By far, the most common problem with
non-professionally-produced travel video is shakiness. Nothing
says, “hand-held consumer camera” like a picture that wobbles all
over the screen. Nothing adds a professional veneer to a video as
well as a stable, rock-solid image. There are a number of ways to
get good, stable video.
Most modern video cameras come with some form
of image stabilization. These take the form of either Electronic
Image Stabilization (EIS) or Optical Image Stabilization (OIS).
EIS uses a subset of the image sensor as a
“window” for the video image. This window moves around the sensor
in response to motion detected by camera, having the effect of
stabilizing the image. Motion detection is usually computed by
measuring changes in the image itself, rather than using physical
position sensors. EIS can be very effective at reducing handheld
shake, but can sometimes be fooled when panning the camera across a
scene, resulting in abrupt starts and stops.
OIS works by physically changing the position
of an element in the lens in response to motion, i.e. it is the
actual image that is shifted. OIS usually uses physical position
sensors, so it is not subject to errors that result from relying on
analysis of the image to determine shake. One side-effect of OIS is
that internal reflections in the lens may appear to “dance” in
response to the physical corrections made by the system. Generally,
higher-end prosumer use OIS.
In-camera stabilization can be quite effective but, by itself, is
not sufficient to produce rock-solid video.
nothing beats a good tripod as a stable shooting platform. However,
tripods are big and heavy, two characteristics which undesirable for
travel. Compromises are available however.
Table top tripods These miniature tripods weigh
exploit stable surfaces as you find them. Use one of these and you
can have rock-steady shots wherever there is a table, wall or tree.
I find them very useful when I want to get in the shot (though be
careful to note your surroundings – a fleet-footed thief can make
off with your camera while you’re in front of the lens). For an
interesting, different perspective, use the table-top tripod on the
ground for low-level shots.
Make sure that the
table top tripod is strong enough to hold your camera. There are a
number of cheap ones on the market that are an invitation to wobbly
shots and camera accidents.
Monopods Monopods are extremely useful tools.
They're lightweight and collapse to a small size. Though they
won't provide a rock-solid base like a tripod, they'll eliminate a
lot of shake.
In the picture, my
VX2000 is mounted on a monopod using a miniature tilt-head.
The tilt-head is not used for panning and tilting, but to lock the
camera into the correct position.
In addition to
supporting the camera, a monopod can be used as a boom, to lift the
camera high in the air, and over the heads of crowds - just tilt the
LCD screen down and use that to monitor shooting. I've even
used a monopod to get "outside the window" shots on boats and trams.
If you're going to do that, make sure you have a good grip on the
strap, just in case the monopod lets go. I use the monopod in
the collapsed position as a handle when I use my
rain cape -- it ensures that the camera
stays dry, and the heat from my hand does fog the inside of the
The monopod in the
picture is my favorite, the Adorama Podmatic, available
here. It's inexpensive, sturdy, and has a unique locking
mechanism that speeds opening and closing.
Tripods Tripods are the best solution for steady
video. However, all tripods are not created equal. For
video, a fluid head is an absolute must for steady pans and tilts.
A friction-locking head (or a poorly made fluid head) will grab and
catch, resulting in jerky camera movement. Some heads also
include a bubble level, that helps ensure your camera is staight.
For travel purposes, of course, the smaller and lighter the better.
I use a Bogen 3160 fluid head, which provides smooth action and a
locking quick release. An even smaller and lighter alternative
is the Bogen/Manfrotto 700RC2. I prefer the somewhat larger
3160 because it mates nicely with a
Bracket, letting me use my still camera on the video head.
Tripod legs, called "sticks" vary in composition and number of
sections. For travel use, the lighter and smaller the better.
The lightest legs are, unfortunately, the most expensive and made
from carbon fiber, rather than metal. I use Manfrotto 3444D
carbon fiber legs. These have quick-release leg locks, which
permit quick set-up and take down, and have four-section legs,
allowing for a very small size when collapsed.
I have discovered, over the years, that the
best way to avoid shaky video is to develop a good shooting
technique – obviously, the more stable I am when I hold the camera,
the more stable will be the video that I produce. There are a
couple of ways to do this, some obvious, some not:
Lean on things! Tripods have three legs for a reason. By
leaning against a convenient tree or wall, I add an extra leg to the
two I’m provided with.
Use your camera strap as a brace. I wear my camera like a
bandolier, over one shoulder. If you wrap the strap around your
hands a few times, and push the camera away from your body so that
the strap becomes taut, you’ll remove a considerable amount of
Shoot from the chest. Most people shoot video by holding the
camera up to their face, using the viewfinder. However, if you pay
close attention to Hollywood films, you’ll notice that the viewpoint
of the camera is rarely at the actors’ face level, but actually
lower down. I bought an extra-long strap for my camera that, when
the camera is worn bandolier-style, puts right between my chest and
my stomach. By resting the back of the camera directly against my
body and using the camera’s LCD screen instead of its viewfinder, I
can get remarkably stable shots. Instead of being dependent on the
steadiness of my arm, I can provide a much more stable base.
There are software tools
available, both as standalone products and plug-ins for editing
programs, that can reduce shake in video after it's been shot.
Dynapel makes a standalone that also is available as a plug-in for
Premiere Pro called SteadyHand. Premiere Pro comes with a
"light" version of the SteadyMove stabilization plug-in. All
work in a similar fashion -- the software detects movement, and then
enlarges the frame enough so that it can be kept centered.
Below, is a typical shaky video, shot while walking.
In the next clip, with stablization
applied, you can see how the software attempts to counteract shake
by keeping the image centered in the frame. This results in
moving black borders, as the edges of the frame are move around.
Watch how the image stays centered, but the edges dance around.
Stabilized with Moving Borders
To ensure that the
video fills the frame, it is zoomed just enough so that the frame
edges aren't visible. You can see the enlargement by comparing
the still frame below with the ones above. However, because
the number of pixels in a video is fixed, any amount of zoom will
result in pixelation and degradation of the video image. The
following clip has been over-stabilized. Movement is smooth,
but the video looks terrible.
The trick to using post-production
software stabilization is to find the right compromise between
smoothing out shakes and avoiding excessive zooming. The clip
below comes close - there is still some movement, but it is improved
over the original