Steady On!

The problem of camcorder image stabilisation has its ups and downs. So here's what you can do if your footage gets a bad case of the shakes.

Those of you who read this column regularly (and I'd like to thank you both, by the way) will already know how I feel about people who shoot video while holding the camera in one hand. But I appreciate that it's not always possible or practical to use a camera support or to hold the camera in both hands. So, what can you do to stop your footage looking like it was shot by Ozzie Osbourne?

He's stable now

The first step is to make sure that your camcorder is set to use its image stabiliser function. These days, all digital camcorders have an image stabiliser - either digital or optical.

On the whole, digital image stabilisation (DIS - or some call it EIS, for electronic image stabilisation) works by monitoring the outside edge of the image currently being shot. If it sees that objects are shifting slightly, it repositions the entire frame to compensate. This technique used to involve some loss of resolution as the edges of the image would be cut off and the centre of the frame enlarged. These days, nearly all digital camcorders have large enough image sensors (800Kpixels or higher) to allow this function to occur without losing any image detail. But, if your camcorder is a little long in the tooth and only has 400Kpixels in its image sensor, you should be aware that image stability may come at a price.

Optical image stabilisers (OIS) are far more effective, as they use tiny gyroscopic sensors and prisms to detect and correct physical movements. However, because they're more expensive to produce, they're generally found at the more costly end of the market.

One of the side-effects of both of these systems is that they tend to introduce a small amount of lag to any genuine movements that you want to record (pans and tilts). That's why it's often a good idea to disable this function if you're working on a tripod (it'll improve battery life slightly, too).

If you find yourself in a situation where camera shake will be unavoidable, it's a good idea to increase the shutter speed of your camcorder as high as the available light will allow. It won't actually do anything to cut down on camera shake, but it will provide better results if you decide to employ either of the following two solutions.

That's a plus

Despite the fact that camera shake is one of the most common errors in video footage, you won't find many entry-level editing packages with image stabilisation tools built in. Even professional packages tend to rely on plug-ins like 2d3's SteadyMove ( www.2d3.com ).

However, you'll find an image stabilisation filter in Pinnacle's Studio Plus 9, and it's a piece of cake to use. Open Studio Plus, then click on the Edit tab at the top of the screen. Click on the button next to the text field (with a folder icon on it) to browse to where the offending video clip is located. It'll show up in the media library as a thumbnail. Drag the thumbnail down to the first track on the timeline below to add it to the project.

Double-click on the clip that's now on the timeline to bring up the video toolbox panel, and then click on the tab at the bottom of the seven that appear on the right - it has a plug icon on it. Now you're in the effects section, just click on Cleaning Effects under "Category", then Stabilize under "Effect", then OK.

There are no parameters to change with this tool, so you can either wait for the software to auto-render it to see how it will look (it'll take two passes to complete; the green bar in the timeline will turn yellow when it's done) or head straight for the Make Movie tab and export it to the file format that suits you.

Stand-alone solution

To be honest, though, while it tries hard, Studio Plus' image stabiliser isn't all that effective. If you're looking for a better solution, or would prefer a standalone tool, then you should try Dynapel's SteadyHand.

It's also simple to use. Click on the Browse button to locate the clip, select a location and filename for the processed file, then check one of the Video Edge Treatment radio buttons. Stick with "zoom" for the time being - you can always experiment at a later date, and check either "normal" or "strong" under Motion Correction depending on how bad the footage is. Click Start and SteadyHand will produce a file that you can then use in your video projects.

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Laurence Grayson

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