Some people want to stick with big brand names - nothing with wrong with that. So if you're looking for my suggestion in this area, one of my favorite Stabilizer + Vests combinations still to this day is the hybrid Steadicam Merlin Vest + Glidecam HD4000 Stabilizer.
Obviously the Glidecam Stabilizer can be used without a Vest, when you just need to fly hand held. If you need the extra support for long hours of Steadicam work, you can mount the Glidecam to the Steadicam Merlin Vest (with an adapter).
The ISO ARM on the Merlin Vest can be dialed to fly both lightweight cameras as well as medium weight camera systems. This is a true 'Steadicam' branded vest, and build quality on the ISO Arm is top notch. Typically this vest runs $1600 dollars (some retailers still list this price), but recently it's been discounted for just $995 $849 (found here).
Now i'm not a fan of the Velcro straps on the actual vest part. So the only other thing I highly suggest getting is the Buckle Upgrade Kit (found here). This little kit will get rid of those nasty velcro straps that are both noisy and will eventually wear out. You can find that kit below (click here).
The Laing products have been around for quite some time, and I hear about RED Camera operators using the larger Laing stabilizers as an affordable option for flying heavy camera systems. The kit I have here is pretty heavy duty, each part feels very solid, and the entire bundle comes with a nice padded carrying bag.
The Laing P-04 Stabilizer handle matches up perfectly with the small post on the X-15 ISO Arm. If you're thinking about trying to match this up with a Glidecam, just be aware that the standard rotating post is pretty short. The bottom weights can shift forward/back on the sled, the bottom post is adjustable, and the Gimbal can be positioned vertically along the post. It's pretty much got every adjustable feature available.
The top stage has a quick release cheese plate and features all the fine tuning knobs you'll need to balance your camera. Just be aware that the top stage may require a bit of cork to keep your camera from shifting it's position.
The Laing Stabilizer Vest can be adjusted to fit taller or smaller frames, and the Arm is mounted to a quick release socket block. Velcro straps adjust the vest very nicely and buckles are used to climb in and out of the vest.
The X-15 ISO Arm can easily be dialed to support an even lighter setup than my Canon 5D Mark II + Sigma 20mm lens, but can also be dialed up to support heavier camera setups than the BlackMagic Cinema Camera. Hopefully that gives you a general idea of the weight range it supports to see if it will work with your current equipment.
I can say for DSLR Video Shooters or even BlackMagic Cinema Camera shooters this vest is good. Actually for the price you could consider it to be very very good. Is it as good as the real Steadicam brand? Well, with my lightweight DSLR camera setup I felt the arm wasn't totally as smooth as my Steadicam Merlin ISO Arm, but results were much better once I mounted a heavier camera system like the BlackMagic Cinema Camera. On it's own, the Laing P-04 Stabilizer works excellent, but it seems adding a bit more weight to the X-15 Arm and Vest will yield better performance from the arm.
Earlier this year, I showed off a Wieldy Stabilizer Vest system that finally met my needs to fly a lightweight camera setup. The vest was able to fly both my simple Canon 5D Mark III as well as my BlackMagic Design Cinema Camera. If you're interested, you can see that original video and article (found here).
I've been pretty happy with the system, and definitely worth the price for it's performance. Recently they've released a Wieldy Video Stabilizer Vest System version II. The vest has been completely redesigned along with the video stabilizer. (Their early version looks similar to a Glidecam HD4000). The new design of the stabilizer looks much more original, but still uses an adjustable gimbal that slides over a Carbon Fiber post.
The Dual Arm has also been revamped now with a total of 4 smaller springs as opposed to the older version with 2 large springs. The Dual Arm quick release connection has also been upgraded and appears to have further adjustments at the base of the arm (similar to very high end vests). No real reviews on this product yet, just one random video on the product page. You can find the Wieldy Version II Stabilizer Vest Kits via ebay (click here).
Wieldy II Stabilizer Vest System
Wieldy II Stabilizer Vest Currently Available on eBay
I purchased a Skyler MiniCam about a year ago. At the time I was looking for a very small stabilizer that was easy to travel with, offered a quick release system, fine tuning knobs, and can fly at least the Canon 5D Mark III camera. I personally felt the price was very good for the build quality, convenience, and features it had to offer, but at approx $500 dollars it wasn't something everyone wanted to dive into. Now we are seeing more affordable versions available, and here is one overview of the XCAM 2013 FL vs the original Skyler MiniCam Mini hand held stabilizer.
The XCAM no doubt shares the same design as the original Skyler MiniCam, and the 2013 XCAM version now offers a folding leg design. For the XCAM, this means you don't have to remove the legs when it's time to pack up. The XCAM is also half the price of the Skyler MiniCam for those who were looking to get into a similar stabilizer.
The tripod style legs from these two stabilizers are not just for design aesthetics, it also allows you to confidently set your stabilizer down without fear of tipping over. Not something you can do with a Merlin, and you may not be as confident doing this with a Glidecam. The spread legs also give clearance for a center mount, used to thread a monopod underneath when you want to be stationary and not have to carry the weight.
Lensse is a company that makes very simple and affordable Video camera stabilizers that support iPhones all the way up to heavy DSLR bodies. These stabilizers balance your camera over a ball socket gimbal, attempting to prevent the transfer of shaky hands into the camera while walking, and also keeping your camera level with the horizon. You can see the complete line of stabilizers they offer (here).
