This review has been a long time coming. The Steadicam Curve has been out for close to two years now. Initially, there were some issues getting production models out the door but the Curve is widely available now and it is relatively affordable at just $59.
If you aren’t familiar with the Steadicam Curve, it is a handheld gimbal for GoPro cameras. Using the Curve in conjunction with a GoPro can deliver very smooth footage while moving – akin to floating through the air. That’s what gimbals do. They prevent the transfer of shake and vibration from your hands to the camera.
I have spent brief amounts of time with it at several trade shows over the past couple years, starting at NAB 2013. From the first time I picked it up, I loved it – loved it. Then, I got one to review and wanted to pull my hair out.
This story has a happy ending; however, you need to hear what is in between if you are interested in the Steadicam Curve.
Limitations of Use in the Design
The Steadicam Curve was initially designed to work in the limited scenario in which you paired it with a GoPro HERO to HERO3+ model when using the GoPro LCD BacPac. While that makes sense for using the BacPac as a visual reference for framing as you shoot with the Curve, it shrinks the potential Curve market to a small fraction of all of the GoPro owners in the world.
The LCD BacPac was a requirement not as much for framing guidelines as for weight requirements. I imagine that Tiffen also considered that users who had the LCD BacPac accessory would be more sophisticated enthusiasts and more likely to have the need and desire to purchase the Curve.
Of course, the GoPro field of view is wide enough that precise framing is not required to get usable footage with the camera. The entire GoPro market is actually based on this premise – you point it in the direct you want and press record. Out comes sometimes amazing footage.
Apparently, Tiffen figured out along the way that the market could be much bigger and released a weight kit that would mimic the BacPac weight and balance on the GoPro. Now, with this $13 weight kit, the Curve market is open to every GoPro owner except for HERO4 Silver users (more on that in a minute).
I tested the Steadicam Curve with the weight kit on a HERO3+. Following the directions precisely to balance the camera and weight kit on the Steadicam Curve drove me insane. I literally wasted hours trying to get the thing balanced – going through the instructions from scratch over and over again.
Now, I feel like I am a pretty intelligent person and can certainly follow instructions for assembly and operation of a variety of semi-technical equipment. I own a Glidecam XR-2000 that I have used for years with my DSLRs. I can balance the thing with my eyes closed with a variety of cameras and lenses attached. I had used the Steadicam Curve at several trade shows and it worked perfectly.
As I was about to give up and say “screw it” someone at Tiffen put me in touch with their tech support and I hopped on a Skype call to figure this out. What I learned on that call is the most important part of this review for prospective buyers of the Steadicam Curve…
Don’t trust the instructions!
Tiffen’s own instruction manual that had been written with a detailed description of how to set up and balance the Curve was positively and completely wrong.
The instructions told me that if I am using the GoPro HERO3+ that I needed to use the black weight to balance the camera on the Curve. As I talked with tech support over Skype, he walked me through the same instructions I had gone through several times before. Within a couple of minutes, it was as obvious to him that the designated setup didn’t work.
Then he told me to switch to the silver weight and, going through the same process, we had it balanced in another 2 minutes or so. But I thought I had to use the black weight with the HERO3+? As it turns out, I am not the only one who has faced this dilemma. As frustrating as the process had been, that made me feel a little better.
The instructions are only really there as general guidelines . . . but Tiffen doesn’t tell you that up front, so I’m telling you now.
Try the recommended weights and settings when setting your Curve up. If that doesn’t work, try the other weight plate or weight sets that go in the weight tube. Once you have the right weights selected, the setup process is actually very simple. It just requires a little more trial and error to select the appropriate weights than what the instructions would otherwise lead you to believe.
Why are the instructions wrong? I’m not sure, but in my case, I’m wondering if maybe the GoPro mount I had used to attach to the Curve was a different height than what Tiffen had used in its manual. Also, if you are using a different case than the default, fully-sealed waterproof case, the balance could be off. There are so many variations in GoPro accessories that, unless you have the exact same everything that Tiffen used to write its manual, your GoPro setup is going to be different and, therefore, your setup is going to be different.
If all else fails, before you start pulling your hair out, email email@example.com and request help via Skype on setting up your Curve. Here’s a link to the Tiffen contact page in case that changes.
I asked Tiffen’s tech support guy, Rey, if the same help I received (as a reviewer) was available to all Steadicam Curve customers and he assured me that it was. If they can’t help you with your questions over email, you’ll ultimately end up on a Skype call with Rey. He is very down to earth and helpful and within a few minutes, he should have you straightened out if you get to the point I was.
