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View Full Version : Handheld vs. steadycam vs. dolly



briankay
10-13-2004, 01:03 PM
I'm a novice with little equipment and thinking about making a short film soon. *I'm planning on several short tracking and dolly-type shots (nothing too elaborate) inside a house, and trying to figure out the best way to pull these shots off. *The easiest way seems to be just to shoot handheld, but I really want to avoid amatuerish camera-shake. *The next easiest method seems to be with the use of an inexpensive steady-cam contraption (I've seen various plans on the internet). *More invovled would be a dolly on a track, which seems to be the most precise, but the equipment seems costly and time-consuming given my contraints. *Any ideas? *How do you guys execute simple shots when the camera is in motion, even slightly? *Is there any one piece of equipment that I'd be wise to invest in? *Sorry if this question is either too broad or too dumb.

-Brian

Barry_Green
10-13-2004, 01:06 PM
A dolly will give you the smoothest shots with the least amount of work. You can build one yourself from some angle iron and skateboard wheels for under $80.

Next up would be either a small camera jib arm, or a handheld stabilizer like the GlideCam 4000. These both take a lot of practice to make good-looking shots with.

briankay
10-13-2004, 01:14 PM
Thanks for the quick response, Barry. Regarding the skate-board dolly idea: Does your tripod mount to it somehow, or is it a stand alone piece of equipment? Also, how would you accomodate up-and-down movement simultaneous to the rolling of the dolly? Maybe I'm getting myself into Glidecam country with shots with that much motion. Thanks again for your expertise.

-Brian

Stas_Tagios
10-14-2004, 02:01 AM
Any booming of the camera up or down during a dolly move would require a far more expensive and professional dolly (e.g. an Elemack) with a pneumatic boom arm, or a jib arm; a homemade doorway dolly will only let you dolly the camera. *

Most of the DIY dollies are simply a board with wheels, and you put the tripod on the board (usually with a sandbag on the spreader to keep the tripod steady). *If you plan on moving the camera a lot, and booming while dollying, a handheld camera stabilizer might better suit your needs (Steadytracker and Glidecam 2000/4000 on the low end, for example).

Of course, you could also rent a professional dolly, which would give you added production value and shouldn't cost too much if you only need it for a day or two.

Somewhere in between handheld shooting and using a dolly is the "wheelchair dolly," notably used in Godard's "Breathless" and most recently in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," where the operator sits in a wheelchair or on a furniture dolly, handholding the camera as a grip pushes the dolly/wheelchair. So you get a smoother move than you would from handholding and walking (plus you can boom the camera with your arm), but not as smooth as from a tripod on a dolly.

See plans for a simple, homemade dolly here:

http://www.solutioneers.net/cinema/projects.html

And a DIY camera boom here:

http://www.pacifier.com/~tmnathe/boom.html

Here's a few other links you might find useful:

http://www.dvmoves.com/products/dolly/index.cfm

http://www.rondexter.com/professional/equipment/

Stas_Tagios
10-14-2004, 02:16 AM
Check out the use of a wheelchair dolly on "Eternal Sunshine" here:

http://www.theasc.com/magazine/april04/cover/page2.html#

I'd post the picture but I have no idea how. Just click on the bottom photo on the page I linked to.

natob2
10-14-2004, 09:09 AM
I don't want to cramp your style or anything but if your a new filmmaker I'd actually suggest against doing dolly or stedicam. Both these techniques, to be done well, need time, money and skilled operators.

I shot something low budget with a dolly that several film students made. One of my grips described the dolly as "homemade" over the phone and I was really skeptical. I just finished a project with a nice Chapman dolly, and a previous one with a a Chameleon, both which are awesome rigs. But when I saw it on set I was impressed, it was homemade, but it was incredibly well crafted. It's hard to make a good dolly that runs smooth, and the homemade ones that are worth a darn take time and a good crew to properly operate. This homemade dolly was bulky and required 3 guys to operate it quickly and properly.

As a new filmmaker you often dont have much time nor a big crew. When starting out, I personally think you just stick with handheld, tripod and wheel chair dollies.

And for stedicam, I don't waste my time unless I have a good rig with a highly experienced operator. I'd rather have no stedicam than bad stedicam.

THiNSPiRiT
10-14-2004, 09:47 PM
A good alternative to going purely handheld is to use your tripod as a stabilizer. Place the camera on top of the tripod securely, then extend the trypod's head as high as you can get it (the part with the crank, then fold in all of the legs of your tripod and push in the legs.

If you hold the extended part of the tripod as a handle loosley, the weight of the legs will help to counterbalance the weight of the camera giving you much smoother images than holding the camera alone. It's an inexpensive way to make your shots steadier without having to worry about glidecams or dollies or tracks. It takes some practice but try it out. You'd be surprised at how steady you can get a shot if you use your arm and a tripod to balance out the shot. Just keep yourself loose and let the tripod swing a bit. That smooth swinging will be less irritating than a handheld jitter.

Mike_Donis
10-14-2004, 09:49 PM
I definitely vouch for that tripod-stabilizer over straight out handheld any day of the week!

