Stabilization has always been a struggle for filmmakers to achieve. When film was first created, operators had to manually crank the film through the camera which resulted in shaky footage. The invention of the Aeroscope Cine Camera in 1910 by Kazimierz Prószyński solved this problem by using compressed air to crank the film for you. The Aeroscope eliminated the need for manual cranking which meant you could hold the camera with both hands and the footage was steadier.
Although, holding a camera in your hands brings its own issues with creating shaky footage. So, then came the tools that are predominantly used today such as tripods, dollies, the Steadicam in 1975, and finally the gimbal. Each new invention gave filmmakers more flexibility and creative freedom. Nowadays, a Steadicam with a built-in gimbal retails for less than a thousand bucks. But, what if you could get a similar stabilization without using a Steadicam? What if you could get completely stable footage by simply stabilizing it in post? I’m not talking about in-body image stabilization or Adobe's Warp Stabilizer. I’m talking about Sony’s new internal gyroscopic stabilization built into recently released Sony cameras like the A7s III.
Internal gyroscopic stabilization is when there is a gyroscopic sensor built into the camera. The sensor calculates and tracks the position of the camera in real-time. That information is then saved as metadata inside the individual video files.
When trying to stabilize in post using Warp Stabilizer or other stabilization programs, they have to assume what the camera’s position and movements were in the real space which can lead to inaccurate calculations but the metadata coming from the internal gyro doesn’t guess. The stabilization in post is much more accurate and impressive because it’s using the information taken at the time of the recording. Footage taken from a handheld running shot can look extremely smooth as if you were using a gimbal.
Unfortunately, the internal gyro feature can’t be accessed in just any editing program. It can only be used in Catalyst Browse, Sony’s media management program that was made to simplify workflow. Catalyst is free and can be downloaded on Sony’s website. When you stabilize your footage in Catalyst Browse, it will always over correct by cropping in too much. The more stabilization that is needed, the more Catalyst will crop into the shot. You can, however, manually zoom the shot out to your optimal preference. Then, all you need to do is export. This feature does not work at high frame rates like 120fps.
This is a new technology so it’s unavoidable that there will be drawbacks. In order to use the internal gyro feature, you have to do 3 things…
These drawbacks can be deal breakers for a lot of camera users and it can be hard to trust a post-production program to stabilize your footage without knowing what the final result will look like. Drawbacks are expected with new technology but the results from the internal gyro are very smooth and impressive.
Many Sony cameras record internal gyro data that are compatible with Catalyst Browse. The FX3, FX6, FX9, A7s III, A7c, ZV-1, and the RXO II all come with internal gyroscopic stabilization as of right now. As technology advances more and more in the film industry, one can only wonder if a day will come where gimbals and Steadicams are no longer needed.
Brandon Li has an informative video that demonstrates the difference between IBIS and gyroscopic stabilization on the a7s III.