Nothing ruins an otherwise perfect shot like an unstable, shaky camera. Unless the effect is intentional, a shaky shot doesn’t look great and can be dizzying for a viewer to watch. Whether the shot is shaky due to an amateur camera operator or the difficulty of taking a smooth moving shot, unstable shots are a common issue that filmmakers encounter. Fortunately, camera stabilizers can help with this problem. Read on to learn the basics of how a camera stabilizer works.
What Is a Camera Stabilizer?
A camera stabilizer is a filmmaking accessory that, as the name suggests, stabilizes your camera. These rigs eliminate any undesired movement of the camera and in the shot by balancing that movement out. Camera stabilizers often incorporate gimbals and are largely based upon your camera’s weight, so you will want to make sure you’re using a stabilizer that is appropriate for your camera.
Types of Camera Stabilizers
There are three main types of camera stabilizers: handheld stabilizers, 3-axis gimbals, and vest stabilizer systems. Each is explained below.
A handheld camera stabilizer is added to a camera to give it some extra stability. These types of stabilizers are simply attached to the camera and held by the camera operator, rather than using a 3-axis gimbal or any sort of vest system. A handheld camera stabilizer does help to eliminate some shakiness from shots, but it is still important that the camera operator keep the camera and stabilizer steady while filming. Different handheld camera stabilizers correspond to cameras of different weights, so it is important to check the weight capacity of the stabilizer you will be using.
A 3-axis gimbal has three axes that help to stabilize shots while filming, balancing out the unsteadiness of a camera operator’s hand or the shakiness that results from filming moving shots on uneven surfaces. The three axes of a gimbal are the yaw (pan), pitch (tilt), and roll axes, which each steady the camera on a different plane of motion and can be used when filming various tracking or moving shots. 3-axis gimbals come in both motorized and non-motorized varieties. Motorized 3-axis gimbals are helpful for automating the camera adjustment process, but keep in mind that motorized 3-axis gimbals will need to be kept charged.
Vest Stabilizer Systems
Vest stabilizer systems are attached to the camera and worn by the camera operator. This type of stabilizer steadies the camera and shot while the camera operator is walking, resulting in a smooth shot. These types of stabilizers are most often used in conjunction with large, high-end, professional film cameras, but they can be used with other types of cameras as well. Vest stabilizer systems are often referred to as Steadicams, but this is not actually the name of this type of camera but rather one popular brand. Vest stabilizer systems have three main components that work together to stabilize the camera: the arm, vest, and sled.
The first component of a vest stabilizer system is an iso-elastic arm, which connects the sled to the vest. The arm holds the camera a little way away from the camera operator, keeping the two separated. This allows the camera to stay steady, even when the camera operator is not. The arm is made up of two segments connected by a hinge, and those combined with springs within the arm and the downward pulling weight of the sled serve to keep the camera steady in the same position, even when the person holding it moves.
The vest is the part of a vest stabilizer system that the camera operator wears. The vest fits over the camera operator’s shoulders, across the chest, and securely around the waist. The vest connects to the camera via the stabilizer’s arm. The camera is suspended in front of the camera operator, and he or she controls it from there.
The final component of a vest stabilizer system is the sled. The sled is the part of the stabilizer that attaches directly to the camera. It consists of a pole that the camera operator uses to adjust the position of the camera, and a monitor and battery at the bottom of the pole. The sled is the main part of the stabilizer responsible for balancing the camera, which it does by transferring the camera’s center of gravity to the sled rather than the camera itself and increasing the camera’s resistance to rotation.
Tips for Using a Camera Stabilizer
Now that you know the basics of how a camera stabilizer works, it’s time for some tips on how to use a camera stabilizer.
Choose the Right Stabilizer
First off, you’ll need to choose the right stabilizer for your project and camera. The stabilizer you choose depends on your needs. If you are a casual filmmaker or don’t need a perfectly steady shot, a basic handheld stabilizer may be a good fit for you. If you’re a professional or need the steadiest shot, a vest stabilizer system might be a better choice. Some other factors to consider include:
- Weight of your camera
- Electronic vs. non-electronic
- Accessories you’ll be using with the camera and stabilizer
Get Used To the Stabilizer
Camera stabilizers, especially vest stabilizer systems, are not exactly natural to use. Give yourself some time to get used to using a stabilizer with your camera, and practice, practice, practice until you get the hang of it.
Plan Your Shots
Camera stabilizers are great for taking a variety of shots, especially ones that involve movement. Some good shots to take with a camera stabilizer include:
- Tracking shots
- Pan shots
- Follow shots
- Overhead shots
- And many more!
Before you begin filming, plan out each shot you’ll be taking and know what you need to do to carry them out well.
Allow Time for Setup and Breaks
It can take a while to set up some camera stabilizer systems, so leave yourself adequate time to prepare before filming begins. Furthermore, many camera stabilizer systems are quite heavy. If you’re using a heavy stabilizer system, especially a vest stabilizer system that must be strapped to your body, be sure to set aside some time during long filming sessions to recover from the weight. The last thing you want is to injure yourself while filming.
A camera stabilizer is a necessity for any serious filmmaker. If you haven’t already invested in a stabilizer, evaluate your needs from one and choose an appropriate model. Whether you’re searching for a vest and arm camera stabilizer, a basic handheld camera stabilizer, or another film accessory, Glide Gear can help you out. Our camera accessories will have you filming smooth movement shots in no time.