Everything is Balanced
So after I got the Steadicam Curve balanced, using it was a breeze and just as I had expected it to be. This is what makes it well worth the $59 asking price.
It is easy to use one-handed. I tend to grip it with three fingers and use my thumb and forefinger to feather the gimbal in the direction I want to point it.
It is amazing to use such a lightweight gimbal and have it work with the ease and fluidity at which it does.
As a GoPro accessory, of course, it can’t be used everywhere. A lot of the reason we use GoPro cameras is the ability to stick them anywhere and on anything. The wide angle shot helps us avoid the impact of camera shake. And the incredible POV angles allow us to forgive whatever is left.
The Curve is a device that is for the more deliberate GoPro shooter. If you are shooting everything with a GoPro and you want to change up your shot selection, then definitely give the Curve a closer look.
Below I have included a couple clips of sample footage that compares GoPro footage captured with the Steadicam Curve and handheld footage without the advantage of the gimbal. This was shot as I hiked to a stream one day to shoot some long exposures. I had two full camera bags with tripods on my back and shoulders and a slider in my left hand. It was also pretty darn cold and my arms/hands were not the steadiest that day, but this should give you an idea of the advantage between using a gimbal like the Curve for handheld shots and using just your hands.
Wind is the Curve’s Achilles Heel
Even a moderate breeze is enough to send the Steadicam Curve spinning in your hand. As a result, your shooting environments are limited. Indoors and a calm day outside are your options for shooting with the Curve using its gimbal.
Of course, you can lock the handle on the frame for a more traditional handheld experience. The GoPro handles better than it would without a handle but you still have to deal with shaky camera movements if you aren’t careful.
The locking handle makes it a 2-in-1 device. So if the gimbal isn’t for you in a particular environment, you don’t have to remove the camera to put it on a different mount. Just lock it in place and it works fine.
The Problem with the GoPro HERO4 Silver
I love what GoPro has done with the HERO4 Silver. I have one and I use the touchscreen LCD all of the time. It is a great addition to the camera.
Unfortunately, it is incompatible with the Steadicam Curve since you can’t really add weights to it. Well, you can add weights but then it covers up the LCD screen and defeats the purpose of the camera. If you have a HERO4 Silver, you could take some lead tape and stick around the edges of the frame to add weight to help balance the Curve; however, it would be nice if Steadicam would develop its own backdoor for the HERO4 Silver that had built-in weights (or at least a way to attach weights without interfering with the HERO4 Silver’s screen).
For now though, HERO4 Silver users are left in the dark (or at least severe compromise) when it comes to using the Steadicam Curve.
How to Make the Steadicam Curve Better
As it stands now, the Curve works great. However, asking users to purchase a $13 weight kit separately has probably been frustrating for a lot of people who didn’t realize the the GoPro LCD BacPac was required to make the Curve balance with the camera.
Put all of the weight options in the box. Remove frustrations for users.
Adopt a more seamless weight kit design. Make backs for the GoPro cases that are weighted. Add an option for HERO4 Silver users. The built-in LCD on GoPro cameras is not going away, so figure it out now and make the Curve future-proof.
Clean up the instructions. Pull from the expertise of you tech support guys (like Rey), who clearly know customer frustrations and pain points. Build the product manuals around those hurdles.
Update the Steadicam Curve support page. As of now, it has outdated info on it.
Tiffen released this “solution” months ago. This page probably hasn’t been updated in over a year. Make the support page more robust with a larger variety of real world FAQs that are our there.
Update the Steadicam Curve Facebook page. It has been nearly one and a half months since the last post. There have been four updates since November 7, 2014.
Answer questions that customers are asking you about the Curve on your Facebook page.
And, yes, people care about the HERO4 Silver and the Steadicam Curve. GoPro has handed you a match made in Heaven. Figure this out!
Unfortunately, the Steadicam Curve is a product with a whole lot of potential that appears to be left to flounder on its own. Either commit to the product and engage customers, or pull it off the shelves.
As you have figured out by now, I am a fan of the Steadicam Curve. I think it could be a big hit. It just needs some marketing and customer support love, which it doesn’t appear to be getting right now.
That said, I still recommend it for GoPro enthusiasts who understand what they are getting into. It can and does work well if you can follow the tips I have talked about here to get you through the setup and support process.
If you are a HERO4 Silver user and want to use the Curve, I would suggest emailing/calling/posting on social media to Tiffen that you want the Curve to work with your camera. It is a perfect pair and, hopefully, Tiffen will see that sooner rather than later.
The Steadicam Curve runs $59.95 and is available in a variety of colors. Check it out here at B&H Photo.