Cinematography: Camera Stabilization
I walked into Samy’s Camera last week and a camera assistant was mounting gyros on the 5D to stabilize the camera. She was getting beaten up by the mount and said, “I cannot get this clamped on here.”
I said, “Hi, I would love to help you with this rig.” She said she would love any advice I could give her. I grabbed the gyro, removed it, placed it on the counter, and said, “There you go, now you’re all set.”
She looked at me for a second. I told her she just needed a good handheld set-up. The HV Moviemaker Pro was booked immediately on the spot. It flew to Texas in the overhead bins to shoot a music video directed by Mark Pellington and lensed by my good friend Eric Schmidt for Crossroads Films.
They used 2- 7Ds, 1-1D Mark IV, a set of Zeiss ZE primes, the new custom HV base plate along with the new View Factor black Exoskeleton, HV lighting monitor, and all the other goodies to bring the video to life.
Eric came by Bandito Brothers Production Company to check out the Moviemaker, loved it, and mentioned the gyro incident at Samy’s. Once he put the HV handheld rig on his shoulder, he felt at ease and realized that it did not need gyro stabilization.
The Camera Stabilization Secret
The secret is weight and where it is placed. This camera can be anything you want it to be. Strip it down to a still camera or dress it up on a tripod with matte boxes with all the bells and whistles. But the fact remains that it is a 2.5 lb still camera, which just needs a little love in the right place for handheld work to shine.
A Gyro is one of the most unnatural pieces of movie-making gear you can put on this camera. I made the mistake of trying to use this device for the intense handheld action on Act of Valor. I would backpedal down a hallway and try to pan slightly to frame a SEAL coming down an adjoining hallway.
The camera spun out of control, ruined the shot and it just felt wrong. It added more cables, more batteries, more weight (in all the wrong places). And, the noise for sound was deafening so we scrapped it. Now, for helicopter and ocean work, I think I would entertain the use of one of these beasts. But other than that, I am not sold on this technology.
The 5D, 7D, and 1D can be steady with good operating. Or, they can be shaky and intense if necessary to help tell the story. They can glide on a Steadicam, fly on a technocrane, soar in aerial photography, and land precise choreographed smooth moves on the dolly. You choose!
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About Filmmakers Academy Cinematographer Mentor Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Director of photography Shane Hurlbut, ASC works at the forefront of cinema. He’s a storyteller, innovator, and discerning collaborator, who brings more than three decades of experience to his art. He is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, the International Cinematographers Guild/Local 600, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Hurlbut frequently joins forces with great directors: McG’s Netflix Rim of the World and The Babysitter, plus Warner Bros. We Are Marshall and Terminator: Salvation; Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed and Act of Valor; and Gabriele Muccino’s There Is No Place Like Home and Fathers and Daughters. His additional film credits include Semi-Pro; The Greatest Game Ever Played; Into the Blue; Mr 3000; Drumline; 11:14, which earned Hurlbut a DVDX nomination; and The Skulls. Notably, his television credits include the first season of AMC’s Into the Badlands.
My god your job is cool.
Drew, thanks for the kind words
I ran into Pellington at a Mexican restaurant in Austin the other day as he and his crew were celebrating finishing the music video – they were very excited and pleased with the vDSLRs and had great things to say about the kits you guys put together. These things are not much of a secret weapon anymore – they are gaining acceptance rapidly.
I also remember my father telling me of stories from his paratrooper days of soldiers playing pranks on bellhops in hotels by turning on portable gyros inside cases before the red caps carried the bags upstairs, and watching them have great difficulty making corners… funny stuff. But yeah, not so much needed with the canon cameras.
Great article again Shane. Glad to see industry cinematographers going minimal (:
Are the HV kits for rent only? Will they ever be for sale? I understand people could just take that list and buy the very same things, or similar things. There are some things I can identify, somethings you’ve mentioned before. But I was wondering if you could help me out with the others, or direct me to an FAQ page.
I’m curious about the CF cards you use, since in a previous post you noticed anything that’s not UDMA would have a reduced quality.
(1) They look like they are Sandisk cards… are they the new Extreme 60mb/s UDMA 32gb cards? And the black ones are Extreme IVs?
(2) Which on board monitor comes with the package?
I see you guys are using the ViewFactor Remote FF and Contineo;
(3)are the Contineo exoskeletons in the public market already? What do the power ports and batteries on the customized Contineos power? The camera or its accessories or both? What do the Anton Bauer batteries power?
