Handheld Gyro Camera Stabilizers Are Coming: Hands-On with Freefly's MōVI
They 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.
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:
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/67684937
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/65329731
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.