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How to Get the Best Stabilization From Your Sony A1 (Or Other Sony Camera)

LensMeAHand
Key Contributor

I've just done a few tests to compare the different stabilization options of the A1 (this applies to other Sony cameras as well), and I figured I'd share my results here, so others don't have to do the same tests to determine what's best. Obviously additional hardware (e.g. dollies, gimbals, steadicams) can help, but I'll only be focusing on in-camera stabilization.

In essence, there are four different stabilization scenarios you can choose from:

  • No stabilization
  • Standard stabilization
  • Active stabilization
  • Stabilization in post processing

No stabilization is self-explanatory. Turn in-camera stabilization off (Menu > Shooting > Image Stabilization > SteadyShot > Off), and what you see is what you get.

Standard stabilization (Menu > Shooting > Image Stabilization > SteadyShot > Standard) uses in-camera mechanical stabilization to stabilize your footage. In other words, your footage is not cropped in this mode. Take a look at the example below:

test1.gifI mounted two A1's side-by-side on a cheese plate and tried to hold it steady while walking. The left frame has stabilization turned off. The right is set to Standard.

Standard stabilization smooths out jerky movement and yields a slightly better result than no stabilization, but if the camera movement is shaky to begin with, this isn’t a cure-all.

The next option is Active stabilization. In this mode, the camera processes movement in real time and modifies the footage before saving the video file. This results in a slight cropping of the video:

test2.gifFootage taken with the same cheese plate setup. No stabilization on the left. Active stabilization on the right.

In this example, active stabilization yielded a more stable result than no stabilization. However, this is not always the case. For example, if you hard mount the camera to a car, Active stabilization is shakier than no stabilization at all. When set to Active stabilization, the camera has to estimate in real time where, when, and how quickly it's going to move, and obviously it cannot predict the future. On top of that, the fact that the original video data is lost means you're stuck with what it gives you. Personally, I would never use this mode.

The last option is using software to stabilize the footage after you've shot it. The great thing about current Sony cameras is that they record gyroscopic metadata into each video file (Or at least the A1, A7sIII, and FX-9 do. I haven't tested others). Turn stabilization off, shoot, and then bring the footage into Sony's Catalyst Browse software, where it can use the gyroscope data to stabilize the image. This produces the best result.

test3.gifYou probably figured this out already, but no stabilization is on the left, while the footage processed in Catalyst Browse is on the right. Hard to believe it's the same video file!

The downside with this method is the additional post processing involved in your production pipeline. Additionally, the stabilization algorithm in Catalyst Browse is extremely inefficient and takes an inordinate amount of time to render stabilized clips. I found another piece of software, Gyroflow, that has the same functionality and only takes 2 minutes to render a clip that takes Catalyst Browse an hour (Not exaggerating. Catalyst Browse is terribly slow). The downside of Gyroflow is that it's much more complicated to use than Catalyst Browse and requires a lot of time and patience to fine tune the settings.

If you have any in-camera stabilization tricks of your own, please share them in the comments!

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