DSLR Video: Shoulder rig, steady-cam or stabiliser?

#1
I earn a bob or two on the side as a photographer but now I’m being asked to produce some videos for some of my clients, sadly not porn. I’ve been considering this for some time anyway so its not as big a jump as it might seem. Spent some time last year in a TV studio and on location learning some of the ropes as cameraman, sandman and post processing. As a photographer I have a DSLR rather than a cine camera. Similarly all my lenses are photo lenses. Cine lenses have some significant advantages for video but the prices for good ones (or a matching set) are not on the cards at the moment. In another sense I’m starting with a handicap in that my kit is Nikon, whereas a Canon or Panasonic photo camera might have been a better option for video as would a proper cine camera. Later, if the jobs keep coming in I might consider a cine system. (For straightforward photography the Nikon glass is excellent however I realise that others have other opinions. You makes your choice at some point and that’s what you tend to stick with.) That’s my starting point, now back to the title of the thread.

Given the nature of the work required turning up with a handheld shaky camera technique is not on. Up to now I’ve been filming from a tripod or a slider and these work well but have some limitations. That to my mind leaves me with three options; namely a shoulder rig, a steady-cam or a stabiliser rig. Here’s my list of pros and cons to date.

Steady-cam: These are reasonably priced and 200 or so pounds buys a decent handheld gamble mount. However balancing the system can be a real pig and doesn’t look too great when turning up at a client and then spending what seems like forever trying to get the thing to balance. Even moving the focus elements in a prime lens, or worse adjusting a zoom, are enough to shift the balance position and require it to be rebalanced. Focusing during filming isn’t possible.My camera plus lens weigh in a round 2kg to 2.5kg depending on the lens I use.

Stabiliser: Pricing is around 1500 to 2000 pounds and there essentially a steady cam with electronics for the stabilisation. Balancing, from what I’ve seen, doesn’t seem to involve quite so much faffing around which looks a lot better when the customer is paying a few grand for the end product. It does look more professional, is as steady as a rock in use but it also has limitations when it comes to changing things like focus, f-number or focal length.

Shoulder rig: They are expensive and can be from 200 to 4000 pounds for what’s a collection of rods and brackets. The cheap ones are cheap for a reason. So far there is a place in the middle which combines functionality with quality, robustness. I’ve sued one before with a TV camera so have a reasonable feeling for good operation which I can certainly improve on. Some people moan that they are heavy but I don’t see that as an issue. The stability they offer is better than handheld but not at the quality of a stabiliser or steady cam rig. Its possible to accurately adjust the focus but at the end of the day I should probably get myself a T-lens. Zoom isn’t easy but I can add any amount of monitors or batteries. They are intended for a cine cameras so a DSLR looks a bit odd but they’re functional. I can always replace the DSLR with something else later.

If anybody is still reading and hasn't given up the will to live I’d be keen to hear of any experiences with the above as well as possible recommendations?

Why a DSLR? Shooting video means that the electronics that make my photo camera what it is generally all have to be switched off or dialed out. What’s left is the dynamic range of the sensor. That’s on a par or sometimes better than a cine camera at 3 to 4 times the price. Add a good photo lens and the potential is a cheap (relative to cine) high quality system but everything is back to manual. I have considered second hand and leasing but neither options have offered anything which would make sense. A GoPro or a handicam are not options.
 
#2
So what do you want to do that you can't do from a tripod? If it's tracking shots, how about adding a dolly to the tripod?
 
#3
I've been doing home videos with a DSLR since 2014, when I bought a Canon 70D. I can't justify the cost of a video camera because I mainly 'do' videos of the flying displays at air shows once or twice a year. I started off with the camera mounted on a tripod but the results were pathetic. I used a Manfrotto tripod and pan-and-tilt head but I'm not good enough to pan/tilt fast enough. I now use a monopod for 'static' videos and an old telephoto shoulder rest (which I bought in Germany in 1976) for flying displays. The shoulder rest is the only way that I can pan fast enough to keep up with the aircraft.

IMG_1409.jpg


The shoulder rest looks totally 'naff' and might not impress a client, but it's cheap.

