it would either bang against my leg, or the baseplate screws would loosen enough that the camera would come loose enough to lose balance while walking, so I would need to check often and maintain balance between takes.

    Unfortunatly, because of the 4k internal recording, I could not use my external monitor with the stabilizer, which I could have really done with using during the shoot, as framing the subject, especially in more complicated moving sequences was tough, both for composition, and crucially, focus. Thankfully, because of the free-flowing nature of the day, shots could be organized, reviewed, and adjusted on the fly. I could still play back the takes through the built-in screen on the camera after each one, although a monitor would have certainly come in handy.

    I am including an extra video before showing the finished piece, of some extra moments that didn’t make the cut, including my own homage to The Dark Knight, the iconic first reveal of The Joker.

    There is a kind of freedom that comes with making things up on the fly. I would not recommend this for the average shoot, but it is great for thinking on your feet, forcing a different level of creativity from your filmmaking. This kind of creative freedom is great for short creative projects where things like lighting, or preparing for special FX shots is not important, just capturing a series of shots. This kind of creative freedom is magnified with the addition of the stabilizer. It occurs to me that without a pre-planned set of storyboards, I will often attempt to compose my shots depending on what equipment I have with me…if I bring my tripod, I think in a series of fixed, static shots…if I bring my shoulder-mounted rig, I think angles, small movements, controllable shots….however, this isn’t the way to do it. Truly creative types will try to achieve unique, interesting shots, regardless of what equipment they have. They will utilize their equipment to create whatever is the most interesting compositions they can achieve, and sometimes push the boundaries.

    With the stabilizer though, the creative freedom is magnified…I don’t worry so much about needing to control the movement, because the stabilizer does a lot of the hard work…it steadies longer, more complex, hand-held takes….I can go from relatively static shots, to walking…from walking, to running in single takes. I begin to think more creatively and less worried about how to achieve shots, more just trying things out and capturing things. For example, the walk around Bonzo at the intersection….I could not even imagine being able to pull off that kind of shot without some kind of track and tripod, or on a bike, in a car, or some other complex setup…with the stabilizer, I just visualize, set things up, and shoot.

    A stabilizer isn’t the answer to all of your creative filming problems, it isn’t something that should replace all other filmmaking situations, and it isn’t there to be used in place of all other options, and neither should it be. It is a powerful, useful tool to enable new creative visualizations, and to give more power to the filmmaker in more situations than were previously available.

    In short; happy steadymaking!

     

     

     

     

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  • Balancing your stabilizer – Advanced techniques

    In a video on our Steadymaker youtube channel, we gave you a brief guide to connecting your stabilizer to your computer via a USB cable.

    This article will help you learn more about the techniques you need to further balance your stabilizer for optimal use.

    Before we get into details, this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to SimpleBGC, or a step-by-step tutorial; it is just a list of resources in order to help you look into it in more depth. Also, your Steadymaker stabilizers will always come pre-balanced to your most used setup; assuming you have supplied your camera setup details, we will always try and deliver the best pre-balanced settings, so you will not need to further tweak your setup. Because of this, we do not reccommend you manually tweaking your own stabilizer until you feel familiar and comfortable with SimpleBGC, and are confident that you know what you are doing. If in doubt, don’t do it.

    Having said that, in order to get the most out of your stabilizer; for example, multiple setups configured for multiple cameras and lenses, or further tweaking your current balance to get even smoother output, then connecting your computer to SimpleBGC is the way to go.

    What Is SimpleBGC?

    SimpleBGC stands for Simple Brushless Gimbal Controller. A few years ago, a man called Aleksey Moskalenko wanted to develop a system to control brushless gimbal motors and coordinate their movement and control in order to counteract and balance handheld camera operation. In other words, when a user operates a camera, they move the camera around. In order to create smoother shots, motors move the camera in the opposite direction in order to keep a straight and level shot. The reason brushless motors became popular is their silent and efficient operation, good for camera use.

    SimpleBGCAleksey developed a centralized electronic component in order to talk to multiple motors and control them in real-time. This comprised of a microchip, and a sensor that could detect the orientation of the board, and communicate that information to the motors in order to stabilize the camera attached to the stabilizer setup.

    Early boards were 8-bit boards, and are still in use today. Also, the system controlled mainly 2-axis stabilizers in the early days. These boards became known as AlexMos boards/controllers, and as the company grew, it became Basecam Electronics. (You can read more about their early days HERE).These days, about 80 percent of stabilizers on the market are controlled by AlexMos controllers, so it is as close to a standardized method of control and communication as the industry has. There are a few other rival systems, but at the current time of writing, Basecam Electronics is the dominant system of operation.

    These days, AlexMos boards are up to 32-bit operations, which allows more flexibility and accuracy in the stabilizer control (including inverted use, for example, when you can achieve the same levels of stabilization with the system flipped upside down) and have bluetooth functionality (where you can control your stabilizer via a tablet or Android phone app). Also, stabilizers are generally 3-axis systems these days, unless the setup is lighter or smaller, when 2-axis systems are still sufficient. The Steadymaker range of stabilizers are running using this system of control boards.

    Alongside the development of the hardware, or control boards, a system of tweaking the setup via a usb/bluetooth interface has been developed. This allows the user to further tweak and control different aspects of their stabilizer setup….for example, how much power is delivered to the brushless gimbal motors from the battery…..how sensitive the motors are to adjustment andhow forcefully they will counteract outside movement to maintain a stable setup, amongst other things.

    The software is known as the SimpleBGC GUI (Graphical User Interface) and can be found HERE.

    How to use SimpleBGC

    All you will need in order to connect your Steadymaker stabilizer to your computer is a simple mini USB to USB cable. You will find a mini USB port on your Steadymaker stabilizer. Just connect it to your laptop or computer via the cable. A more recent upgrade means that you can also communicate wirelessly via your Android phone or tablet and our built in Bluetooth connection, assuming your computer has bluetooth capability. If not, just use the USB option for now.

    Again, this is not meant to be a guide to using SimpleBGC, just an overview.

    SimpleBGC Resources

    In order to help you look into further stabilization control, please take time to go through some of the following links.

    First, try this website, in order to get a good overview of the interface, and stabilization process: http://www.simplebgc.org/.

    It is a very good reference, that details the process in a relatively straightforward way. They also have a youtube channel which goes into more detail about using SimpleBGC. A good example video is below:

     

    This is one of many videos that details the process. I picked this one because it is short and to the point

     

    The best and most up to date resource is the makers’ website. They have an article that talks about the central part of tweaking your stabilizer HERE. In order to effectively use SimpleBGC, make sure you have downloaded the latest software drivers, and manuals HERE. They also have a FORUM where you can ask any additional questions, or read up on the latest advice and suggestions.

     

    Additionally, THIS resource is useful, but it is more often geared towards the DIY stabilizer community; however, there are some good tips and tricks for everyday stabilizer useage.

     

    Conclusion

    My main advice is, only use SimpleBCG when you have taken the time to research in greater depth, and feel comfortable and confident with your ability to further customize your stabilizer. If you act too hastily, or without the right information, you can actually make your stabilizer operate less effectivaly and ruin the pre-balancing done before your item arrives. On the other hand, expert tweaking via SimpleBGC can improve your stabilizer performance even more, and optimize it effectively for multiple camera weights and setups at the push of a button at the shoot location, so it can be a very powerful tool….just make sure you can use that power effectively.

     

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