The Changing Face of Handheld Video

This condition, which has rendered countless videos unwatchable, has been the unfortunate and unavoidable sum to the equation of (small camera + long zoom lens) + inexperienced camera operator. Large professional-grade cameras that rest on the shooter’s shoulder are inherently more stable than palm-sized camcorders that whip around with the twist of the wrist. Telephoto zoom lenses, often enhanced by digital zoom technology, add to the equation by quite literally magnifying the problem; turning small jiggles into giant jerks. Putting these in the hands of a casual camera operator who is not equipped with the techniques to compensate for these factors and they will find that the math is stacked against them.

Through the years Videomaker has written countless articles identifying tips, tricks and techniques for overcoming shaky shots. Without fail, the top solution has been to use a tripod. In a world where shaky shots rule and the  unstable reign, the trusty tripod has been the only truly trustworthy solution to guarantee rock solid shots. They are still a fantastic solution, and always will be. An obvious problem with ending the article here is that tripods are big, bulky and downright inconvenient to lug around everytime and everywhere you want to record some video. From a practical point of view, it is unrealistic to expect everyone to tote a tripod all the time.

The image stabilization feature on the worst of today’s cameras rivals the best available just a few years ago.

Videographers were momentarily hopeful that technology had saved the day for handheld shooters over a decade ago with the introduction of in-camera image stabilization (IS), which came in two forms; electronic image stabilization (EIS) which manipulates image sensors to counter camera wiggle and optical image stabilization (OIS) which moves the lens optics to compensate. However, the effectiveness of EIS and OIS varied greatly from one camcorder to the next, sometimes degrading an image in favor of reducing shake, making it less than trustworthy as a large scale solution. Fortunately, today’s IS technology has improved greatly in image quality and effectiveness. The image stabilization feature on the worst of today’s cameras rivals the best available just a few years ago.

SYMPLA Shoulder Mounted RigShoulder mount adapters are an excellent way to add stability to handheld shots, and they permit free movement of the videographer through a scene. These affordable mounts effectively make small camcorders move and function as though they were large, preventing the shake associated with wrist rotation. Floating hand-held camera stabilizations rigs are a wonderful solution in many situations. These high tech rigs with three axis gimbals enable smooth, flowing camera movements while the camera operator moves around. These flying camera movements, made popular in television and film by Steadicam™  are now available to videographers at all levels at prices ranging from a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars, and the results are stunning.

If all else fails, chances are your editing application can still save the day. All of today’s top editing apps include an image stabilization filter that let you smooth out shaky shots in post-production in exchange for an investment in render time.

There are many options for adding stability to your footage either in the camera or in the edit suite. So don’t restrict your shots to static-position tripod-based perspectives. Make the move to handheld and add interest by moving your camera through the scenes that you shoot.

Matthew York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.

Matthew York
Matthew York
Matt York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.

Related Content