Reviews, Video

Stabilising video in Final Cut Pro X

How do you stabilise footage that’s been shot with a handheld camera or a badly performing stabilising system? With the Stabilisation module of Final Cut Pro X? Except for a heavy tripod, you will never be able to lock out unwanted camera movement, common knowledge predicts. But I found you can do better than with the built-in stabilisers of most NLEs. There’s a plug-in that does a great job at stabilising in post-production.

Lock & Load is a CoreMelt plug-in that stabilises unwanted camera movement like camera shake or the bumping of walking with a handheld. It does it well and very fast. Lock & Load will even lock down footage of a static scene (an interview, for example) that has some camera shake due to you not using a tripod or other stable surface to hold the camera in a fixed position.

Lock & Load Motion tracking

Final Cut Pro X has a stabiliser module, but it’s slow and not terribly good at understanding what you want from turning it on. That’s not surprising as the only settings you can change have to do with the stabilisation techniques being used, not the reason why you’re stabilising. Which means that Final Cut Pro X will not lock down your camera point of view in cases where it should.

Stabilising works by first analysing the motions the scene makes — tracking one or several scene elements that should remain fixed — and then compensate for this motion by moving the frame of the clip around the fixed tracking plane. Outside NLEs such as Final Cut Pro 7/X and Premiere Pro, stabilisation algorithms are typically reserved for compositing applications such as After Effects. Mocha Pro, the best tracking app available (says not me, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences), has a stabilising module that performs well, but it’s not perfect. No post-production stabilisation is.

Lock & Load has a couple of benefits over using mocha Pro: it’s much faster and it works right within Final Cut Pro X and the other supported apps. When you install Lock & Load you will see it appear in the Final Cut Pro X Inspector under the Effects tab. It offers four effects:
– A Lens Correction module, which is most efficient on GoPro clips (Narrow, Medium and Wide settings, but not yet Superwide)
– A Stabilising module that will only stabilise and lock down one clip or a cut clip
– A stabilise and Rolling Shutter Reduction module that will also try to reduce rolling shutter
– An Advanced Stabilisation module which lets you set the tracking plane and all other parameters yourself — this module is only useful for very hard to fix footage.

Lock & Load parameters

With every stabilisation, Lock & Load will zoom up your frame a bit, but I never passed the 110% mark and it never got to the level of reducing the frames to blurry crap. Where I did pass the 110% mark, the motion was really too wild to even use the clip.

I first tried locking footage. I had a clip of people crossing a street shot with a GoPro HERO3 from the hip. Although I tried to keep the camera as steady as I could, I’m visibly giving the camera small ‘spasms’. The Lock feature managed to analyse and lock out most of these small abrupt motions in under one minute. The clip was locked for about 99%, with a couple of smooth and tiny zoom actions to compensate for the larger twitches that are disturbing the original clip.

The second effect that I tried was Rolling Shutter correction. This did reduce the effects of rolling shutter, although in my test footage not by a large margin — perhaps that is technically infeasible anyway. This module depends on selecting the right camera model in the plug-in. If your camera isn’t listed, you can customise the plug-in to calibrate for your camera make, frame rate and frame size. I tested with a GoPro HERO3 again, and again I was surprised at the speed of Lock & Load’s analysis.

The last test was compensating for more gross stabilisation problems. I used both the Stabilise only and Advanced effects. The latter really is needed in the most complex cases — I wasn’t able to reproduce a problem that proved complex enough for the ‘simple’ effect to fail. The only clip I could not improve was one that I shot with intended and wild motions of the camera. I don’t think a Steadicam operator would ever walk around like that…

Lock & Load is a fabulous must-have tool for video and documentary makers who regularly shoot from the hip, with no tripod or ‘stealth’. It successfully smoothens the resulting often jerky footage, will automatically detect cuts and treat these separately, and is blazingly fast. It costs approx. €72.30. That’s dirt cheap for a post-production “Steadicam”.

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J.D. – Copywriter – Tech. Writer – Editor at Visuals Producer – Contributor at Photoshop User, Studio Daily, POST Magazine – Sub-editor at RedShark News