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Tips and Tricks

  • Stabilizer Stories – Filming a naked fashion show!

    My name is Stephen, SteadyMaker clients may recognize me as the guy they talk to when buying one of our stabilizers, but I am also a freelance filmmaker! (You can check out my work at www.in-no-v8.com). I have been lucky enough to use different SteadyMaker stabilizers over the years in many different filmmaking environments, and I wanted to share some of my experiences. I love seeing clients use their stabilizers in all kinds of interesting projects, and I believe we all have unique perspectives to share to the filmmaking community.

    One of my more interesting gigs was filming a fashion show with a difference….the difference being that nobody was wearing any clothes on the catwalk!

    Let me explain….

    The show was a fundraiser for a local charity, funding sex education in schools throughout the local area. In the last few years, the local government had stopped funding for sex education, and this left a problem, that a whole generation of student were receiving no teaching in this area, and with the issues of teenage pregnancies, and the overuse of social media for younger people, it was an issue.

    The charity decided to put on a fashion show, with a big twist….to allow brave people of all shapes and sizes to walk the catwalk for a charity event for a good cause…but without clothes. The idea was to stop shaming body types, to show the ‘true’ face of people….no make-up, no accessories, no expensive outfits, just the human body.

    Surprisingly, they had many volunteers, about 50 people signed up to walk the catwalk. I was hired to film the event!

    This was a unique challenge for me in multiple ways…. I had worked previously with the same client to film another naked fashion show the year before, in 2014…but without a stabilizer, so my shots were generally static shots, filming the models from a tripod, walking up and down the catwalk. The first video was fun, but it didn’t reflect the energy and excitement in the venue to my liking.

    By the time the second event came, in 2015, I had a SteadyMaker Tank PLUS, at the time, the first 32-bit stabilizer offered by SteadyMaker, and my idea was to follow the models as they walked up and down the catwalk in a dynamic fashion.

    The next challenge was how to film the models so I could put the video on social media! With the first video, I filmed the models out of focus, until they were close enough to the camera, then I would focus on parts of their bodies that I could safely film. With this video, as I could follow the models, I had more freedom to choose angles and shots that would keep the video ‘safe for viewing’.

    Here is the finished video!

    What did I learn? Well, it was certainly a challenge in editing….but with a stabilizer I found I had much longer, more dynamic, more usable takes of the models that I could edit, instead of static, blurred shots from a single position.

    Having said that…the stabilizer isn’t the whole video. I believe you shouldn’t rely on a stabilizer too much….the video benefits from an adjustment in tone, and speed, between the interview scenes, filmed with a shoulder mounted rig, for stability, and static shots, and the catwalk scenes, that are dynamic, moving, high energy as a good contrast. If the entire piece was filmed with the stabilizer, it would exhaust the viewer.

    A good technique for walking with a stabilizer is really important…remember, your stabilizer doesn’t solve all your moving stabilization issues….if you are moving fast, then you still need to compensate for the up and down ‘bounce’ that quick movement can produce….so, remain flexible in the lower body, walk with soft feet, and bend your knees….this will improve the image and leave less work in post production.

    Framing and focus will always be an issue…..if you can film in 4k, do it, as you can crop, and adjust your composition in post production, you will have more screen space to play with. Unless you have a wireless remote for the zoom or focus, then set the zoom and focus near infinity, and then worry about reframing in post production, especially in a live event like this, where you don’t have the time and luxury to change lenses, do re-takes, and compose shots too much.

    When I look back, I see plenty that can be improved…this is back in 2015, stabilizer technology has improved (we are now selling our SMG Plus, with free shipping in our online store). My camera technique has improved also since then.

    Do you have any tips, tricks, and techniques to share? Any advice for me? How would you shoot this type of video? I would love to hear about it. Also, if you have any SteadyMaker videos to share with the world, we would love to see them! We have a playlist on our YouTube channel called The SteadyMakers where we share clients videos to the community. Maybe we can add your video to our list, or feature you in a future vlog? Email me at steadymakerhelp@gmail.com and I would love to see what you make with our products!