I found instructions for a DIY shoulder rest here:
DIY Camera Shoulder Rest

I've added links to a couple of my videos so that you can judge the quality. The 'Poppy Field' video was shot using the monopod and the 'Spitfires' video was shot using the shoulder rest.

Poppy Field:


Spitfires:


(Apologies for linking to videos in the wrong forum!)

If you haven't got a copy, you might find "The DSLR Filmmaker's Handbook" useful. The book seems to cover everything from A to Z in great detail. A lot of it is WAAAAY beyond me but I've found bits of it useful, particularly the bits on post-production editing. It has some good info on supporting a camera in the section "Tripods and dollies".

The newest (second) edition is available from Amazon:

and you can also download the first edition as a FREE e-book from this site:
The DSLR Filmmaker's Handbook - Download Free EBooks

My turn to apologise if I've put you to sleep!
 
#4
So what do you want to do that you can't do from a tripod? If it's tracking shots, how about adding a dolly to the tripod?
A lot of my work is with horses. Fine if I can just set the tripod somewhere but the dolly is no use in the sand or on the heath. I also have a possible job which involves shooting out the back of a heli. I might have to take the plunge and hire something for that one.
 
#5
I've been doing home videos with a DSLR since 2014, when I bought a Canon 70D. I can't justify the cost of a video camera because I mainly 'do' videos of the flying displays at air shows once or twice a year. I started off with the camera mounted on a tripod but the results were pathetic. I used a Manfrotto tripod and pan-and-tilt head but I'm not good enough to pan/tilt fast enough. I now use a monopod for 'static' videos and an old telephoto shoulder rest (which I bought in Germany in 1976) for flying displays. The shoulder rest is the only way that I can pan fast enough to keep up with the aircraft.

View attachment 326804

The shoulder rest looks totally 'naff' and might not impress a client, but it's cheap.

I found instructions for a DIY shoulder rest here:
DIY Camera Shoulder Rest

I've added links to a couple of my videos so that you can judge the quality. The 'Poppy Field' video was shot using the monopod and the 'Spitfires' video was shot using the shoulder rest.

Poppy Field:


Spitfires:


(Apologies for linking to videos in the wrong forum!)

If you haven't got a copy, you might find "The DSLR Filmmaker's Handbook" useful. The book seems to cover everything from A to Z in great detail. A lot of it is WAAAAY beyond me but I've found bits of it useful, particularly the bits on post-production editing. It has some good info on supporting a camera in the section "Tripods and dollies".

The newest (second) edition is available from Amazon:

and you can also download the first edition as a FREE e-book from this site:
The DSLR Filmmaker's Handbook - Download Free EBooks

My turn to apologise if I've put you to sleep!

Thanks for sharing that and the videos. Just shows what is possible with a bit of ingenuity. A lot better than my efforts with handheld. I love the sound track on the Duxford show. Did you capture that with the mic in the camera? If so its a hell of a lot better than the mic Nikon built into their cameras. I've seen the filmmakers handbook mentioned a few times, seems to have good reviews. That's another plus in the corner for a shoulder rig. I could see me buying a few bits and making the rest myself. I can always adjust with a hammer to fit when required.

By the way did your tripod have a fluid mechanism in both pan and tilt? A lot of the Manfrotto heads only have fluid in the tilt. I have one with fluid in the pan and it makes a difference. A lot smoother and I can adjust the pressure as required.
 
#6
Best off hiring unless you have enough work to justify laying out the four grand or so.
I shelled out a couple of grand on studio flash a while ago and whilst they have got some use its going to take a bit longer for them to pay their way than I thought it would.
As an aside for dolly shots with decent results on a smooth surface get someone to push you in a wheel chair.
I picked that up from an afternoon making a shortie with some film students in Pasadena.
All were aspiring Hollywood type cameramen/Directors, a great day with a nice bunch of guys and girls.
We did get a bit of camera shake though in the form of a 6.0 earthquake, which was fun.
Reaching back into my thought bank, back in the day, and still in use for horse racing and other off road camera mounts they use an old Citroen or any car with hydrolastic or similar suspension for best results.
May be a bit OTT but it depends what you are up to.
As far as I know, when it comes to cine most sensible types hire gear as and when needed.
 
