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A Quick Guide to Steadicams

Caleb Ward

Once mastered, Steadicam is a great way to get professional stabilized footage. In this post, pick up a few tips for Steadicam success.

Video from our previous post on the Art of the Steadicam

What is a Steadicam?

A Steadicam is a camera rig that is uniquely designed to stabilize camera shake. First created in the 1970’s, the Steadicam quickly took Hollywood by storm, as a better option for shooting smooth tracking shots. Haskell Wexler was the first to use the Steadicam in the 1976 film Bound for Glory –  that year’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

Steadicams can make your footage look incredibly professional but can be a bit complicated to setup properly. Let’s take a quick look at Steadicams – how they work and the different options available.

Why Would I Need a Steadicam?

If you’ve ever tried to keep an unstabilized camera steady, you know that no matter how steady you might feel, the footage is still going to end up a bit shaky. Using a weight to counterbalance the camera, a Steadicam can get rid of unnecessary shake and obtain smoother footage.

How much smoother are Steadicam shots? Check out this comparison video:

The footage from the Steadicam isn’t 100% stabilized but compared to the handheld footage it’s not even close. Now you may be asking…

How Do I Setup a Steadicam?

There are a lot of factors to consider when setting up a Steadicam including:

  • Back weights
  • Front weights
  • Choosing the right peg
  • Horizontal stabilization
  • Vertical Stabilization
  • Lens weight
  • Lens focal length
  • Camera Weight

All of these factors can be a bit overwhelming to someone new to working with a Steadicam. But thankfully the folks at CheesyCam have created a quick video demonstrating how to properly set up a Merlin Steadicam, a popular lightweight model that’s ideal for DSLRs and small cameras.

Skip to 1:22 to get to the start of the tutorial.

How Much Do Steadicams Cost?

Commercial Steadicam systems can cost anywhere from $400 for small lightweight models to $60,000 for the top-of-the-line heavy Hollywood options. The cost really depends on your budget and need.

If you aren’t up to spending hundreds of dollars on a rig than you can build your own Steadicam for only $30 via Matt Chapman.

More Info on Steadicams

Setting up your Steadicam is only half the challenge. It takes years of practice and experience to become a master Steadicam operator (which is why it is a sought after, well paid position in film and television). Check out these links featuring more useful information on Steadicam operation:

Have any tips for using a Steadicam? Share in the comments below.

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