Introduced more than six years ago, the Merlin was designed originally as a solution for smaller camcorders, with hover-like floating stabilization of the image for extended takes and smooth pans even when dealing with tricky camera movement obstacles like staircases, corners and motion. Soon after the video-capable DSLR explosion, the Steadicam Merlin also found itself a popular choice for videomakers who were looking for a compact stabilization system that was compatible with the new class of low-profile DSLRs. Now Steadicam has evolved the original design of the Merlin to deliver a device that has addressed spots in the original construction that would break down over time while also improving on the overall experience, torque and ergonomic comfort.
The Merlin 2 employs a new metal gimbal with ball bearings and a sophisticated counterbalance system that allows you to perfectly adjust the center of gravity for correctly balancing any number of camera and lens combinations from 0.5 to 5 pounds. (That payload capacity extends to 7.5 pounds when using the Merlin 2 with the Steadicam Merlin Arm & Vest system.) Establishing exact center of gravity is intrinsic to the Merlin 2's performance, and there are three separate areas of adjustment and refinement: counterbalance, gimbal and the arc.
The adjustment knobs for locking the plate in place have been enlarged for easier handling, as well. There's also an adjustable lens platform that can be set at angles for accommodating longer lenses, and the whole system folds up and stows neatly into a customized and included carrying case. A level is planted on the rear of the device for eyeing balance while shooting, the handle has been made more ergonomic for more comfortable handholding, and a sturdier center column has been added to the setup for longer life. To avoid recalibration and extend the life of the device, the hooking clasp locking mechanism of the original Merlin's Folding-Caliper hinge has been replaced with a sturdier spring-loaded spar locking knob, too, which helps to keep the unit precisely aligned even when folded. A few of the many accessories available for the Merlin 2 include extra weights, travel bags, backpacks, a display stand and more.
All in all, the Merlin 2 is simple to understand in principle, but it does take quite a bit of practice to master. Steadicam provides an online cookbook with a user-submitted database and basic setup combinations for the first Merlin system at www.merlincookbook.com. (The Merlin 2 offers similar, but altered specs that haven't been updated as of yet.) Steadicam suggests a preview of setup videos online before attempting to calibrate the system on your own, and there's also an app planned for future release.
That being said, such fine control over counterbalance and momentum gives a lot of flexibility when it comes to setting your favored camera movements and inertia. If handled with experience, the Merlin 2 even can be used as a substitution for tripods, rails and sliders. It's an excellent stabilization system, exactly as you would expect from Steadicam, and as long as you put in the time to practice and master favored setups, your footage will turn out looking as smooth as butter, which is so important when working with DSLR sensors that are prone to movement artifacts. Estimated Street Price: $799 (Merlin 2); $1,495 (MERLIN-ARMVESTPK Upgrade Kit for Merlin).
Contact: Steadicam (Tiffen Company), (631) 273-2500, www.tiffen.com.