World Class Camera Stabilizers

A Hands on Review of the Glidecam 3000 Pro

Article from the Fall/Winter 1997 issue of Wedding & Event Videography.
Camera stabilizers, like the Glidecam, Steadicam JR (see the article by Jim Farrell in this issue), and others are camera platforms designed to isolate your body's movements and provide smooth, "floating" video as you raise and lower the camera while moving about. Glidecam Industries (800-600-2011) or (508-830-1414) manufactures a range of products designed to fit different weight requirements. We chose the "3000 Pro" ($599 list) for this review because it supports cameras weighing up to 10 pounds, and because of its unique forearm brace and optional Body-Pod. If you're familiar with the Steadicam JR, you'll notice that Glidecam has a more vertical design, rather than the largely horizontal approach of the Steadicam JR. This provides some advantages that are covered later.

System Assembly

Setting up the Glidecam 3000 is a straightforward process, covered in considerable detail in the manual. By taking it one step at a time, and avoiding the urge to cut corners, we were able to successfully balance our Sony VX-3 in under an hour. Assembly consists of mounting the base plate to the column and then adding screws for the weight stacks. Next, the camera is attached to the 4.75" x 7" camera plate that mounts to the top of the glidecam with four brass screws, which also provide the fore and aft balance. We found that the trick to balancing the Glidecam is to isolate and balance one movement at a time. It's also important to start with the camera already set up the way you attend to use it. That means having the tape stock and battery already in place.

Initial Balancing

Starting with an excessive amount of weight on the bottom (split into two stacks), the first step is to balance the camera platform. As you lift off of a level surface, keep an eye on the baseplate. If it is crooked in relation to the level surface, then it needs adjustment. If the baseplate is leaning to the left or right, loosen the four brass midplate screws (underneath the camera plate) and slide the plate in the opposite direction. If this will not balance the left-to-right tilt, move the camera to a different slot in the camera plate, and repeat this procedure. Once the baseplate is balanced left-to-right, you can start balancing the front-to-back axis, by loosening the four brass screws on the sides of the camera plate and sliding it in the opposite direction. If you are unable to achieve balance, move the camcorder forward or backward on the camera plate and repeat the procedure. Once you have achieved proper balance, you will be able to lift the Glidecam off of a level surface and maintain the baseplate level to the surface while the central support post is in an upright vertical position.

TIP: Moving the weight stacks on the baseplate, either forward, backwards, or into uneven stacks can assist in the L-R and F-B balance.

TIP: Use those eight brass screws to provide fine balance adjustments if you change battery types or add or subtract accessories in the future.

Vertical Balancing

Now you need to balance the Glidecam for your movements. We found it best to begin by removing the weight until the unit started to become a little top heavy. Replace some weight until the Glidecam remains balanced when lifting and holding it stationary. Now, with the Glidecam in one hand, and with the camera facing forward (away from you), walk forward and observe the vertical center post. If the center post tilts or swings like a pendulum when you walk, then it needs further adjustment. In our testing, we found that when the Glidecam acted like a pendulum, it tended to be bottom heavy. We also found that a very light swing is normal when walking forward. Without a slightly bottom heavy condition, the Glidecam will not properly "float".

TIP: We found that in most cases we required additional weight over what was necessary to balance in a stationary position, in order to avoid the pendulum effect. The Glidecam 3000 comes with weight disks of varying thickness (weight) and different length bolts to accommodate different weight stacks. The system also includes a 5-inch center post extension for cameras weighing over seven pounds.

TIP: We found that the 5-inch extension can also be used with lighter cameras. It allows you to reduce the amount of weight required, with the trade off being a reduction in how low to the ground you can get.

Bracing Yourself

A unique feature of the Glidecam 3000 is its forearm support brace. While this is no doubt a lifesaver with larger and heavier cameras, we found it to be very useful on all cameras. Not only does it give you the ability to use the Glidecam for longer periods of time, it also removes a lot of the strain from your wrist. The forearm brace is foam padded and mounts securely around your forearm, using velcro straps and elastic for quick access and individual fit. It has an aluminum bar that runs the full length of the brace. Attached to the end of the bar is an aluminum post that inserts into the handle of the Glidecam, allowing your arm to support the weight. Your palm and fingers wrap around the handle to provide additional support and control. The angle of the handle can also be adjusted by choosing one of the additional mounting holes for individual comfort and a variety of shooting positions. Examples are straight up for low shots and straight out for higher shots.

