By Brady Betzel
If you’ve walked out your front door these days you’ve undoubtedly seen a GoPro camera. Usually it’s a kid with one strapped to his skateboard getting a weird (yet probably awesome) shot of his wheels that he is going to use as a transitional story element for his skate film, and he’s probably eight years old and a whiz on After Effects.
I refer you to GoPro’s YouTube page (reaching almost 2 million subscribers!) where they have some amazing content being created and gathered 24 hours a day. The one thing that GoPro just can’t do on its own yet is steady itself. Yes I know, you can stabilize the footage in post or mount the camera to a fixed object, but what if you don’t have a skateboard (or don’t want to endanger yourself on one for that matter) but still want that dolly shot? Maybe you want to run after your kid but don’t want the jolting that occurs each time you take a step. Let me present to you the Tiffen Steadicam Curve.
Steadicams, by definition, steady and stabilize the camera that is attached to them. (Steadicam is an eponym much like Kleenex or Band-Aid; it has become the generic term used to describe video stabilizing products, but it’s trademarked by Tiffen). Typically they work by using weights and physics to counterbalance shaky-camera movement. If you aren’t familiar with professional Steadicams, go ahead and check out Steadicam.com and you will get your fill of Tiffen Steadicam products.
Typically Steadicams and many other video stabilizer products have a handle or an arm attached to a vest, some version of a counterbalance system, and a mounting plate for the actual camera. The prices steadily increase depending on the features you are looking for. Tiffen sells some Steadicams that cost over $45K! But relax, the Steadicam Curve is just under $100.
When I received the Curve I was expecting to have to assemble it, balance it and do some heavy practicing to operate it properly, I was one-third correct. Some Steadicams I have used in the past require you to dedicate a few hours for proper configuration, which is normal for video stabilizing systems. Once I opened the box I saw that it was completely assembled and ready to go. I quickly bypassed the manual, attached my GoPro (by its quick release buckle), and tried to balance it on my own.
With a turn of the trim control on the rear of the camera mount to adjust the fore and aft (backwards and forwards) and a slight twist of the adjustable side-to-side weight for balancing your side to side movement, I was balanced and ready to run after my son. I unlocked the handle from the aluminum body and ran around for about 20 minutes (not 20 minutes straight, I would have passed out). The results were mixed my first time out.
So was the Curve the problem or was it me? I was definitely the main culprit in the bad and unsteady Steadicam footage. The moral of this story is, don’t give up when using a Steadicam. It takes a long time to learn the Steadicam art form, a truly professional Steadicam operator makes thousands of dollars a week and is worth every penny. If you really want to get the most out of any Steadicam continue to practice your low center of gravity and bending your knees without affecting your shot.
After a couple of weeks running around with the Steadicam Curve and my GoPro I started to see a marked improvement in my shots — technically speaking. One tip is to use your thumb to lightly direct where the camera is pointing. There is an indented curve with a little rubber grip above the handle where your thumb naturally sits.
Now let’s dive inside the Curve box and check out the contents: the Steadicam Curve, a couple of stickers, a manual which details how to properly balance your Curve and some extra weights that can be added if you have older GoPro models. The Curve can technically handle the GoPro Hero 2 and Hero 3 without additional weights and the original GoPro Hero with additional weights. The additional weights easily install inside of the counterbalance weight. One “gotcha” is that technically the Curve requires the GoPro LCD Touch BacPac or LCD BacPac to be attached to your GoPro in order for it to balance correctly. I tried it out with and without the LCD. I definitely liked the weight and feel with the LCD Touch BacPac attached, but I wasn’t too disappointed when using the Curve without it. It still has a decent ability to steady your shots.
One of my favorite things about the Curve, other than its functionality, is the choice in colors for your anodized aluminum body. I was sent a blue Curve but they also come in black, red and silver. The colors are actually pretty cool, almost electric! If you are cool enough to buy the Steadicam Curve, I guess it should look the part right?
Trouble With The Curve?
If you got this far you are probably wondering what were the downfalls of the Curve. First off, the biggest downfall is its limited availability. People have stopped me while filming and asked how I got one because they can’t seem to find where to order them. The product manager at Tiffen attributed the short supply to the popularity that they were not expecting, and that production should be catching up with the orders very soon. I noticed that you could find Curves on www.amazon.com and www.bhphotovideo.com pretty easily. So with some searching hopefully you can find one. If you can’t find one tweet me @allbetzroff, and I will email them for you.
Second, I found that the handle was small. I might not have the largest hands but I couldn’t grip the handle properly. I could comfortably get two or three fingers around the grip, which allows me to use it but it would have been nice to get my whole hand on there. On the flip side, this allows for the Curve to be small and able to be stuffed in your backpack, so the sacrifice might be worth it.
Third, it doesn’t come with a bag to throw it in. I know I’m getting kind of spoiled in my products, but it seems that a little bag would have been a nice piece of advertising for them, instead I use a blue Muppets bag that my kid got his Subway sandwich in (It’s Beaker, so it’s actually kind of cool #dadlife).
My last concern is the nice aluminum stand that the Curve is pictured in online; it does not come with the Curve. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org and they can order one for you. It costs $14.95. I really like the stand because it allows you to mount the Curve when not in use and also act as a makeshift tripod, if you need it.
In the end, I do like the Tiffen Steadicam Curve. It’s easy to use once you understand the physical demands of Steadicam use: it is lightweight, durable, compact, and most of all-the price is nice. The Steadicam Curve will give your GoPro videos the smooth production value they deserve without shaking up your bank account.
I leave you with these highlights: it’s designed exclusively for the GoPro camera; it’s lightweight and durable and durable; and handle locks to frame so it can also be a used as a handgrip.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.