When Cinema Products Corporation introduced Garrett Brown’s invention, the Steadicam, in 1975, it revolutionized moviemaking. No longer bound to tracks, tripods or dollies, movie as well as video cameras were free to move through space, capturing fluid, smooth footage. Today, camera stabilizers range from simple, inexpensive setups to professional production rigs.
Basically, there are three types of stabilizers: handheld; three-axis gimbals; and vest-stabilizer systems. In each case, a rig steadies handheld camera movement. Moreover, each requires careful balancing of the camera when setting up to avoid unwanted tilts, swings and sways; operators learn to do a “Ninja Walk” to maintain smooth and steady motion.
Which stabilizer is right for you depends on your budget; the weight of the camera you use; as well as what kind of work you do. Whether you’re shooting real estate walk-throughs, vlogging with your iPhone or filming large-scale movie and TV productions, there’s a rig that’s right for you. (There are also plenty of YouTube videos that show you how to set up and use them.)
Here’s a brief look at the world of stabilizers.
Handheld Camera Stabilizers
In this case, the camera sits atop a post with counterweights at the bottom; the camera operator holds a handle that is attached to the post via ball bearings and gimbals. The operator must carefully balance the camera by positioning it and counterweights so the camera doesn’t tilt forward or back or yaw from side to side.
All these type of stabilizers feature a center post that extends from around 14 to 25 inches. The main difference in price has to do with payload capability and build quality.
Examples include the Glidecam HD-Pro (glidecam.com, $500), a top-line handheld stabilizer for cameras weighing up to 10 pounds. It includes a quick-release camera head with built-in adjustment features; an adjustable three-axis gimbal; and also 16 counterweight plates.
The Neewer Carbon Fiber 24 camera stabilizer (neewer.com, $90) is a budget-priced, lightweight, 24-inch carbon-fiber handheld stabilizer. Designed for a DSLR up to 6.6 pounds, it also works with video cameras.
The Flycam HD-3000 (proaim.ca, $185) is a mid-range model that supports cameras up to 8 pounds. It features a three-axis gimbal and foam handgrip. In addition, it includes 16 stackable 3.2-ounce counterweights.
The Revo ST-1000 Pro video stabilizer’s (revocinegear.com, $182) design is different. Instead of a post, a handle is located directly under the camera mount via a multi-axis gimbal; it features a curved post with counterweights at the end. It’s good for compact mirrorless cameras or small camcorders under 5 pounds.
3-Axis Gimbal Camera Stabilizers
More advanced—and in some cases lighter and more compact—these stabilizers use a set of rotating gimbals that are controlled electronically.
Subsequently, battery and charge time need to be taken into account. The key benefit? The promise of even smoother movement.
The DJI Osmo OM 4 (dji.com, $150) is great for smartphones. This Osmo pairs with the phone to provide such DJI features as ActiveTrack 3.0 (maintains focus on active subjects); Hyperlapse, Motionlapse and Timelapse; as well as slow-motion, panorama and spin-shot modes. It’s terrific for vloggers.
The Moza Mini-P 3-axis motorized gimbal stabilizer (gudsen.com, $200) holds compact, mirrorless and action cameras under 2 pounds. This compact stabilizer offers enhanced camera operations via control buttons built into the handle.
Pro-level, the Zhiyun-Tech Crane 3S handheld stabilizer (zhiyun-tech.com, $1,000) has a payload of 14 pounds. Consequently, it can handle full-frame DSLRs and most video cameras. It boasts intuitive controls, upgraded motors to control balance, as well as optional upgrades for more ambitious setups.
Vest Stabilizer Systems
The most advanced and pricey of the three options, vest stabilizer systems are the kind you’ll likely see at movie and TV production shoots. A rig can hold a camera, LED monitor, a mic as well as whatever else is necessary. Worn like a vest, the over-the-shoulder design distributes weight for better balance. It also takes the weight off of the arm, resulting in less operator strain. Extendable arms and suspension lines are options that provide even more control.
The Movo VS2K Steadycam (movophoto.com, $400) handles up to 6.6 pounds. In addition, it features a 3-axis gimbal; 12 counterweights; and an aluminum arm with dual suspension and adjustable tension.
The Steadicam Steadimate 15 is a support system for motorized gimbals (tiffen.com, $1,850) that works with Steadicam arms or motorized gimbal stabilizers. An arm post allows you to add a stabilizing arm to reduce fatigue on the operator’s arm.
Another body-worn support is the Easyrig Vario 5 gimbal rig vest (easyrig.se $5,000). It supports camera rigs from 11 to 38 pounds. A screw-adjusted suspension line supports the weight of the gimbal rig, redistributing the weight across the torso. It’s ideal for big-budget productions. And the operator’s back will be grateful after a long day’s shoot.
Note: all prices are approximate street prices.