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Handheld Gyro Camera Stabilizers Are Coming: Hands-On with Freefly's MōVI

Freefly MoVI Gyro StabilizerThey are coming. Gyro-stabilized camera rigs, that is. Some of you are officially not impressed, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t about to be inundated with stabilizers. So what’s the big deal? Should you even care? The answer probably depends on the kind of work you do, but in the next 3-5 years, gyro camera stabilizers like Freefly’s MōVI are going to be as ubiquitous as sliders and jibs. Don’t think so? Read on for more and check out some exclusive footage from NAB 2013 using the MōVI.

It you’re still not quite clear on how it works, Freefly posted this last month which answered some of the more common questions:


There were plenty of people crowding around this little guy at NAB, but I finally got my hands on it. No, this footage shot on the Canon 5D Mark III is not perfectly smooth, but there are two things to consider: I didn’t practice with it, and it was near the end of the show, so the balance was slightly off. That may sound like I’m excusing the performance, but I’d been around the device earlier in the week watching people doing the very same thing I was and getting amazingly smooth footage. I was shooting in single operator mode here, so the rig was panning depending on how fast or slow I rotated:

While the clip itself might not be as impressive as some of the other samples we’ve seen, if you’ve ever picked up a Steadicam or handheld stabilizer for the first time, there is a very good chance your footage looked terrible. It doesn’t matter who you are, but not only are all of those rigs very difficult to balance without a lot of practice, but they are also very difficult to operate without experience. This is why Steadicam operating is a very specialized position, and why those who do it are some of the highest paid crew on a film set.

Joe Marine Operating Freefly MoVI

Something I’ve heard over and over again is that this can’t do anything that regular support equipment can’t already do. That’s absolutely true for most shots — but looking at it that way is slightly missing the point. What’s impressive is that it can actually do many of the same things as multiple pieces of gear. Many are not going to be able to afford a MōVI, but not only are other cheaper solutions coming out, but there’s no reason why you have to own a piece of gear like this — renting is definitely going to be an option.

Either way, it’s pretty clear to me why people like Vincent Laforet are excited. He posted this footage recently using the MōVI with a RED EPIC which had its IR filter removed — there is one shot in particular that gives you an idea of what might be possible with a stabilizer like this:

Vincent also mentioned what I think will be the main reasons why you’ll want something like this on many of the shoots you do: the speed with gyro stabilizers can let you work:

The biggest surprise I’ve experienced (now on my 4th shoot with the MōVI) and having heard the experiences of other directors/DPs that have worked with the gimbal – is just how fast you can now work. DSLRs definitely helped speed things up significantly for many of us over the past 5 years, as have compact cameras in general. The MōVI truly takes that to the next level – and with little to no sacrifice. If anything the biggest thing you’ll have to fight is the need to make every single shot complex… the secret to the MōVI is it’s not only its ability to pull off incredibly complex takes –  but mostly to do simply dolly shots – pushes, slides or even locked off shots in my opinion. You can run through a series of shots at warp speed. It’s incredibly liberating… To that end, the last piece we shot with the MōVI (the 4th piece) is being edited now, and the goal with that one:  standard coverage.   Short takes mixed in with traditional length takes and moves… not too much fancy stuff. Good old coverage and shots – just done with a new tool. At about 3 to 5 times the pace we’re all used to…

There are some things to work out, no question. One potential solution to the fact that a heavy camera support device like this is going to get very tiring is something like the Easy Rig. That would give full mobility while still supporting the entire rig, and solves most of the issues about fatigue. As far as keeping focus, you can always try to stay wider with your lenses, or use Super 35mm or smaller sensors with high f-stops to give maximum depth of field. Otherwise, yes, you’ll probably need someone operating a wireless follow focus. Single operator mode on the MōVI actually works pretty well, and I imagine other stabilizers will probably work out their own solutions. Being a solo operator will be possible, but it will all depend on what you’re shooting.

Gyro stabilizers are nothing new, but they’ve normally been up in the sky, and not on the ground. There are a few reasons why I think the popularity of these are going to explode, mostly because I’ve seen at least a half-dozen prototypes of devices similar to the MōVI. Here are just two of the many I’ve seen in the last few months:

I think it’s important to consider what this really means for the industry. Is it revolutionary? I think so. Maybe not in this current iteration, but we will reach a point where anyone will be able to pick up one of these and almost immediately operate like a professional Steadicam operator (or at least very close to it). For those who do operate, that may sound ridiculous and/or scary, but we’re well on our way, because the gyros compensate for any and all movements when they are calibrated correctly. When we increase the weight limits and continue to bring prices down, the era of the specialized operator — at least at the lower end — might be over. This is true democratization, when one tool can perform the job of many and be operated by someone with little experience.

Plenty of you might be thinking all of this is complete exaggeration and these are will never be anything more than a toy — and certainly never produce footage on par with professional stabilizers. The reason I think all of that is going to happen is because we have RAW-shooting cameras for a few thousand dollars and complete motion control systems for $5K. You would have been laughed at just five years ago for suggesting either of those things — yet, here we are.

Filmmaking is a growing business, and whenever there is heated competition, people solve problems quickly to stay ahead. That’s going to happen here. Will steady, flowing shots be overused? Probably, just like with any technique, but the fact that anyone will be able to produce amazingly smooth Steadicam-like camera movements sometime in the next few years is what I would call revolutionary, and any tool that can speed up your workflow on-set and allows you to shoot more in less time — and with fewer resources — is going to be an essential one.

