Next-Gen image stabilisation – SteadXP

In Gear, Reportage, Video by Dave Fanner0 Comments

Like many in the online video community, I’ve been on an unending quest for the holy grail combination of buttery, stabilised footage shot with as small a footprint as possible.

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Stability and speed – the run ‘n gun shooter’s Holy Grail

Software stabilisation is time-consuming, resolution-killing and – for me at least – never capable of delivering the professional look I’m after.  I don’t think I’ve ever been satisfied with a post-stabilised clip of more than a couple of seconds duration…ever.

So it was with some excitement when I first saw the SteadXP pop up on a Kickstarter campaign last year. At the outset, it seems like some kind of magic…how the hell does it stabilise the footage so well?

Well, it’s not magic, but some very smart guys in France doing some very smart maths.  What you’re getting is a combination stabilising solution that does half in-camera (with a gyroscope sitting in a coldshoe mount) and half in post (with some bit of proprietary software) .  The SteadXP website describes it thus:

“Using SteadXP’s built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, your camera’s movements are accurately recorded as you shoot. When you’re finished, just connect SteadXP to your computer and watch as the software stabilises and reduces all of the unwanted artefacts in the footage.”

 

There have been a few products that have come out in the last couple of years that use high maths to smooth out shaky footage – I remember Microsoft Research came out with a kind of cool but undercooked hyperlapse program that tried to smooth out long and boring GoPro footage.  Assuming SteadXP works as advertised, it could be a game-changer and you could make the fairly safe prediction that, in a camera generation or two, this type of stabilisation will be incorporated in-camera…and it will look slightly quaint to have a little box sitting on top of your camera!

There’s a lot to be excited about here, and a few concerns as well:

Excitement:

  • SMALL FOOTPRINT: It is very true that gimbals may be getting smaller, I fly a GH4 or little LX100 on a Came TV Single sometimes for work and it’s pretty great.  But they can be an absolute pain to adjust, weigh more than your camera, and are slightly off-putting if you’re trying to blend into the background of a scene.  To have a small box that sits on top of your camera would significantly reduce your presence in any given seen.  (I don’t know why the general public still hasn’t quite latched on to the fact that a DSLR/mirrorless form factor camera can still shoot video…but I’m not questioning it.)
  • ACCURACY: By taking in the spatial data in real-time through the camera’s audio jack, the stabilisation will be much more accurate as the software doesn’t have to guess where the camera is in space….so hopefully no more warpy warp.
  • WORKS ON CAMCORDERS: I contacted the company to see if the device would work for my Sony AX100 camcorder, a great little camera that shoots some nice 4K images, but has some pretty shitty stabilisation.  The good news is – yes, if it has an audio jack and coldshoe mount, it will work. Oh, how I wish I had this device while shooting in the Himalayas last year!

Concerns:

  • NO MOTION BLUR: You are forced to shoot at a high shutter speed so as to enable the software to pick up high-contrast tracking points (?).  So your footage won’t be as cinematic as you might want.
  • RESOLUTION LOSS: Remember, it’s not magic.  You’re going to lose resolution just like any other software stabilising method…you just hope the use of the real-time data reduces this croppage significantly to make it worth the investment.
  • SOFTWARE: As for the software itself, I really hope it either comes in the form of a plugin (I have Adobe CC, but for whatever NLE you use)…as opposed to a stand-alone piece of software. Maybe for launch it would be fine, but going forward you really want that software contained in your NLE environment.  Nothing ages worse than a bespoke piece of software.

The attractiveness of the SteadXP will come down to what you want to use it for. If you’re after cinematic smoothness in your camera movement, stick to a gimbal.  But if you’re in a news-gathering environment where you don’t have time to set up this could be the ticket.  Shoot wide, keep your subject in the middle of your frame and away you go. (I’m going to be shooting a lot of outdoors/climbing footage over the next year, where my subjects won’t be in a position to repeat any actions for the slow cameraman who needs to change lenses.)

There are two versions of the product, the SteadXP+ which is aimed as the ‘pro’ model, this one sits on any camera with a coldshoe mount and audio jack.  The SteadXP@ is a cheaper alternative that fits on the back of a GoPro.

The SteadXP is shipping in October and costs about $400AUD when converted from euros (too bad they’re not selling it in English pounds) For that price, I reckon it’s worth a punt…watch this space for a product review.

 

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