A Few Tools for Moving A Camera
Pulling off a smooth shot where the camera is moving has generally involved a fairly slow set up process.
You can use dollies but the set up time can be long if trying to lay track on uneven terrain, plus dollies aren’t generally very compact and the length of shot is limited by how much track you have available.
Steadicam’s or stabilizers allow the freedom to walk and get fairly smooth shots but require a decent amount of time to balance, not to mention skill to operate. If you are trying to shoot a bunch of scenery around a city, a stabilizer is somewhat cumbersome since after arriving to a location a vest has to be strapped on, then a spring arm has to be attached, next a sled placed on the arm and finally a camera mounted to the sled. Not a particularly easy task with one person and trying to keep a small footprint.
Jibs offer a great deal of movement and can provide some really dynamic shots by booming up and down, but when a remote head is added, a tripod that rolls, plus the addition of counter balance weights the logistics of transporting and set up time make it impractical for certain situations.
Gimbals are a fairly new way to pull off smooth camera movements and once initially balanced are an incredibly quick way to shoot a lot of shots at many locations in a short period of time.
They are a great tool but aren’t perfect. Dollies are almost always smoother and if the camera operator is riding one they can devote most of their concentration to keeping the camera framed up. Stabilizers have a spring arm that helps account for vertical bounce. Jibs can push in on a subject and rise or lower more smoothly than a gimbal.
As has been mentioned many times there is no one perfect tool for every situation.
“Run and Gun” Style Shooting with a Gimbal
The video in this article goes through my set up process used for an upcoming project. It also gives some operating tips as well as how to let a remote operator monitor the operation of controlling the pan, tilt and roll of the gimbal.
The purpose of the project was to capture the fall colors around Louisville Kentucky. I knew that this would be done through video and I would want every shot to have movement for added interest. Since predicting how long the leaves would remain on the trees is impossible, I wanted to make the most of my time in the two hours I could shoot each day after work. Using a gimbal was the solution I used for “run and gun” style shooting.
After initially balancing the gimbal I would leave as much of the gimbal built up as possible and stow it in the trunk of my car. When I found a nice looking place to record I would place the gimbal on my cars bike rack which acted as the gimbal stand and then slide the camera onto the gimball’s quick release hitch and connect the rest of the cables. With this technique I could be up and shooting in two to three minutes after parking my car.
Gimbal Operating Tips
Current gimbals won’t compensate for horizontal or vertical bounce. Much like a traditional stabilizer you’ll want to keep your knees bent while walking to take out as much of the vertical bounce as possible.
Practice walking your path beforehand to see if anything on the ground might trip you up.
If possible repeat each shot at least twice so you can pick the smoother shot of the two.
If making use of foreground objects that are really close to the camera walking won’t provide the smoothest results. Instead keep your feet in one spot and just use your arms to float the camera from side to side.
Obviously if you shoot in slow motion the results will look smoother.
While gimbals do a pretty good job on their own, I still run most every shot through warp stabilizer.
There are times when you either want someone to see what you are shooting or have an assistant operate the pan, tilt and roll so you can just concentrate on walking with the gimbal. For these situations a wireless video feed is necessary. There are a few options on the market but I’m going to go over the Arrow Paralinx Plus. This is a plug and play solution which transmits up to 150ft for non line of site(although when going through a cinder block wall I’ve maybe gotten 75ft) and can go a little over twice the distance in optimal conditions. I decided against using DJI’s light bridge since I read on some forums that the signal delay could be up to as much as a second, although I’ve never used their system first hand so this could be completely untrue. The Paralinx Plus out of the box works with HDMI so if your camera only has HD-SDI you’ll have to buy Arrow’s Crossbow adapter or a third party SDI to HDMI converter. The Arrow Paralinx will also need power. It can operate from a P-Tap power source or usb battery packs. Pretty much any USB battery pack will work with the transmitter but the receiver needs one that can supply 2.1 amps from a single USB port. I’ve used a regular 1 amp pack for the receiver to test it out but I have heard of complaints on-line that the receiver drains those batteries really fast. I assume these users weren’t using a battery that output the 2.1 amps that are recommended. I picked up a limefuel battery for the receiver and this has been working great.
Once the batteries have been bought I’ve found that some 3M Dual Lock Velcro works pretty well for securing the batteries, and Arrow components to your camera and Monitor. I do recommend wiping down any surfaces that are going to have velcro stuck to them with some rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol to make the Velcro’s backing adhere better.