(4)Will you guys sell the custom HV base-plates?
Thanks so much for all that you share and your patience (:
Cedric Yu, we are just renting them now, but will be selling a couple. Yes, I pulled the best of the best. That is not to say that you cannot go out and buy most of it. The problem is that none of the things that you can buy turn it into a Moviemaker. The HV baseplate is the secret to the system, along with some bells and whistles. All of the cards are UDMA 60mb or Extreme IV’s 45mb, either one works. The monitor that comes with the package is in development right now. So in the interim we are using the Marshall 6.5 HDSDI. We tested that and have moved back to the Bartech and the Preston single channel. Curt at View Factor is still working on the cage, bugs and all. I have many on order but need many beefed up power ports for the Preston and on-board monitor. We are looking to sell the baseplates soon. We have the guy ready to pull the trigger. You are very welcome. Peace
Awesome. Thanks for sharing =D
Chad Zellner, you got it man, thanks
Love your blog Shane, have fully embraced the DSLRs as a way of getting my movies made, feeling like the young punks shooting on 16mm must have felt back in the seventies. Good to see the Redrock kit getting a good workout in big production – kind of fed up with the Zacuto (look at the hot girl, look at the hot girl, the gear must be good!), spend a fortune approach to accessories. Just looking into a set of primes and seriously considering going down the Leica route because of the longer focus throw, just wondering if you had any more info on the tests you did with them? Good work as always.
Robin Schmidt, thank you so much for all of your comments, young punks, pioneers, blazing the trail so that others can follow. I loved the Leica, but for a user friendly set the Zeiss ZE’;s are pretty sweet with the Canon back. The adapters for the Leica are all good but you have to send the lenses out to get the f-stop clicks taken out so that you can do 1/3 of a stop adjustments, along with gearing them. All things to consider on what your look and feel as a cinematographer will be.
Great article. I think that’s one of the advantages of these hybrid DSLR’s – versatility of handling. I think gyro stabilization – while it may have it’s place in some applications – is way overkill for a 5D/7D/1D setup. So, nice article, with real world application.
Carl Olson, thank you so much for your kind words my friend.
After meeting you, you inspired me to start building my own custom rigs. I’ll be blogging about finishing the second one tonight. My next step is a should mount rig, so this is further inspiration to keep going.
BTW, what are you doing with a map to my house in the should rig picture? Only have seals storm my house if they are looking for beer and barbeque. ;)
– Stuart (from somewhere north of San Diego)
S. Allman, thank you so much Stuart. It was great meeting you too. I look forward to hearing about your rigs. That is awesome. I had no idea you lived near Mexicali.
Love the site – loads of great information. My questions:
A) When building your rigs how do you run power for your preston/bartech/cinetape?
2) Where did you get your PL modification done?
D) Lastly, do you have to crop the image when shooting with Primos? I thought they weren’t able to fill the full frame sensor…
Sorry if these have been discussed before. Thanks!
Tom, thank you, I am glad you are enjoying the info. I power all those devices with one Dionic 90 Anton Bauer battery that is either mounted to my hand held rig or in a back pack. It is not a PL mount that you are seeing it is a PV mount. Panavision put the ca bash on renting these lenses, so you are not able to take advantage of them anymore. Yes, a 35mm Primo Prime lens is as wide as you can go on the 5D, which is equal to about a 24mm on a 35mm motion picture camera. There you go.
Great info Shane, and all of the posts are much appreciated. I’m looking for a field monitor to use with the Canons and just can’t find “the one” (and I don’t want to buy two or three).
What are you using in the field for framing an focusing when you just can’t get your eye to the back of the camera?
Denis Okeefe, Curt over at View Factor is building a lightweight monitor that will have some nice bells and whistles. 5x and 10x magnifier. HDSDI inputs, Anton Bauer powered and 4″ so that it does get in the way, weighs 1 pound and alum. housing to last.
The non-topo map below the HV rig shows Escondido, Vista and Oceanside on the text. Maybe the topo map is Mexacali?
Shane, literally stumbled on this blog via some random link, wow, thanks for wiping out an afternoon of productivity ha ha! Great blog! I am a commercial stills shooter doing landscapes and adventure work and have been following the DSLR video revolution since Lafloret broke out with Reverie. I looked around the blog here and couldn’t find anything on it, but what about aerial stabilization on a UAV? Something like a Copterworks AF25B helo? I know they make a three axis gyro but the footage I have seen online seems sub par imo. Any experience with UAV’s?