Recently Lensse has just announced a new Stabilizer version called the UniqueX. It shares many of the same features at their other line of stabilizers, but the highlight of this new stabilizer is the adjustable Gimbal which can be relocated to the center of balance. Just another way of fine tuning the balance of your setup. Specs state it will support cameras up to 3 lbs and retails for about $100 bucks. Check it out via Amazon (Click Here).
I have used and abused my Steadicam Merlin Vest over the years, and although the ISO Arm has lasted me this long, the actual worn vest has slowly been degrading. I love the Steadicam Merlin Vest, and highly recommend the performance it gives, but even at $1500 dollars for the vest only (seen here) this is considered the low end of Steadicam's Stabilizer Vests. There are other more professional Steadicam vests, but obviously much more expensive. While I continued patch-work on my Steadicam system, I took the time to test a few other vests on the market.
Plastic Chest Plate Cracked on my Steadicam Merlin Vest
Build quality on the few aftermarket Stabilizer Vests i've tried over the years were good, in fact many of the worn vests I thought to be more comfortable and better designed than the Steadicam Merlin Vest. The only problem was that each ISO arm on the vests seemed to require a decent amount of weight to work smoothly. The springs were basically 'too strong' to fly your basic Glidecam HD4000 and DSLR Camera. In order to work properly the stabilizer should float in the air and the ISO arm should be very flexible and responsive to movement.
For this new vest that i've purchased, the dual arms can be dialed down to fly an average DSLR lightweight setup, or dialed to support a heavier payload. The ISO arm is responsive, reduces movement that would normally transfer to the stabilizer, and allows the stabilizer to just float. I'm not a fan of a few aesthetic pieces such as the bright blue locking knobs and metal chest plate, but overall the build quality on the vest is good, lightweight, and comfortable.
The length can be quickly adjusted with a simple pull-pin, something the Steadicam Merlin vest does not offer. The Dual ISO arm can be repositioned on the left/right side, or removed completely very very easily. To attempt this with the Steadicam Vest requires more time and more effort. The buckles allow you to get in and out without having to lose your personal fitting.
Metal Plate, Quick Adjustment, Quick Release Arm, Reverse Mount
I purchased this Dual ISO Arm Stabilizer Vest with the brand logo Wieldy, but has since undergone various name changes. The common one found (at time of writing) is under the brand 'CAME' (terrible name). If you're planning to use this vest under a Glidecam or Flycam, the post diameter is just a bit small. You would need to find a way to increase the diameter a bit for a snug fit with the Glidecam or Flycam handle.
Wieldy Handle Diameter vs. Glidecam Handle Diameter
Video Camera Steadycam Dual Arm Stabilizer Load Vest
The vest is very helpful for longer video shots, but is not required. You can always purchase the vest at a later time and just start with the Wieldy Carbon Fiber hand held stabilizer. I have additional information and sample video footage shot with a Wieldy (found here). So if you are just looking for the Hand Held stabilizer, that can be found via eBay (Click Here).
Guess what came in the mail recently? It's that cheap video stabilizer load vest I posted about a few weeks ago. I've had a bit of time with the gear, and as with any product there's Pros and Cons.
The cheap vest is a combination of snap buckles and velcro, while the Steadicam Merlin vest is based on just velcro. Constantly readjusting the velcro on the Steadicam Merlin vest causes the vest to wear out, not to mention it's a bitch for hangnails. I've already had to replace the velcro on my Steadicam Vest, but there is also a 'buckle upgrade kit' (seen here) I will probably do the next time I need repairs. I've been using the Steadicam Vest for a long time, and I find that the Cheap Vest is more comfortable than the Steadicam Merlin vest.
The cheap vest I received came with a few scratches on the paint. Only slight blemishes, and nothing compared to how my Steadicam Vest looks like today. The Steadicam Merlin vest can be dialed down to fly light camera stabilizers. The ISO arm on the cheap vest requires a heavier load than the Steadicam. When flying just my 5D + Glidecam HD4000, the setup was not heavy enough to bounce the arm. I ended up adding some addition weight on the stabilizer setup for the cheap arm to work better.
It's no Steadicam Killer, but the Cheap Vest has really good build quality for the price. I find it more comfortable than the Steadicam Vest and it works to carry your Flycam or Glidecam Stabilizers. If you're planning on flying a very light setup, this vest will not operate as smooth as the Steadicam Merlin Vest. The ISO arm of the cheap vest requires a bit more weight to put the proper tension on the spring. Below is a video showing pretty much the exact same vest setup from YouTube member Kirk Saber, along with his example footage from the vest system.
If you look carefully, you can see the bounce in his step due to the spring tension requiring more weight. The Steadicam Merlin Vest is a dual arm setup, while the cheap vest is only a single ISO arm. The Steadicam Merlin vest runs almost $1600 and the Cheap Vest runs for just under $400 dollars. There's a new listing in which they are also offering a Carbon stabilizer as part of a bundled package via eBay (Click Here).
Less than a year ago, Wondlan introduced a few hand held carbon fiber stabilizers. Since the release, it was short of showcasing excellent examples of the stabilizers in use, so it was hard to tell if it was the actual unit or operator experience. Here's one video that shows some pretty fluid movements and also a short balancing tutorial with one of the Wondlan stabilizers. Besides the light weight Carbon Fiber, certain models of the Wondlan Stabilizer can telescope fairly tall to be used as a short monopod when you're not flying around.
Showing up now on eBay, there is another Steadicam Merlin-esque type video camera stabilizer called the Manyan. Build quality looks pretty good and seems to hold up a decent amount of weight. Some of the video samples at the product page are over 2 years old, so it's obviously been around for a while. Anyone use this Manyan before? Check out the other images at the eBay store (Click Here).