Any technique can be overused, but Vincent manages to say it perfectly:

You’ll need to remind yourself that: “Just because you can… doesn’t mean you should…”  and sometimes if not often “less is more.” And oh yeah:  K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stup#d…. because while the tool will open up so many doors and creative possibilities, it won’t re-define the way we should shoot coverage, or the pacing of cinema. And the beauty of the MōVI is that you can do a 10 minute take just as easily as a 10 second slide, let alone a 2 second locked off shot.

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We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • I think this technology would be most ideal 2 years from now. When below 1K USD movi type rigs are already available ready to use..and below 1K raw shooting small cameras (or at least high quality 10bit 422 compressed) cameras are also prevalent. Cheap lighter handheld gymbal + small high quality camera is the perfect combo. No fatigue even on long term use. That’s the single bigest imperfection of the Movi design..and this two converging technologies wil solve that.

  • Andreas Kopriva on 06.9.13 @ 9:37AM

    There are also these guys whose system seems promising – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2ac7Zxxq1k
    Word has it that they’re targetting a $2500 price range for it which seems a lot more reasonable than the $15k asked for by Freefly.
    The tools are getting cheaper and there has been a levelling of the playing field in terms of equipment. You can no longer hide behind expensive purchases to justify your rates and instead have to rely on your vision and your ideas. This is a good thing :)

    • Of course I want a cheaper rig.

      But $15k isn’t that much when you start trying to put together a decent steadicam setup.

      Thanks for sharing the youtube video, that looked pretty great. I hadn’t seen those guys.

  • Ah, finally some competition. I cant wait for the cheaper version of this from other companies out there. Waiting for Chinese and Indian knock offs too haha

  • Darren Wolff on 06.9.13 @ 9:39AM

    This is all great news! A little patience and competition from other makers into the market and quality and price start improving and reducing in that order.

  • I think that the DIY are awesome. I’m going to try to build one with brushless gimbals as soon as I finish with my other projects.

  • Harry Pray IV on 06.9.13 @ 11:12AM

    I think it’s funny how many old codgers are hating on this technology. I can see SO, SO many uses for it. It can probably even be used to improve the capabilities of a standard steadicam, as far as I can tell.

    I used to default to shooting wider than I need in 4K just for post stabilization. Now, I don’t feel that it is as necessary if I have something like the movi to work with. I do think the movi requires 3 people ideally, though (an op, an AC, and a person to hold it).

  • IMO, Joe nailed it with the EasyRig. These gyro based stabilizers will be most beneficial for the outdoor type of shooting with suspended – the best Laforet shot was the continuous pass-down from the balcony down to the pool area – or wired type of support. Shane Hurlbut has a great pass-down shot in the “Ticket” but his was with two cameras. Now, it can be done with/off a clothesline a la an NFL game. Additionally, it should look great off moving platforms like roller skates, electric skateboards and (also a gyro balanced) unicycles. You won’t need the tracked dollies, cranes or jibs, just a few guys who can operate these units.

  • Is it me, or did that Laforet video seem like the opening scene to a porn flick?

    • Yeah absolutely, the on screen talent was impressive. Movi shots? What Movi shots???

  • FWIW, I think that the descend down the stairs was the weakest part of that video. When the camera operator has to make these steps, the whole effect of smoothing out the hand-held shaking is lost. That shot needed either some sort of a rubber track attached to the railing, a jib, a monopod or an overhead cable.

  • Cool. So smooth Vincent’s tushy shot looks like it is slow motion footage! I recently shot with a $130 Flycam DSLR rig ( a Glidecam copy made in New Delhi). The editor didn’t use the shot so I’m guessing it was not smooth enough. haha… so an affordable MoVI like device would be so fun to have. Hope your prediction comes true very soon.

  • Holy crap that IR footage is breathtaking.

  • For documentary filmmakers this would in particular be a huge deal. I prefer to work handheld, and the massive stabilization increase, despite whether it’s perfect or not, will add a lot of production value and aesthetic quality to my films, reducing any shakiness distractions, allowing the characters to tell their stories more effectively. I agree that this will be big.

  • I can see these types of rigs being used on two types of productions — either lower-budget productions using a MoVI-like device for all complex shots needing steadiness, or high-budget productions using both a Steadicam and MoVI.

    On the higher-budget productions, Steadicams still make sense for most conventional moving shots, shots that don’t deviate in height very much, and for any lengthy, potentially physically taxing shots. The MoVI would then be used in any cases requiring non-conventional movements or substantial height fluctuation. Steadicams, the larger ones, at least, are limited compared to the MoVI in terms of their form factor — they’re very larger and can’t easily move a camera from a position close to the ground to a position over one’s head, as the MoVI can. As Laforet mentined, speed, as it relates to the ability to quickly switch between different extreme angles, is another advantage of the MoVI. That said, I’d imagine overall shot-to-shot speed would be similar between the MoVI and Steadicam when shooting more conventional angles.

  • Ordering some stuff to make my diy MOVI… There is some really overpriced stuff.. I was looking for some boards and it was about $150, then found on ebay for $10, the same shit!
    By my calculations, gonna be able to put together a gimbal that holds HDSLR for about $150!
    Now just need to wait for the orderings arrive. As I live in Brazil, it takes about 2 months to receive stuff from overseas.

  • there is also one building in china,
    but the price are almost $5k
    http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNTY4MjkwMjA4.html

  • Is it just me or is there usually a very high pitched sound with the brushless motors that the Mic pic up on.
    Is there a way of shielding your mic to it?

  • I’m a live broadcast camera operator and am thinking strongly of purchasing the MoviM10 Rig
    The one problem is i dont want a remote operator to be pulling focus for me.

    do you think their would be a way to attach zoom/focus demand for dslrs cameras i guess.

    I’m not sure of the different terminology for film to broadcast

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  • Anyone tried out the “HandiGyro”? Aparently they’ve been selling them before the Movi. http://www.handigyro.com