Jim Brennan
10-14-2004, 10:04 PM
I made a dirt cheap stabilizer from this plan
http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~johnny/steadycam/

It's simple to do and makes a huge difference. *I've only been practicing with it for a little while and it works well. It's very limited, but it does stabilize the shot, and you get practice with the technique.

THiNSPiRiT
10-14-2004, 10:55 PM
I wonder if adding a gyro to a stabilizer like this would be effective...

Jim Brennan
10-15-2004, 07:01 AM
I'm trying to figure a way to put a handle on the upper section with bearings fo make smoother pans.

The only other modification I've done is to take the head off of a cheapie tripod and use that. It unscrews from the shaft using a pipe wrench. The little nipple that sticks out from the bottom fits nicely inside the pipe. The only problem I'm having is that the nipple isn't very long, hence not very secure or stable. I am working on butching that up today. The obvious advantage of doing it this way being the QR plate. Plus I can also tilt the camera before shooting.

Oh, I also put a handle/pad on the crosspiece and an old mouse pad on the bottom weight.

Jim Brennan
10-15-2004, 08:42 AM
Problem solved with the head. I drilled through the end of the pipe and through the nipple to put a bolt through. It was a little tricky since the nipple was so short. There was still a little wobble after that, so I made a cut with a hacksaw across the axis of the pipe, down about an inch. Now when I tighten the bolt, there's enough give from the curf to make it snug.

DvGuru
10-15-2004, 11:20 PM
Another option nobody has mentioned yet is the DvRig Pro. With a little practice it'll give you nice steady shots... plus you can use it all day without fatigue.

http://www.dvtec.tv/index.html

Young-H._Lee
10-21-2004, 10:27 AM
Hey Jim

You use that DIY steadycam for your DVX? I thought about it and was worried that thte DVX would be too heavy and the threading in the screw holes would be messed up. Please share your insight.

thanks

Jim Brennan
10-21-2004, 10:37 AM
I wouldn't recommend sitting your camera right on the screw. The DVX is too heavy, which you obviously realize. At the bottom of his page he shows you how to make a bigger sled, which is what I was going to do. You just use a 1/2 pipe flange screwed to a piece of wood. Then you thread the flange onto the stabilizer and mount the camera on the wood. That will work fine.
What I did was take the head off of a cheap tripod and mount that on the stabilizer, which I outlined above, both for the convenience of the QR plate, and tilting the camera.

Young-H._Lee
10-21-2004, 10:43 AM
cool thanks Jim, I have a cheap tripod, but the sled is pretty small, like 2x3 inches, how big is yours?

Jim Brennan
10-21-2004, 11:03 AM
Mine is small as well, but it seems to work fine. If I have any concerns at all, it is where the head joins the pipe on the stabilizer. The plastic is pretty thick, and I bolted it on, but I always check it for wear before I use it. I've yet to find any, and I've been playing with it quite a bit. But if you have any worries, I would just make the wood sled with the pipe flange. The convenience of the QR plate is vastly outweighed by the risk of dropping your camera.

Young-H._Lee
10-21-2004, 05:44 PM
thanks again for the advice Jim, I noticed you changed your icon too :) what a difference

ddh
10-26-2004, 04:20 PM
You might think about the MarZpak as an alternative. I've got one and it does nicely on steady-cam moves. It's not as difficult to get the feel for steady movement, however, like Barry says, you need practice. Good footwork helps. Also, with the MarZpak the weight is carried by your back. It makes for more comfortable wear and tear on the body.

zev
04-24-2006, 03:08 PM
I agree with the idea of using your tripod for steady shots. It's hard to make a reallllyyy smoothe dolly from homemade materials. However, I've used the wheelchair idea several times and you can buy used wheelchairs for almost nothing. Search the posts on here and I"m sure you'll find creative ideas all over the place.

jkc123
04-24-2006, 03:53 PM
A good alternative to going purely handheld is to use your tripod as a stabilizer. Place the camera on top of the tripod securely, then extend the trypod's head as high as you can get it (the part with the crank, then fold in all of the legs of your tripod and push in the legs.

If you hold the extended part of the tripod as a handle loosley, the weight of the legs will help to counterbalance the weight of the camera giving you much smoother images than holding the camera alone. It's an inexpensive way to make your shots steadier without having to worry about glidecams or dollies or tracks. It takes some practice but try it out. You'd be surprised at how steady you can get a shot if you use your arm and a tripod to balance out the shot. Just keep yourself loose and let the tripod swing a bit. That smooth swinging will be less irritating than a handheld jitter.

That is a great idea. I'm going to try it as soon as I get home.

William_Robinette
04-24-2006, 06:07 PM
I think that making your own dolly is really easy and something anyone can do. In a couple hours you can build something that you will use on many projects. It is a great tool for telling a story and I think you should experiment and learn how to use one rather then be scared off because "it takes a lot of people" or "a lot of time to set up". I use this one I build by myself all the time. After 8 months it still works perfectly.

http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?t=31489