Steadicam shooting without the Steadicam

Ever wanted to get that cinematic Steadicam look to your walking shots without using any gear other than your camera and your bare hands?

I’ve developed a technique for shooting smooth tracking shots by stabilizing in post with Adobe Premiere CS6 Warp Stabilizer and using 60p footage for increased accuracy.  While I find the Sony RX100 to be an ideal camera for this technique, it will work with any video camera or DSLR that shoots 60p.

1. Setup the camera:

  • Shoot at 1080p, 60fps
  • Use as fast a shutter speed as possible to minimize motion blur and rolling shutter artifacts, both of which add weird “shifty” artifacts when post-stabilized.
  •  Make sure the camera’s internal stabilization is on.
  • You’ll probably to lock the focus at infinity unless you’re planning on pulling focus on the fly.

2. Shoot Smoothly

  • Frame your shots just a bit wider than normal (about 5% wider) to allow for the software stabilization to zoom in a little.
  • Holding the camera with two hands, move like you’re carrying a full glass of water.  For walking shots, bend your knees and try to glide as smoothly as possible.  For “crane” or “slider” shots, move slowly and smoothly with your arms as well as squatting with your legs.  Think Tai Chi.
  • Avoid letting any object in the frame cover the view completely.   If something obscures the majority of the view, however briefly, it will cause the stabilization software to go haywire and produce erratic results. (see the zooming effect that occurs in in the video test’s “extended take + rotation” shot)
  • Avoid whip pans or tilts.
  • Running is probably not going to work…but if you get prove me wrong, send me a link!

3. Use Software Stabilization in Post

  • Create a 1080p 60fps sequence in Adobe Premiere (command + N)
  • Import your footage into Adobe Premiere and drop into the timeline
  • Go to your Effects tab and search for “warp stabilizer”.  Drop this on the clip, and it should start analyzing automatically.  For complex or troublesome shots, go to the “Advanced” tab and check “Detailed Analysis”.
  • Reduce the stabilization strength to the minimum necessary so you’re zooming as little as possible.  I usually start with a Smoothness of 20 in Warp Stabilizer and adjust from there.
  • Once you’re satisfied with the stabilization results, create a new sequence that is 1080p and 24fps.  Drop your 60fps sequence into this one and apply further effects as desired.

Why I consider the Sony RX100 the perfect camera for this technique:

  • Shoots ultra-sharp 1080p footage, much sharper than Canon DSLR’s.  This holds up better when the stabilizer zooms and crops in post.
  • 60p native shooting at 28mbps, the same bitrate as the professional Sony FS100
  • Effective internal image stabilization.
  • f/1.8 lens (at its widest setting) and 1″ sensor. Can handle low light situations about 4x better than other point-and-shoot cameras.
  • Super small, so it makes a painless addition to your existing gear bag.

Steady as she goes!

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Latest Comments
  1. Jack

    I like the post it’s useful stuff but I want to draw your attention to the more superficial.

    Change your Vimeo picture, you look like an Armenian teenager. Which makes me reluctant to take your otherwise sage-like advice.

    • brandon

      So if I was an Armenian teenager, my blog would be less valid? Racist much?

  2. Jason

    Damn, I just went on a trip and filmed a ton of stuff, but since iMovie couldn’t read the AVCHD files, I captured to MP4. Turns out that only does 30fps, not 60. was hoping to experiment with this slow motion smoothness you use a lot. No biggie, I got a trial of Final Cut Pro to play with for now, and it reads it just fine.

    My only question is that when using FCP, you start a project in 60fps and then smooth out the footage with the stabilizer and slow it down a bit, but then how do you drop it again to 24fps after that? Do you have to export it and then reimport?

    • Brandon Li

      Hi Jason,

      I actually don’t slow down my footage when I am stabilizing it. Slow motion is an easy way to smooth out walking shots but is of course limited in its application. If I want dialogue in the scene, slow motion is no longer an option.

      You can convert your 60p source footage to 24p either when editing (by placing it in a 24p timeline) or when exporting (by choosing 24p in the fps of Compressor or Adobe Media Encoder’s options). Additionally, if you export 60p or 30p, you can convert to 24p by re-encoding the outputted video. So you have several options depending on what stage you want to convert. The ideal time to convert to 24p is within the timeline, though, because it gives you the most control over how your program chooses to conform the footage.

  3. Joe Ramos

    Just gotta say, this is a kick-ass blog. Your minimalist style in terms of gear and keeping a low profile is exactly the kind of stuff I’ve been attempting for awhile now. Love it.
    I worked tech support for Sound Devices for years and always felt the doc makers I helped had a very heavy handed approach, so it’s refreshing to see someone creating quality content in this style. I’ve been a Canon guy since I started, but honestly, your stuff is selling me on the smaller Sony cams.
    Keep it up!

    • Brandon Li

      Thanks so much Joe! I have done extensive shooting now with the RX100 (over 5 hours a day for a month), and it has never given me trouble other than the occasional overheat after extensive use. The quality of the HD is true 1080p, and its low-light is better than any small-sensor camcorder on the market.

      I am not a fan of documentaries that are based on talking heads and B-roll. I like documenting life in action, and I need gear that can keep up.

      I’m working on a bunch more cool stuff now, just haven’t had time for a new post in a while. But stay tuned!

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