If you’d rather see a video of the 30 Pro Glidecam tips – it is embedded at the bottom of this post. Scroll down ->
1. Setup to Shoot – Before attempting to balance your rig, outfit your camera with everything exactly as you will be shooting your video. Use the exact lens, microphone, filters, memory card, etc. If you change anything, there are adjustments to the GlideCam that must be done. If you add a filter, change the focus, add a microphone, change lenses – whatever you do – the rig might need fine-tune balanced again.
2. Strip Down – Remove your strap and preferably your metal eyelets from the top sides of your camera. This will prevent problems with balancing, and with sound recorded from on-camera. Those little eyelets can make audible noises. You may want to remove your plastic LCD monitor cover if it will help you see better.
3. Stray Light – Insert your DK-5 eyepiece cap that comes with all of Nikon’s latest DSLR cameras. The reason for this is because in Live-View mode, some stray light can get into the camera and affect your shooting.
4. Second Camera – If you are planning on shooting with the Glidecam and switching back and forth between cameras, know that it takes a few minutes minimum to swap out one camera system and replace it with another, getting it balanced just right. If you shoot with one camera and finish, then need to shoot with another, OK, that isn’t so bad. If you think you’re going to be switching back and forth between cameras, your tolerance level might not be worth the $500 you’ll save by not buying another one. Just buy another Glidecam if shooting with multiple cameras is going to be part of your workflow.
5. Camera and Lens Fit – I strongly recommend that you find someone online – especially on YouTube, that is using the same camera and lens you hope to use with your GlideCam. The reason is there are endless camera-lens combinations and some may not work as well as others. I lucked out and my camera body and lens works when placed on the GlideCam. I can still use the manual focus on my lens. If my lens was another 1/2 inch long, the rubber focusing ring on my lens would probably be touching the camera mounting plate, and I wouldn’t be able to change focus.
6. Fix for Bad Fit – Using a tripod quick release system on your Glidecam will raise your camera up off the GlideCam camera mounting plate and possibly give your lens some more room so it isn’t resting on the mounting plate in a way that removes some of your functionality (like manually focusing).
7. Balancing – Balance your rig perfectly as shown by the product rep on YouTube at these videos:
8. Virtual Horizon – The Nikon D610 and many other late-model DSLR cameras have a built in “Virtual Horizon” feature which allows you to precisely balance your camera on the Glidecam. Use it if you have it because there might be some subtle variation in what horizontal is for your camera. For instance, with my Tokina 17-35 F/4.0 lens, the end of the lens has a flared area which is what rests on the camera mounting plate of the Glidecam. This makes my camera look “up” slightly. The Virtual Horizon program on my Nikon camera ensures I’m at perfectly level.
9. Quick Release Adapter with Level – The Manfrotto RC4 Low Profile rectangle rapid connect adapter with 410PL plate for about $50 USD has a built in bubble level to help you figure out if your camera is level.
10. Grip Tape – Grip tape under the camera body and the front of the lens where it touches the quick release plate will help keep the camera stationary. Walking through the forest yesterday I slung the rig over my shoulder and walked a couple kilometers. When I stopped to shoot, the camera had slid slightly on the plate and needed a rebalancing. Get some grip tape, it will save you time.
11. Drop Test Speed – For the drop test, where you hold the rig horizontally and let the weight side drop, how fast you let it drop is up to you. Personally, I like about a 2 second drop for the horizontal to 90% vertical position. A little less is OK for me. Some people like 2-3 seconds. Up to you, and don’t get bent out shape when you try something and it doesn’t work perfectly. There are a lot of options to tweak, and you’ll get it down perfectly, but not usually the first time you make an adjustment!
12. Go Light If Possible – Holding 5 pounds of weight out in front of you is not easy for extended periods. The lighter, the better. I balanced my Nikon D610 with heavy 17-35 F/4 zoom lens on a GlideCam HD-2000 using just two counter-weights. The extendable pole at the bottom is out approximately 6 inches. My camera and lens weight about 3.3 lbs. If yours is close to that, try using just two weights, you’ll save your arms some pain.
