Flying High

Apart from the Steadicam Jr., intended for cameras up to about 5 pounds, Steadicam rigs have followed inventor Garrett Brown’s original design of a vest with a jointed arm attached. Other companies have tried to emulate the successful form, but what Brown calls the “Iso-Elastic” arm design has been hard to beat. So when Steadicam showed the Flyer — which is made for cameras weighing up to 15 pounds and retails for $6,500 — at NAB last April, and reported that it has the same feel and performance as its top-of-the-line systems, it generated lots of interest.

The Flyer is now in full production, after having undergone a few alterations, notably the addition of a quick-release buckle at the bottom of the vest and an increased size of the chest plate for added comfort for larger operators. The Iso-Elastic arm, the essence of the Flyer, remains unchanged. It was in development for a few years; testing was conducted secretly in New York City and, of all places, Bhutan in the Himalayas, where the first prototype was used under the most rigorous conditions by cinematographer Alan Kozlowski on Travelers and Magicians, Bhutan’s first indigenous feature film.

AC was interested in an appraisal of the Flyer by an experienced Steadicam operator. I chose Kevin Braband, an operator and cinematographer from the San Francisco Bay area. “Cameras have been getting lighter and lighter, particularly in the video world,” says Braband. “By ‘96, more Steadicam rigs were being sold for video than for film. The Steadicam people asked me to be an assistant teacher because of my familiarity with video cameras.” The year following Braband’s participation in the workshop, he became an assistant instructor at the Steadicam Workshops sponsored by the International Film and Video Workshops in Rockport, Maine. He owns a Steadicam Master series EDTV model, which costs about $50,000 and handles cameras weighing 20-45 pounds.

We tried the Flyer with my own Panasonic SDX900 and Fujinon 13x4.5 lens, which is very wide and, I thought, ideal for Steadicam use. The ability to fine-tune the balance with the IDX stackable batteries was very useful, and the Flyer can be supplied with IDX mounts. With the SDX900, we were close to the 15-pound limit, so the gimbal was positioned close to the stage. Braband noted that to be on the safe side, any camera coming close to the limit of 15 pounds should be configured for use and then weighed just to be sure that the all-up weight doesn’t exceed the limit. If you don’t have a suitable scale, your local UPS depot will probably oblige.

“I flew a fully loaded Sony PD150 on the Flyer with no problems,” offers Braband. “The Panasonic DVX100A also works very well with this rig.” At IBC this year, Garrett Brown demonstrated the Flyer with the new Arri 235.

The Flyer features a tool-free adjustment in two axes of the arm-to-body angle, and lots of adjustments for operator comfort in the vest. Once set, the vest can be removed and doesn’t have to be readjusted when the same operator dons it again. Top-to-bottom range of camera travel is 30", and the Flyer operates in both standard and low modes. In low mode, the camera can go down to about knee level.

Brown claims that if you close your eyes, you can’t tell the performance from that of an $18,000 arm, except that experienced operators will encounter less back strain with the lighter cameras.

“Compared to the Master or Ultra series, the Flyer feels like a lighter version of the big rigs,” explains Braband. “The gimbal and arm feel lighter but have the same smoothness and motion. Garrett spent a long time getting the new arm to behave like the bigger arms.”

The Flyer comes as a complete package: vest, arm, post, gimbal, stand, sled and 16:9/4:3 monitor. The low-mode kit is an optional extra at $395, and two IDX batteries and a charger are also optional.

For more information, contact the Tiffen Company, LLC, parent company of Steadicam, at (205) 980-8629, fax (205) 981-6561, or visit

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© 2004 American Cinematographer.