DSLR cameras are quickly becoming the top choice for many videographers. I outlined some of the best DSLR options for video in a previous article. The combination of interchangeable lenses, outstanding low-light performance, adjustable focal length, and high bitrate video recording are just a few of the reasons for choosing a DSLR over a traditional video camera. There are some downsides to consider when purchasing DSLR equipment for video recording.
One of the biggest challenges facing videographers recording with a DSLR is camera shake and rolling shutter related to the CMOS sensors used in DSLR cameras. Camera shake happens because the sensor is fixed and not easily put in a position to compensate for shake. The same can be said for the lens. A DSLR lens may or may not have image stabilization features built in. Even if a lens includes optical image stabilization, the reduction of overall camera movement is somewhat minimal as DSLR image stabilization is optimized for still photography. A DSLR lens rarely compensates for tilt and wobble as effectively as a fully integrated camcorder stabilization system.
External stabilizing hardware is practically required for handheld DSLR video recording. Handheld and body-rigged stabilizers make a world of difference in your video recording process, giving your video project a look and feel similar to a major Hollywood production. Here are several options that will dramatically reduce camera shake without breaking the bank.
Glide Gear Syl-3000
The Glide Gear Syl-3000 is one of my personal favorite steady camera solutions south of $100. It’s an entirely handheld unit that features adjustable counterweights to suit a variety of camera configurations. You can shift the weight from side to side as well as front to back to create the perfect counterbalance for the best effect. Moving forward and backward is smooth as silk, though only an absolutely perfect weight ratio will give you a smooth left to right pan. Moving around corners and turning takes practice, but it can be done with smooth fluidity single-handed.
The biggest downside I’ve found with this particular unit is that the counter weights tend to become loose and shift easily. This causes the unit to tilt sideways and put your video at a diagonal without regular tightening. It’s also quite heavy for a single-handed rig as it more than doubles the weight of your camera. There’s also no follow focus system in place so you’re stuck either at one focus level or relying on the camera’s autofocus feature. I wouldn’t personally use it for any extended period of time, but it’s good to have for shots that require smooth panning.
ePhoto Movie Kit
The ePhoto Movie Kit (which is sold under a number of different brands and names on Amazon) is a great example of a relatively inexpensive shoulder mounting option for DSLR videographers. This rig allows you to rest your camera on your shoulder and direct it using two handles positioned on either side of the lens. This may not be as fluid or perfectly still as a professional camera stabilizer, but it will help you avoid the trademark shake of a handheld DSLR.
The rig is also better balanced for long-term shooting. You can shoot all day with it and experience minimal fatigue as long as you’re comfortable holding your arms in the air throughout filming. It’s not as easy as using a tripod or monopod, but the effect is actually quite good if you’re better at standing still than holding your hands still during shooting.
The downside of this rig is that it’s a bit bulky and will take up a lot more space in your shooting environment. Sharing a tight space with your subject means being aware of how you will position yourself to avoid bumping in to objects around your person. This isn’t an incredibly large device by any means, but it will make maneuvering more difficult.
ePhoto Shoulder Mount Rig with Follow Focus
ePhoto makes a number of inexpensive solutions for the DSLR videographer. If you like the idea of a shoulder rig but want the added benefit of a counterweight and follow focus, then there is a solution for you. ePhoto’s rig includes both of these features for under $200. It’s a bargain compared to some of the top brands with very similar hardware.
The follow focus is very simple. It’s a ribbed rubber ring that fits around the focus section of your DSLR’s lens attached to a knob you can adjust near one of the handles. A counter weight at the shoulder makes it easier to balance your rig and avoid having to hold the majority of the weight with your hands. Your body does most of the work here.
Whether you decide to go with a handheld option or a more sophisticated shoulder mounted stabilization technique, there are plenty of ways to achieve more professional production quality without spending a lot of money to do so. It’s feasible for someone to create a very high quality film with less than $1,000 worth of camera equipment. Being frugal doesn’t mean you can’t create compelling and professional video.