13. Using Lightweight Cameras – You can use a GoPro or some other lightweight camera on GlideCams that weren’t made for anything under about a pound by adding some of the weights to the top of the camera mounting plate. I am going to do this for my waterproof Nikon AW100 camera so I can shoot from a long-tail boat and not risk salt water in my expensive Nikon D610 and lens.
14. Tilt Down for Better Perspective – Tilt the camera slightly forward (down) to give a different and I think better perspective for most shots. I found that by tilting the camera down slightly, I get a more natural perspective. Video on a GlideCam gives the viewer a point of view experience that matches what the camera is doing. If you point it down slightly, you’re mimicking the way people walk and look at the world – slightly lower than horizontally from the eyes. Try to notice about yourself as you’re walking around. Where are your eyes – horizontal? Or, are they looking down slightly off horizontal?
15. Hold the Camera LCD Screen at Eye-level – When you pick up the GlideCam, you might do as I did and hold the camera down around your chest level. When you do that you’ll put the grip in an odd position that may bump the camera mounting plate. I also noticed a near total lack of control over which way the camera was pointing when I held the GlideCam too low.
Instead, raise it up to eye-level and experiment with that.
16. Where To Focus? I tried focusing on a couple different areas and the one that works best for me to is to almost ignore what is on the LCD screen, believe it or not. If you have this luxury, like when shooting outside in wide open spaces with a wide-angle lens, you won’t have to worry about keeping the composition perfect. If you are indoors and space is at a premium, you’ll need to focus on it a lot more, but you probably won’t be moving as fast as you will be outdoors.
17. Turning – If holding the handle with your right hand, with your left, just below the bearing assembly (yoke) you can hold the post between your thumb and forefinger. Devin Graham, Glidecam superstar, recommends just barely tapping the post with a light twisting touch of your thumb and finger. It requires a very soft touch, and some pre-thought for any turns.
18. Walking Technique – Walk like you’re holding a glass of water that is about half-full. If you walk like it’s full to the brim, you’ll pay too much attention to the details. When you finally nail the correct walking technique, it will be almost as if you’re not really paying much attention to the bouncing of the camera at all as you move. It won’t be bouncing if you are doing it correctly.
19. Plan Your Shot – Think ahead how you want to shoot and walk through it a couple times looking through your LCD monitor without recording. Just to see what will be involved. Any turn requires you to be thinking about it and start turning the camera before you even arrive at the spot where you need to turn so it is smooth. Otherwise, it looks too jerky to turn quickly. Experiment with bends.
If possible, make your turns gradual, not sharp. If you have the room, turn slowly and evenly around the bend.
20. Shooting in Strong Wind – If you’re trying to use your Glidecam in strong wind, you may have all sorts of issues. Try adding as much weight as you can to the bottom of the Glidecam and shortening up the post. This will make it more stable. Still you may have issues!
21. Shoot Upside Down – Balance the camera right side up and then turn it around to shoot upside down for low-level shots that give a great perspective. It’s funny, but I actually shot better footage with the Glidecam in this position. You can flip the video in post.
22. Don’t Lube It – The bearings are not waterproof, dust-proof, or sand-proof. Eventually they might start sticking. The rig is pre-lubed and it should last for months or years as it is. If you find something sticking, either order a new part, or send the rig in for service. If you add lube to the precision bearings or something else, you can easily change the dynamics of the system and upset something. If you can’t resist, use only light oil – like for sewing machines. Do not use dry lubricants like graphite.
When you first try out your system, if you notice anything sticking, write GlideCam and explain the situation. You might have a faulty unit and need to have it replaced. Everything should be ultra-smooth, especially the bearing system that connects the handle with the main post.
23. Wrist Stabilizer Brace – Get the forearm brace with velcro straps to help you hold the GlideCam in front of you for extended periods of time for about $50 on eBay. I couldn’t imagine too many females or weak guys enjoying the experience otherwise. I’m one of the weak guys. I haven’t worked my arms with dumbbells for years, but in preparation for using the GlideCam on a daily basis, maybe I should have! As it is, I’ll limit my time using it for the first week or so to let my wrist, forearm, and upper arm acclimate to the stress. It’s an unnatural angle to be holding six pounds of kit. You might also try (I’m going to) a weightlifter’s wrist strap. I think it will take some of the stress off the hand muscles and wrist, until I get used to it and stronger.
