Overuse of Stabilized Content


Well-known member
I like the production value of CNN's Parts Unknown documentary style as well as the content. So I checked out CNN's new series The Wonder List which is similar but you travel the world to see exotic locations without a focus on cuisine. It is also produced by the same production company, Zero Point Zero. It turned out to be a very informative and well shot show.

But what really got my attention was how 99% of the show's content was shot with a stabilizer. High shots, low shots and aerial shots, even transitions from high to low in a single shot. In an industry that is obsessed with stable shots, this was subtly unsettling.

Documentary shows are known to have alot of handheld shots for the unplanned, in the moment, uncontrived look. Everything seemed to be artificially smooth where you would expect some camera shake, dip or tilt associated with handheld shots. It really brought attention to the importance and appropriate choice of a handheld, dolly or stabilized shot to convey or accentuate the scene's terrain.

For example, the camera always floated over uneven terrains while the people were wobbling to balance while walking on them and the smooth shot removed that perception. It was like watching a video game or a video game movie intercut with live action & green screen where the camera moves like it's on a track on any given axis. CG camera POVs are actually executed on a smoothed out virtual motion path using keyframes. This is one reason I can't watch CG infused movies because a camera just can't realistically move through space like that.

As a Steadicam-type body rig operator, another thing that caught my attention was when the operator stopped any moving shot, he didn't taper, feather or ramp the stop by walking into the rig. He stopped, then subtly pulled the rig back towards him from any direction it had been traveling. All the subtle gyro corrections, up, down, left and right, looked like unusually smooth handheld shots which is what brought my attention to it but the average viewer would not notice or even care.

It was like post-pan or tilt drifting when operating a jib, dipping the frame's horizon or overpanning when on sticks. I just can't stand it when I see that happen, especially on shows at that level. Of course, it doesn't help that his actual arms are used as the rig's support and are probably worn out after a long move or multiple takes. What's funny is that a body vest with outriggers, similar to the Marzpak, has already been developed to suspend these stabilized halo rigs. There's a good reason that the orginal body rigs have an articulated arm. The human arm can only lift so much for so long. For us body rig users, it's our backs that pay the price.

I could understand using it often but for an entire show? We may have to retrain our minds to accept these unnatural moves because producers & DPs are going to use them just because they exist.

What do you think of the extensive use of stabilized shots?
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I personally don't mind if the entire show is shot with a steadi type rig (ie vest and arm) Those are usually operated by skilled operators who have both the experience and skill to get it right. I see bigger issues with the proliferation of these semi steadi rigs, the hand held gimbals and the like that might be great for one or two shots but are a horrid way to spend an entire shoot. I can't imagine too many experienced production teams opting for them over the traditional method.

I see the main problem being the tendency by some people to latch on to new and cool no matter what it is even if better methods exist. Personally for me this is the case with most of the drone stuff I have seen as well. In the hands of a skilled operator and used correctly they are a great tool. But I see a lot of stuff shot on them that would be better shot with a steadicam or jib or even dolly.

Flaca Productions

Well-known member
Interesting observations. I'd add that I hate how so much of these types of shows have a ton of slow motion in them. It looks to me like they missed the shot at full speed, but can rescue a "useable" shot by slowing it down and suddenly 1 second in the middle of a desperate search for focus turns into 3-4 seconds.

Garbage being passed off as "art"


Well-known member
Half the skill in using a Seadicam is knowing when not to use a Steadicam and having the confidence to back your call.

Alaska cameradude

Well-known member
As I recall, a lot of "The Wonder List' was shot on a Movi.
Much like drones, slow motion, and shallow depth of field
(all of which are also used in 'The Wonder List') the Movi is
a new technology which opens up new perspectives and ways
of shooting. A lot of these new styles tend to be trying to
make 'documentary' typed shoots look more like the type
of thing you see at the theatre. Hence the use of Super 35
shallow depth of field, swooping drone shots to emulate the
'helicopter with Tyler mount' shots from the movies, slow motion
to introduce drama, and the 3 axis gimbal/Movi shots which let
you move smoothly around with the camera. A lot of this stuff
gets overused. But I have only seen one episode of 'The Wonder
List' (The first episode) and I actually liked it quite a bit.