Phil Thomas - Steadicam Operator Owner

Commercials - Live TV - Outside Broadcasts - Events - Drama - Factual - Corporate - Music Videos

phil@broadcast-steadicam.co.uk - 07905 050 776

About Phil Thomas

Freelance Camera Operator & Steadicam Owner Phil Thomas

Broadcast-steadicam.co.uk is the website for me, Phil Thomas; Bristol based Steadicam Operator Owner and Camera Operator. I am an experienced Camera Operator both on and off the Steadicam with broadcast credits with all the major UK broadcasters as well as providing camera services on international host broadcast feeds. Aside from the broadcast work I have provided Steadicam services on films, music videos, corporate shoots and commercials. My Steadicam rig has a range of bespoke accessories to make it suitable for all aspects of television production from outside broadcasts (OB) to drama, studio shows, commercials, sports and much more. I can also shoot digital film with my rig from DSLR to RED and Alexa camera setups and my rig is perfect for the new generation of large sensor video cameras such as the Sony PMW FS7, F5 and F55 or Canon C300. More information about my rig can be found in the equipment section. Based just outside of Bristol I am ideally located for shoots in Bath, the South West, Cardiff, Wales, Birmingham and the Midlands but I'll often work in London and all over the UK and Internationally.

Steadicam is like playing an instrument, it is not something that can just be picked up by anyone and it will work, it requires proper tuition and a great deal of practice to both set up the rig properly and to operate it. I was initially trained at the National Film and Television school on a dedicated Steadicam course by instructors with over 30 years experience in Steadicam Operating. Since then, being a rig owner has allowed me to improve my techniques through extensive use of the rig in many conditions and on a variety of shots both on set and out practicing. I have done shots which include running, stairs, rough terrain, epic oners (single shot with no cuts) as well as pitch side on sports matches.

I am a Steadicam Operators Association and Guild of Television Cameramen member with £2million personal public liability insurance; More information on me and my work as a camera operator can be found at www.philthomasvideo.com

Steadicam is a registered trademark of Tiffen

Equipment

My rig is based around the Tiffen Steadicam Archer system, Tiffen are the original Steadicam manufacturers, and so produce some of the finest rigs in the world. Although there are other manufacturers producing professional quality camera stabilisers, the Tiffen rigs are the only ones that can be called a Steadicam. As with anything there are also a lot of cheap imitation camera stabilisers around which will produce less than adequate shots and any serious operator would avoid these rigs at all costs. With my rig however you can rest assured in the quality and research and development of the original Steadicam brand. Look at each of the sections below to see more detail on my equipment.

Archer Sled

This is the main part of the Steadicam system and is where the camera sits at the top and is balanced out by the monitor and batteries at the bottom. The Archer is Tiffen's mid-range sled and is capable of flying most television cameras including wireless video senders and CCU data receiver. Being a mid-range rig it is lighter than some of the rigs designed for use with film cameras; this allows greater manoeuvrability and endurance for the operator. Wiring looms are built into the sled to allow power to pass from the batteries to the monitor, camera and other accessories and also video to pass from the camera to the monitor. This negates the need for external wires which can get tangled or throw the rig off balance. The sled includes the precision engineered frictionless gimbal which holds the sled and houses bearings that allow the sled to fully rotate on all axis.

G50 Arm

This is the part that connects the sled to the vest and is a dual section arm with titanium springs. The two sections of the arm allow the sled to move its position in space relative to the operator by moving side to side, forward and back and also jibbing up and down. They also work together to remove the action of the operator's footsteps from the camera. My G-50 arm has been performance upgaded at the Steadicam factory to make it ultra smooth and superior to the standard G series arms. The arm has controls to alter amount of lift for the weight it's carrying, up to the maximum of 50lbs (22.7kg) including sled, camera, monitor, batteries and all accessories.

Tiffen LX Vest

This is how the Steadicam connects to the operator and allows the weight of the rig to pass through the operator's hips and straight down into the legs. Operating a Steadicam is a large physical exertion; however the design of the vest helps distribute the load and helps protect the operators back if used correctly. The LX vest is made by Tiffen and matched to Archer rig.

Ultra Bright HD Monitor

This Teletest Ultra High Brightness CyclopsHD monitor is excellent for outdoor use, fitted at the front of the sled it allows the picture to be viewable even in bright sunlight. It is capable of inputting most HD-SDI resolutions and frame rates as well as SD-SDI and analogue composite. Its high resolution LCD panel allows accurate focusing for OB applications when using the rig with the G-Zoom onboard focus controller.

