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steadycam (steadicam)

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

A steadycam (also known as a steadicam) is a device that enables smooth video shooting by stabilizing a camera and isolating it from shock and vibration. Steadycams and other devices allow a camera to move smoothly through a scene or while tracking a subject. The smooth motion in video enables easier focus on a subject and better clarity. That improvement dramatically affects action in videos such as sports broadcasts, making the action easier to follow. Steadycams also can dramatically improve inherently shaky video taken from mobile devices, such as smartphones.

A steadycam is generally made of a harness with an iso-elastic, spring-loaded swing arm. The swing arm attaches to a sled pole supporting the camera, upon which a gimbal (an isolating mechanism) and gimbal controls are mounted. Gimbals can also serve as a separate, simpler camera-stabilizing system. At the base of the sled pole is the sled, which houses the battery and monitor and provides a weighted foundation for stability. The sled rolls on wheels on smooth surfaces or a track, again enhancing stability.

In the case of mobile devices like smartphones, mounts can often be purchased to use the smaller video devices with existing steadycams. There are also smaller, simpler steadycams that are purpose-designed for mobile device video. These devices often have no sled but a counter-balancing weight on the arm attached to the gimbal.

While cinematographers often prefer smooth motion, a shaky camera can sometimes be used to great dramatic effect. A good example is in a chase scene or a horror film line the Blair Witch Project. Steadycams generally require a path clear of obstacles, and their bulk can make them hard to use in some situations. Using a steadycam is physically demanding as the videographer may have up to 70 pounds of video equipment to move around. Steadycam operators are often freelance, and a filmmaker may rent the service and equipment of operators that they know and trust or based on previous work that suits the desired filming style.

Learn about steadycams vs. gimbals:

This was last updated in May 2017

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