The 10 Best Camera Stabilizers
10. Roxant Pro ROX-1C
- includes 3 separate counterweights
- great for indie filmmakers
- handle diameter is too small
|Rating||3.5 / 5.0|
9. Neewer Carbon Fiber 24-Inch
- universal quick-release plate
- holds up to 3 kg
- some plastic parts break easily
|Rating||3.7 / 5.0|
8. Flycam HD-3000
- aluminum construction
- tool-free post extension
- heavy when loaded
|Rating||4.0 / 5.0|
7. Camtree Galaxy
- includes an ergonomic vest
- built-in quick-release plate
- no monitor for reference
|Rating||4.2 / 5.0|
6. Glide Gear Geranos
- 3 programmed controls
- 2 battery sets included
- somewhat overpriced
|Rating||4.2 / 5.0|
5. Varavon Birdycam Lite
- aluminum alloy and plastic
- comfort gel handles
- minimal cross-brand compatibility
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
4. Movo VS7
- carbon fiber construction
- compatible with vest arms
- us-based customer support
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
3. Ikan MD2 3-Axis Handheld A.I.
- wood grain ergonomic handles
- automatic calibration
- up to 6 hours of battery life
|Rating||4.7 / 5.0|
2. DJI Ronin 3-Axis Gimbal
- up to 4 hours of battery life
- built-in receiver for app commands
- 3 operation modes
|Rating||4.5 / 5.0|
1. Tiffen Steadicam Pilot-AB
- 6-inch color lcd monitor
- comfortable vest
- nuanced counterbalance system
|Rating||4.8 / 5.0|
What’s A Stabilizer Going To Do That My Strong Arms Can’t?
Let’s say you’re a filmmaker. You don’t have to be modest about it. Own it. Maybe you took some classes in high school or college, or maybe you went so far as to attend film school. You’ve honed your skills on the page, spending hours writing draft after draft. You’ve taken acting classes just so you could speak in the strange tongues that actors use to discuss their craft. You’ve even invested in a high-quality DSLR and a slew of top-notch lenses. All this in the name of telling your story.
So, what do you do when you get to set, you’ve got all the pieces in place to shoot, you’ve got about 30 minutes of sunlight left, and your shot looks too shaky? Well, you could try to fix it in post, but that will mean you lost a good portion of your frame, and, more often than not, those effects are severely limited. You could also try to hold the camera as steadily as possible and hope the audience forgives you (they might, but festival judges won’t). It sounds to me like you should have invested in one of the great camera stabilizers on our list.
Camera stabilizers generally work by way of counterweights. They’ll set your camera on a platform that has some motion to it — usually some kind of gimbal or fulcrum — and they’ll hang weights beneath the heaviest part of the camera body. The effect should balance out the camera against its own motion, though it doesn’t always run so smoothly.
If you want to achieve the kind of stability you see in professional Hollywood films, you’re probably going to end up combining a stabilizer with a small amount of post-production smoothing. What a good stabilizer will do is drastically reduce the amount of parallax in your shots that could lead to warp distortion. That’s what happens when your editing software tries to pick a point of reference for its stabilization, but there’s so much movement in all three dimensions that the whole image shifts unrealistically.
Obviously, the smoother you can get your shot in-camera the better. The best stabilizers on our list do this by providing you with a lot of adjustment points. Remember, these stabilizers are designed for universal use across a wide array of DSLRs, camcorders, phones, and more, so they need to provide counterbalance for an equally long range of camera weights. In most cases, manufacturers market their devices for units of a certain weight range. Even these will require minute adjustment points, however, as the use of different lenses and the addition of various accessories for capturing sound and controlling light will all affect a camera’s weight.
How To Choose The Best Stabilizer
When comparing the camera stabilizers on our list, the first thing you ought to do is eliminate any that cannot accommodate your camera. In some cases, this will be a weight issue; in others, size will be the problem. This is a pretty common sense step, as a stabilizer intended for a tricked out RED setup is probably overkill if all you need to stabilize is your iPhone. Of course, you may need to physically weigh your go-to setups, with everything from hotshoe mics to mounted monitors attached.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list to the stabilizers that are meant to hold your type of camera, you should — as we indicated above — investigate the stabilizer's method of counterbalance. The more nuanced your weight adjustments, and the more axes upon which you can adjust the camera’s center of gravity over the counterweights, the more likely you’ll be able to effectively stabilize your shot.
In most cases, the more completely a stabilizer allows you to control the smallest aspects of counterbalance, the more you’ll pay for it. There are exceptions to this rule, but at this step, you’ll want to maximize your adjustment options from within your budget.
There are electronic mechanical gimbal options out there, as well. These often come with software and take a while to setup at home before you ever get to set. They can attach to a variety of vests, and when they work, they can provide you with stunningly smooth shots.
I have to be honest here, though: I’ve been on a lot of indie sets where this exact type of stabilizer did nothing but cost the production valuable time. They can be extremely finicky if anything about the preprogrammed weight profile for a given camera changes, and making adjustments in the field is not usually easy. As a result, I’d say this option is best left to the pros, or to anyone with a lot of time on their hands to master the ins and outs of its temperament.
The Quest For A Stable Shot
There are a lot of techniques filmmakers have used throughout the years to achieve a steadier shot. Indie filmmakers today build complex DIY dollies, mount cameras on skateboards, and operate while sitting moving wheelchairs, among other innovative techniques. For a famous shot in Godard’s Band of Outsiders, the legendary director supposedly laid the camera down on his leather jacket and had his cinematographer pull the coat along the museum floor throughout the take.
Given all this ingenuity in the field, a development like the Steadicam was almost inevitable. In the early 1970s, an American cinematographer named Garrett Brown got to work on a counterbalance system that could stabilize handheld shots. His invention won him an Oscar and gave the movie world some of the most iconic shots in film history, including the image of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky bounding up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Of course, it wasn’t long after its initial creation that imitators showed up to the party. Some of these drove minor innovations, though most were content to make a cheaper version of the original. That Steadicam, produced now by the company Tiffen, has gotten lighter and more versatile, with attachable monitors and a vest that makes the device feel practically weightless.