Film making is all about movement, so you want the flexibility to be able to follow your subject while cutting out unwanted judder, and gimbals and stabilisers can be the solution.
As a photographer you’re perhaps used to following your subject and reacting to their movement and using your skill to extract the killer moment. Think about such things as can did shots of the guests at a wedding or a model shoot: how successful would those pictures be if you found yourself tied to a tripod at all times?
So it stands to reason that when you move across into video production that you would like wise want the flexibility to move around and to react to what’s going on, but the problem is that you’re then running the risk of introducing the kind of movement that you don’t want, namely the shudder and judder that betrays the fact that you’re hand holding your camera. In the right circumstances it can look edgy and cool but more often it looks amateurish and will lessen the production values of your job.
Fortunately, there are cost-effective and straight forward solutions available these days that can free the film maker. from the rigidity of a static support, such as a tripod, and enable them to move around at will while still achieving rock-steady footage.
Welcome to the world of stabilisation and, with prices for accessories that can make a world of difference to your productions starting at just a few hundred pounds, there are plenty of options out there that can help the professional on a budget to take the wobble out of their footage.“I think motion is one of the most important aspects of filmmaking,” agrees Jake Ratcliffe, one of CVP’s resident team of technical experts, “and there are so many different ways to move a camera and tools you can use. Adding movement to your shots can completely change the look and feel of a scene as well as the message you’re trying to put across. It’s essentially a new dimension of composition: static view points can work really well for certain shots, but it’s crucial to mix things up so that you end up with a variety of looks, not just a single fixed position.”
The first thing to recognise is that the latest generation of hybrid cameras and lenses have been designed with low light performance and video production very much in mind, and advancing technology has seen highly efficient image stabilisation built in. There are a number of different systems in evidence, and often you’ll get a superior performance by combining a specific body/lens arrangement.
The Panasonic GH5, for example, offers 5-axis sensor stabilisation that provides around two to three stops of extra stability, but it comes with Dual Image Stabilisation, which means that if you pair it with the Leica 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 lens this moves up to five stops. The new Canon EOS R5 and R6 go further still, in that pairing the cameras with compatible lenses gives you a mighty eight stops of extra stabilisation.
With that level of performance, it genuinely is possible to achieve perfectly acceptable handheld footage in the right situation, and there are professionals out there that have posted some incredible results achieved using exactly this method. However, for most people who are working on professional productions the IS facility is a tool that, while useful, should be used sparingly, and it’s unlikely that you could exclusively look to work this way.
“Image stabilisation has come a long way over the past few years,” agrees Jake, “and most modern mirrorless cameras now come with this feature, and they’re all pretty damn good! While this could be handy for some scenarios, however, they don’t quite replace the motion, flexibility and accuracy that specialist stabilisation equipment will provide. However, for times where you have to shoot handheld, say, for example, run‘n gun documentary work if you’re looking for that slightly rough handheld look, or in situations where you’re very tight for space, this way of working could be the way to go.
“For many filmmakers, however, the far better option is to take a look at the gimbals that are now available from the likes of DJI, Zhiyun and Feiyu. It’s crazy how far the gimbal market has come over the past few years. I still remember seeing the MoVIM10 for the first time and being blown away by what it could do.
“Since then the market has matured a great deal and you can pick up some awesomely affordable gimbals from a huge range of brands that each have different pros and cons. I’m particularly excited to get my hands on the freshly announced DJI Ronin RS2 and RSC2 products, which appear to have taken the virtues of the original Ronin S and SC models and then moved them onto another level entirely. They look exciting.”
The price has massively come down on gimbals in recent years. The Zhiyun Crane 2S, for example, which is reviewed else where in this issue, is a fabulous fully functioning three-axis handheld model with a huge amount of functionality built in and yet it’s available from CVP for a shade under £600. The new Ronin RS2 meanwhile, offering awesome performance, is just £100 more at £699, a fraction of what gimbals once would have cost and both models are pretty much state-of-the-art in terms of what they offer.
Some photographers will still hold back, however, remembering perhaps how complicated those early gimbals were and what a time-consuming and patience-shredding affair it could be to set them up. It could be a daunting experience getting one fully balanced and, for novices, it was something of a steep learning curve.
“There’s still quite a lot involved in terms of setting up a gimbal straight out of the box,” concedes Jake, “but once you’ve mastered the process the first time it gets a lot easier and most people should be able to come to terms with the process quite quickly. For those that want to use the same camera on and off a gimbal, I would suggest balancing it with the lens you’re using most regularly fitted, and then taking pictures of the markings on the gimbal. Do this and you’ll be able to quickly set everything up out in the field, with perhaps just a few minor adjustments to be up and running.
