What Support Gear Do I Need To Stabilize My Camera? 9 Tools To Help Get The Shot You Desire
Moving your camera in a way that best tells your story is one of the many tasks that a cinematographer must undertake. This includes the use of either hand-held rigs, gimbals, easy-rigs, drones or little to no movement with the use of a tripod or monopod. These choices will be dependant on the type of camera you are using, the type of motion you are wanting to see with your footage as well as how quick and nimble you need to be for your shoot. Like anything, the more you spend, the better quality of a product that you will get. Below I have broken down the key elements you will want to consider when purchasing these items.
For this post, I am going to be focusing on only a few different ways in which you can support and move your camera including:
- Sliders and Cranes
- Motion Control
- Hand-Held Rigs
All of these recommendations are based on my personal experiences and will feature equipment I use on a daily basis. I will not be talking about gear that I do not use.
1. Sliders and Cranes
I’ve worked closely with Kessler over the past three years and have had the chance to work closely with their gear. Sliders and jobs/cranes off a smooth and organic style of movement. These movements are very easy to accomplish and add a lot of production value. These devices move your camera on one axis – either straight or diagonal. My favourite lightweight tools are the Kessler Stealth ($799) and the Kessler Pocket Jib Traveler ($599). For heavier setups, we most frequently use the Kessler Cineslider (starting at $1100) and Kessler Pocket Jib ($1200).
2. Motion Control
Using motion as a way tell your story is great when you are able to do so without having to manually move the camera. Motion control equipment is great especially when shooting interviews and time-lapses. For me, my most used setup is the Kessler Second Shooter (starting at $699) on a 5ft Cineslider ($1550).
3. Handheld Rigs
Support rigs are essential when shooting hand-held. They are especially important when shooting with lighter cameras. When shooting with a hand-held rig, you are able to capture a scene with an organic feel. These types of shots are typically used to emerge the viewer in the scene. This is a great way to make the viewer feel part of what’s happening.
Before purchasing a rig, there are a few things you will need to consider.
- Are you shooting run-and-gun style or are you using the rig in a studio configuration?
- What is the weight of your camera / accessories?
- Are you wanting to buy one rig to use in multiple configurations or multiple rigs for each application?
There are many great options on the market to choose from that offer this versatility. Like with anything, this decision is yours and ultimately needs to be made by you. When looking into what rig to purchase, there are a few things to consider:
- Build Quality
- Form factor
Personally, I have found that it is best to find a rig that is adaptable depending on your scenario. There are a variety of high quality brands on the market but my go-to rig is the Shape Composite Stabilizer. Whether being used with a DSLR or a loaded RED Epic, the Composite Stabilizer is adaptable. I also use the FS7 handles and baseplate. The pivoting handles that are used in most of their setups are some of the best I have seen.
Drones are a new addition to our arsenal. We have been flying for about a year now and before that, hired out for the shots we needed. Drones offer a new perspective that until recently, used to be expensive to capture these types of shots. Now, it is accessible to virtually anyone – at any budget level. Make sure to check your regions laws regarding drones before purchasing and / or flying.
Gimbals are great to get unique and smooth movements – as if the camera is floating through space. These are great when you want to track subjects as they move through a location – or if you want to capture a shot with a unique movement. I have found in situations where we are strapped on time that utilizing a gimbal allows us to move faster. My go to is the DJI Ronin ($2500).
Another approach for supporting your camera is the Easy-rig. We have recently added this to our kit when we are operating for longer periods of time but still want the hand-held feel. There are many models depending on your needs – from the length of the arm – to the load capacity.
The tripod is probably the most important part of your kit. It is the one piece of gear that in most cases (if you don’t skimp) will outlive the life of other parts of your kit. There are a few different routes you can go when it comes to a tripod depending on your needs.
When selecting a tripod, you will want to select one that is congruent with your current setup. However, I recommend settling on a tripod that will carry you beyond the current camera you own. One thing to keep in mind is that you want to make sure the tripod you are selecting is strong enough to support your system BUT not too heavy-duty for your setup. For example, if you are shooting with a stripped down DSLR, you probably won’t want a broadcast style tripod because you will not get as smooth of a shot as you would with one built to handle a lighter setup. These larger tripods function better when they have the minimum weight on them – especially regarding the counter-balancing.
Before purchasing any tripod, I recommend trying out each brand before settling on what you like if at all possible. This decision is completely personal. Virtually all tripod manufactures have high quality options BUT most function in unique ways.
When buying a tripod, there are a few key elements you want to look for including:
- What is the weight of your rig?
- What is the max/minimum height you need?
- Are you planning to travel with your tripod?
- What type of shots are you trying to accomplish?
- What is your budget?
Once you know what the tripod will be used for, you then need to determine the best route to take. In my experiences, I have found it most advantageous to clearly break down your needs to determine how you really plan on using the system. For me, I have started to shoot a lot of timelapses so it made sense to own two different levels of tripods to fit both my live action needs and my timelapse needs.
There are a few more specific elements you will want to consider when determining which tripod to buy. In order to understand these elements, you need to look at the head and legs INDIVIDUALLY. When buying a head, you will want to look at:
- Build Quality & Durability
- Consistency of Fluid Head
- Tension/Drag Control Adjustability
- Counterbalance Adjustability
- Payload Range
- Bowl Size (Flat mount, 75mm or 100mm)
As for tripod legs, there are also a few things you will need to consider before buying. Don’t feel that you are restricted to one brand either. Feel free to mix and match depending on your specific needs. Below are a few things you will want to consider when looking at tripod legs:
- Spreader Type
- Payload Capacity
- Maximum and Minimum Height
- Overall Weight
- Speed of Adjustability
8. Monopod / Gorillapods
Another extremely important tool/tools to have in your kit are monopods and Gorillapods. Because both are highly affordable items, I recommend having each in your kit, especially when shooting with DSLR’s. Monopods are great for run and gun style shooting and help remove the subtle camera shake you get when shooting. It is also a great alternative to hand-held rigs if you are looking for a more stable solution. As for Gorillapods, they are great to help get your camera in unique positions when shooting.
The last tool used for stabilizing is a steadicam. A steadicam will allow you to travel trough a given space while maintaining an organic feel for your film. A steadicam isolates camera movement from the operator’s movement, allowing for a smooth shot even when moving quickly over an uneven surface.
When determining whether to purchase or rent a steadicam/operator, there are a few questions you have to ask:
- How often do you plan on using it?
- What camera are you using and how heavy is your rig?
- Do you need to pull focus?
- Do you need to send a video signal to an external monitor for review?
- What types of shots are you hoping to accomplish?
- How long do you need to operate for?
- What is your budget?
By answering these first questions, you should be able to determine if it is in your best interest to buy or rent. Because a steadicam is somewhat of a specialized tool, it is key to determine if it is worth buying.
Like anything when it comes to filmmaking, time is money so finding a system that is reliable and easily adjustable is important. In regards to quality, every brand offers quality products but which is best always comes down to the decision of the operator on which brand best fits their style of shooting.