Simple stabilizer for shooting video on the move


I already tried to make steadicam for a camera, but I must admit that it did not live up to my expectations. I imagined that I could use it to shoot in motion, while simultaneously tracking the movement of the subject, but I did not succeed.

The first attempt to shoot in motion (which I conducted in the field) failed miserably. But it revealed the main drawback of the pendulum type steadicam – the imbalance of the camera, with constant acceleration or when moving along a curved path.

The center of gravity of steadicam

For all stabilizers constructed on the basis of the pendulum principle, the center of gravity is located slightly below the fulcrum, which leads to a displacement of the camera position during prolonged acceleration or curvilinear movement. Moreover, the smaller the mass of the moving part, the lower the stability provided by the inertia of the system.

Another, no less significant drawback of the traditional steadicam pointed in the iPhone gimbal reviews, is the lack of convenient control of the camera position. Simply put, the videographer does not have an ordinary handle using which he could quickly direct the camera to the subject. I also tried to solve this problem in my first design, but the control was not very convenient, and completely useless when shooting in motion.

I feel like virtuoso camera men are capable to simultaneously:

  • 1. Follow the road.
  • 2. Hold the subject in the frame.
  • 3. Gently hold the camera mounted on the Steadicam during acceleration and deceleration.

But I hardly manage to implement the first two points. It is enough to focus on the road (when it is not smooth asphalt), as the subject immediately falls out of the frame. Therefore, I had already abandoned attempts to shoot a reportage video, but due to the surge in fashion for three-axis electronic steadicams, I returned to my dream again and tried to make it come true with budgetary funds.

Of course, it would be interesting to build a stabilizer with microprocessor, servo-drive control, especially since the electronic-software part is relatively inexpensive. But the total costs, including sensors, servo motors and power are already comparable to the cost of a budget video camera. To build such a system for the filming of amateur clips is certainly not worth it. It’s more advisable to save up more money and buy a more or less decent camcorder, which has a built-in electronic stabilization system.

In general, I wondered if it was possible to make smooth shooting in motion using an amateur camera… After all, at first glance, a modern camera has only a couple of significant differences from a video camera.

Analysis of the differences between the photo and video cameras in terms of shooting in motion

The first difference is the lack of an electronic stabilizer. But no one forbids applying software image stabilization to an already finished video. In addition, when there is an original video, this operation can be performed taking into account the peculiarities of the footage. For example, part of the clip can be stabilized, and some can be fixed so that the video image does not move at all, as if shooting was carried out using a tripod.

Do not rely on the optical stabilizer which is available in modern cameras. It can only worsen video results in motion, and it is better to turn it off. In any case, both of my cameras with the optical stabilizers turned on add twitching to the video shot in motion, although they do pretty well in slow shooting.

The second difference is the lack of image size reserve needed for post-processing using software stabilization. The fact is that with software stabilization, part of the original image is lost.

In video cameras the image is formed with a margin (for the needs of stabilization), so the resulting, already stabilized image retains the specified resolution.

In the photo camera, this drawback can be partially compensated if, when shooting, a deliberately smaller focal length of the lens and a higher image resolution than required for the final frame are selected. Indeed, for amateur video a certain decrease in the maximum resolution is not as critical as the instability of the image on the screen.

If the shooting is conducted in a resolution exceeding the resolution of the final film, then the losses will be completely insignificant. Indeed, each successive resolution of the video image exceeds the previous one by 1.5 times.

But even taking into account the above, it is not possible to get decent shooting results in motion. The reason is the loss of a significant area of ​​the image necessary for program stabilization, and due to the too large amplitude of camera shake. In addition, sudden changes in camera position create noticeable image artifacts that the image stabilization programs cannot usually handle.

I never had a professional video camera, but I always observed with great interest how professional videographers make the camera soar in space, changing the shooting angle. They change the position of the camcorder, as if in their hands a sleeping baby. And thanks to the stabilizer built into the camcorder, the smoothness of movement is no worse than when using the most sophisticated electromechanical steadicams. And although, such miracles of balancing act as operators usually do not work in conditions of fast movement, anyway, it becomes clear that there are other differences between a professional video camera and an amateur camera.

Consider the less obvious differences between amateur cameras and camcorders, taking into account the features of professional camcorders.

The third difference is the low weight of the amateur camera. While a high-end video camera can weigh 1.5 kilograms or more, an amateur one rarely reaches 300-400 grams.

In addition, unlike the video camera, the camcorder’s weight is distributed along the optical axis of the lens, which significantly improves inertial image stabilization at no additional cost.

The fourth difference is the lack of a handle. Professional camcorders have a handle located on top that allows you to smoothly move the camcorder with one hand.

Suspecting that this very handle is one of the important components of the camera’s stabilization system in motion, I set up some simple experiments to check it. You can easily repeat them before buying ready-made gadgets for image stabilization.