“With the bigger motors on some of these affordable gimbals, like the Ronin RS2, there will be a little more tolerance for balance imperfections. Some gimbals will also feature locks on the different axis, which allows you to balance one axis at a time, making things much easier and faster to setup. It also makes travelling with the gimbal a much nicer experience”
There are also, of course, some excellent self-contained devices out there such as the Osmo Pocket and the Benro VMate that could conceivably do a job for the professional, perhaps for a behind-the-scenes video at a wedding. These are cool devices, ostensibly aimed very much at the consumer but with scope for use if some incidental scenes are required to be dropped into a larger production that might ultimately be designed for viewing on the web. In terms of simplicity they couldn’t be easier: they’re entirely self-contained, can be used at any angle and offer smooth footage even if you’re filming while walking along, but they obviously come with their limitations and it’s hard to see them as a dedicated professional tool.
Smart phone gimbals such as DJI’s Osmo Mobile 3 (CVP price £99) are also widely available and, given the quality of the cameras that some of the newest products offer, these can also deliver a credible option for the shrewd photographer looking for a straight forward way to achieve finely balanced footage on the fly.
“The cameras inside phones are getting better every year” remarks Jake, “especially given the recent announcement of the iPhone 12. So, a mobile phone set-up could be very handy for professionals looking to capture a little behind-the-scenes video with their phone. I’ve seen a lot of journalists use this kind of kit to capture imagery easily and discreetly, but you still have to take on board the fact that this approach does come with limitations in terms of image quality and flexibility.”
Much more up the street of the dedicated professional are bespoke stabilising devices that can enable a wide variety of highly-specced filmmaking cameras to be used with ease while potentially also being connected to a set of accessories that could range from an external monitor through to a follow focus, anon-camera LED light or an auxiliary microphone.
“When it comes to using cameras handheld a good rig around it is pretty crucial,” says Jake. “A good place to start is a cage that fits around the camera, which will allow you to mount more accessories, which can make operating and carrying the camera a much better experience. You’ll also find that the extra weight that using this type of rigging will add will reduce the micro-movements that are present when using lighter cameras. “Using a top handle can also change how you hold the camera, which could mean that it’s not just more comfortable but also more stable as well, and it also gives you the chance to shoot from very low angles. You can even get side handles that serve a second purpose, such as the ability to hit record, change settings or even control your focus, using a piece of kit such as the Tilta Nucleus M (Control Kit available from CVP priced £1241). This allows you to control focus wirelessly from the side handle while using the included motors, so you get improved ergonomics and can avoid the small movements that can appear when you’re manually focusing a lens. If you’re looking to build your perfect rig get in contact with CVP as it’s something we do on a daily basis across a range of cameras.”
Another option is to opt for an accessory such as the Shape GH5 Cage Shoulder Mount (CVP price £823.99), and spreading the weight of your kit this way not only allows you to stabilise the camera and achieve a very specific look, but it can also allow you to carry everything for longer periods of time.
“The key to everything is a comfortable shoulder pad and a good set-up,” says Jake. “When working with a rig of this kind you need to make sure that it’s as balanced as possible. If it’s too front or back heavy this could result in discomfort or long-term issues with your back, so you need to make sure you get it right. Once again this is something that we’re happy to recommend on and customise at CVP.”
These are some of the more obvious ways to add stability to your footage but there are also a multitude of further options out there that could be looked at, including sliders, jibs, track systems, support vests, motorised heads, cable cams, vehicle rigs, dollies and the good old fashion tripod. We’ll be taking a look at some of these options next month as we continue our guide on how to get the most out of your video productions.
Jake Ratcliffe – One of CVP’s resident team of technical experts, and a self-confessed camera nerd who gets way too excited over kit, Jake’s background mirrors that of so many creatives these days. After graduating with a degree in photography he took up a freelance career and found that many of his clients were asking for video services so, rather than turn the work away, he started to teach himself the film making basics. Having been based at CVP for four years now, Jake epitomises the ‘equipment agnostic’ approach of the company and devotes his time to advising customers who might be looking for impartial feedback on which products to invest in as they look to make the same journey into motion.
Captions: The new DJI Ronin RS C gimbal is light weight and portable and capable of getting you right into the heart of the action.
Zhiyun Crane 2S
The Zhiyun 2S Crane is a three-axis gimbal costing under £600 that’s capable of accommodating most mirrorless hybrid cameras.
The DJI Ronin RS2 costs £699 and can handle a payload of up to 4.5Kg.
Manfrotto Gimbal 460FF ProKit