Gliding in on the HD-4000 and X-10
When I was a younger lad I shot a movie for which I elected to pursue using a Steadicam instead of tracks and dollies. In an effort to reduce setup times from location to location, the production team felt it was the right way to go. Upon doing some research I soon discovered that Steadicams were slightly out of my price range. So, I turned my attention to the Glide cam V-16 and eventually was able to get my hands on one.
The V-16 was a hefty brute designed primarily for ENG and 16mm cameras; it was a real workhorse and a great stabilizer in its own right. The arm, however, was large and heavy. For a novice controller like me it was very intimidating. In the end I was able to get most of the footage I needed, but it did take some practice and endurance to get proficient enough for principle shooting. I have to admit, all of those salesmen certainly weren't kidding when they told me I should take some lessons.
So when I was approached to test the new Glidecam HD-4000 sled and X-10 arm/vest I understandably had a healthy dose of trepidation. I didn't want to embarrass myself with a complete lack of "Glide skills" once again. To my surprise, the new Glidecam vest, arm, and sled all worked like a charm, making me feel like a seasoned veteran. The coolest part was it only took about an hour to get up to speed! I was so excited I spent the better part of the day running through the halls of our office with my rediscovered love for everything that glides.
What struck me about the X-10 arm is that it's built from the ground up to deal with most of the high definition Prosumer cameras people are using on small-budget productions these days. It can be used with both the HD-2000 and HD-4000. Years back, when we used the V-16, it was really designed to hold larger film cameras. Keep in mind many of those cameras were manufactured predominately out of metal and very heavy plastics; balancing was often time consuming. Another feature of the new arm is that there are two points of elasticity, providing more shock-absorption. I could feel that the camera seemed independent of my body's movements, making it easier to balance.
Using my AG-HVX200 on the HD-4000 was a no-brainer since Glidecam listed it as one of its supported cameras (pun intended.) I was impressed with how easy the X-10 was to set up; all the knobs can be adjusted by hand instead of using an Allen key, saving a lot of setup time. It took about 20-30 minutes to get it right and I was off to take some test shots. I should note that one huge boon of using this system is that the 4000 can be used without the vest/arm. Keep in mind that it will get rather tiring, but it's completely doable.
The sled's base can be adjusted by using a series of counterweights. The weights are very easy to put on and take off. I'd recommend grabbing some type of sturdy c-stand when balancing the sled, preferably with enough height so you're not crouching down all the time. The sled will prove difficult to balance without one. An onboard LCD can also be mounted on the sled's base which makes it easier to frame shots and track movements. By looking down you get a better picture of all surrounding axes and it's easier to keep your body straight and balanced. Have no fear though using the camera's onboard LCD works great as well.
There's nothing like watching your shot while walking. It's truly a surreal feeling the first time and it's really fun. Finding the perfect amount of hand control without introducing force below the gimble can take some getting used to. Moving around corners is one of the most fun shots for me since there's so much involved. Plus, it's a real workout requiring body control and coordination. Once you get it right you'll be elated, or in my case exhausted.
All in all I was impressed that Glidecam has been able to produce such an affordable, modular designed rig with a great arm. The HD-series comes in three sizes (the HD-1000, HD-2000, and 4000). I was also able to test the HD-1000 and it seemed ideal for palmcorder cams such as the Canon HV40. For anything over that size, I'd recommend one of the larger units. It's really a matter of what you're using and what the needs are. With the right amount of practice, the Glidecam HD-series and X-10 vest are valuable resources in any cinematographer's tool kit.