Shaky footage can be one of the biggest killers when shooting video. As cameras get smaller, and zoom ability gets more powerful, the effect of shake is multiplied greatly. This can still be fine for everyday, “snapshot” use – but to capture footage for any semi-serious use, you need to brace your camera against the jitters.
A way to retain mobility while combating shake is to move the center of gravity of the camera to a point that is not in line with the lens. This is the basic idea behind the steadicam, a mounting rig that is used by many professional camera operators. Typically, a counterweight is affixed to the camera at a certain distance via a mounting bracket. The length of the bracket and the heft of the counterweight are set for the specific style of shooting that you want to do. The displaced center of gravity helps nullify the small jitters from shaking the lens, and the added mass of the setup also helps keep the motion more fluid and less herky-jerky.
Normally, you’ll see high-end steadicams that have a nearly frictionless joint (gimbal) that allows the camera to remain steady as the rig twists, turns, and tilts. But satisfying results can be had with a simple unit that uses just the counterweight alone.
Johnny Chung Lee has a start-to-finish writeup on his site steadycam.org on how to build a $14 steadycam with everyday items. The gist: two short lengths of steel pipe are combined in a sideways T, one side for a handle, the vertical piece to hold the camera at top and the counterweight below. A small weight is affixed on the bottom, the camera is connected to the top with a modified endcap that has a mounting bolt in it, and voila: DIY steadicam.
DOIT reader Nathan Carrick sent me some photos and videos of his assembly of this project, and a before/after video of the results (the inspiration for this post). I’m impressed – you can see how this improves the quality and creates a smoother looking result.