Steadicam and its imitators
The other day I had to put together a video from footage I'd shot some years ago with a shoulder-mount camera, and I was struck by how dynamic the hand-held footage was, than what I've been able to do with any of the newer, non-shoulder-mount cameras.
So, I'm going to overcome my inertia and try to fix this problem, but I'd like some advice.
There are many accessories that turn a Red/EXCAM/F3 into a shoulder-mount camera. But I am guessing that using the new cameras to achieve and even surpass the fluidity and grace of the the old Betacams requires a Steadicam, or one of its imitators.
At any rate, I'm curious whether there is any consensus here regarding the shoulder-mount rigs or some of the less-expensive Steadicam wannabes.
I am a huge fan of the shoulder-mount form factor for cameras, from my ENG work, and I don't mind a little weight either: the inertia adds stability and smoothness. Holding the camera in front of you in two hands, even a light one, is a very unnatural and stressful posture, and it puts your arms and wrists in the worst positions for good control and comfort and shock absorbtion. Hand grips of various kinds mitigate this somewhat, but it still puts a lot of stress cantileverd out in front of your body. A shoulder-mounted camera rides your spine, more or less, and puts an eyepiece naturally close to where it needs to be.
We've had a couple different mini versions of a steadi-cam come thru the place over the years, comemrcial and home-brewed, and not one of them really does the job reliably as the "real deal" Garrett Brown-type rig, with harness and special arm and all. And you don't instantly become good at using one just by strapping it on, either; using it is aspecialized discipline.
[Mark Suszko] "I am a huge fan of the shoulder-mount form factor for cameras,"
Agreed. But most of the newer cameras have abandoned that form, so what's the best alternative? You make a good point about the importance of weight balance in the equation, too. (Although... I am sure that when I swung the camera from side to side, I beaned way too many people, over the years, with the brick on the back of my Betacam.)
Panasonic and Sony both have new shoulder-form factor cameras, they look awesome, I want one.
[Bob Cole] "I'm curious whether there is any consensus here regarding the shoulder-mount rigs or some of the less-expensive Steadicam wannabes."
Well both shoulder-mount and Steadicam work have their places... but I think of it a bit as comparing apples and oranges. Steadicam vs. plain ol' handheld are two entirely different "looks" and have different uses to covey different moods and feelings, etc.
A Steadicam shot is obviously a very fluid, floating shot, one that does not call attention to itself, and propels a viewer through a scene in a sort of disembodied way. It puts a viewer in a scene, but at the same time is a bit distancing since no human would ever actually see a scene that way. A handheld shot, on the other hand, is very kinetic, dynamic, sometimes gives the illusion of more action than there really is, can create a bit of drama or visual unease, and often is a good device to really place a viewer in a scene.
I like to watch television shows try to determine the director or DP's "recipe" for when and how to do various types of shooting. Sometimes there are clear-cut directions... sometimes not. In the earlier seasons (the first 10 years or so) of "Law & Order" they stuck fairly closely to the "recipe"... virtually everything outside of a courtroom was shot handheld, but everything inside a courtroom was shot on a dolly (albeit often with a moving "loose head" type of shot). In later years, the recipe wasn't always followed, but rather the feel and mood of a scene dictated the camera mount (or lack thereof).
While "L&O" was very big on handheld, "ER" was full of masterful Steadicam shots (most by one of the best SteadiOps in the biz, Guy Norman Bee). In that case, the floating fluid Steadicam shots were a nice contrast to all the frantic craziness that the camera was floating through.
I think it just depends on the look and feel you are going for when determining whether a handheld or a stabilized shot is called for.
And as for the "less-expensive Steadicam wannabes," I'm probably a bit prejudiced since I'm a Steadicam op... but while most of those cheap "clonecams" do work, they work to varying degrees... and like most anything else you get what you pay for. For someone doing occasional stabilizing, one of the knockoff units might be more than adequate... but for someone needing to do a lot of stabilizing and planning to fly a camera every day, I'd say pony up and go for a real Steadicam or one of the other high-end brands (some of which are not any cheaper than real Steadicams).
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