A Quick Guide to Steadicams
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:
- Tiffin – The makers of Merlin and other professional Steadicams
- The Steadicam Operators Association – professional group for users
- Steadicam Workshops
- The Steadicam Operator’s Handbook – by Focal Press
- How Steadicam’s Work – Via How Stuff Works
- Wiki Steadicam – Via Wikipedia
Have any tips for using a Steadicam? Share in the comments below.