#7
Thanks for sharing that and the videos. Just shows what is possible with a bit of ingenuity. A lot better than my efforts with handheld. I love the sound track on the Duxford show. Did you capture that with the mic in the camera? If so its a hell of a lot better than the mic Nikon built into their cameras. I've seen the filmmakers handbook mentioned a few times, seems to have good reviews. That's another plus in the corner for a shoulder rig. I could see me buying a few bits and making the rest myself. I can always adjust with a hammer to fit when required.

By the way did your tripod have a fluid mechanism in both pan and tilt? A lot of the Manfrotto heads only have fluid in the tilt. I have one with fluid in the pan and it makes a difference. A lot smoother and I can adjust the pressure as required.

I use an external mic, a Rode Videomic GO. It's a shotgun mic and quite cheap.
It's a LOT better than the Canon's internal mic, which does a beautiful job of picking up the noise from the lens focusing motor! However, the Rode does pick up a lot of sound from the sides as you probably noticed from the sound of people chatting in the 'Spitfire' video, That's why I used Gustav Holst's " I vow to thee my country" as the background music for the 'Poppy' video - the noise of people chatting would have spoiled the whole thing. I switched off the video's soundtrack and added the music in post-production.

I use a separate tripod and pan-and-tilt head. The tripod is a Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 and the pan-and-tilt head is a Manfrotto MVH502AH. I bought them from Park Cameras in London, when they were having a Manfrotto demo day and got a 20% discount!
I'm not sure about the fluid mech in the pan-and-tilt head. It definitely has a fluid mechanism in tilt, which can be adjusted to make it harder/softer. I think the pan has a mechanical brake, which can be adjusted. Sadly, even when it's on the least resistance, I just can't pan fast enough with it at flying displays.
 
#9
Best off hiring unless you have enough work to justify laying out the four grand or so.
I shelled out a couple of grand on studio flash a while ago and whilst they have got some use its going to take a bit longer for them to pay their way than I thought it would.
As an aside for dolly shots with decent results on a smooth surface get someone to push you in a wheel chair.
I picked that up from an afternoon making a shortie with some film students in Pasadena.
All were aspiring Hollywood type cameramen/Directors, a great day with a nice bunch of guys and girls.
We did get a bit of camera shake though in the form of a 6.0 earthquake, which was fun.
Reaching back into my thought bank, back in the day, and still in use for horse racing and other off road camera mounts they use an old Citroen or any car with hydrolastic or similar suspension for best results.
May be a bit OTT but it depends what you are up to.
As far as I know, when it comes to cine most sensible types hire gear as and when needed.
Found a local hiring company where I can pick up a steadicam or stabaliser rig so might pick one up and give it a whiz, see if they're any good. They also have a good range cine cameras and lenses so that base is covered should it be necessary. Some of them need a good budget even when hiring. Set of Zeiss lenses 1500 a day, yikes! Thankfully only the Spielbergs of the world are going to need that level of gear.

I have a fair amount of lighting gear, supports etc as I've had a studio for some time now. I shelled out about the same as you for lighting and then discovered that once you have the lights there's a pile of junk that's needed to turn it into a studio lighting system. Oh, what was that noise? Another grand exiting the door. Fortunately I picked up a fair bit second hand and made the rest myself. When I've needed new gear I've started second hand, sold it one for a profit and traded up to the next level, wash, rinse, repeat.

The wheelchair idea is a stroke of genius. I have a buddy who doubles as sound man or second camera. He'll be happy to hear that he can now add camera pusher to his list of accomplishments.
 
#10
I use an external mic, a Rode Videomic GO. It's a shotgun mic and quite cheap.
It's a LOT better than the Canon's internal mic, which does a beautiful job of picking up the noise from the lens focusing motor! However, the Rode does pick up a lot of sound from the sides as you probably noticed from the sound of people chatting in the 'Spitfire' video, That's why I used Gustav Holst's " I vow to thee my country" as the background music for the 'Poppy' video - the noise of people chatting would have spoiled the whole thing. I switched off the video's soundtrack and added the music in post-production.

