March 24, 2008

Handheld Stabilizer for Smaller Camcorders

By David A. Saraceno

Camcorders like the HVX200 provide benefits and present challenges. Their smaller size and weight facilitate a less obtrusive presence while shooting, but it's a challenge to stabilize handheld shots particularly when compared to shoulder mounted cams. Dozens of products purport to address this issue, but none do it completely. The Camhandle represents an innovative approach to stabilizing small cams. Its baseplate and handle creates an effective tripod to improve handheld shots while keeping your right hand on the cam to control record/zoom. And a tripod adapter allows you to quickly move between tripod and handheld shots. This novel design is versatile and effective.

What's In the Box. The package consists of an aluminum base mount to which a handle is attached, and a tripod adapter to connect the Camhandle to your tripod. You can use the Camhandle with or without the tripod adapter. A four page illustrated color instruction sheet is included, but assembly is straightforward. I attached the tripod adapter to the Camhandle, my Sachtler quick release plate to the tripod adapter and the assembled device to my HVX200. All toll, it took a couple of minutes.

Everything is nicely machined and designed. The device weighs 14 ounces. The tripod adapter adds 1.5 ounces to the overall weight, which brings total weight to under one pound. The Camhandle is machined from 6061 3/16" thick aluminum and is solid and rigid but lightweight. Connecting screws have large plastic screw heads, which makes easier to attach the device to cam, tripod adapter and other accessories.

The Camhandle Theory. You hold the cam in your right hand, the handle in your left and place the viewfinder snugly against your eye. This design leverages the cam using three points of support, all of which more or less are in alignment -- right hand, left hand holding the support handle, and viewfinder pressed against your head. It effectively replicates a tripod.

It's Game Time. I recently used the Camhandle while shooting a NCAA DIII basketball playoff game. I had to move quickly between tripod and handheld during the two hour event, so I attached the tripod adapter to the Camhandle and my quick release plate to it. I also had to shoot pre- and post game interviews with coach and college president, which necessitated attaching a wireless receiver and using a remote mic.

The tripod adapter proved to be a versatile feature. Moving between tripod and handheld and back was quick and easy. Having immediate access to the tripod facilitated a wide range of shots that wouldn't have been available without the adapter. And it didn't inhibit quickly moving to handheld shots. In this respect, the Camhandle is more versatile than other stabilizing systems that don't have this functionality.

The second design benefit was having my right hand at the controls of the cam. I didn't need any record/zoom remote controls and having the viewfinder pressed against my eye while supporting it with an extended left hand provided steadier shots than pure handheld.

A FireStore HDD can be attached to the Camhandle by reversing the rear thumbscrew mounting bolt and attaching the FireStore holder to it. The FireStore is rotated 90 degrees with the LCD screen facing up. You have ready access to all the FireStore controls. The company provides videos and instructions on this and other capabilities at its web site.

I experienced some arm fatigue as the evening progressed. This was particularly noticeable when I attached the wireless mic receiver to the the HVX200 for the two interviews. There is one tradeoff in the Camhandle's design because your hands and arms support most of its weight. But I felt it didn't outweigh benefits and versatility. Of course, different shooting environments will dictate different approaches and tools.

Tripod shots also improved with the Camhandle attached. It provide a second, well placed handle to control X and Y movements and a smoother pan. Nice.

Using FCP's "Smooth Cam filter" with Camhandle footage produced some surprising results with handheld walking shots. While not the equivalent of a true steadicam shot, movement was minimized particularly in the absence of any severe jerks. But remember that the filter is computational intense and is no panacea for poorly shot footage.

Summarizing. As I stated, the Camhandle is not the functional equivalent of a steadicam device, nor is it nearly as expensive. A hand held walking shot with still produce some shaking and movement. But the device minimizes this shaking as well or better than other devices that do not have its ease of use and functionality. Static shots are noticeably better than equivalent hand held. The company provides good support at its web site. Look for additional product announcements around NAB 2008.

Copyright ©2008 David A. Saraceno

David A. Saraceno is a motion graphics artist located in Spokane, Washington. He has written for DV Magazine, AV Video, MacHome Journal, and several state and national legal technology magazines. David also moderates several forums on


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