Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tips for the Opteka Steadyvid Pro - Part 3

Why did this part take so long? I went on vacation with the Steadyvid Pro to see how it fared out in the real world. There were airplanes, minivans, inappropriate luggage, tour groups and wind.

It was okay. Not professional grade as the "Pro" would suggest. But at the price, that was far from my expectations.

The test videos were shot on with a pair of GoPro HD Hero 2 (paid link) in a 3D Hero Housing (paid link). It was mounted on a Giottos MH621 (paid link) to add weight before sticking it to the camera plate.

How to Fly
  • Use Two Hands
  • Wear the right footwear
  • Mind the inertia
  • Block the wind
  • Follow a subject
  • Be ready to re-balance each time you set it down
  • Keep smiling

  • Use Two Hands
    Above the handle is a notched piece of plastic for controlling pan. Opteka calls this the "thumb stabilizer." The best way to hold it with your dominant hand on the handle and your non-dominant thumb and index finger lightly holding the thumb stabilizer.

    As the video above will demonstrate, one handed and thumb only are the worst ways to hold the stabilizer. I find that side to side movement will cause it to pan on its own. That's why you need to use your index finger as well.

    Also when you tilt the handle from straight it has the tendency to rotate left or right. Having your fingers on the pan can counter that.

    Wear the right footwear
    A pair of good fitting rubber shoes are best. Practice with the pair you will be wearing for the shoot. Okay, I've worn flip flops and they're okay on flat ground. If you decide to go outdoors it's better to go with something where you can step smoothly and not transmit the shock to your arms. So forget the leather shoes if you can help it.

    Mind the inertia
    Ease into your movements and changes of direction when you can. The Steadyvid Pro is quite fussy to balance and when traveling on vacation you don't have a lot of time to setup. So I'd tend to use it less than perfectly balanced. That's where my 2 second drop time comes in. There's more "boating" when I change direction but I've taken it as a given.

    Block the wind
    All stabilizers work best in an isolated environment. If there is a wind you will want some way to break it by putting a person or structure to block the wind. You'll have to get creative on how to keep the subject in the picture and the the wind break out.

    Over at the Grand Canyon we had winds going at least 10mph. In those cases, I would use a choke hold and lightly grasp the bottom of the stabilizer's weight. It's a light touch to counter the wind.

    Follow a subject
    This is a trick I learned with non-stabilized shooting. Camera motion is less noticeable when the subject is also in motion. At least with the stabilizer the motion is less frequent.

    Be ready to re-balance each time you set it down
    It must be something with the screws used for the gimbal. During the horizontal drop test I find that something shifts even after tightening the silver bolts. I've asked at least one other user at DVInfo and the Steadyvid Pro tends to lose balance when you set it down. Somehow the unit isn't "tight". So be prepared to rebalance for each shot. If you can keep it in your hand between shots that would be best.

    I've accepted that the Steadyvid Pro is less than perfect, so I work with it. This unbalancing problem would be a showstopper for anyone than a casual user.

    Keep smiling
    When you're out on vacation, the stabilizer is going to get you a few looks. So smile!

    Sample Footage
    Here it is, the good and the bad. My suggestion, just look at the footage first. Then go back to the tips above and think whether the shot was technically good or bad. Put on your 3D glasses if you dare!

    You can compare this against shots made with the CMR Blackbird in previous post. They're comparable since both were taken only some weeks after learning how to use each stabilizer. Over time you get better.