By Brady Betzel
We’ve all seen the trend: technology has started to take off exponentially and give everyday people access to professional-level equipment and software for semi-affordable prices. It also allows professionals to capture images in a way they might not have considered in the past.
For example, you can buy a GoPro Hero4 and create your own stunning timelapses in 4K, or even add dramatic lighting to your independent Etsy-style boutique iPhone photos for a few hundred bucks. Something I find infinitely valuable is the ability to watch other people’s successes, failures and instruction on YouTube for free. What I’m trying to say is that with a few affordable pieces of production gear, you can take average looking footage or stills to the next level.
A few months ago I saw a press release for a 3-axis GoPro gimbal and a high-powered, dimmable LED light made by, of all companies, Polaroid! I was immediately interested, mainly because I chase my sons around with a GoPro and get shaky footage that makes my professional video editor brain cringe — don’t even get me started on the lighting!
Polaroid was nice enough to send over some sample products that I have started to fall in love with — not only for the technology they pack but for the price they sell for.
Stabilizing Your GoPro
Up first in this two product review is the Polaroid Handheld 3-Axis Electronic Gimbal Stabilizer for GoPro Hero 3/3+/4 Action cameras. For months I had seen examples of gimbal stabilizers for the GoPro, but was always left second-guessing an over-$300 price tag for an accessory that was basically the same price as the main camera itself. Then I saw that Polaroid’s stabilizer cost $180 (with free shipping on Amazon) and realized that this technology wasn’t out of my price range anymore.
I opened the slick packaging and charged the three proprietary batteries for an hour. I was pleasantly surprised that I was ready to fly around. To strap your camera to the stabilizer there are two options: with the GoPro LCD Bacpac attached or without the LCD Bacpac. It’s a little clunky to outfit your stabilizer for the GoPro without the Bacpac (i.e. the GoPro Hero 4 with built in LCD), but once you are thumb-screwed into place, your camera isn’t going anywhere. One thing I learned was that you must start the stabilizer on a level surface like a tabletop. So place it on the handle on a level surface, push the power button on the handle and let the stabilizer balance itself for a second or two.
Putting the GoPro on the stabilizer wasn’t as easy as I thought it should have been, but it only took 10 minutes, so not all that life-altering. In addition, strapping the GoPro to the stabilizer is a semi-permanent thing, as it involves thumbscrews. On the bottom of the stabilizer there is a threaded ¼-inch mount that can be used to attach to a tripod or monopod. I even tried it out on a tripod, using two of the legs as my fulcrum points and creating a pseudo jib to get some real long and smooth tilts with the GoPro and it was pretty fun.
I had both a GoPro 3 and 4 lying around so I tried both, and they fit snugly. One complaint I had was that the ring used to secure the GoPro to the stabilizer goes around the lens and feels real tight — I had to twist and turn to get it on which left me feeling like I might rip my lens off — but it is definitely secure when it is screwed on. Don’t get me wrong, I love this thing and I would be hard pressed to find anything in the GoPro Hero 3/4 stabilizer category that is so low priced.
To test it out I told my son Atticus to get on his bike and ride. I ran after him with little to no training other than spinning around the garage a little bit. You can check it out on YouTube.
I started off walking but then picked up speed and ran a little (if you call that running). With GoPro videos, you definitely get better quality footage with good lighting and as little bouncing around as possible. The more stable your footage the less work the compression has to do, which basically means better detail and color fidelity in your video.
It doesn’t take long to get a handle on the 3-axis electronic stabilizer; it just takes a little practice time and patience to get the moves and footage you want. You’ll find out which ways the gimbal will and, more importantly, will not go when it starts to shake and go a little crazy (not limited to just this Polaroid stabilizer). This is a great accessory for anyone using GoPros in their work, and at under 10 inches long it can fit in a backpack when you go hiking! It gives you a real smooth and epic feel to your otherwise shaky action footage, and like I said, for $180 it’s a great price.
Dimmable Super Bright LED
Up next is the Polaroid 350 High-Powered Variable Dimmable Super Bright LED Light with Barn Door. After I played with the GoPro gimbal I saw that Polaroid also made lighting equipment that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and could really pump up my iPhoneography. What really got me thinking was the cold shoe adapters on top of my iPhone iOgrapher. The iOgrapher is a way to help stabilize your iPhone footage while adding options like tripod mounts, cold shoe adapters for accessories and even handles to even out your shaky footage. So why not use the iOgrapher mounts with the Polaroid 350 to make some stunning footage?
If you’ve ever shot video or stills with your iPhone you know that you can get some incredible images. With the right lighting and stabilization, you can achieve looks that rival many professionally shot television shows airing today.
Earlier I mentioned an Etsy-like photo, and I really meant that you could bring your photos and video up to a pro level with just the addition of lighting. My wife recently got a lot of people asking her to make hair bows and bowties, so she opened an Etsy store. She had been taking photos with her iPhone 6s+ and they were good, but when we created a DIY lightbox (from instructions we found on Pinterest) and added the Polaroid 350 light her pictures really started to get that professional feel.
It was truly amazing at how improved the quality and most of all the color fidelity was just from using a little light. You can check out her Etsy store.
The Polaroid 350 is very easy to use. Inside the box you will find the physical light head, two lithium-ion type batteries (think older Sony camcorder batteries), a dual battery charger, swivel head mounting adapter, barn door with diffusion filter, carrying case, AC & DC adapter, UK- and EU-style plug adapters and a little manual. I let the batteries charge overnight, put them both on the back of the light and began lighting my wife’s bows and bowties.
I immediately noticed some lines on my wife’s pictures; it looked like something out of “Stranger Things” was going on. So I quickly ran out of the house… well, maybe not, but we added the diffusion and noticed a drastic diminishment of the line pattern. Later when we created the DIY lightbox with some tissue paper as diffusion we noticed the light pattern disappeared. We played around with the rotary knob that let us smoothly change the color temperature from a warm 3200 degrees Kelvin up to a cool 5600 degrees Kelvin, and the flicker-free LED brightness that goes from 10% up to 100%. Other than that the Polaroid light was an awesome way to add a level of professionalism to our iPhone footage and stills for $160.
There are a few other versions of this light offered by Polaroid, like one with an LCD monitor on the back to see the exact color temperature and battery-life left but you also pay an extra $20. There are a few versions under the $160 price tag, but a dual-battery operated light is really key when doing a lot of work without the want or need to stop a shoot and swap out batteries. I do wish I had two more lights to create a three-point lighting set-up!
In the end, I was really impressed with both of Polaroid’s products that I was testing, the Polaroid 350 LED light and the Polaroid Electronic GoPro 3-way Stabilizer. I was even more impressed with the prices!
The stabilizer really adds a smooth high-level production value to the GoPro. It is simple to set up, easy to use and with practice you will get some amazing GoPro shots. The Polaroid 350 LED light with variable color temperature and brightness along with dual battery ports really makes a shot jump off the screen. If you’ve never used external lighting in your shots before, now is the time.
Pick yourself up a Polaroid 350 LED Light — it is a portable, dimmable and lightweight LED powered light that will relieve the strain on your camera and give you more flexibility in post production (your colorist will thank you).
Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.