It’s a new year, and you’re ready to invest in your craft and start creating higher quality videos. If you’ve already got a DSLR and are using it proficiently the next most important purchase is going to be a DSLR camera stabilizer. There are literally hundreds of different kinds of stabilizers but they all share a basic function: to eliminate a shaky camera shot and enable the videographer to walk or run while maintaining a balanced, in-focus shot.
There have been many attempts at creating the best method to achieve smooth handheld video, but utilizing a gimbal, or pivoting point along an axis, has proven to be the most effective. The 3-axis gimbal being the most versatile. Let’s take a look at handheld (manual non-motorized) stabilizers and compare them to software (motorized) gimbals.
Traditional handheld stabilizers like a Glidecam are often less expensive because of the fact that there is not a motorized element. That’s not to say you can’t buy a pricey one, but comparably, a handheld stabilizer will be less expensive than an electronic one. So if budget is your biggest obstacle, a non-motorized stabilizer is in your best interest.
One of my favorite things about a handheld stabilizer is that there is no need for more batteries to keep track of. Because it is non-motorized, it’s lighter, it won’t die in the middle of a shoot and best of all, it can be used in all sorts of weather and you don’t need to be delicate with it. Repairs can often be done with a few hand tools as well.
Handhelds aren’t perfect though. They can often be temperamental, and I find that they are harder to initially balance and to adjust. Because there is no motor to assist the operator, a handheld stabilizer usually comes with a steeper learning curve. However, once you’re used to it, the results can be extremely smooth and fluid.
Electronic software gimbal stabilizers have a pretty big range, both in price and functionality. You can buy a pretty serious rig, like a DJI Ronin for about $2000 and it’s bluetooth compatible. Aiming, focusing and adjusting can all be done remotely, but lower end options still exist for DSLR shooters. Smaller, less complex ones can cost as little $600 and deliver on their promise of ultra-smooth footage, even while running at full speed. (At least, once you get the hang of it). They can balance within about 30 seconds and re-balance just as quickly if you need to adjust the lens or change batteries. An electronic gimbal won’t lose the horizon as easily as a handheld either. Personally, I find the movement and therefore the footage to be smooth and steady but with a hint of robotic motion.
A motorized stabilizer does have its drawbacks though: Battery life, and weight are both huge issues and weather-proofing must be done properly or they’re unusable outside if it’s raining. The set-up and calibration can also be quite complex and some even require a computer to fine tune the motors. Finally, if there are any software problems or repairs needed, they may not be able to be easily solved by novice users.
When buying a camera stabilizer there are clearly lots of options and a great deal to consider before making your purchase. If you’re new to videography, I’d recommend starting on the inexpensive side and working your way up to the more complex big rigs. If budget isn’t an issue and the world is your oyster, then it purely depends on what suits your needs best.
This article written by Guest Blogger: Katie Conlon
Katie Conlon is a young freelance writer who recently graduated from a university filmmaking program. She manages the blog and social media program for video equipment maker ProAm USA. When not on her laptop, Katie can be found snapping images of friends and family, or hiking outdoors with her beloved dog Turner.
I have been working in television and media for over 18 years. My experience includes news photojournalist, editor, producer and storyteller.