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Old May 9th, 2004, 12:39 PM   #1
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Vallejo, California
Posts: 4,049
Stabilizing a camera

Where you want to take pictures of events not occuring on the vehicle, I don't think there is any image stabilizer out there that will handle direct mounting of the camera to a vehicle. I find it is tricky to get a good picture even when hand-holding a camera and using a very good OIS.

If you want to set this up fairly well and at low-cost, you might use the trick that low-budget college research folks use when they need to isolate an optical bench.

Get yourself a heavy slab of steel or concrete and place it in the bed of a pickup with either Tennis or Squash balls or severely under-inflated inner-tubes placed between the mass and the truck bed. The mass could be a tray filled with sand or with sand-bags on it as it is the mass that does the major movement isolation. A pallet loaded with sand bags may be too small, but it might be worth a try.

The most adjustable method is to get 4 wheel-barrow inner-tubes and set them on the floor of the pickup bed with the valve stems pointing out. You may need the extension tubes that are available for truck tires or air shock-absorbers.

Then build a form to hold the wet concrete on top of the inner-tubes and insure that the valve stems can be accessed after the concrete is poured. Don't use reinforcements for the concrete unless you want to reuse the mass (you might want to break it up to get it off the truck). You might consider eye-bolts in the mass so you can pick it out of the pickup with an engine crane or 4 strong friends.

You will also want to embed some hold-down mechanisms in the concrete so you can anchor the mass in case of an accident. I'm talking a mass that weighs hundreds of pounds here so it will be dangerous in case of an accident.

Pour the concrete with some hold-down mechanisms (eye-bolts with a nut and large washer at the bottom so it won't pull out would do) embedded in the concrete for the tripod or camera mount. Or mount a post in the concrete to which you can attach your camera.

In a day or so, you will have a reasonable camera mount. You want just enough air in the inner-tubes to pick the mass up off the truck bed and allow some movement. If you use too much air, the mass will have too much freedom and will cause problems.

Then secure your tripod (assuming it isn't causing a set of problems because it isn't rigid enough) to the mass or tray. Or mount the camera to the post. And safety-strap the camera just in case.

Operate the camera with a LANC controller and put a small display in the cab of the truck to see what the camera is viewing. A remotely operated pan and tilt head would be even better. Bescore makes a nice one that should hold up to consumer and prosumer cameras as long as you don't try to operate at high speeds without a wind shield for the camera.

I'd at least bag the camera in a plastic bag. With my luck, the bugzilla, the bug of the century would nail the viewfinder at 30 mph and I'd never get it clean.

I'd also use a small battery or, if a large one is necessary, Gaffer-tape the battery to the cameras. For this type of use, some of the battery latches seem a bit flimsy to me.


Like any operations in a vehicle, this can be dangerous to yourself and others. Safety has to be the number one concern.

Don't try to drive and shoot this all by yourself. Get at least one helper to operate the camera or drive the vehicle. Nobody rides in the bed of the pickup without proper restraint (your state may have laws about this).

If you need to have fast action chase scenes, this is not the rig to use and public byways should not be used unless you have them blocked off and have permission.

Use pro's for anything remotely dangerous.

Drive the route several times without the distraction of the camera and familiarize yourself with the traffic, the in-built hazzards, etc.
Mike Rehmus
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Old May 9th, 2004, 03:10 PM   #2
Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 6,750
Sounds a bit elaborate, Mike, but I'd be interested to see how this works, some resulting footage etc.

As an alternative, Steadicam-type stabilizers can work extremely shooting from a vehicle, and many manufacturers offer vehicle mount brackets. You must ensure good windscreening, meaning an open flatbed will not deliver results as good as the open back of an SUV, for instance. With a good setup and reasonable skill level, you can get very respectable results up to 200mm (35mm format equivalent).
Charles Papert
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Old May 9th, 2004, 07:19 PM   #3
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Vallejo, California
Posts: 4,049
It is really easy to fabricate and, did I mention, cheap?

Wind shielding is always important front and sides if there is any speed involved.

Not as elegant or flexible as a Steadicam but a whole lot less expensive.

I find I can sit crosswise in the back of a SUV and get very good footage with my 150 just handheld. As I posted before, I flip the LCD back against the body and then hold the camera across my chest with my arms bent. Makes a massive difference with regard to holding that long loaf of bread steady.
Mike Rehmus
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