    Here is an example of previous clients’ work.

    Look out for exciting SMG Plus news, coming VERY SOON!….

     

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  • No-Stabilizer stabilizer post

    No-stabilizer people, pay attention!

    So, we here at SteadyMaker are all about stabilization, as you may have noticed, and this post is no exception…however, there are times where you want to get steady footage, and you don’t have access to a stabilizer (I know, gasp, no stabilizer!) Here are some no-stabilizer tips and tricks!

    What can I do without a stabilizer?

    One of the fundamental rules of steady, stable shots, is that your body is a source of stabilization. Your body is always going to provide more stable footage than just holding your camera . Having said that, the more points of contact you can provide, the better. For example, two hands on the camera is always more stable than holding the camera one-handed. However, by the same rule, try tucking your elbows in to the sides of your body, flat against each side, from the shoulder down to the elbow. The shooting position may be a little less convenient but your shots will benefit from extra stability, now that you are using your torso as the center of stability.

    no-stabilizer? using your tripodIf you have access to a rig, this gives you more points of contact with thetripod as a rig with no-stabilizer body, for example, a well-balanced rig placed on the shoulder, or a bracing rig extension arm from the waist.

    No rig? No problem. Try using a tripod. You can use it as a monopod and ground your camera. A cheap mini tripod can be used as a DIY temporary rig. Again, the more points of contact with your body the generally more stable your footage will be. Think of your body as an extension of the rig, you can lean forward, back, twist at the hip, bend at the knee for some shock absorbing capabilities. There are all kinds of interesting shots you can achieve with just your body and the camera.

    In the links at the bottom of this article, there are more shot ideas even using your camera strap to add some stabilization. Don’t forget, if you are around any objects, you can place your camera on them for super stability.

    The main point is; whether you have one of our awesome amazing wonderful stabilizers which are now on sale (plug, plug) (we still have to sell our products you know) or you just have your body and your camera….BE CREATIVE. The technology is just a tool to be able to help you achieve your goals, and your creativity is what will shine in your video, not the tools you use!

    Check out more great tips and tricks in the articles below…enjoy your no-stabilizer shooting!

    https://wistia.com/blog/stabilizing-handheld-video

    http://nofilmschool.com/2017/05/how-avoid-shaky-footage-when-shooting-without-camera-stabilizer

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  • Bonzo – Making a short film with just a stabilizer

    Earlier this summer I had some free time and decided to collaborate with a local burlesque performer called BonBon Bombay on a short film. To ensure that the collaboration was as fun, creative, and free as possible, nothing was arrainged in advance, apart from a preliminary meeting, where a character was discussed. She has been working on a new performance piece based around a clown, but hadn’t had the chance to use the costume yet, so we thought it would be an idea opportunity to make something around this new costume.

    IMG_20150625_065133-2On the spot, that afternoon, a short film emerged, based on a day-in-the-life of a dark, moody clown, called Bonzo. For Bonbon, this was the chance to try out the new character, for me, it was a chance to use the Steadymaker Tank PLUS 32-bit stabilizer for an extended period of time, to see how it handled during the shoot. I had used it for shorter periods of time during other corporate gigs, but this was a chance to use it exclusively in this shoot. I decided to shoot only with the stabilizer setup.

    The shoot was not storyboarded, it was to remain organic, utilizing whatever locations and setups we found during our one-day shoot, which was to challenge our sense of story, setup, and composition (not to mention continuity), but as there were to be no script, and the film was to be edited as a music video, certain narrative constrainsts could be relaxed.

    I had recently purchased a Panasonic GH-4, with 4K resolution, and this gave me an opportunity to not only try that out, but also, thanks to the Anamorphic upgrade to the firmware, I could shoot with my anamorphic lens and test the workflow.

