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Questions to Ask When Picking a Camera Stabilizer

Johnathan Paul

Camera stabilizers can certainly put a dent in your budget. Here are some things to consider before making this big purchase.

Top image from Tested: Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown on the set of  The Shining

Most audiences love a smooth and steady shot, but in order to capture that shot (especially when you’re on the move), you need some sort of stabilization. When looking to purchase such stabilizers for your equipment load-outs, we need to ask ourselves a few questions before we drop any cold hard cash.

Do You Really Need a Stabilizer?

This is the very first question that you should ask yourself. Do you really need a stabilizer? Don’t just by a stabilizer because others around you have. You need to have a sure-fire purpose for buying a stabilizer — because a quality stabilizer is going to cost you some money.

If you really can’t spend the money on high-end stabilizers, then you should look at something like ReelSteady software for After Effects that allows you to stabilize your footage in post. For more on this check out this write-up on RocketStock.

Video from Robert McIntosh

Will You Use Stabilization Often?

Another question that you need to ask yourself early on is how often you will be using stabilization. If you answer this question by saying you’ll only use the stabilizer a few times, then you really should rethink your purchase.

However, if the stabilizer is something that you’ll be using over and over again, you may want to invest some serious money in a nice stabilizer rig. Just remember… whatever you purchase, there is an art to using the device. Check out this video from LOGIC FILMS as they show us the art of the Steadicam in the film Elysium.

What Type of Mobility Do You Need?

The next big question you need to ask yourself: what type of mobility do I need? Do you need to attach a camera to a car? Do you need to run behind or in front of a character? Or perhaps you need to get an aerial shot?

By answering this question, you can determine if you need a 3-Axis Gimbal, Steadicam rig, or even a drone. While a drone itself is not a form of stabilization, there are gimbal options for just about every drone which allow you to capture amazingly smooth footage. You’ll see what I mean in this video from Black Oak Creative, which features a DJI Phantom/gimbal rig.

How Heavy Is Your Camera Load-Out?

This is going to be a very important question that you need to answer as soon as possible. Knowing the weight of your camera load-out will determine how much you need to spend for stabilization, as not all stabilizers can accommodate heavier amounts of weight.

Cheaper stabilizers can handle lighter camera loads, while the more expensive stabilizers like the MoVI M15 can handle up to 15lbs of camera load, which should cover a number of higher-end cameras. Here’s some test footage of the high-end RED EPIC from the Freefly Systems YouTube page.

Setup Time and Compactness?

You’ll want to also make sure that you know exactly how long the setup time is for each stabilization option. This is important information to know… you don’t want to waste shooting time trying to setup your stabilization option. Also, you’ll want to know how compact the stabilization option is as well.

This information will really come in handy if you have to do any major traveling. For instance, I worked on a film last year where we used a Steadicam. I learned ahead of time how to break down the Steadicam and fit it all into a pelican case. So, if you’re using a Steadicam or Glidecam like we were, then you can find ways to make it compact enough to travel. Then you too will be able to capture great images like Allan Dixon did in the Australian Outback.

What is Your Budget?

Probably the most important question, other than the first two, is the question of budget. Just like with any other equipment that you have to purchase, you need to make sure that you budget appropriately for it. As we stated above, the heavier the camera load-out, the more expensive the stabilization rig will be.

Once you have set aside the necessary income to purchase your preferred stabilization, then you can begin to explore the types of shots that can be achieved using your preferred option. Before you know it, you’ll be able to capture shots like Garrett Brown did for Stanley Kubrick in his 1980 film The Shining, which was one of the very first films to utilize the Steadicam… and in turn change the way we see movies.

Video from  TheElstonG

Have you used stabilization in your work? What types of stabilization solutions do you use? Let us know your thoughts and your experiences below.