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Camcorders

Merlin Steadicam: the camcorder grip for drunks

The magical smooth gliding camera shots that professional camera operators achieve aren't produced by magic: they're created with expensive Steadicam technology. Now there's a cheaper alternative for the rest of us

Remember those shots in The Shining where Stanley Kubrik's camera chases after little Danny on his red tricycle? That scene was shot using a £40,000 version of the Merlin, this new camera stabilisation system from Steadicam. This little device helps the most decrepit camera-fumbler shoot presentable footage.

Endorsed by the man who designed the original Steadicam, and so made Kubrik's vision of supernatural violence possible, the Merlin is one of the neatest gadgets we've seen at CES so far.

The Merlin was definitely a winner with the press pit. We watched a couple of news cameramen desert the viewfinders of their £10,000 HD cameras to take a good look at what the man from Steadicam was demoing on stage. Whichever way the Merlin was tilted, it kept a Sony PD150 DV camera level with the horizon, and eliminated most shake and roll from the operator.

At around £500 this is a shoestring DV filmmaker's dream come true. A few years ago a rig that could simulate the Merlin would have been completely out of reach. It's interesting to observe, as the price of pro-level DV cameras falls, so too does the cost of their accessories. The kind of filmmaking tools that were reserved for the backlots of Universal Studios and Paramount are now available to an enthusiastic dad who wants to capture the school sports day. Viva la revolution!

Steadicam also demoed a small tripod called the SwitchGrip. This tripod fits in a small carry bag and gives birth to another, smaller tripod, through an orifice in its handle. It had to be seen to be understood, but we certainly wanted one.

Visit our CES 2006 Special Report for more coverage. -CS