    IMG_20150617_193911

    The picture of the camera setup was taken with a rig ‘cage’ attachment, but for size and weight purposes, I attached it to the stabilizer without this. For the lens-porn-nerds amongst us (which is also kinda me), this is the setup I had:

    At the base is a ZhongYi Lens Turbo adapter. This is basically a poor-mans’ Metabones Speed booster….it is set of glass and lenses that allows 1 extra stop of light, increases the field of view by 0.72 (a great bonus with a cropped sensor such as the Panasonic GH-4) and allows lenses of different companies to be attached to the camera. Win-win, basically.

    On the front of the speedbooster, is a prime lens. (This means a fixed lens that doesn’t zoom). Nikon 35mm f/2. This lens is the widest you can go with an anamorphic setup, as is evident at the widest open settings, you can see some vignetting…but since theres so much frame size to play with in 4k, then its not a problem to zoom or crop out the distorted edges of the frame as needed in certain shots. Without making things too complicated, this lens on this camera, with the lens turbo, works out the same as a 58mm f1.8 lens would on a full frame camera (without the lens turbo).

    Attached to that, is a KOWA Prominar Anamorphic 8-Z lens (this is the big chunky silver and black setup in the center/top of the image lens setup). This is basically a lens which distorts the image, it allows more than twice the width, while keeping the height. (I won’t go into details, as this is not about anamorphic filmmaking).

    It allows for frame sizes of 6656×2496, which  will give you a final resolution/aspect ratio of 2:67, which is wider than Cinemascope, but with some cropping/adjustments ends up being around the standard cinemascope resolution of 2.39. (This means the image is over twice as wide as it is high…or, when you watch on tv, the images that have large black borders at the top and bottom.

    Here is an uncompressed frame of the finished film. (It won’t open to the same size as noted above unless you have a huge screen, so there is an option to download the image from the page it opens to, just right click and download to your computer.)

    ssss

    The final component is a Tokina Achromat +0.4 diopter, which is basically a final piece of glass that goes on the front that enables the anamorphic setup to focus at closer distances to the subject than would normally allow. One of the downsides of anamorphic setups is that they do not have a great depth of field and do no focus well to things closer to the lens….in fact, focussing in general is difficult, as you have two lenses to control, the prime and anamorphic lenses.

    SO, I realize that I have probably lost half my readers in that last paragraph, and the other half wondering when I am going to talk about the stabilizer, but the reason I wanted to detail the setup is so you have an idea about how to get a closer-to-accurate cinematic resolution and feel to your setup. It removes a lot of the ‘digital’ feel, with attractive lens flares, and the way it renders the scene, this will go a long way to making the shot look more ‘filmic’ and less ‘digital’ (if that is a desirable look for you).

    On to the filming itself. We filmed, quite literally, from dawn to dusk. I woke at 3.45am to get to the center of Montreal for around 5am, first light, so we could capture shots in and around the usually busy city streets. This allowed for some surreal footage of Bonbon running uninterrupted up and down the city center roads, free of traffic, surreal in the early light.

    I travelled to the shoot with the camera set up in the stabilizer. The idea was to shoot the entire day with the same lens and stabilizer setup, so I travelled there with an already constructed stabilizer and balanced camera. As nothing was to change during the day, it made sense to travel with the completed setup, rather than assemble things there. This way, I could arrive ready-to-shoot, and quickly adapt to a variety of situations. Of course, the downside is the bulk, carrying it between locations was not particularly user-friendly, and the camera would need rebalancing at each new place, as the length of the lens meant that it would either bang against my leg, or the baseplate screws would loosen enough that the camera would come loose enough to lose balance while walking, so I would need to check often and maintain balance between takes.

    Unfortunatly, because of the 4k internal recording, I could not use my external monitor with the stabilizer, which I could have really done with using during the shoot, as framing the subject, especially in more complicated moving sequences was tough, both for composition, and crucially, focus. Thankfully, because of the free-flowing nature of the day, shots could be organized, reviewed, and adjusted on the fly. I could still play back the takes through the built-in screen on the camera after each one, although a monitor would have certainly come in handy.

    I am including an extra video before showing the finished piece, of some extra moments that didn’t make the cut, including my own homage to The Dark Knight, the iconic first reveal of The Joker.

