Recently I’ve tested various DSLR stabilizers and at this price point you might find yourself pleasantly surprised at the functionality per dollar spent. In fact I ended up with two, very different stabilizers for way under $200! Here is what worked (and didn’t work) for me.
I started out with a trip to B&H where I looked at *every* stabilizer they offered. I narrowed it down to three in this price range and brought them home for trial runs.
First Contender: The Opteka CXS-1
My expectations were perhaps unreasonably high for the “Opteka CXS-1 Video Shoulder Stabilizer Support System“. I guess I’m a sucker for the word “system” it sounds so comprehensive.;) All that aside, it receives excellent reviews on Amazon and it looked like it would be perfect. As I assembled the unit (err I mean “system”) I remained impressed. The metal is solid and has a cool burnished, metallic red color. All was groovy – until I actually tried it. At first I thought it was me. I’m 6’2″ and not a small guy. However I’m no line-backer and I wish my shoulders were just a little bit broader. Anyway, the unit slowly slid off my shoulder to the right and felt neither stable nor comfortable. At first I thought that perhaps my somewhat narrow shoulder was to blame. Should I hit the gym or return to B&H? I was feeling lazy so I got on the train and headed back to B&H. Dave at B&H wasn’t surprised I had had this issue. There is no weight at the back of this otherwise well designed product so it often doesn’t feel right to people. I considered somehow attaching a weight to the back, but there is no easy way to do it, so I moved on to the next contender.
Next up: the Tiffen Steady Stick
Being disappointed with my shoulder mount experience, the next unit I tried was in a different category. The Tiffen/Davis & Standard Steady Stick. The steady stick is meant for situations where you’ll be moving around frequently. You can get down low or move your camera up high. However if you are going to be holding the camera on a subject for a long, extended period, a shoulder mount is a better option. With the Steady Stick you get your support from the belt that wraps around your hips.
The assembly instructions are poor, but it wasn’t too long before I had my GH4 mounted. I immediately liked this unit except for one issue. The Steady Stick is meant to be a video camera stabilizer so it has the video-mount screw on the mounting plate (see photo below). For now I’ve worked around this by mounting my camera directly on the front of the plate, but ultimately I’ll get a wrench and screw it out. Another issue is that without the stabilizer screw, the camcorder slides around a bit. I might have returned it just based on that, but for the price this unit is pretty cool. What I did is take a little bit of gripping tape (I made this word up by the way – if you know the proper name please post it!) and mounted it to the top of the plate. You can see it in the photos below. Now my GH4 fits nice and snugly. The gripping tape quite handily came with the Ikan Recoil to be described below (but wasn’t necessary to use with the GH4. I’m not 100% sure about this unit and will continue to test it. But if it works out it will be a great alternate to a shoulder mount.
Ikan Hold My Breath – the Recoil is Here
My replacement for the Opteka CXS-1 was the Ikan Recoil which looks kind of like an over-sized clamp. It doesn’t have the same build quality as the Opteka – it’s 90% plastic. But what is especially cool about this unit is that the weight falls less on your shoulder and more on your chest so it has really solid, steady feel. However Dave, my friendly B&H employee warned me that he’s seen a Canon 5D meet it’s untimely end on one of these. To some extent you do get what you paid for. The unit is made of both plastic and metal (a plastic unit with metal screws). The 5D user had been shooting with the Recoil frequently over an extended period of time and was using long, heavy lenses. Eventually the metal of the screw began to degrade the plastic housing and one day – “pop!” camera met floor. I cringed when Dave told me this and I have to admit this story made me a little nervous, even with my feather-light GH2. However, I really don’t see it being a problem unless you are using very heavy lenses. Further, the Recoil comes with two mounts. A “riser” mount and a large, flat mount for heavier cameras. I’m sticking with the larger mount for now which seems to work better.
The one issue I have with the Recoil is that in a very tight shot the mere act of breathing causes the camera to rise and fall just slightly. The bottom support rests right on your chest after all! This definitely isn’t a deal breaker as I can hold my breath for quite awhile, but it is something to keep in mind.
So there you have it. Not one, but two DSLR stabilizers for under $2o0! They may not be perfect in this price range and each involves its own quirky work-around but considering the price they are solid camera stabilizer options.