How a Steadicam Works

A Steadicam is a device which is used to stabilize the camera while it is in motion. It functions the same way as a tripod, except that the device is attached or gripped by the cameraman while he is filming. The device is a convenient tool used to reduce the amount of shaking while filming in motion.  It was first introduced in 1976, and it's gaining popularity. Over the years, scenes from a number of memorable movies such as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Goodfellas were filmed using this device.  It is considered one of the most vital tools in the world of filmmaking, as it has helped expand the boundaries of what can be filmed by the cameraman.

The Importance of the Device

The importance of the device has been compared to that of a person’s brain. A person does not normally move in a smooth motion. Even with all the jerking involved when moving, the brain compensates and adjusts whatever information received from the eyes, making the image appear smoother. Some cameras have built-in adjustment mechanisms but are not as sophisticated as the brain.

Even with the cameraman standing as still as possible, the camera will pick up minute shakes. In some cases, the shaky effect is intentional to make the film seem more natural. Too much jerking can also confuse the audience or give them a headache. Film crews working on a larger budget may use a dolly to create smoother shots. However, the conditions and situations where the dolly can be used are limited and can often be an expensive tool to use.

Parts of the Device

The device consists of a number of parts. A cameraman wears a large vest with an iso-elastic arm. The arm consists of two segments that are connected by a pivoting hinge. At the end of the second segment is the sled where the video camera is attached. It has a sophisticated counterweight which allows the cameraman or cinematographer to adjust his position without affecting the shot. The sled works on the theory of the moment of inertia. By increasing the mass of the camera, the device makes it more difficult to jerk or move it around unintentionally.

Using the Equipment on Set

Operating one of these devices is a specialization--one of the most challenging positions when working on a film. Cameramen need to follow a specific path and must always be aware of what they doing. There is a constant need to adjust the camera and the settings of the device while avoiding any major obstacles along the path being taken. Another added challenge to the cameraman’s movement is the sheer weight of the device with the camera attached, amounting to over 60 pounds.

The cameraman must be strong with lots of energy in order to carry all of the equipment. In addition, the cameraman must also be knowledgeable of the technical use of the device yet also capable of thinking creatively on how the shots should be composed. A Steadicam operator may seem like a one man army, but will need the help and aid of other members of the crew to move around.