    There is a kind of freedom that comes with making things up on the fly. I would not recommend this for the average shoot, but it is great for thinking on your feet, forcing a different level of creativity from your filmmaking. This kind of creative freedom is great for short creative projects where things like lighting, or preparing for special FX shots is not important, just capturing a series of shots. This kind of creative freedom is magnified with the addition of the stabilizer. It occurs to me that without a pre-planned set of storyboards, I will often attempt to compose my shots depending on what equipment I have with me…if I bring my tripod, I think in a series of fixed, static shots…if I bring my shoulder-mounted rig, I think angles, small movements, controllable shots….however, this isn’t the way to do it. Truly creative types will try to achieve unique, interesting shots, regardless of what equipment they have. They will utilize their equipment to create whatever is the most interesting compositions they can achieve, and sometimes push the boundaries.

    With the stabilizer though, the creative freedom is magnified…I don’t worry so much about needing to control the movement, because the stabilizer does a lot of the hard work…it steadies longer, more complex, hand-held takes….I can go from relatively static shots, to walking…from walking, to running in single takes. I begin to think more creatively and less worried about how to achieve shots, more just trying things out and capturing things. For example, the walk around Bonzo at the intersection….I could not even imagine being able to pull off that kind of shot without some kind of track and tripod, or on a bike, in a car, or some other complex setup…with the stabilizer, I just visualize, set things up, and shoot.

    A stabilizer isn’t the answer to all of your creative filming problems, it isn’t something that should replace all other filmmaking situations, and it isn’t there to be used in place of all other options, and neither should it be. It is a powerful, useful tool to enable new creative visualizations, and to give more power to the filmmaker in more situations than were previously available.

    In short; happy steadymaking!

     

     

     

     

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  • Balancing your stabilizer – Advanced techniques

    In a video on our Steadymaker youtube channel, we gave you a brief guide to connecting your stabilizer to your computer via a USB cable.

    This article will help you learn more about the techniques you need to further balance your stabilizer for optimal use.

    Before we get into details, this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to SimpleBGC, or a step-by-step tutorial; it is just a list of resources in order to help you look into it in more depth. Also, your Steadymaker stabilizers will always come pre-balanced to your most used setup; assuming you have supplied your camera setup details, we will always try and deliver the best pre-balanced settings, so you will not need to further tweak your setup. Because of this, we do not reccommend you manually tweaking your own stabilizer until you feel familiar and comfortable with SimpleBGC, and are confident that you know what you are doing. If in doubt, don’t do it.

    Having said that, in order to get the most out of your stabilizer; for example, multiple setups configured for multiple cameras and lenses, or further tweaking your current balance to get even smoother output, then connecting your computer to SimpleBGC is the way to go.

    What Is SimpleBGC?

    SimpleBGC stands for Simple Brushless Gimbal Controller. A few years ago, a man called Aleksey Moskalenko wanted to develop a system to control brushless gimbal motors and coordinate their movement and control in order to counteract and balance handheld camera operation. In other words, when a user operates a camera, they move the camera around. In order to create smoother shots, motors move the camera in the opposite direction in order to keep a straight and level shot. The reason brushless motors became popular is their silent and efficient operation, good for camera use.

    SimpleBGCAleksey developed a centralized electronic component in order to talk to multiple motors and control them in real-time. This comprised of a microchip, and a sensor that could detect the orientation of the board, and communicate that information to the motors in order to stabilize the camera attached to the stabilizer setup.

    Early boards were 8-bit boards, and are still in use today. Also, the system controlled mainly 2-axis stabilizers in the early days. These boards became known as AlexMos boards/controllers, and as the company grew, it became Basecam Electronics. (You can read more about their early days HERE).These days, about 80 percent of stabilizers on the market are controlled by AlexMos controllers, so it is as close to a standardized method of control and communication as the industry has. There are a few other rival systems, but at the current time of writing, Basecam Electronics is the dominant system of operation.

