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Camera stabiliser “breakthrough” for MoVI making

The first sets of FreeFly Systems’ new handheld 3-axis digital stabiliser, which some observers call a next generation Steadicam replacement is now available in the UK.

The first sets of FreeFly Systems’ new handheld 3-axis digital stabiliser, which some observers call a next generation Steadicam replacement is now available in the UK.

Built on the technology used for quadcopters and designed for digital cine cameras such as RED, the MoVI M10 costs around £11k for a 5kg capacity, but there is also a £5k 3kg capacity version. Units can be rented from, among others, The Gear Factory.

James Milner-Smyth, CTO of parent company The Post Factory Group believes “this is the biggest breakthrough in floating a camera since the Steadicam. You are going to be seeing this on everything: features, commercials and dramas. It allows for really smooth and dramatic moving shots. But it’s going to take directors a bit of a learning curve to know how to implement it properly.

“For a start, [with the MoVI 10] you have a maximum load of 12 pounds. That has to include everything you need: camera, lens, battery, wireless follow focus receiver and motor and all your battery power. And you need to balance it within a contained space. This means the Red Epic is the heaviest camera you could use. The Alexa is too heavy and long.

“But having gone with a big camera you need to cut back on the lens weight. We have good results on Epic using a Canon EF mount or Nikon mount (they are much lighter than the PL mounts) and lighter stills prime lenses with plastic gears to allow for the wireless follow focus. The wireless FF gives you back the throw range on the remote,” he said.

“If you put a zoom on, it has to be lightweight, and I think the MoVI works best in the 18mm to 32mm range (on a Super35 sensor like Epic) or 9mm to 20mm on Super 16. Like a Steadicam, you need to allow time to set up and balance the camera properly and then calibrating the motors for the load. And again if you change anything on the camera.

“The important thing for directors to be aware of is that, unlike a Steadicam, the weight is all in the operators arms, not spread to the body, or even resting on the shoulder. I have test shot for ages with a Blackmagic pocket camera and a Cooke S4 lens with no problem. But heavier than that, and depending on your shots, you will need to allow a lot of rest breaks.” However, Freefly is working on mounts for cablecams, cars and Easyrigs.

“On the other hand, almost anyone can use this thing. If a technician sets it up and balances it, you can find the biggest, strongest operator you know, stick the thing in their arms and say ‘Point the camera that way.’ And you can pass the camera from one person to another, hook it on a cable to fly it, all within the same shot,” he said.

“We are experimenting with combining with an Easyrig to help with the weight, but it does reduce the flexibility of movement, and the one thing that the MoVI does not completely take out is the up/down translational movement of walking (so it is still best to walk like Groucho Marx, (bent knees and rolling feet action) and the Easyrig can actually accentuate that in the bungee cable.

“We don’t see this replacing a Steadicam, especially for heavier rigs and long shooting times. But it can do things a Steadicam can’t, like be passed through a window while keeping its horizons. I think Steadicam operators will probably incorporate it into their offering, and their experience and additional accessories and tools will be useful.

“There are two ways to control the MoVI. In what is called ‘Majestic’ mode, it follows the direction of movement of the operator, keeping a level horizon but smoothing out and averaging pans and tilts. In remote control mode, the MoVI doesn’t follow the operator’s moves, but is controlled from a wireless pan and tilt controller, similar to a remote-controlled model car. This can be almost as good as a hothead, as long as the pan and tilt speeds are set up for the shot.”

By Adrian Pennington