Most people have a video camera of some sort these days, whether it is a dedicated video device, a setting in a camera or a feature of a mobile phone or tablet. In all cases most of us had wished we could make our movies look smoother.
The first thing to try is simply to lean against something solid. This has a huge effect on the stability of video shots. If you can actually rest the hand holding the camera against a wall, post, fence, car bonnet or other stable surface then you can get stable shots that will suffice for 90% of circumstances.
Home made steadicam
Professional videos from your own camcorder.
Its all in the finish you know. One of the key differences between ‘home’ and professional’ videos is smoothness of movement. Whether we are talking about zooming, tracking, panning
Get a steadicam!
The term Steadicam (according to Wikipedia) is “a stabilizing mount for a motion-picture camera, which mechanically isolates the movement of the camera from that of the operator, providing a very smooth shot even when the operator is moving quickly over an uneven surface.”
However, professional steadicams cost thousands of pounds and are beyond the reach of mere mortals. The good news is you can make your own steadicam for peanuts (well five pounds is how much mine cost me).
Everything you will need can be bought from your average hardware store for under a fiver. This is a simple project that takes less than an hour to complete.
The improvement in the quality of my home videos was astonishing. By reducing the shake when walking around with my little camcorder I can now make it seem almost as if the camera is flying around.
How to build a £1 steadicam
This idea was almost too simple to believe, but it really works. Rather that push against something that doesn’t compress (like a metal or wooden bar) you can pull against a fixed object that won’t stretch (like a piece of rope) and get a great stabilising effect. If you stand on a loop of thin rope attached to the camera and pull the camera up you get great vertical stabilisation. If both feet are spread and holding down the loop then you get quite good horizontal stabilisation as well. Make sure you attach the rope to a screw which then fits in the cameras standard attachment socket. As techniques go its a bit fiddly, but in an emergency, this can be a great way of stabilising both video and still photography.
How to build a really simple £5.00 steadicam
You will need:
metre length of a lightweight 2 inch diameter wooden pole.
Half a broom handle
2 inch long ‘wood to wood’ screw the same diameter as the tripod socket in the bottom of your camera. (tip – It is almost certainly a 1/4 inch diameter you will require, but to be doubly certain, take the camera to the hardware store to avoid buying the wrong diameter screw).
2 inch wood to metal screw.
A holed weight approximately equal to the weight of your camera. (may not be necessary depending on size of camera)
Drill a pilot hole in the end of the broom handle and drill a pilot hole the top of the vertical pole. Screw in the ‘wood to metal’ screw. You can now attach or remove your camera from this pole whenever you wish.
Mark the pole at 60 cm along its length. Shave or sand this area so that you have a flat area. Now drill a pilot hole in the pole so you can attach the half broom handle at 90 degrees to form a side handle. This will be used to dampen vertical shake.
home made steadicam
If you have a modern light camera, the weight of the pole should provide plenty of stabilisation, but if you have an older heavier camera you may need to add a weight to the bottom of the pole (a big screw will secure it).
Wood is an excellent material for a steadicam since it has more natural dampening properties than metal.
To use this system, one hand holds the vertical pole just beneath the horizontal pole. The other holds the horizontal about 40cm from where the two poles join. You will find that in this position you can glide around (looking a bit silly, its true) and your resulting videos will be much smoother.
Prove it to yourself by filming as you run up the stairs holding the camera in you hand. Then do the same with the steadicam and see the difference.
Remember that building and using this steadicam this won’t turn a cheap camcorder into a high performance movie camera. This is about your skills in getting the best shots you can with the equipment you have available.
Of course, if you use a steadicam in conjunction with the newest Hi definition video cameras and get the lighting right then you will end up with broadcast quality films to show to people.
I have recently learned that this system is also known to some people as a glidecam or floatcam.
The most famous steadicam shots in cinema history
The running uop the steps scene in the original Rocky movie was pretty much the first time a steadicam was used in a big budget movie.
The background for the classic speeder bike chase in “Return of the Jedi” (1983), was filmed in California’s Redwood National Park. The footage was then speeded up and the bikes added via bluescreen techniques.