How Steadicams Work

HowStuffWorks video producer Paul Dechant wields the Merlin 2, a lightweight, more modern camera stabilizer system, with a Canon 7D. See more movie making pictures.
©HowStuffWorks 2014

Most people who own a camcorder also own a stack of tapes with hours of shaky, jarring video footage. And if you take videos with your smartphone, mostly likely they shake, rattle and roll.

To the typical amateur, the wobbles are an inevitable part of hand-held video or film. When you move while you're shooting, the camera seems to pick up every jolt and shake of your body, no matter how hard you try to keep it level.

But in TV shows and professional movies (read: not that one you shot of your cat playing the keyboard), you see lots of long, moving hand-held shots that have no jolts and shakes at all. Camera operators often achieve this remarkable effect using a device called a Steadicam.

Since their introduction in 1976, Steadicams and other camera stabilization systems have become one of the most important tools in the filmmaking and sports' world. They've expanded the cinematographer's palette considerably and arguably have made watching a football game or skiing competition as enjoyable as playing a video game.

In this article, we'll find out what a Steadicam is and see how it can eliminate shaking and rolling. We'll also look at the history of Steadicams and explore how they're used in movies.