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Camera support and stabilisation

Tripods and monopods

You need to be able to keep the camera steady and move it smoothly. Unless you are very good at keeping still, and you always shoot wideangle, you really need a tripod or monopod. For serious use you should look for features like

  • a quick release plate, so you can quickly take the camera on and off
  • a fluid head for smooth movement,
  • a bowl head to help get it level quickly.

Watch the height: some cheap video tripods don’t even reach normal eye level.  Pro tripods are usually either aluminium alloy or carbon fibre:  aluminium is cheaper and tougher, but carbon legs may go higher.

Slik and Velbon make decent entry-level tripods. Manfrotto make some affordable mid-range tripods.  Sachtler and Miller are supposed to be better designed and better quality.

A video monopod with feet is another option. They’re quicker to set up and take up less space, though of course they won’t stand up on their own. They’re really useful in some situations, but not when you need to change lenses singlehanded.

For more elaborate movements you can ‘fly’ the camera on a stabiliser. Professional Steadicams are extremely expensive, but you can get affordable lower-end models like the Steadicam Merlin and the Glidecam series. You can also get the Steadicam Smoothee for smartphones and GoPros. Stabilisers are tricky to use: like riding a bike, you’ll need a lot of practice.

Electronic use gyroscopes and motors, making them easier to ‘fly’. They vary widely in ease of use and some take a lot of setting up. The DJI Ronin is a relatively affordable two-handled stabiliser for heavier cameras (up to 7.25 kg). For lighter cameras, the one-handed Zhiyun Crane is reported to be fairly easy to set up. The DJI Osmo –  a smartphone-controlled stabiliser and camera combined – looks good. The most sophisticated stabiliser for most smartphones is the DJI Osmo Mobile, though it’s reported to have some problems with the iPhone 7 Plus.

Tracking

You could use a track system like the Konova slider to get smooth tracking shots.

Cheap tip: For basic tracking shots on smooth floor or ground, you can just find something with wheels: I’ve used wheelchairs, office chairs, shopping trolleys and even a tripod on a tea trolley.

Crane shots

If you want to get crane shots, you’ll need a jib system. Professional jibs are expensive but the Genus jib is much more affordable.

Drones

I don’t think most filmmakers need a drone. They are relatively expensive, potentially dangerous, and subject to a lot of legal restrictions in many countries (they are virtually banned in Sweden). But if you do need aerial shots, a drone makes them relatively affordable.

DJI are the market leaders: their new, fold-up DJI Mavic Pro is probably the easiest drone to use. They also make the higher-spec (and more expensive) Phantom and Inspire drones for serious filmmakers.

If you need to fly an action camera, GoPro’s  forthcoming Karma also folds up, but lacks some of the Mavic’s useful features.