Lesson Learned from CLP's Shaky First Shooting Gig: Stabilize

This is old news by now, but I just came across the finished product from my first video shoot since going solo: the Storm Trysail Club Junior Safety at Sea Seminar, with support from US SAILING, held in August at Sail Newport in Newport, RI. [UPDATE: just found the HD version on Youtube:)

I didn’t do the editing or web delivery, but I did shoot all the video footage.  This was my first time shooting for someone else so it’s fun to see how the finished project came together.

I shot it all on a rented Panasonic AG-HMC150, a great pro-grade HD camera with lots of bells and whistles not found on my current Canon 7D DSLR nor on Sailgroove’s line of Sony Handycams: onboard audio mixing and XLR mic inputs, built-in neutral density filter options and more.  The camera’s manual also bragged of “Optical Image Stabilization (O.I.S.) that ensures stable images, critical to high definition video display.”  You can see from a lot of the sailing shots what I learned that day: built-in camera stabilization is almost never good enough for sailing video.

CobraCrane SteadyTracker UltraLite camera stabilizer

A CobraCrane SteadyTracker UltraLite camera stabilizer from B&H Photo

Software can help some.  I used Final Cut Pro’s SmoothCam filter for some of my shots on the ILYA E Scow Championship and Adobe After Effects’ tracking and stabilization tools on the Kite Fleet in Miami video.  The gyroscope-stabilized lens on my current camera helps some as well, but both solutions only work on the small vibrations.  For both my Sailgroove Handycam and my DSLR I use physical stabilization devices that make the camera easier to hold in waves and chop, and absorb some of the shock.  For the Handycam, I used a CobraCrane 210056 SteadyTracker UltraLite from B&H Photo and for my DSLR I use a CowboyStudio Shoulder Support Pad.  There are tons of options out there, and the price range runs from $25 (Amazon is having a sale on the CowboyStudio solution) to many thousands of dollars for a film-grade Steadicam system.  I chose my current solution because it had good online reviews and it’s dirt cheap.  It’s already broken on me once, but the company replaced the broken part and now I always carry a second unit as a backup.  As my business grows and as people continue to innovate and develop more tools for DSLR shooters, I’m sure I’ll want to upgrade.

A Do-It-Yourself Steadicam from YBNormal.com

A Do-It-Yourself Steadicam from YB2Normal.com

So to all the coaches, parents and aspiring sailing videographers out there: remember, it doesn’t matter what the camera’s box says, no “digital stabilization technology” is going to save your video when it’s blowing 25 and you’re in a rib trying to zoom in on a single Opti from outside the course boundaries.  This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to follow my lead and spend your hard-earned cash on professional gear though–there are lots of great solutions you can build at home for next to nothing.  Just google homemade camera stabilizer for some ideas, or start experimenting yourself!

Happy shooting.


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