Electronic Image Destabilizing

Do you understand all the automatic settings on your electronic equipment? Recently, I was reminded to not assume that the current settings are appropriate, when one of them did the opposite of what it was supposed to.

I was shooting video of a mini-conference in which a lot of the footage was of one person at a time standing and speaking behind a podium, in front of a white board. The camera was a Panasonic consumer MiniDV camcorder that was bought several years ago on a budget (it wasn’t mine). I was using a tripod and did a lot of head-to-waist shots with occasional zooms or pans when the speaker got close to the edge of the frame.

Fairly often, the shot would jerk somewhat up and down again, as if the tripod head were loose and shaking. It was a consumer-level video tripod (a Velbon), but I thought I had tightened the pan/tilt head about right to prevent slipping. I fiddled with it a few times, then started looking through the camera’s setup menus. There was an icon on the LCD that said “EIS”, so I looked up what that meant, since I understood all the other information on the screen.

I found out that “EIS” means Electronic Image Stabilizer. With it on, the camera analyzes the image and when it detects something moving up and down rapidly, it concludes that there is camera shake occurring, so it shifts the image in the other direction to compensate. It’s a poor man’s Steadicam for hand-held shots.

But the EIS backfired on my tripod-mounted shots. Whenever one of the speakers would wave his arms up and down to emphasize a point, the camera would lock on to the arms and try to keep them stationary, moving the podium and white board up and down instead! So it destabilized my stable shots.

I turned off the EIS, and my shots were stable for the rest of the event.

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