Recently I shot the legendary Wastach 100, a footrace held on rugged terrain in Utah’s backcountry. As an Olympus Visionary photographer, I use my Olympus dSLRs and PEN compact still cameras to shoot video for my projects, and am always looking at ways to get the best quality whenever I shoot. For this race, I used the RedRock Micro Captain Stubling stabilization Rig, resulting in an even more polished and professional look. Check out the trailer below for sample footage shot with the Captain Stubling.
I was so impressed with the results of using a rig I created this post to be not only a stabilization primer, but also a product review.
The Importance of Camera Stabilization
Unless you’re going for a Blair Witch Project look and feel, camera stabilization is a critical part of any professional-looking production. If you carefully watch TV or movies, the camera is almost always moving-usually with great subtlety. The gentle camera movements mimic small shifts in body position and natural movements of our head and field of vision when we’re looking at the world. As a result, footage shot, say, on a tripod, often feels lifeless because of the lack of motion. However, abandoning the tripod results in too much camera movement which pulls the viewer away from the story.
”Rolling shutter” (Link: ) is an effect most dSLR producers are working to correct with their newest cameras. But, for now, it’s responsible for the wobbly building or disjointed-looking helicopter propellers you’d see on video shot with all but the newest dSLRs. If you’re not familiar with what rolling shutter is and why it occurs, read this article on Wikipedia. While a stabilization rig can’t solve the problem of the ghosted helicopter propellers, it does smooth camera pans and eliminate the sudden movements that cause the frame to wobble.
The Captain Stubling was a great solution to my need to hand-hold my camera without making my audience sick and with only minimal rolling shutter. The result was more dynamic and watchable footage.
Can’t I Fix It In Post?
Even with major advances in post-processing, there are downsides to “fixing” shaky footage or rolling shutter in post. The picture loses some of its sharpness in the stabilization and correction process. And, the process can be slow requiring you to budget more rendering time for fixing rolling shutter than for other effects.
Ultimately, when shooting stills, video or capturing audio, your goal should be to get the best quality in-camera to make for a more efficient workflow and a superior end product.
What To Look For In A Rig
Though I haven’t exhaustively tested all stabilization rigs our there today, I’ve checked out quite a few and gave RedRock Micro’s Captain Stubling a thorough test with a variety of cameras and lenses. Here are some tips on choosing a rig, from my recent experience with the Stubling.
• Size (and weight) matters: Most of the success of your stabilization experience lies in finding a good balance between the size and weight of your camera and the size of your stabilization rig. If you’re shooting with a heavy full-frame body and a beefy zoom lens, you’re going to need a heavier rig with more points of contact against your body than a featherweight micro 4:3 camera and a light prime lens would.
For Wasatch 100, I was looking for a lightweight, nimble rig, to make it easy for me to hike to and shoot various transition locations during the race. I used the Captain Stubling setup primarily with the Olympus E-5 and the 14-35mm f2 lens or the slightly smaller 12-60 mm lens. While the E-5 is lighter than the average SLR body, the 14-35 (28-70 35mm equiv) is a beefy lens. Together, the weight of the camera and lens closely approximates most SLRs with a professional-quality wide-angle lens. In this setup, the rig solidly balanced on my shoulder. I found it more comfortable to mount the right handle pointing down instead of up (as is recommended by RedRock Micro) as it gave me a more solid platform when using the follow focus setup.
Note: You can see my configuration for the Captain Stubling in the video below.
The Captain Stubling seems ideally suited for shooting with an SLR body and a wide-angle zoom lens, though it felt comfortable with a lighter PEN camera body and lens as well. In addition, the rig itself is very light and can be quickly disassembled to pack in a camera bag or backpack for use in the field. One note, whenever I reassembled the rig, I’d have challenges with the camera’s mounting support slipping along the parallel support rails. After a few minutes of use and retightening the knobs, the platform was very solid even when jogging along a mountain trail to keep up with a subject.
• Flexibility and versatility counts: With the variety of camera makes and models on the market today, it pays to purchase a rig that can adapt to your ever-changing camera arsenal. The RedRock Micro platform is one of the products’ best attributes as each product is really, at its core, a modular group of components. As your needs change, you can purchase components a-la carte to support a larger zoom lens or strip down to only the essentials for a “run and gun” shoot with a smaller camera.
From this perspective, the Captain Stubling bundle will satisfy most needs, though I did run into a few issues with the stock setup. First, my longer lenses use a tripod collar to move the tripod support point off the camera body and onto the lens. With the Captain Stubling, if I mounted the camera on the tripod collar for a more balanced setup, I couldn’t use the follow-focus because the height of the collar moved the lens out of reach of the follow focus knob. To me, this wasn’t a critical flaw as I didn’t expect to shoot hand-held video with longer lenses with any frequency, but it would be nice to be able to make this configuration work for the few times I need it.
Second, when shooting with the PEN cameras, the micro 4:3 lenses were much smaller in diameter than the smallest focus gear, which meant that I couldn’t use the follow focus feature with the Micro 4:3 lenses. As more compact still cameras come on the market, I hope it will justify the creation of a smaller set of gears for use with these ultralight cameras.
• Accessorize: The versatility of the Captn’ Stubling platform becomes even more apparent when you begin to look at adding accessories to enhance your shooting experience. Whether it’s the follow focus (very highly recommended) for tracking your subject smoothly or mounting a short, shotgun mic on the rig, or even a small LED light for shooting events, being able to build upon the base platform is a great benefit for improving the quality of your finished footage.
I’ve found the addition of a stabilization rig, like the Captain Stubling, to be a tremendous boost to the quality and professionalism of the video shot with my Olympus dSLR and PEN cameras. Given the number of options currently on the market, I encourage anyone to spend time evaluating different rigs before committing your hard-earned cash to one vendor. For me, the modularity and flexibility of the RedRock Micro platform and the Captain Stubling worked very well. If you frequently shoot with longer glass and require a heavier stabilization rig, or need a lightweight bare-bones rig for travel or shooting in the backcountry, you may be better served by one of their other dSLR mounts or bundles. Either way, adding a stabilization rig to your production process brings a much greater level of professionalism and polish to your dSLR video shoots.