TIP: In an emergency, the Glidecam can be quickly separated from the post and the aluminum bar can be slid out of the forearm brace, or your arm can be pulled out of the brace, since it has elastic straps.

Gliding Along

The Glidecam was designed for two-handed operation. The hand with the forearm brace holds the unit, while the two fore fingers and thumb of the other hand are used to guide the camera through pan and tilt movements. The "holding" hand (with the forearm brace) should be kept in front of you at a 45 degree angle from the center. The "guiding" hand is less critical, but 45 degrees seemed to be the most comfortable to us. We assumed that like most things, this would require some practice. Surprisingly, after 30 minutes of practice and recalling a few hand-held basics like keeping your knees bent, we were producing useable video. In operation, the Glidecam was smooth and actually made us look better than we were. Anything less than a stumble looked smooth, and the ability to generate mini-crane moves, as well as low tracking shots was a welcome addition to our production. With a little forethought, we found we could climb small steps or walk over rocks without any objectionable results. For serious work you will want to mount a larger LCD monitor. The Glidecam's baseplate has a provision for this, although we found we could get away with mounting one directly on the camera. Mounting an LCD on the camera required us to re-balance the Glidecam, but it proved great for low shots and more convenient for some of our other shots. Anyone who has ever used a camera stabilizer like the Glidecam knows that your arms tire a lot quicker than you think. As your arms get weaker, they develop minor tremors which adversely affect the video quality. Even though we wanted to continue, we found we had to stop. As it turns out, discretion was the better part of macho. When planning your shooting schedule, we recommend blocking in some rest periods or tripod work, in between the Glidecam sessions.

Body-Pod Anyone?

The Body-Pod is an optional accessory designed to support the Glidecam, while sparing your arms. It's essentially a waste belt with shoulder straps. In practice we found it to be less functional than the forearm brace. It tended to inhibit our actions as you might suspect, it transmitted our body movements more readily. Still it was a very convenient place to hang the Glidecam while resting our arms. When our arms finally got too tired to remain steady, the Body-Pod allowed us to continue shooting smooth shots. On that basis alone, we found it a welcome addition.

Extending Your Reach

Unless your an NBA star, sooner or later you are going to run out of arm length before you get all the shots you want. The Glidecam 3000 comes with two metal extensions, which can be used individually or together to provide another four to eight inches in height. By utilizing these extensions and placing our guiding fingers at the base of the center column, we were able to get high enough to shoot simulated parade video. The ability to put the LCD on the baseplate made this type of shot possible. A unique feature of the Glidecam is it's ability to do a 360 degree pan (above your head), and tilt as much as 270 degrees. Dutch moves are more limited, but sideways and upside down shooting is possible. You can also set the Glidecam on its base while in between takes, or for really rock-steady shots without having to put it on a tripod. The Glidecam's vertical design allows for easy maneuvering in tight places. Milling through a crowd proved to be no problem. I was able to operate the Glidecam with my arms held tight to minimize the possibility of bumping into someone. Taping tracking shots from the dance floor added a new dimension to video. Circular tracking shots around the bride and groom can be obtained with minimal distraction, due to the Glidecam's understated appearance. The unit's aluminum and black color blends in well with formal attire or dark clothing.

Making The Choice

When choosing a stabilizer the most important criteria is weight. if your camera weighs more than four pounds, many other units will not work for you. Your style of coverage is also a major factor. For example, the Steadicam JR can get closer to the ground while the Glidecam can get closer to your body. The Glidecam can do 360 degrees overhead pans, while the JR can't. The JR can do much more angled Dutch move than the Glidecam. The JR also has a built-in-monitor and battery, while the Glidecam doesn't. This is an advantage or a disadvantage depending on weather or not you want other battery and monitor options. It's possible to operate the JR with one hand, while the Glidecam requires two. The Glidecam can be easily set down on its base while the JR tends to tip over more easily. The Glidecam is all metal, while the JR, is predominatly plastic. The Glidecam has a forearm brace, while the Steadicam JR doesn't. After working with the forearm brace, we felt it was a huge advantage for our style of shooting. All in all, we recommend you try out several stabilizers before you make your final decision. The camera you use, the environment you work in and the features you like will determine your choice in the end. 
World Class Camera Stabilizers