Since I have a BMC, I was looking for an easy, affordable stabilizer, to get some extra production value out of it. I’m far from being a good Staeadycam operator and I don’t even try to be one (too old and fat for that anyway), but here and there, I run into some situations, where a Steadycam would be quite handy for a few shots, but the budget isn’t there, to hire a pro operator with gear. That’s where the Wondlan products caught my eye. They are pretty affordable (most pro Steadycam systems cost more than my car) and they seem good enough, for what I want to do with them.
I received the Wondlan Magic Carbon Fibre Stabilizer, a single arm and a vest.
The Magic Stabilizer sports a carbon fiber stick that extends and also doubles as a monopod, if you need that. What I really like, is the fact, that the extending lower end doesn’t twist, when you release it. So it’s always aligned with the top stage and the camera.
Single arm huh? Also the stick and the top stage did look a bit flimsy at a first glance.
I have to admit, that I was a bit skeptical if that would do the trick, especially because I’m not exactly the most experienced operator. Will it be too shaky, because of just one arm? Will the vest fit my XXL body? Will I ever get it dynamically balanced? I had not the most stellar experience with cheaper Steadycam systems before.
To my surprise, everything went fine. The vest did not only easily fit, it was quite comfortable to wear. It’s very well thought and made. Everything is pretty solid and no corners cut anywhere, maybe besides one thing. I would be more comfortable with metal buckles than the plastic buckles the Wondlan vest has. If it would be my own vest, that’s the first thing I would swap.
As I said, the stage and the stick look a bit flimsy on a first glance, but they work well, when you put them in action. Personally I’m not the biggest fan of carbon there, cause I saw carbon 19mm rods splinter when you tighten them too much, or a carbon fiber boom when clamped down. So You may be a bit careful there.
The top stage also works fine (especially for the price). Of course it’s not that elaborated and comfortable, as a top stage that alone costs as much, as the complete Leopard II kit (nothing you would expect anyway), but it still does the trick at the end – and that’s what counts.
The first time, I bolted the BMC on the Leo, it took me about 10 minutes, to balance it (static and dynamic). Once I got my ballpark settings, it took less than 5 minutes, when I removed the camera or changed lenses.
So how does it fly?
Better than I thought. Though I’m not a pro, when it comes to flying those rigs, I got pretty nice results. And when I say nice, I mean nice as in – usable in a documentary that is gonna broadcast on TV. Cause that’s what I did there.
Even with 24mm glass (that is like 58mm on a BMC) I was able to get some tighter shots that looked quite good.
Most surprise was the single arm. I expected it, to not providing enough isolation from my walking, and actually yes, it’s not THAT forgiving as a double arm. But if you a bit careful and with some practicing, you can get almost the same smooth hovering camera movements out of the Leopard III, as with more expensive double arm gear..
And hey, as you can see, even an old cowboy can fly it 😉
HDVideoshop provided me with a Leopard III and a Wondlan Magic Carbon Fibre Stabilizer – Monopod. That combination worked just fine for the shot I needed there, but for more action driven stuff, I would prefer to have the Leopard I-Type Carbon Fibre Steadycam Stabilizer that let’s you put a battery and monitor in the traditional position, at the lower end of the stick.
As with all arms I ever tried, you need to add some weight to your rig, when your camera is not heavy enough to get a stable and smooth ride.
Some folks are not gonna like that, but mass is crucial here. If you are too light-weight your camera will swing and turn around and you will see the bobbing of your walk.
That’s where most people give up, cause they think they just suck at it and never gonna learn it. If you buy a Steadycam system (no matter what brand or price) and you have problems to get it steady, chances are, you are to lightweight. Just try too add some extra weight and your flying will be much better. Also you get better material, cause you can start on concentrating on the framing, instead of keeping the damed thing from swinging and turning.
If you plan to do more than a few shots here and there, you may want to look into the double arm system. In my opinion it’s a “must have” if you want to do more work as a Stedaycam operator. It gives you much more booming range and is more forgiving on rough terrain, while running or on steps.
So is it a Steadicam killer? Not really. The high $$ original Steadicam is definitely in a different league. But for the price, you get a very capable and well made stabilizer. It’s easy to use and easy to balance. If you use cameras like DSLRs, FS100, BMC or similar, the Wondlan is for you. You can do most of the shots with it, that you could do with a much more expensive rig and they will be much smoother and easier to get, than with some certain Indian gear, I tried some years ago. The finish and build quality is great and so is the bang for the buck.