Updated 19 November 2019
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It’s essential to be able to keep your camera still. And camera movements look better if they’re smooth. Some recent cameras have very good in-body stabilisation, but you’ll still probably need some form of camera support. If your camera doesn’t have stabilisation, it’s essential: handheld shots with anything other than an ultrawide lens will look terrible.
Most filmmakers will need a tripod.
You could also use
- a monopod: more compact, and quicker to set up, than a tripod
- a slider, dolly (or wheelchair) for tracking forwards, backwards or sideways
- a jib for vertical crane moves
- an electronic stabiliser for flowing Steadicam-type shots
- a drone for aerial shots.
Tripods and monopods
Your tripod must be solid enough to keep your camera completely still. Make sure it’s tall enough: it should at least reach your eye level. If it’s taller than you, it’ll give you the option of filming high-angle shots.
More expensive tripods are sturdier and quicker to set up, and they allow for smoother and more controlled movements.
At this price, you won’t get ultra-smooth pans and tilts, but you can get a quick release plate for easily attaching the camera, and a pan and tilt head for adjusting the shot.
Many budget video tripods don’t reach normal eye level, but the Velbon 638F extends to 5.61 ft/171 cm.
Spending a bit more gets you two important features:
- A fluid head makes pans and tilts much smoother.
- A bowl head lets you level the head quickly without having to adjust the legs every time.
In the USA, the aluminium alloy Davis and Sandford ProVista 7518B is good value.
In Europe, the Ravelli AVTP Professional is similar in price and specification.
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As you spend more, tripods are more solidly built and quicker to set up, with adjustable drag on the pan and tilt.
The Manfrotto 502 aluminium tripod has a pro fluid head.
Sachtler’s ACE M is a professional tripod designed for SLRs and smaller camcorders. The head has 5 counterbalance steps for different sizes of camera and lens.
A video monopod with feet is another option. They’re quicker to set up and take up less space, but they won’t stand up on their own. They’re really useful in some situations, but not when you need to change lenses singlehanded.
The Manfrotto XPro video monopod is sturdy and extends to a really useful 80″ (230cm) height. I use a similar, older version for working quickly and in restricted spaces.
For travelling and phone filming I use the very affordable Manbily A-222 and M-1 combination. It’s versatile, light, and small enough to go in cabin luggage. You can use it as a monopod alone, attach the feet for more stability, and even reverse it to use it as a boom pole or selfie stick. You’ll need to buy a ball or pan and tilt head.
Sliders and dollies
You can mount a slider on a tripod or the floor for smooth tracking shots (forwards, backwards or sideways). As a cheap alternative, put your tripod on a rug and drag it across a smooth floor.
The RatRig V-Slider comes in a range of lengths and can be mounted on a tripod. You can also add legs or a motorised kit.
If you’re working on a smooth service, you can also mount your tripod on a wheeled dolly for longer and more flexible camera movements. I use an old wheelchair instead.
For vertical crane shots, you can mount your camera on a jib. With light cameras and phones, you can get crane shots by mounting a stabiliser on a monopod or boom pole.
The ProAm Orion Jr DVC60 is a reasonably priced jib for DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and camcorders. They also make longer versions.
Electronic stabilisers allow you to film long, flowing sequence shots with complex camera moves. One-handed stabilisers are also useful as a compact alternative to a tripod.
The DJI Ronin SC is an affordable stabiliser for mirrorless cameras. It works with a smartphone app and includes Active Track (so it can lock onto a subject). If you can afford it I’d recommend getting the Pro Combo follow focus version. DJI have a list of compatible cameras on their site.
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The DJI Ronin-S can handle heavier cameras but doesn’t have the Active Track function..
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The two-handled DJI Ronin M can handle larger cameras, but it’s a lot bigger.
You can also get stabilisers such as the DJI Osmo Mobile 3 for smartphones.
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With drones, you can get spectacular aerial shots. But they’re expensive, potentially dangerous, and subject to a lot of legal restrictions in many countries (they are virtually banned in Sweden, and UK laws will soon be tightened). If you don’t need to go high, you can fake drone shots by using a stabilised camera on a painter’s pole.
If you really do need a drone, DJI are the market leaders. They have a range of models from the little Spark at under $500/£500 to the Inspire 2 Cinema Premium package for professional filmmakers at over $20,000/£21,000.
The DJI Spark can shoot 2K and fly for up to 16 minutes. It’s small, light, portable, and easy to use.
The larger Mavic Air is foldable, has a 4K camera and can fly for up to 21 minutes.
The Phantom 4 Pro has a 4K camera with a one inch sensor and 30 minute flight time.
I teach all kinds of people to make films. I provide training for businesses, arts organisations, nonprofits and education. I’ve worked on film education projects with Apple Education, the British Film Institute, Film Education, Film: 21st Century Literacy and many more. My publications include Making Movies Make Sense and Editshots.