I use a separate tripod and pan-and-tilt head. The tripod is a Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 and the pan-and-tilt head is a Manfrotto MVH502AH. I bought them from Park Cameras in London, when they were having a Manfrotto demo day and got a 20% discount!
I'm not sure about the fluid mech in the pan-and-tilt head. It definitely has a fluid mechanism in tilt, which can be adjusted to make it harder/softer. I think the pan has a mechanical brake, which can be adjusted. Sadly, even when it's on the least resistance, I just can't pan fast enough with it at flying displays.
After playing around with Nikon's camera mounted mic and having it pick up all sorts I dumped it for an off camera mic system (not really air show friendly though). Before I had an idea of what I was doing and switched the lens to manual I had the same issues picking up the sounds of the lens motor even though they're claimed to be silent.

Had a look at your video head and it has fluid movement in both pan and tilt. Its a pity that the pan won't dial back sufficiently. The one I have can be pushed around with a pinkie when the tension is turned back. I have a Nitrotech head from Manfrotto. I only bought it because the shop had a deal going and I could part exchange an old camera body. I'm glad I did as I like it a lot.
 
#11
I’ve dabbled in video in the past but moved onto picture framing because my legs aren’t what they used to be plus my camera was a Sony tape camera and digital was making it harder to keep up with the incoming digital trends. It was a Sony PDX-DSR10 camcorder. A lovely camera which took broadcast quality video and I also had a wide angle and a telephoto adapter for it. It was very compact and I upgraded the mic on it and used pag lights with it.

Tapes weren’t cheap because I only used the professional ones although there was a view that the none professional tapes were just as good in quality if not as durable.

For stability, get a really good tripod. I had a professional Vinton video tripod with a pan and tilt head and a Manfrotto monopod with a pan and tilt head. The professional tripods can incorporate some camera controls in the handle to start and stop recording and zoom in and zoom out. Get a good monopod and again, a good one can incorporate camera controls in it.

In a situation where you can’t use a tripod or a monopod, you need to practice your technique to keep the camera steady. The better video cameras usually have an ability to minimise or even obliterate camera shake provided you can keep it to a minimum when using handheld techniques.

I looked at steadicams but they were either mega expensive or the cheaper one’s didn’t look like they would really do the job.

All this was about ten years ago and it’s changed a lot since then. That’s my two pennarth.
 
#13
Found a local hiring company where I can pick up a steadicam or stabaliser rig so might pick one up and give it a whiz, see if they're any good. They also have a good range cine cameras and lenses so that base is covered should it be necessary. Some of them need a good budget even when hiring. Set of Zeiss lenses 1500 a day, yikes! Thankfully only the Spielbergs of the world are going to need that level of gear.

I have a fair amount of lighting gear, supports etc as I've had a studio for some time now. I shelled out about the same as you for lighting and then discovered that once you have the lights there's a pile of junk that's needed to turn it into a studio lighting system. Oh, what was that noise? Another grand exiting the door. Fortunately I picked up a fair bit second hand and made the rest myself. When I've needed new gear I've started second hand, sold it one for a profit and traded up to the next level, wash, rinse, repeat.

The wheelchair idea is a stroke of genius. I have a buddy who doubles as sound man or second camera. He'll be happy to hear that he can now add camera pusher to his list of accomplishments.

Camera pusher?
These were Hollywood film students that I was working with.
When I heard the director ask for a "Dolly grip", I was impressed and had visions of a load of guys laying a miniature railway with the assorted spirit levels and wooden chocks and all of the palaver that goes with it.
I pissed myself laughing when I saw them get a wheel chair out.
It did work well though.
 
#14
I have no idea. So many options

The 11 Best DSLR Camera Gimbal Stabilizers Steadicams in 2018

If you find out, let me know
Had a look through and compared with reviews that I could find along with my requirements (weight being the main consideration). Three options were left, the Glidecam HD4000, DJI Ronin M and the Zhiyan crane 2. All of them are between 500-1000 pounds so its going to be a case of hire or borrow one for a day and see if I can make anything of it.
 