    These days, AlexMos boards are up to 32-bit operations, which allows more flexibility and accuracy in the stabilizer control (including inverted use, for example, when you can achieve the same levels of stabilization with the system flipped upside down) and have bluetooth functionality (where you can control your stabilizer via a tablet or Android phone app). Also, stabilizers are generally 3-axis systems these days, unless the setup is lighter or smaller, when 2-axis systems are still sufficient. The Steadymaker range of stabilizers are running using this system of control boards.

    Alongside the development of the hardware, or control boards, a system of tweaking the setup via a usb/bluetooth interface has been developed. This allows the user to further tweak and control different aspects of their stabilizer setup….for example, how much power is delivered to the brushless gimbal motors from the battery…..how sensitive the motors are to adjustment andhow forcefully they will counteract outside movement to maintain a stable setup, amongst other things.

    The software is known as the SimpleBGC GUI (Graphical User Interface) and can be found HERE.

    How to use SimpleBGC

    All you will need in order to connect your Steadymaker stabilizer to your computer is a simple mini USB to USB cable. You will find a mini USB port on your Steadymaker stabilizer. Just connect it to your laptop or computer via the cable. A more recent upgrade means that you can also communicate wirelessly via your Android phone or tablet and our built in Bluetooth connection, assuming your computer has bluetooth capability. If not, just use the USB option for now.

    Again, this is not meant to be a guide to using SimpleBGC, just an overview.

    SimpleBGC Resources

    In order to help you look into further stabilization control, please take time to go through some of the following links.

    First, try this website, in order to get a good overview of the interface, and stabilization process: http://www.simplebgc.org/.

    It is a very good reference, that details the process in a relatively straightforward way. They also have a youtube channel which goes into more detail about using SimpleBGC. A good example video is below:

     

    This is one of many videos that details the process. I picked this one because it is short and to the point

     

    The best and most up to date resource is the makers’ website. They have an article that talks about the central part of tweaking your stabilizer HERE. In order to effectively use SimpleBGC, make sure you have downloaded the latest software drivers, and manuals HERE. They also have a FORUM where you can ask any additional questions, or read up on the latest advice and suggestions.

     

    Additionally, THIS resource is useful, but it is more often geared towards the DIY stabilizer community; however, there are some good tips and tricks for everyday stabilizer useage.

     

    Conclusion

    My main advice is, only use SimpleBCG when you have taken the time to research in greater depth, and feel comfortable and confident with your ability to further customize your stabilizer. If you act too hastily, or without the right information, you can actually make your stabilizer operate less effectivaly and ruin the pre-balancing done before your item arrives. On the other hand, expert tweaking via SimpleBGC can improve your stabilizer performance even more, and optimize it effectively for multiple camera weights and setups at the push of a button at the shoot location, so it can be a very powerful tool….just make sure you can use that power effectively.

     

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  • The evolution of a stabilizer. Let’s Go Wireless.

    Here at Steadymaker we are always listening to customer feedback, and attempting to improve our product. A relatively recent innovation in the world of stabilizers is the ability to set up your system on the fly, using Bluetooth.

    Picture the scene, you arrive at a shoot with your stabilizer, camera (or two), and an assortment of lenses. You have pre-balanced your setup to support your most common lens and camera, but what happens if you switch to a heavier setup during the shoot? Perhaps you switch to a different camera, perhaps you add an expensive long zoom lens on the front. This could change the behaviour of your stabilizer, and now it is not optimally balanced for your new setup.

    The old option would be taking your laptop along with you to the shoot, and connecting the two together, running SimpleBGC on your laptop, and tweaking your setup via the usb cable connection until you are re-balanced.

    That option is ok, but not ideal for remote shoots. It means more to carry to the shoot; cables and a laptop can add weight to an already full load.

    Now we have added a bluetooth module to our top-of-the-range stabilizer, the SteadyMaker Tank PLUS 32-bit edition.

    We are all about the wireless option, after all, the 32-bit Stabilizer comes with a wireless remote, so now we can offer wireless balance support.

    Here’s how to enable support.