G-Zoom / Focus Demand

This gimbal mounted zoom and focus demand allows the operator to control zoom and focus on Canon or Fujinon broadcast lenses which have internal zoom and focus servos. It is custom built for my rig and essential for operating on outside broadcasts and studio shows. It can be used as just a zoom demand for when a separate focus puller is employed.

Dual V Lock Mounts

My rig features a custom built removable second V-Lock battery mount which can hold additional batteries or other V-Lock products such as wireless video senders. This has the added property of distributing more weight to the bottom of the rig allowing the balancing of the heavier cameras without having to resort to an extra-long post. It also allows for various powering arrangements to prolong rig runtime between battery changes and for the powering of additional accessories.

Tally Relay

This custom built tally relay allows tally LEDs mounted on the monitor to be lit when the camera's tally is activated. It utilises the internal wiring of the sled to send information from a sensor placed over the camera's tally light to the LEDs on the monitor. The sensor uses a light dependant switch to detect when the camera's tally is illuminated and relays this to the monitor's tally. It is an external unit which works with any camera with an external tally LED; it doesn't plug into the camera and has no effect on any camera function except for obscuring one tally light.

Weight Plate

This is simply a lump of steel weighing approximately 3kg. This has screw holes tapped in it and connects between the rig and a camera allowing the rig to be able to work properly with light weight cameras such as DSLR cameras, HDV type cameras and EX1/3s.

Weather Covers

I have a full set of weather covers to stop rain getting into the monitor, batteries and arm. These are suitable for most conditions however they are only covers and are not suitable for extreme conditions or submerging. High winds can cause the Steadicam to be less effective due to it being blown around too much, ruining the shots. Camera covers should be provided by production.

Showreel / Gallery

New Steadicam Specific showreel coming soon. In the mean time there is a general Camera Operation showreel with a short Steadicam section on my main website www.philthomasvideo.com and have a look at the photos below.

Rates

Steadicam is a specialist piece of grip/camera equipment which needs a highly trained operator to be able to be used successfully. Therefore the rates are higher than that of a standard television camera operator. Rate can be dependant on project though with discounted rates for long term contracts and multiple days, so please email or call to discuss your project and get a price. Please see the production guide for information on using a Steadicam and what may need to be provided by the production. Expenses will be additional to the day rate and on a ad hoc basis.

Production Guide

This section is designed as information to help with having a Steadicam in your production and what is expected for the production to provide. This information should be useful if this is the first time you've used a Steadicam or if we haven't worked together before. A Steadicam is a valuable tool for any production allowing you to get shots no other piece of grip equipment can manage however there are certain criteria which must be met in order for the use of Steadicam to be safe and fit with the production. If you want more specific advice on how you can fit a Steadicam into your production please email or call. Below are generic subjects listed in alphabetical order. Some of this information is specific to my circumstances other is general to Steadicam and should be taken as a guide, please contact me for any clarification.

Steadicam Assistant

Not be confused with general camera assistants or focus pullers, a dedicated assistant (or spotter) is often needed for a Steadicam Operator to ensure their safety, the assistant helps to guide the operator preventing trips or falls and keeping cast, crew or public from interfering with the Steadicam. They also help with rig setup, changing batteries and getting the docking stand. This can be a grip or other assistant supplied by production or I can bring my own.

Batteries

The batteries power the whole rig which in turn powers the camera and other accessories. Production is expected to provide a sufficient amount of V Lock batteries for the shoot.

Building and Balancing the Rig

I've had the rig from in the case to ready to shoot in less than 10 minutes before, however, in general, building the rig up to the point where the camera is needed will take around 5-10 minutes, maybe slightly longer if a particularly complex set up is used. Subject to technical issues I will then need about 10 - 20 minutes with the Camera and all accessories on the Camera to balance the rig properly and be ready to shoot. If any accessories such as EVFs, wireless links, recorders or sound devices are either added or removed from the camera/rig it will require me to completely rebalance the rig. This does not include time to align remote follow focuses or set up the wireless links.

Camera

The Steadicam is a piece of grip equipment, it doesn't include a camera. Production shall provide the camera, lens and any accessories for it, including wireless systems for live production. My rig can work with most cameras including broadcast cameras with or without wireless RF links and Digital Film Cameras including RED, Alexa, Sony F3, F5, F55, Canon C300 / C500 and DSLR rigs. Production will also need to supply any weather covers for the camera.

Deep Water

A Steadicam system can weigh anything up to 30kg or more, it does not float, therefore extra special care needs to be taken if shooting near deep water or on a boat. If a shoot is near deep water or on a boat this needs to be mentioned before booking.

Director's Monitor

If a director's monitor is needed, a wireless one should be used to keep the Steadicam free from external cabling. This can be supplied by production or on request at an extra cost. Alternatively if budget is tight they can walk alongside the Steadicam and view the operators monitor.