#15
Had a look through and compared with reviews that I could find along with my requirements (weight being the main consideration). Three options were left, the Glidecam HD4000, DJI Ronin M and the Zhiyan crane 2. All of them are between 500-1000 pounds so its going to be a case of hire or borrow one for a day and see if I can make anything of it.
Do you have your own kit insurance policy or will the hire company expect you to get cover through them?
I think that you said at the beginning of the thread that your shoot involved helicopters, so some kind of cover against dropping something overboard is a must surely?
 
#16
I’ve dabbled in video in the past but moved onto picture framing because my legs aren’t what they used to be plus my camera was a Sony tape camera and digital was making it harder to keep up with the incoming digital trends. It was a Sony PDX-DSR10 camcorder. A lovely camera which took broadcast quality video and I also had a wide angle and a telephoto adapter for it. It was very compact and I upgraded the mic on it and used pag lights with it.

Tapes weren’t cheap because I only used the professional ones although there was a view that the none professional tapes were just as good in quality if not as durable.

For stability, get a really good tripod. I had a professional Vinton video tripod with a pan and tilt head and a Manfrotto monopod with a pan and tilt head. The professional tripods can incorporate some camera controls in the handle to start and stop recording and zoom in and zoom out. Get a good monopod and again, a good one can incorporate camera controls in it.

In a situation where you can’t use a tripod or a monopod, you need to practice your technique to keep the camera steady. The better video cameras usually have an ability to minimise or even obliterate camera shake provided you can keep it to a minimum when using handheld techniques.

I looked at steadicams but they were either mega expensive or the cheaper one’s didn’t look like they would really do the job.

All this was about ten years ago and it’s changed a lot since then. That’s my two pennarth.
Wow, that was one expensive piece of kit in the day and one of the first with the 3 x CCD concept. Not sure if that concept has now been superseded. While back I bought a Sony with a HD instead of tape. Wrong bloody camera. I should have bought a Canon but the salesman in the shop new his business, cnut. Everything worked well, picture quality and sound was good. The video format was Sony specific and trying to down load the files from the camera was a proper pain. 15 minutes video, oh we're going to need 4 hours to download that. Used to have a Sony lappy, which I liked a lot, but even it wouldn't pair up with the sodding camera.
 
#17
If you haven't got a copy, you might find "The DSLR Filmmaker's Handbook" useful. The book seems to cover everything from A to Z in great detail. A lot of it is WAAAAY beyond me but I've found bits of it useful, particularly the bits on post-production editing. It has some good info on supporting a camera in the section "Tripods and dollies".

The newest (second) edition is available from Amazon:

and you can also download the first edition as a FREE e-book from this site:
The DSLR Filmmaker's Handbook - Download Free EBooks
Good book, downloaded it and whizzed through it this afternoon. Lots of ideas and some good workarounds.
 
#18
trouble with tripods is they are great for getting a steady static shot but will cause jerking and vibration when you try to pan unless you go for a really expensive mount, I would suggest a cage like this

amazonlink
Capture.PNG
the focus puller will also help tons with a moving shot with hand grips and a shoulder grip you have the 3 points of support like a tripod but the fluidity in moving shots is so much better
 

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#19
Do you have your own kit insurance policy or will the hire company expect you to get cover through them?
I think that you said at the beginning of the thread that your shoot involved helicopters, so some kind of cover against dropping something overboard is a must surely?
Usually its a loss of the deposit or payment up to a specific value which is what the cpmapony is liable for should they claim. That's usually around 1000 euros which is reasonable considering the eye watering cost of some of the professional gear.
 
#20
trouble with tripods is they are great for getting a steady static shot but will cause jerking and vibration when you try to pan unless you go for a really expensive mount, I would suggest a cage like this

amazonlink View attachment 327001 the focus puller will also help tons with a moving shot with hand grips and a shoulder grip you have the 3 points of support like a tripod but the fluidity in moving shots is so much better
I looked at one of those in London a few years ago. It was made by Manfrotto and was on sale in Park Cameras for £400. That was a lot more than I was prepared to pay for something that would only get used 2 - 3 times a year. The Amazon price is much better and I'm a bit tempted!
Now - where's the piggy bank run away to hide THIS time?
 
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