Great blog and work!
This is my latest attempt at handholding and a description of my rig and its configuration
Hi, Shane I was your Key Grip in Puerto Rico during the shooting of I am that man. It was great working with you, the Elite Team, and the Banditos.
Since that experience I notice the great time saving return with a couple of 5D’s on set, like the stunts scene with Roselyn Sanchez and the easy way to place cameras everywhere.
It turn me a big fan of the image quality and I want to buy one to start shooting. But I have some questions which one is better for moviemaking 5D or 7D.?
I read about your lenses blog and I’m agree with you about Zeiss Ze, but what’s your opinion about PL mount for Canon, it’s necessary or not?
I Send a request to rent your Indie, or Pro package to shoot a short film for demo and for have more ideas in customize the Canon for moviemaking?
It was a pleasure worked with you, say hello to the Banditos and the Elite crew, btw nice job on the Navy visuals, and thanks for share the information!!!
Your friend from the Caribbean,
INDIO KEY GRIP
Indio Key Grip, It is so great to hear from you. Thanks for all of your kind words. It was a pleasure working with you and your amazing crew. The 5D is the king of the hill, all the others are trying to climb to the top but they do not even have a rope. The new Zeiss Compact primes will be available in May and I think they are going to shake things up. The PL mount is being done on the 7D by a firm out of Germany that has a beautiful design, but I will wait for the 5D PL. You are welcome my friend.
Shane, I came across you while listening to the Aussie’s RedCentre and LOVED your interview! What I liked in particular was that everything I have heard before regarding DSLRs from a lot of sources (including Mike and Jason at redcentre) was broken down by you. I understand a lot of their complaints stem from a VFX background… needing absolutely no aliasing for green screen, no rolling shutter for tracking, and so on… but I like how you look at what this camera is spitting out from a film standpoint.. and how it connects with you (after mixing up your special cocktail of course). I was especially surprised by your stand to stick with 30fps – even once the new firmware comes out this month – and use twixtor to your advantage to ‘soften’ the sharpness of the 5d. It just made me feel like I should get off my couch and start shooting.. as opposed to thinking…. ‘I have to wait for 24p to produce anything usefull’
Anyways.. really like this blog. So much information. Also how you answer every post. Really impressive. Keep it up!
I did have one quick question regarding lighting. I know you rent all your stuff… but for a guy like me starting out that needs just a few lights that will be good… and quite… what would you recommend? Kino Flos? Lite Panels? something else? I want to keep them cool and quite.. and easy to shape. Would love to hear your thoughts! Thanks again for sharing.
Benjamin Miller, thank you so much for all you kind words. I did love knocking the doors down at the Red Centre, Jason asks so many great questions. I love that you enjoy our blog, we like to keep it personal, no advertisements, just information that I share freely, to help all of you in any way that I can. Inspire creativity and educate is the Hurlbut Visuals motto.
On the lighting front I would go with the 12″ x 12″ Lite Panels. I use four of them and blow them through a 4 x 4 or 8 x 8 diffusion, plus they’re eco friendly. Kino flo’s are cool lights also. I have been bouncing the Parabeams lately into 4 x 8 bead board.
Hey Shane, thanks for having this great blog. its very helpful that you are sharing our experience! would you say that the 7D can not keep up with the image quality of the 5D ( I m not only taking about the low light advantage of the 5D)? Did you do some test with the 7D footage projected on cinema screen? how did it look compared to 5D footage?
Jorn, I have to say that the 5D looks the best. The 7D is not bad but does not have the subtleties that the 5D has and does not look as filmic. The 5D is the king of the hill.
rent the gyros also ridiculously expensive too?
superior good, this article deserves practically nothing hahaha merely joking :P nice write-up
Thanks Shane! I heard about the parabeams recently and have been looking at them as well.If I get the budget, I think I would like the lite panels the best. I can group them, or split them up as needed. I think they have some new ones with variable color temp. I just need to sell all my profoto stuff that I never use. I have actually used the modeling lights on my profotos (all 120 whopping watts) just to be able to have some continuous lighting. I know profoto makes some continuous lighting heads… do you have any experience with these? I think they are tungsten balanced. May be able to make use of the softboxes I already have for stills. Otherwise, I’m dumping the strobes and getting some new ‘kit’
Just as a heads up… If you haven’t already seen, the boys at Prolost are complaining about your Twixtoring… not Stu per-se, but a lot of comments said they thought it was a mistake.
by the way. I didn’t realize my typos in the last comment…. QUIET… not QUITE… i said it twice too :)
Benjamin Miller, the Twixtor plug in is not a push and play plug in. You have to dust bust the twixtor, different configurations change the frame blending to best assist the specific shot. Well we do not have to worry about it anymore, right.