Docking Stand

This is where the Steadicam sled is kept after being built and when not on the operator. It is also used for balancing the system. A space for the docking stand is needed near the area where the Steadicam is operating. The stand takes up approximately 1 square metre of floor area and needs space around it to spin the rig during setup.

Focus Puller

In digital film applications where a focus puller is being used, I can supply a wireless remote focus unit and motors suitable for the lens/camera build used, this is at an extra cost. In broadcast applications, included in my kit I have the G-Zoom which allows me to control Zoom and Focus from my rig on most modern broadcast lenses from Canon or Fujinon, provided they have focus servos.

Health & Safety

A slip, trip or fall in a Steadicam can be very dangerous; it may injure the operator and others around them as well as damaging equipment. The area the Steadicam is being operating in must first be scouted by the operator and they must be made aware of any potential trip hazards. Persons on set must be aware of the Steadicam and should take care around it not to introduce any unexpected trip hazards. In a live situation the assistant will help to keep people and objects clear of the Steadicam's path.

Helicopters

It is incredibly dangerous to shoot Steadicam from a helicopter, this should to be left to special aerial camera systems.

History of the Steadicam

The Steadicam system (often mispelt Steadycam, Stedycam or Steadi cam) is the brain child of Cameraman Garrett Brown who came up with the idea in the 70s when looking for a solution to moving the camera smoothly through space without the limitations of a conventional dolly track. Garrett has licensed the production of all the Steadicam systems to Tiffen and still works closely with them in the design and production of every model. The Steadicams of today are a vast improvement on the early models with improvements in materials, production techniques and design updates that have come about through extensive use in the film and television industry. However the basic principles of the Steadicam remain the same; 1. Balance the camera on a sled so that the operator can directly hold the camera's centre of gravity. 2: Support the sled on a sprung arm which holds the weight of sled and removes the operator's footsteps from the lens. 3: Strap all this to a person so he/she can follow the action without the restrictions of a track.

Lenses

The Steadicam will work with any lens that fits on the camera, however wider lenses tend to produce better shots when working with a Steadicam. The G-zoom/focus controller supplied with my rig can control most fully servo operated broadcast lenses from Canon or Fujinon. If other lenses are used external motors are needed for lens control and wireless remote focus controllers for focus pullers are needed. These are not included in my equipment set as standard and can be supplied at an extra cost.

Lifts

It is quite a regular occurrence to shoot Steadicam in a lift, it only becomes a problem if the lift is a particularly high speed variety.

Physical Exertion

Operating a Steadicam is a highly physical activity and sometimes the operator will need to rest, this is done by putting the sled in the rest position or on to the docking stand. The rest position is with the sled on the shoulder with the lens pointing towards the ceiling or sky. So if the gallery see lighting rig, ceiling or sky the operator is having a rest. Often a rest of only a few seconds is enough to continue shooting for another few minutes. The lighter the rig the less often the operator will need to rest, therefore using a lighter camera on the rig is an advantage for prolonged use. Obviously this is not a problem on scripted shows but on live sports rests may be taken when the action is away from the camera position. The operator will also need a plentiful supply of water on set near their position to stop dehydration and muscle cramp.

Triax or Fibre Cables

It is possible to use a cabled in Steadicam, however it is much better to use a wireless system. Cables reduce the freedom of movement and also introduce one of the biggest Health and Safety hazards to the operator. They can also cause unwanted tugs on the finely balanced sled which cause the shot to quickly roll away from the desired framing. If cables must be used special lightweight jumpers are needed between the main cable and the Steadicam.

Vehicles

It is possible to shoot Steadicam from moving vehicles, this can be done either hard or soft mounted. Soft mount is where the Steadicam is worn by me using the vest as normal. Hard mount is where the Steadicam arm is mounted directly to the vehicle using special brackets. If your shoot requires the use of vehicles please contact me to discuss this and the relevant safety issues.

Weather

High and gusty wind conditions can make it substantially harder for the operator to frame the shots correctly and get a smooth shot, this is due to the air movement pushing around the balanced sled. This can be helped on some shoots by having grips hold baffles up behind the operator to reduce the wind hitting the sled. Extreme wet weather may cause problems with water ingress through the covers and may also cause the ground to become too slippery to safely operate. In either of these situations the decision may have to be made to stop shooting on the Steadicam. Production is expected to provide camera rain covers appropriate for the conditions and camera if one is needed.

Contact

The best way to get in touch is by phone or e‐mail, my phone will always be off on set so it may go straight to answer phone, please leave a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Alternatively get in touch through Twitter or Facebook.