Keeping it Smooth
One of a series of posts aimed to help still photographers produce better videos with their DSLRs.
The biggest mistake still photographers make when shooting video for the first time is not keeping the camera steady. Nothing shouts amateur like a shaky video and if you don’t use some type of camera support, you’ll be very disappointed in the results and maybe even give your viewers motion sickness. Since you are no longer capturing a slice of time in a photograph, camera shake becomes very noticeable. And to make matters worse, the form factor of the DSLR is much more suited for stills than video. Some kind of camera support is necessary.
A standard photo tripod can help, but try to move the camera in a smooth pan, and you’ll see it’s limitations in your footage. You need very sturdy legs and what is called a fluid head.
Fluid heads are just what the name implies, a tripod head with a thick fluid in it to dampen any movement, to create a smooth resistance. Because of this, they are more expensive than most standard photo tripod heads. Fluid heads can run from anywhere around $100. up to thousands of dollars. Consider the good ones an investment because they will give you years and years of great service.
When shooting off the tripod, to be more mobile, it really helps to have some type of camera support to keep your video footage looking smooth. In-camera/lens image stabilization can only do so much. Many thrifty do-it-yourselfers have created interesting rigs out of pvc pipe, wood and even old bicycle parts. But many innovative companies have sprung up to support the growing needs of video DSLR shooters so there is plenty to choose from. These rigs can cost you anywhere from $30. on up to believe it or not, a Vocas costing $2100. for a simple shoulder rig.
When buying a shoulder rig, if you can, bring all of your gear to make sure it all fits and feels comfortable. Most rigs are based on dual 15mm rods that allow customization of the ergonomics and a base for all of the attachments you need (follow focus, external recorder, monitor, matte box, etc). Buy one that fits your budget of course but also your shooting style. Keep it as simple as possible as you need to carry it all on your shoulder. It will also help to have a quick release on your shoulder rig matching your tripod fluid head for quick on and off the sticks.