24. Become Ambidextrous – Double your time filming by learning to use your non-favored arm to hold the Glidecam as well. Eventually, especially early on, your arm, hand and wrist will feel the strain of holding the rig. Double the time you can shoot by learning to shoot with your other hand as well. I tried it and either way is so foreign, that as long as I learn to use both hands at the same time, I think I’ll become proficient with both. If you don’t get equally as good with both hands, use your non-dominant hand to shoot the straight shots that don’t require much skill and your dominant hand to shoot the complicated shots. Thereby saving some strength in your good hand for the complicated shots.
Another good reason for learning to use your left hand to hold the Glidecam is that it will free up your right hand for using the camera, which is set up for right hand use. Otherwise, you’re holding the rig with your right hand and crossing your left hand over to try to hit some buttons. Not fun.
25. Resting Posture – You can put the rig down on flat ground, there are rubber plugs on the bottom that are made for this. Or, hold it up across your shoulder like a hobo with a bag on the end of a stick. Do ensure your camera is locked-in solidly though!
26. Use Glidecam as a Tripod – It is heavier and more stable than a monopod, but not nearly as solid as a good tripod. If you don’t find yourself shooting much from the camera that is attached to your Glidecam, you can just leave it attached and shoot with it as a tripod. If you’ll use your camera a lot, just attach it to a quick-release tripod mount and you can use that to also attach to your GlideCam. This way you can go between tripod, hand held shooting, and GlideCam quickly.
27. Use Wide Angle Lenses – Using between 14 to 20mm lenses works best for the Glidecam if you are doing intensive shots where you need to do a number of tans, tilts, pans, or other. When you edit your videos in Final Cut Pro, or whatever software you use, you can choose a level of stabilization to apply to the clips, which will cut down the angle of view slightly, but give you a smoother, less shaky video. When you use 50mm or longer lenses, you will notice the unsteadiness of your shots because it is just too difficult to do with longer lenses.
28. Few People Master the Glidecam – If you’re one of the few that sticks it out and really learns how to use the Glidecam at a professional level, you’ll be shooting like a pro while others have gone back to static tripod shooting, or worse, trying to handhold what should be Glidecam shots. Don’t get frustrated, just keep it in the back of your mind that when you master it, you’ll be one of the few and you’ll have a skill that will help you produce great video content. Watch some of Devin Graham’s Behind the Scenes videos on Youtube. I don’t know if he’s one of the best, but he’s certainly proficient enough!
29. Ignore the Manual – Well, some of it. There is some great information inside that will help you balance your system. Every Glidecam comes with a Manual that has multiple grammatical errors. Don’t send your unit back because you think if they can’t create a technical manual, they can’t build a rig that balances your camera. The Glidecam is well tested and has been around since 1992. Some of the top professional photographers and videographers in the world use them. Just overlook the errors in the Manual, or send them an email to ask them to step-up their game. Tech@glidecam.com.
30. Selling Your Glidecam – If you get to the point where you just don’t know if you’ll continue using your Glidecam rig, you can either sell it or hold onto it – both have merit. I’ve been watching the prices over the past two decades, and guess what? The price has gone up, not down for used Glidecam rigs. So, if you need the money, sell it. If not, no worries, because next year, or in two or five years, you’ll be able to get very close to the same $500 you paid for yours new. You know, assuming you haven’t dropped yours in the ocean and the bearings are rusted. Glidecams appear to hold their value like fine lenses!
The Glidecam is really an amazing tool. If you haven’t used one yet, try it out at a pro photography store near you. If you’re buying one, you might as well get a new one because the second-hand rigs really retain their value and you don’t know how the photographer before you handled it.
See images and features here:
Glidecam HD-2000 Hand-Held Stabilizer
[Image © 2014 Fabian Mohr (Flickr.com).]