    Don’t forget, the software in order to further tweak and balance your stabilizer setup is called SimpleBGC, or Simple Brushless Gimbal Controller. This software is used in about 80 percent of the worlds brushless gimbal stabilizers, so we wanted to make sure you have the best support possible when balancing and controlling your stabilizer setup.

    In order to use that software, check out our introduction video:

    This is just a brief guide, in order to get a more in-depth guide, check out the downloads page or the forum on SimpleBGC, or ask us a question on our forum.

    Now, because of our recent addition, you can enable Bluetooth interconnectivity between a tablet, or even your smartphone. Just go to the app page here and download it, alternatively, check out the Google Play Store, and just look for ‘SimpleBGC Mobile’. (At the moment, the app is just available for Android phones, but if you have a tablet, you can run the desktop version of SimpleBGC and connect wirelessly to your stabilizer via bluetooth to set it up that way).

    The app works in the same way as the desktop app, so just use the support and manuals you find on the SimpleBGC website to guide you through setup.

    REMEMBER…As mentioned in the above video, your stabilizer will be delivered to you pre-balanced for your ideal setup, only use SimpleBGC if you are confident with your abilities in tweaking your stabilizer balance setup.

    One option you now have is to pre-balance your stabilizer to many different camera/lens combinations, and save them at home on your phone or tablet, then as you switch lenses or cameras at the location of your shoot, you can wirelessly and instantly switch between optimized balanced setups to save time and effort.

    Don’t forget, we have enabled this option for the 32-bit stabilizer, at no extra charge, to give you even more flexibility and enjoyment when you use our product!

    FURTHER READING

    For an idea of what can be done (without needing to worry about how to install a bluetooth module), check out the excellent guys at CHEESYCAM. They have an entire page devoted to stabilizers, and tweaking them for optimal use, including this particular video on using bluetooth with your stabilizer:

    For more information, check out the full post HERE, or the blog HERE.

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  • The most important thing to remember as you unbox and assemble your Steadymaker 3-Axis Gimbal, or indeed any other stabilizer (although why on earth would you buy one from someone else? :P) is that your stabilization issues aren’t permanently fixed.

    As powerful a tool as these machines are, they do not solve all your problems, you are not suddenly ‘reborn’ as a consummate professional , the oscar for cinematography isn’t going to be thrown in your direction anytime soon. However, the 3-axis gimbal stabilizer goes a long way to cleaning up shakey moving footage, as the following clip shows…

    So, apart from what you saw, what else can be done?

    Well, practice makes perfect.

    Take it out for dry runs, set yourself a series of tasks…(filming from a variety of positions, move up to, and around people and objects.

    Grab a friend and follow them around in the street…better yet, follow them around indoors (nothing will train you faster than manouvering a stabilizer around tight confined indoor spaces).

    Try a variety of ground conditions, up and down stairs, over rough terrain.

    Become familiar with it’s strengths, and more importantly, limitations, so that you know the best times to utilize (and avoid) the stabilizer.

     

    So, you have arrived at the shoot, you have set up your stabilizer, what can you do to maximize your time there?

    For any shot required, take a test run (or two) so you are familiar with the terrain, the shot, what is needed for the take.

    Two hands are always best. These machines aren’t light. Unless you have an overhead support system (more on that in an upcoming video) then you will rapidly tire. The first thing that will suffer will be your form, and the footage will reflect that. Preserve your energy for the takes.

    One hand is great for low angle shots, but my suggestion is, keep that for short takes, with small movements. Unless your stabilizer is very well tuned, you maximize the risk of needing significant post production with long one handed takes. One suggestion is, use it like you would if your camera was in a slider. Small steady tracking shots around a subject, movements that would take more finesse.

    Be inventive. You have in your hands a fantastic machine. You can put it in crazy angles, you can hand it off to others, you can remotely control where it looks…don’t be afraid to try new, unique shots with it that couldn’t have been done in any other way.

     

    Your stabilizer is a tool…a powerful one, but just another tool in your selection of tools, a way of showing visual information, one amongst many options in order to portray what is happening. The real skill and talent comes from you. Go out there and make something wonderful.

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