I heard your interview on the RedUser podcast and really enjoyed it. I have had my 5D for a month and just picked up the 24 70L. Now I am a stock shooter and am a very small fish in the filming pond” I’m not sure I would even be a guppy” I was wondering what you would recommend as an all around stabilizer mount for the most angles. I have seen mounts you hold out in front of you or a shoulder mount Zacto makes some as well as RedRock but I am not sure one is better than the other. I shoot a lot of people themes and you can see my work via my website. One other question. Have you ever used the Kesler Pocket Dolly and if so what do you think about it. Thanks again for this blog and all the you give back!
John neff, I like the shoulder mount from Red Rock Micro. It is the one that is in every one of my kits, it balances well and gives you weight so that the compact light camera does not shake around. Slam a Z-finder on that baby and a follow focus and you are in business.
Regarding stabilization and vibration…I did a motorcycle mount on my tv show today and the 7d camera would shut off during capture. I’m assuming it was the vibration that shut it off…do you have more experience with this kind of bug with any of the rigs you made for your film?
Any thoughts or remedies?
ken glassing, yes I taped the the mirror. Your vibration must be so severe that it is triggering the mirror and shutting off your live view which then stops it recording. It is only a small little magnet that holds it up. I would use some tape and hold it in its up position.
Hi Shane – loving the blog, and really appreciate the ethos behind your adoption of the DSLR format – nice one mate for standing up against waste and needless bigness! ;-]
Any news on the HV base Plate? I’ll be very interesting in buying one when they’re available.
Andy Mac, Thank you so much for all your comments and support. Someone has to try to make a difference, the waste is so extreme in our business. On the HV baseplate we are not going to sell that at this point. we want to get our rentals out there, it is one of the things that sets our rig apart from others. Peace
Hi Shane- Thanks for putting all this DSLR info out there. I wonder if you’ve done any kind of low budget car mounts with a DSLR. I tried some home-made rigs with C-stand arms, ratchet straps, etc– but I still get a lot of bumps– beyond what you would get with a heavier camera. Is this a situation where a gyro would make sense? Working on a film with no money, no permits, no lights- and trying to do a few night driving shots that are smooth! Thanks!
Julie, have you tried the cage that Viewfactor has come out with. I used that to mount some car rigs. If it is a bumpy road there is nothing you can do. That is part of the process. Even when I am doing gyro stablized set-ups on my movies I search for days to find the right road that not only is visually stunning but smooth. I hope that helps.
Wow. It’s great to see this stuff in action. I’ve been very slowly warming to DSLR cameras and all your pictures of rigs shows the real appeal of them. Thanks!
Adam Raushcer, thank you so much for your kind words.
I recently got my hands on a PV mount for the 5D and I learned about Really right stuff camera L brackets but I wanted to know how I can attach the follow focus and also if you know a company that builds lens support brackets when using the bigger lenses? Thanks!
Chris Saul, The HV baseplate was built around the whole Panavision lens support. We engineered it together. Out system supports the lens at the camera mount, not with some crappy support that goes out on the rods that all the other manufacturers’ are making. We made a channel in a piece of aluminum that is attached to the PV mount and you slide the Panavision manual follow focus into. Just like how the Panavision film camera works.
I’m thinking of picking up a hand held Kenyon Gyro for some landscape chopper shots. Looks like a Kenyon in the pics. Do you have any experience with these?
Hey Shane, in the photo of the studio hand held rig what is and where can I get the top mounted rod assembly that looks like it is mounted on the hot shoe of the camera. We have a difficult shoot coming up in Costa Rica and I would really love to have that for motors, etc. Thanks for any info.
K.C. Capek, yes that is a Hurlbut Visuals Top Rod assembly. We make them custom.
can someone please tell me what mic that is mounted to the top?
Hi James. That is not a microphone mounted on the top. It’s a cinetape ultrasonic distance finder.