If you hold the camera with your bare hands when you shoot a video, then you’d notice a lot of shaking in the shot that you took. The shifting of the frame is more pronounced when you walk, or when you change the direction where the camera is pointed at. A steadicam can help keep your videos appear smooth, especially when you have to move around when taking shots. How does a steadicam work? Read on to find out.
Steadicam is actually a brand name. This brand offers a line of camera stabilizers that are used for professional video cameras to camera phones. For professionals, strictly speaking, there are several distinctions between a gimbal, a camera stabilizer, and a steadicam. Nowadays, the term steadicam is sometimes used to mean the term camera stabilizer or a gimbal, similar to how “xerox” is being used to denote photocopy.
Steadicams were designed to help movie makers create more dynamic shots when filming. Cameras are often fixed in place with a tripod to keep shots clean and smooth, or when a scene calls for the camera to move, it is mounted on a dolly which is a platform that moves along a track like a train or wheeled along a smooth floor. The dolly system can’t be used in many areas, especially those with obstacles and uneven surfaces.
A camera ends up being carried around when the scene calls for a moving shot in areas where a dolly can’t work. But this doesn’t have the same smoothness that you see when a tripod or a dolly is used. This is where a steadicam comes in. The device makes it possible for the camera to be held by hand and still keep the shot looking smooth.
The first kinds of steadicams or camera stabilizers were made for professional use, mostly for the filming of movies and television shows. The device is composed of the sled, arm, and vest. The vest is worn on the body, and it is connected to the sled which has the camera, and the two are put together by the arm.
The stabilizers were later on updated to accommodate the use of DLSRs when these cameras became capable of shooting videos. The sled which carries the camera was adapted for these smaller cameras. The newer versions of the steadicam were able to do away with the vest and the arm since the DSLRs, compared to the cameras used in movies, are smaller and lighter.
The latest modifications came about in the era of smartphones. The platforms on the sled are now equipped with mechanisms that can hold a camera phone. It is also simpler and smaller compared to the ones used.
Regardless of the amount of change that steadicams have undergone, and despite the different varieties that have come out, the basic principle on how a steadicam works is still the same. The way a steadicam allows the camera to remain in its position has a lot of physics involved in it and is an interesting process.
A steadicam uses a hinge or joint, or a connection of several of these. The device may use some counterweights and a group of springs. These are put together to counter the jerky motions that come with walking or simply moving about. The device doesn’t prevent large movement, such as when moving the camera to follow a shot, but rather it allows this to happen gently, taking out the shakiness in the shots.
The joints are the universal component across all types of steadicams. They function similarly with joints in a gyroscope work. The basic steadicams sometimes do away with some of the components of the professional rigs, but still achieve good shots, because it still employs the joints.
Now, a movement is defined by three general directions, going up and down, left and right, and forward and backward–any combination of these may define any motion. A steadicam uses joints that move along the planes defined by these directions.
During the operation of the steadicam, the joints open or close up, or rotate, along with the plane of the direction of the movements of the person that uses it. The heaviness of the camera and added weights resist the force of the movements that are applied to it– that’s why jitters will not show up. Small actions work these joints only within their designed range of motion. Bigger actions allow the camera to be panned because they exceed the range of motion of the joints.
With the bigger steadicams, some springs join some of the joints. These springs compress and stretch to absorb sudden movements and revert to its neutral setting slowly, making the camera glide along the direction of the movement.
These springs also help dampen the force of the movement that is due to the weight of the camera and the equipment. The gradual decrease in momentum gives the shot that smooth feel when viewed thereafter.
The job of the counterweight is not merely to keep the camera upright, but also to resist forces that are applied to it. When panning shots, the force should exceed the resistance that the camera and the weight offer.
Some steadicams do not use a counterweight and use the only weight of the camera to achieve the desired effect. The weight of the camera on its own may be enough to allow the set up to move along the direction of the joint when jerky movements are applied.
Overall, the entire set up keeps the camera in place by preventing sudden shifts in the position of its center of gravity. Big movements shift this center of gravity and the camera along with it. This goes along the limitations set by the joints, and if available, also by the springs and counterbalances.
So, every time you use a steadicam or see a professional-quality video, think about the mechanisms involved in keeping that shot smooth. Keep those in mind when you ask yourself, “How does a steadicam work?” The design may sometimes be simple, but the principles behind them are really complex and well thought of.