As I said in my last article, once you start shooting video with a DSLR like the Canon 7D, you will start thinking about a camera stabilizer. These systems can be very elaborate and can be intensive on both the operator and the wallet. But, before you think about spending $1000 or more, try the following $10 solution to see if a stabilizer will work for you.
A camera stabilizer system really boils down to providing a counter-weight to balance the weight of the camera. If you search on YouTube, you will find several Do-It-Yourself systems. But, the simplest video solution involves using a tripod. By extending the neck of the tripod out, you can find a point where the weight of the tripod will balance the weight of the camera. In the photo above, I have my Canon 7D with a battery grip attached making the weight of the camera fairly heavy. I am also using my Gitzo Traveller Tripod which is fairly light. My $10 solution is to add a 2.5 pound ankle weight (or wrist weight) from Target around the bottom legs of the tripod. As you can see from the above photo, the camera and tripod are actually balancing on the rail. Neat trick!
Using a tripod as a camera stabilizer
Follow these steps:
- With the camera attached, extend the tripod neck several inches. The legs of the tripod should be closed.
- Find the balancing point on the tripod neck where the weight of the camera is balanced by the weight of the tripod and the ankle weight. Holding the tripod sideways (horizontally) as shown in the above photo makes it easy.
- Grab the neck of the tripod firmly with one hand at the balancing point and then use your other hand lightly to steady in the vertical position. Using both hands will distribute the weight and allow you to keep going longer.
- Keep arms extended with elbows bent. Use the Live View LCD screen to compose your shot.
- Start walking and try to keep the camera floating at the same level. Use the Live View to make sure the shot is steady. If it seems jittery, stop and start over. It takes practice.
- Do not use a lens hood. It acts as a sail on the front of the camera and will throw the entire rig off balance with every gust of wind. My first attempt at the beach was a disaster because of the lens hood!
This takes a lot of practice. But, it also gives a you a real idea how a “professional” camera stabilizer would feel to operate. I actually used this tripod+ankle weight system in my City Walk video. It does a very good job at eliminating the jittery camera, but the sway from walking is tougher to eliminate, even on the “professional” systems.
Walking around with a weighted tripod will give you a very good feel for using those more expensive systems. Of course, the professional systems also offer a vest to distribute the weight of the camera stabilizer. Just keep adding a $1000 on to the system 😉
My next article will be a survey of camera stabilizer systems ranging from $100 to $1000.