For more than four decades, body-worn camera stabilizing technology has been evolving and thriving separately from the exoskeleton industry. Courtesy of our guest poster Daniel Walker’s article from March The Hidden Connection between Exoskeletons and TV and Film Production, we know that the first Steadicam was invented in 1975. Interestingly, it was used entirely as a productivity tool to stabilize camera footage and not to improve ergonomics or safety. The Steadicam revolutionized filmmaking and allowed for movie-grade footage to be taken without the use of a crane or a tracked cart.
In the decades that followed, even though video footage could be stabilized using gimbals and digital editing, wearable camera holders have not gone away. There are at least half a dozen companies that manufacture and sell such wearables:
- Glide Gear
The vast majority of the devices on the market do not use motors. They transfer the weight of a gimbal or a camera, reducing the moment arm experienced by the cameraman. This is achieved either using a rigid or an elastic frame, terminating in a vest. Curiously, the majority of them are more expensive than state-of-the-art occupational (industrial) passive shoulder or back support exoskeletons. Below are some examples of camera and gimbal holders:
The Swedish company Flocine (link) sells the xSPINE, a “universal vest made for all kinds of camera operators in mind, made for versatility and moveability.” It has two spring-loaded arms attached to the back of the vest that can be adjusted to match the weight of the camera and camera gimbal. Note from the video just how giant professional video cameras and gimbals are! Holding onto this heavy equipment, potentially for hours at a time, will be challenging for anyone.
The Armorman 3.0 Gimbal Support System, sold by Tilta (link), is “designed to offer comfort and support while operating your gimbal by transferring the weight of the gimbal to your body’s core, taking significant weight off your arms.” It is, again, a modern system that doesn’t transfer the weight to the front but to the back and hips of the body. This is a modular device, and the spring-loaded arms can be either attached at the back or near the shoulder (we don’t usually see this with passive exoskeletons). Tilta claims that the Armorman 3.0 can support a camera and gimbal of up to 50 lbs in weight. “I had a hard time figuring out how to use the Armor Man, but once I got it put together and locked in, it has been a life saver. I am able to shoot for much longer and my shots end up more stable. It’s not for everyone on every job but it is a life saver for me doing music videos,” states a user review by Nathan R.
Above is a fantastic review video of the Armorman 3.0 by MCKC on YouTube (You NEED This if you have a GIMBAL | TILTA Armorman V3 Review). The video goes through some example use cases, how to doff the wearable and some criticism. Unsurprisingly to anyone in the exoskeleton industry, it appears that a person can gest hot wearing the Armorman 3.0! Clearly, exoskeleton and gimbal support companies can exchange notes. In the video, Mark-Christian is able to hold the camera and gimbal for only two and a half minutes without support, but is easily able to hold it for much longer with the help of the support vest. However, we do see him adjust the tension repeatedly and he does note that the gimbal and camera he chose for the test is a bit too light.
Unfortunately, Mark-Christian propagates the myth that these devices take the weight from one part of the body and move it to another. I would not expect an influencer to have taken physics and understand torque or moment arms (though Allen Pan definitely did in his video past the 2-minute mark link):, and this serves to illustrate another commonality with occupational exoskeletons. More education is required.
Note that the original Steadicam and similarly designed vest, with a spring-loaded arm protruding from the stomach area are still manufactured and sold, but are usually rated for lighter loads.
The above is not an exhaustive list of companies or camera-holding devices. They are not categorized as occupational exoskeletons and have been evolving through the decades on their own, but there are similarities in both construction and challenges to adoption. Just like with industrial exos, excessive heat retention, complexity, and misconceptions haunt these wearables as well.
I work in TV & Film Health & Safety the body worn stabilised camera mount as you say is now common. I’m trying for find companies to support our Sound Boom operators who mostly have injuries associated to their jobs. The exoskeleton age has not filtered down to these people.
Hi Jonathan, I had not considered Sound Boom operators. Just a quick Google search reveals a lot of people holding up microphones on poles at or above chest level. How would you describe the job? I have no concept how heavy or uncomfortable the equipment is or for how long someone would be expected to hold it up?