Camera Stabilizing System Explained: How Camera Stabilizers Work

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

If you have picked up a camera before you will know how frustrating it is getting footage that isn't shaky! A camera stabilizer is a gadget designed to create smooth gliding movement by allowing camera operators to track fast moving shots without the shakiness associated with holding a camera by hand. The body-mounted camera stabilizer was invented in 1975 by an actual cameraman by the name of Garrett Brown who named it the "Steadicam" and first used it in the Hal Ashby film Bound for Glory (in 1976). A handheld version of the body camera stabilizer was invented 17 years later in 1991 by Martin Stevens who named it the Glidecam.

The body camera stabilizer consists of a body harness which attaches typically to the chest or abdomen of the camera operator to compensate for camera instability caused by the movement of the camera operator.
The technology behind a camera stabilizer is actually quite ingenious and combines the fluid motion of a camera dolly, the steadiness of a tripod mount, the flexibility of handheld camera work, a counterweight system and shock-absorbers integrated in the body harness to create the smooth tracking of shots high-quality production movies are known for. Even movie classics such as the Return of the Jedi utilized a camera stabilizing system which was used for the Return of the Jedi's famous speeder bike chase.

To add extra horizontal and vertical stabilization of tracking shots, camera operators also use camera stabilizer rigs and gyroscopic camera stabilizers. The latter consists of two gyroscopes positioned on a bracket suspended below the camera in use, driven by electric motors and mounted on gimbals with their axes crossed on symmetrical oblique angles.

The invention of the camera stabilizer certainly revolutionized movie production tracking and as camera stabilizer technology keeps improving so will the quality of tracking shots and its affordability. In fact, as we speak there are very affordable versions of the camera stabilizer technology that you can buy today such as the Steadicam Smoothee, the Ronin and Moza stabilizers.

It will be interesting to see what Las Vegas NAB 2016 (April 16-21 April) will bring in terms of improved high tech and lighter versions of camera stabilizers.

I leave you now with the Return of the Jedi's famous speeder bike chase I was talking about earlier:

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