In the 1970s, the filmmaking world was changed forever by the invention of the Steadicam. For decades, filmmakers and camera operators searched for new ways to move their cameras to capture different shots in varying styles. Camera operator and commercial director Garrett Brown was tired of having to hold heavy equipment up to his eye to frame a shot properly. He searched for ways to make that job less stressful, and by 1974, he had created a rig that would revolutionize the industry. This new stabilizer combined a supportive vest with a moveable arm and a sled, which is an adjustable pole that attaches directly to the camera. By 1976, all the big film studios in Hollywood were using the Steadicam; the combination of the vest and arm made smooth, agile shots easy to capture.
The Steadicam is just one style of stabilizer on the market. In order to keep your camera from shaking, a stabilizer will be your best friend. To make shooting easier on your back and arms, use a stabilizer rig attached to a vest to keep your footage blur-free. While you’re shopping around for equipment, you might think, “Do I really need a vest to keep my camera work steady?” That decision is up to you, but the benefits of stabilizer vests are innumerable; they’ve been in common use for decades for good reason. If you want to make those long shooting days easier, both on your camera and on your body, pick up a stabilizer vest. You’ll see and feel the difference as you get used to wearing it. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of a good camera stabilizer vest and arm.
Crisp, Focused Shots
When you hold your camera in your hands as you shoot, you’ll notice that it takes longer for your subject to come into focus. Even if you think you’re steady enough on your own, your body makes micro-movements you may not be aware of. The human body is a living thing that’s meant to move; you can never stand completely still on your own. Some camera operators lean against a tree or other stationary object to stabilize their footage; but again, it’s an unreliable method when used on its own. Enlist a little technological help to keep you steady.
Think about the mood of your movie, scene by scene. A fast-paced fight or chase scene can often handle a little wobble, and in those instances, it may be more convenient to go handheld anyway. But if you’re filming a more intimate, dialogue-heavy scene, a shaky camera will distract from the gravity of the scene. The characters will shift in and out of focus, downplaying their dialogue. The best way to ensure that your actors are in focus and crisply aligned is to shoot with a stabilizer vest. The vest and arm work in tandem with your body. You’ve got the freedom to move around without the pressure to keep your own arm perfectly steady. The rig attached to your body is doing the hard work for you.
Ease on Your Body
Have you ever spent a whole day shooting with nothing but a handheld camera? How did your body feel the next day?
To keep your core and arms from aching on the regular, use a little extra hardware to support you. You’ll still need to keep your strength up and practice walking with the vest on, but you don’t need to be an athlete to operate it. The stabilizer vest enables you to shoot crisp footage without exhausting yourself. Your body lets you move from location to location, while the hardware of the camera stabilizer vest and arm keeps your camera steadier than your own arm ever could. Give your muscles a break and allow yourself to rely on technology!
Variety of Shot Styles
Stabilizer vests are remarkably versatile. Since they attach directly to your body, they can go wherever you can. If you need to shoot footage in narrow closets or crevices, the stabilizer vest will follow you where a more traditional setup can’t. Using a vest rig can help you shoot claustrophobic scenes without jamming a bunch of camera equipment into a limited space.
You’re also not limited in camera alignment! The vest allows you to tilt the camera from side to side without having to detach it from your rig. If a bird is flying overhead, or if a character throws something into the air, your camera can follow it without shaking or losing focus.
Once you’ve practiced walking with the vest and arm on, you can follow characters more closely. Walk backward, slowly and on the balls of your feet, as you shoot two characters talking. That smooth backward movement imitates a classic dolly shot without the extra equipment. If you’re comfortable doing so, you can even glide along on a skateboard with your vest and arm on for extra smoothness in your shot.
Compactness, Convenience, and Cost
Stabilizer vests are an essential tool for directors on a budget or those who do a lot of location shoots. They’re more compact than a van full of dollies, tripods, and various rigs, and they’re easy to transport to the actual shoot. As mentioned above, they’re also effective in creating a sense of claustrophobia when you shoot in tiny rooms or alleyways.
The versatile nature of the stabilizer vest allows you to imitate the effects of heavier, more expensive equipment. If you wear the vest and arm while leaning on a stationary object or surface, you get the effects of a tripod. If you move or skate around your actors with measured speed, you don’t necessarily need to set up a dolly.
Start your equipment collection with a camera stabilizer vest and arm and try out a few different shots with it. That way, you can get a feel for what kinds of shots you capture most often and purchase more equipment accordingly.
There are many and varied benefits to owning a stabilizer vest. If you’re an adventurous director who loves to shoot on location, the vest and arm will help you move more freely. If you’re a filmmaker working on a tight budget, a vest rig is a great piece of “starter” equipment that will get you used to multiple kinds of shots. As you peruse Glide Gear’s website, poring over rigs and tripods, look for the pieces that are most practical for your filmmaking style. Don’t forget the benefits of stabilizer vests as you shop!