Having focused on audio recently with an article on why expensive microphones might not be the best choice, I thought I would share some advice on how to avoid one of the biggest problems affecting mobile video; shaky cam.
No matter how still you try to hold your hand it's almost impossible to prevent shaking from occurring on your videos especially if using a mobile device.
To understand why, we need to look at optical image stabilisation. Some cameras have the ability to compensate for a person shaking the camera by physically moving the camera lens. You may have noticed that this was one of the features of the latest iPhone. The alternative to optical image stabilisation is software stabilisation. This is something you would do in the editing software, but the results are not always positive. For a start, it crops your video which means you lose detail around the border and the finished result can give your videos a distractive and odd 'floating' effect. This is particularly the case if there is too much shaking happening on the original video and the software has to try especially hard to correct it.
Optical image stabilisation and software stabilisation are two tools that can help create smooth, professional looking videos but these are cures for the problem, what we want to do is try and stop the shaking before it gets to the camera.
So here are my five tips for making your next mobile video as smooth as silk.
1) Don't hold the phone
I don't want to be flippant, but perhaps the most simple way to avoid your videos from shaking is to simply find a way to capture your video without holding the camera. This solution works best if you are just recording yourself or another subject and you don't intend to be following the subject of the video around.
However, this solution seems to be getting harder and harder to implement. One of the reasons I chose the iPhone SE as my main media gathering device was because of the camera quality, the comfortable size and also because of the phone’s flat edge. The move towards devices with smooth pebble shaped edges means that the sharp, flat sides that I enjoy on the 'retro' styled iPhone SE are becoming a rarity.
Obviously, a word of warning, be careful when you do this. A strong gust of wind could see your expensive device damaged or destroyed.
From the most simple, budget solution we now look at the overkill option. The large, traditional tripod.
Finding the right tripod is a bit like choosing a musical instrument. It can be hard to define what makes it right for you, but when you find the right one, you'll know.
Traditional style tripods are unsurpassed with their ability to stabilise a video and, with a bit of experience, allow you to pan your camera with ease to create smooth, professional looking videos. However, as stated earlier, they are bulky and you'll get your fair share of strange looks if you pop your little phone on the top of a massive tripod.
Mini tripods are compact in size. They are arguably the most popular used tripod with mobile phones. My favourite is the Gorillapod from Joby. As well as its compact size, they have articulating joints on their legs. This means that they can be wrapped around objects such as trees or lamp posts making them very versatile. The version displayed in the image also has magnets at the end of each foot which is another useful feature.
You may also notice that this Gorillapod has a small handle to pan the camera. I use this feature very occasionally as it can be hard to get the precise motion you want.
I do get a lot of use out of my Gorillapod and it's perfect for just mounting on an object to do a selfie video.
As much as I like my Gorillapod, it's not good at stabilising a video if you want to take your camera on the move. You could collapse all the legs together and hold them to provide some level of support but to really improve your videos whilst on the move, I would recommend a counter weighted stabiliser. The one I use is called the Smoovie. It's small, light and can fit in my bag perfectly.
It works by having a weight on the end of a pole which dangles down and provides your camera with a counterbalance.
It's a brilliant solution for stabilising your videos as it's lightweight, portable, and easy to set up. It can take a bit of practice, but once you get used to it, it can really improve the quality of your videos.
One final positive is that these solutions are often quite affordable, which might not be the case for my last solution ...
5) Powered stabiliser
If you were tempted by the weighted stabiliser then the powered versions offer the most effective stabilisation for your camera when you're moving about. Whereas the weighted solution I mentioned relies on a weight and a magnet, the powered version has electronic motors which operate on three axes to keep your camera in position.
I have found this type of stabiliser perfect when filming a subject that is perhaps moving fast or if you are the type of person that likes to do a selfie video whilst running.
The main downside to these solutions is the price, a good quality powered stabiliser can start at £150 which may put it out of the range of many hobby bloggers.
Whether you are recording a video as a pastime, to keep family memories or as a more serious pursuit, I find it undeniable that trying to hold your phone as still as possible is a fool's errand.
Numerous solutions exist at various prices to help you record smooth and shake-free videos. Choosing the right solution for your video project could be as simple as trial and error, but whatever you choose I'm sure you and your audience will appreciate the improvement in quality.
Feel free to share your examples of smooth video with me by tweeting @AdamRoxby
Finally, if you need further help then just contact me.