It was a sweltering hot humid day in Philadelphia, not the kind of day to be shooting outside not unless you want to be dripping wet with sweat. Because of the heat factor, I was forced to do my first tests indoors at a local community arts center called the Asian Arts Initiative. I’m the Technical Director and work part time with adults and youth teaching theater and video programs.
Today, they had a youth lounge where youth have open space to focus on their craft. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on the youth B-Boy (Break dancers) crew, The Dreamers as they honed their b-boy skills and I thought this would also be a perfect opportunity to see the Pegasus II in action with the GH1.
For this preliminary test, I wanted to use the lowest common denominator and set the GH1 on its (iA) auto settings using the stock 14-140 lens because I knew the camera and Pegasus II would be in the hands of other youth who have never used a steadicam or a camera like the GH1. In that way, we could test if put in the hands of a complete novice is the Pegasus II and GH1 easy to use and can you still get some decent footage even when using default automatic settings? All the footage was shot at 1080/24P AVCHD with pull down removed via NeoScene.
It was important for me to just keep things raw including the audio in order to see what’s working well and what’s not.
Here are my initial observations of the Pegasus II with the GH1:
(+) Plus Side
Over all I have to say the Pegasus II and the GH1 make a nice pair. To shoot a B-boy crew you have to be able to move the camera at different levels and move out of the way if necessary. And you have to be unobtrusive. If you had a large rig then I think they would feel the pressure of feeling like they had to be on and perform well and in most cases what usually happens is that they are not as relaxed and won’t do as good of a job.
For the small size of the Pegasus II and the GH1 there were only a couple times when the guys looked at the camera with the awareness of oh, Im being filmed! but for the most part The Dreamers could be themselves. I think this is a key factor in doing documentary work and the low profile attributes of the GH1 and Pegasus II help in that regard. In fact, since the Pegasus II can easily breakdown and is compact I threw it into my messenger bag rather than using the case provided. Its always a big plus for me to not have to worry about lugging around another piece of gear that may potentially get lost.
Overall, the nice thing I noticed was that it did not feel heavy and you were able to shoot for longer periods of time with out getting tired. It still takes some getting used to and theres still weight on it so you will get tired. But I think for the hour and a half that I shot, it was very nice to know that at the end of the day my unfit body didnt feel strained in any way from the shoot.
The quality of the Pegasus II is very good. When I looked at the gear it reminded me of the kind of quality and machine work that I received with my previous Letus gear. It seems that little by little the Chinese manufactures are getting better at creating quality products. Even the gimbal system was a nice surprise. It was one of the functions of the unit that in pictures gave me a little pause because the design looked like it was made with a threaded bolt going into a metal joint but in use, at least with the GH1, it seemed to work surprisingly well.
Using any kind of video stabilizer definitely needs some getting used to and this is no exception.
Partly do to this was Wondlans first units to have English instructions, the translations still need to be worked on to so I had to follow the visual cues from the DVD that was provided. It did take me a little longer than I had expected to get started but hopefully I can provide a few tips for those who do pick up the Pegasus II when using the GH1.
I’m still working on optimizing the balance of the GH1 unit and it seems to me that when using the Pegasus II you are constantly adjusting and optimizing the balance of the camera depending on what you are shooting. And in my case, where we were shooting a group of dancers that were dancing low to the ground, I needed to use the front and back adjusting knob many times to move the position of the GH1 to get better ground coverage. But the front-back locking lever which releases the plate is awkwardly placed just below where the GH1 sits and the left-right fine adjusting knobs get in the way of unlocking and locking the plate.
Making right to left adjustments is easy on the fly but getting that front and back adjustment on the fly, you have to stop shooting. I think Wondlan can easily resolve this by changing the position of the right and left adjusting levers and making the front-back adjusting knob and locking knobs bigger and more durable so that you dont have to stop shooting to make a front to back plate adjustment.
Also, it may be just my unit, but if you dont loosen the front to back locking wrench all the way then its a little tricky to slide the plate into place. I actually dont mind this too much because its a nice safety precaution. There were a few times where I was making a front to back adjustment and released the locking mechanism too far so the plate just tipped far forward and in that moment I thought, There goes my new GH1 camera!!! But the locking lever saved me because it has to be released almost completely out before the plate can slide freely.
As you all probably know using a stabilizer, you are reduced to not touching the lens, if you do then you will notice camera shake big time, making your footage a little buoyant looking like you were a ship lost at sea. The Pegasis II gimbal system is rather sensitive probably because the GH1 is a pretty small camera. You have to use your other hand to guide the camera ever so slightly so that your movements dont send the camera pointing to the wrong direction. Placing a hand on the GH1 fold out viewfinder actually helps in that regard as well as obviously not creating any fast jerky movements.
(?) Keep it or Sell it
From my initial first tests with the GH1 the Pegasus II is definitely a keeper. I’ve used a steadicam and with a steadicam you have much more control and ability to finesse your shot but you literally have to be rigged up which takes time not to mention it can get heavy after a while. Obviously, there’s a huge price difference and if you want true steadicam footage then get a real steadicam or merlin but for roughly about a little over $300 when you add shipping costs from China you have a really great low profile, stick in your small backpack, mini steadicam.
As a documentary filmmaker, this is a great tool for stealthy situations and for those narrative movies where you are shooting in public spaces it doesnt draw too much attention. And for event shooting well its one thing you can throw and fit in your tripod bag and may be a nice option if you dont like the monopod and like to be roaming about.
Again, these are initial tests Ill be doing a few more tests with the unit but all in all its a pretty impressive piece of gear especially for the price. Thanks for looking and hope this information is giving folks some options and things to consider when shooting with new DSLRs like the GH1.
Notes on 1080/24P AVCHD-
So some of you may have seen the earlier versions of this footage. It looked like crap! Lot’s of macroblocking and compression issues. After hours of testing with the Cineform (422) MOV container I noticed that FCP was seeing the clips as having a framerate of 59.94 as if the pulldown was never removed. So instead, I used the Prores MOV container and FCP sees the clips as 23.98 and the footage is so much cleaner. Seeing the H.264 footage even compressed looks clean. I’m still trying to figure out what the problem is with the Cineform (422) MOV container footage but for those who are using the GH1 and filming dancers with lots of movement I think despite the file size the quality of the Prores MOV container is much better.