It took me a few days, but I managed to balance the D600 and 17-55mm combo on another Steadicam Merlin (borrowed from a friend to be used as a test mule). Anyone who has tried to setup one of these things with any camera will tell you it’s a lesson in trial and error and frustration. I remember it took about two weeks off and on tinkering to get my main 5D setup going with the 24-105mm. Neither of them are 100% in the open environment for sure, and I attribute that to operator error, but I would have to say I’m at least Level 2 after using these devices for a couple of years now. I definitely need to log more field time with them, but again, video is really just a satellite interest of mine.
Update: I also balanced the 24-85mm VR on the Steadicam Merlin. Works much better, but obviously a different lens, with different handling with the focus ring being closer and smaller.
Here’s my two setups, on the left, the Canon, and on the right the Nikon. When I first got the Steadicam I consulted the online Merlin Cookbook to find settings that the company or users had submitted, but couldn’t quite get the balance right. This is the type of finicky device you really have to learn for yourself, since even having the camera strap on will throw off the balance. The D600 required more weights I found, and this combo has to sit almost all the way back on the stage. The vignetting you see is because the lens is designed for crop cameras, but does manage to cover the full frame sensor from about 28mm onward. In bright daylight and small apertures the vignetting disappears. If I want the wideness that is the lens’ true field of view I can always enable DX crop mode.
I tried balancing the J1 on the Merlin, and that didn’t go so well. That camera is too light. I also tried the 28mm Ai-S, but manual focus on that and the shifting elements when you have to set the focus makes it a very difficult lens to use on Steadicam. If anyone’s interested in the numbers (arc length, z axis, stage placement) I’ll be happy to share them, but to honest, it’s one of those things where doing it for yourself can only help with future setups and tweaking. Best thing I can say is to calibrate it to your personal arm strength. When the device feels “magnetic,” almost like it is fighting against its own weight, then you are close to balancing the entire device. The other 50% is sheer practice and foot movement.