Does it matter what kind of steadicam system my operator uses?
To a degree yes. It’s fully possible to go to someplace like Home Depot and buy all the things you would need to build something that – more or less – works like a steadicam. It’s also possible to go to the same place and buy everything you would need to build something that – more or less – provides the same function as a light aircraft. In either case the end results would best be described as “limiting.”
There are many (thanks to the internet) easy to identify name brand systems that are in common use within the film industry. Some of these names are GPI- Pro, Tiffen, XCS, and Cinema Products. There are a great many others. The name on the equipment is, almost always, not as important as the operator using it. Many operators use rigs assembled from various manufacturers to specifically tailor their equipment’s performance to their specific needs. You may find one operator who uses an XCS sled with a Pro arm and a Klassen harness, or another who uses a Cinema Products arm with a Tiffen vest and a MK-V sled. There are other operators who have had components custom fabricated to meet their requirements and at the end of the day, the most important element of the system is the person wearing it. This does NOT mean that everything with an arm, vest and gimbal is right for your production.
There are many manufacturers out there who make “lighter weight” rigs capable of flying the ever smaller cameras that are becoming industry standard. Technological advancement rarely takes a thing and adds more weight and bulk onto it in order to accomplish the same task. Technology exists to, if anything, take the things we use every day and make them smaller and more efficient. Can a lightweight stabilizer system service your project? Probably, albeit in a limited capacity as lighter weight systems require a lot of compromise. Sure you can put that lightweight 4k cinema camera up on that little thing, but what about all the stuff that you need to go along with it? If all your operator can get on their steadicam system is a stripped down version of your camera and you’ve had to sacrifice iris or zoom control because it can only support one remote motor, or your sound guy has had to pull his receivers off the camera, or now your DP can’t use any of his filters because the matte box makes it impossible to balance the rig, what are you really getting for the investment you’ve made in having a steadicam operator on set that day? A cinema level steadicam system is designed such that you, as the director, producer or cinematographer do not have to make compromises in terms of your camera system on set. Steadicams should have the capability to lift and power anything your camera package requires. Yes, in some cases it may be necessary to remove certain redundant items like secondary monitors and external battery mounts for the sake of allowing your operator to maintain a certain higher degree of dynamic control over the camera, but you should never have to strip your camera down to the body and a lens because your operator’s gear can’t handle more than that.