Following up last weeks' post about how to make video edits that don't suck, one topic I really wanted to hammer home is how important stabilizers are. Instead of just repeatedly saying that, I wanted to show you with very clear examples of what the main types of stabilizers do, what they're good at, what they're bad at, and what their limitations are. I bring you the stabilizer showdown.
So what I'm showing here is each stabilizer going through a series of shots. The setup here is a Nikon D750, Tamron 24-70 2.8, shooting at 23.9 FPS, 1/50th, f5.6, ISO 800. Those settings don't change from shot to shot.
The first shot is basically just a pan, starting on our athletes and then following them, with the camera in a fixed position.
The second shot is a wide shot that the athletes walk across, no camera movement.
The third shot is where things start getting fun. Here I'm tracking the action and moving the camera backwards to keep the subjects in frame.
Finally, the fourth shot is another example of what you might see in a CrossFit-style video, following athletes across the gym.
I think a few things should become obvious extremely quick. Shooting handheld doesn't work. The results are shaky and amateurish. As a general rule, I would almost never shoot completely handheld, unless I was in a crazy pinch and had to shoot. Even then, I would make sure to brace the camera against a stable surface other than my wobbly hands.
Using a shoulder rig, in my opinion, isn't much better. Rigs get very expensive, especially as you start looking at parts from the high-end brands, and the rig is totally dependent on how stable you are. So, you can use one of these $1000+ shoulder rigs, but if you're moving around, the shot is going to be just as unstable as a handheld shot. One huge advantage though is you are extremely mobile, and you do get some stability in your shots. End result? It is better than nothing, but not by much.
I think for most shoots, a monopod is really your best blend between stability, portability, price, and flexibility. You can see in each shot that you're getting a smooth result, even when you start introducing movements like pans/tilts and small zooms. The major drawback though is you can't move the camera with this setup. The second you have to pickup and move to a new position, you have to cut, otherwise the shot will be just as shaky as going handheld.
Next thought, there is simply no replacement for a tripod. A tripod offers the most stable and professional results in your shots. Even when introducing pans/tilts and those sorts of basic camera motions, the movement will look its best and the production value shoots up. Like a monopod though, there is no ability to move the camera during shots. Tripods also take the longest time to setup if you're on the move and have to get a lot of different shots. This is by no means a deal breaker in their everyday use, but you need to remember every time you set the camera up takes time and increases the length and complexity of your production. If you're shooting interviews, they are a must have.
Finally, the gimbal, I'll refer to it as a Ronin from here because that's what I was using. As you can tell, it floats the camera perfectly. Wobbles and shakes are either the fault of human error in handling the rig, or miscalibrating/balancing during setup. You can see in each shot, you get a great result, even in shot 2 - a stationary wide shot. Yes, there will always be a little movement in the shot - but that can be limited more and more by a good operator. The Ronin really shines as we start adding movement into the shots. There really isn't anything else that can track action quite so well and deliver such an easy-to-get professional result.
There are a number of drawbacks though to working with this setup. First, you cannot change focus during a shot -- the rig requires two hands to operate and pulling focus during a shot doesn't work, unless you also add on a very expensive follow-focus system. Secondly, these rigs can get very heavy. Combined with that, you cannot put down the camera between takes unless you also have your specially built stand close-by. This might not sound like a big deal, but using one of these for hours on end will have you looking for the chiropractor. You also can't change focal lengths on your camera with any lenses that don't internally zoom. If you start zooming a lens, you're going to throw off the very precise balancing on the rig, and now introduce little shakes and stutters into your shots. One last challenge, the setup process itself can be time consuming if you're not familiar with the rig you're working with or are making dramatic changes (changing camera body/lens). This also leads to some issues when swapping setups. Say I'm going to shoot a clip with the Ronin but then want to go over to the tripod. I have to change baseplates on my camera before I'm able to get my camera from the Ronin to the tripod. I still haven't found a universal plate that will work on both. The other solution is to just use two cameras and leave one setup for each system.
So what's the result of all that? It really depends on what kind of shot you're looking to get. For me, when I head off on a video shoot I want three things: monopod/tripod and Ronin. If I know I don't need to do any interview work, I'll leave the tripod at home. The combo of a mono and the Ronin really gives me all the shots I'm looking to get and still allows me to be very flexible.
Another big take away is there isn't the "do-it-all" rig. Different types of shots require different types of equipment. While a tripod is great to do stable interview work, it sucks at motion. Ronins are awesome at doing motion, but are terrible at doing shallow depth of field shots and closeups. The best thing to do is map out what you're going to do on the shoot, and have the equipment on hand to get the shots.
So get your gear out and try getting some shots using different stabilizers and see what works for you.
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