Everyone seems to be a filmmaker these days. Dental hygienists and CPAs can moonlight as Stanley Kubrick or Steven Spielberg on the weekends and post their masterpieces online in beautiful HD quality with the help of digital cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Moviemaking has never been an inexpensive hobby, even in the digital realm. If you aspire to be Scorsese and want to introduce a long tracking shot into your work you’ll need a stabilization system. The Glidecam HD-2000 ($549) can capture these types of shots, but it requires some practice to master and balance properly. You could also opt to spend a few thousand dollars on a Steadicam, but spending more money won’t make you a better cinematographer, and it won’t relieve you of the need to balance your stabilization system.
Design and Features
The Glidecam consists of a broad cheese plate—a flat piece of metal with lots of holes that allow you to properly center your camera, regardless of what body and lens combination you are using. A pole runs between the top plate and a bottom plate, and holds a number of counterweights required to properly balance the device. In the middle of the pole there’s a hinged handle that you hold when you’re shooting. When you balance everything perfectly, the hinge and counterweights work to eliminate distracting shake—even if you’re running down the street to get a dynamic shot.
How well the Glidecam works is based partly on your skill with properly balancing the device to match your camera’s center of gravity, and with how much practice you have using it. Balancing requires you to move weights around the bottom of the plate so that lateral movement along the X and Y axes is minimized. You’ll want to end up with a Z-axis drop time of two to three seconds. Drop time is attained by grabbing the hinged handle and dropping the counterweighted base from a horizontal position with the other hand. Counting the seconds it takes for the base to reach a perpendicular position will give you the time.
Any change in weight or weight distribution on the top plate is going to throw things off balance. So when you’re setting up be sure to that you’ve got the memory card in the camera, and that any microphones, field monitors, or other accessories are also attached and in their proper positions for shooting. Glidecam supplies a user manual outlining this process but you can also view our how-to video below.
There are few Glidecam models, and the one you choose will depend on the amount of weight you’ll be mounting—this includes the camera, lens, and any additional accessories. We reviewed the Glidecam HD-2000, which supports between 2 and 6 pounds and works well with a full-frame D-SLR and a wide-angle prime lens. If you’ve got a Micro Four Thirds camera or a smaller camcorder, you’ll be better served by the HD-1000 ($449), which can handle up to 3.5 pounds. Pros with heavy camera rigs will need to move up to the HD-4000 ($649), which can handle between 4 and 10 pounds. There are also lower-priced XR models available, on average they cost $150 less than their HD counterparts. They don’t offer as many adjustments, so they can be a bit harder to balance.
Shooting with the Glidecam is just as difficult as balancing it. The goal of the system is to remove the jarring effect of operator body vibration on footage, so most of the supported weight is directed to the handle—which you hold with one hand. The other hand is used to perform whatever camera movement you choose. Simply grabbing the Glidecam with two hands defeats its purpose. You need to minimize second-hand involvement while still achieving your shooting goals. This takes a touch learned through hours of practice.
Since both of your hands are occupied when shooting, you cannot adjust your focus in the middle of a shot. The best way to keep your subject in focus is to shoot with wide-angle lenses at the smallest aperture possible. As your skills progress with the Glidecam, you can eventually experiment with longer lenses and shallower depths of field but I wouldn’t recommend anything longer than 50mm at first.
To get the most out of the Glidecam you’re going to want to add a few accessories that aren’t included in the box. The HD-2000 ships with a standard 1/4-20-inch mount cheese plate, but that needs some grip tape and an aftermarket quick release plate to be truly functional. Without those two items, I found the camera would shift in the middle of shooting no matter how tight the screws were. The absence of embedded bubble levels make it difficult to discern if the camera is completely flush on both axes. Luckily, the purchase of a quick release plate like the Manfrotto RC4 Low Profile Rect. Rapid Connect Adapter with 410PL Plate ($53) solves some of the minor problems—it has built-in bubble levels.
It’s also important to remember the Glidecam gives you a very specific type of shot, but it’s not a cure-all. It’s perfect for injecting the audience into the scene and creating a sense of movement. The famous tracking shot in Scorese’s Goodfellas as Ray Liotta enters the Copacabana through the back door and through the kitchen in is a good example of what you can do with this type of stabilization device. That scene was shot with the aid of a Steadicam.
The quality of your shots is going to be largely determined by your hand strength and dexterity. I often experienced dead-arm after shooting with the Glidecam for a few hours. There are a a few body stabilization accessories ranging from a Forearm Brace ($169) to the X-10 vest ($2,399) that are designed to help you shoot for much longer periods of time. The brace will help to take some weight off your arm, while the vest distributes the weight to your body so that your arms are free to perform additional camera movements.
You may get tired and frustrated while using the Glidecam, but the results are well worth the suffering. There is no other affordable way to achieve this type of shot and the quality of your footage is based on the amount of time you invest in practice rather than a manufacturer shortfall. The smooth shooting, affordability of the product, and availability of Steadicam-like accessories make the Glidecam a must have for any indie filmmaker.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc