Five years ago, a little company from France called SteadXP shook the Internet with a “game-changing” small box and stabilization technology made for GoPro and DSLR/Mirrorless cameras. This box attaches to your camera and records all the motion data of your camera so that you can stabilize your footage in post-production. The concept was revolutionary back in the days. Nowadays, with action cameras that feature in-body image stabilization that works just as well – if not better –, SteadXP is trying to move to the cinema market with SteadXP+. But is this product and technology still relevant? Let’s take a closer look at it in this hands-on review.
SteadXP – A Bit of History
The first time I heard of SteadXP was in 2014 when a short video popped out on social media and made quite some noise. In this video, you could see various footage that was shot handheld with a little box attached to a GoPro. Indeed, this box and the software that goes with it called SteadXP could stabilize your footage in post-production. It was five years ago, so the first-ever MoVi gimbal was just announced, it was out of reach for most filmmakers, and gimbals for action cameras were something you couldn’t imagine.
So, we reported about this new “game-changing” product, and a couple of months after, the product went live on Kickstarter. The success was huge, and in a short amount of time, more than 2200 people backed the project. What was initially a prototype and a concept went into production to become a real product.
The team behind SteadXP is small. In fact, there are only two people: Adrien Farrugia, the CEO, and founder, and a software developer, Nicolas Munsch. I guess they were not ready for such a success, and it took them nearly two years to deliver the product to the backers.
What is SteadXP?
First, you need to understand that SteadXP is the name of the brand, but also the name of the technology and concept. So, SteadXP is the name of the actual hardware that you attach to your camera, and that is paired to a custom-made stabilization software.
Two versions of the hardware are available: [email protected] for GoPro cameras (up to the GoPro Hero4) and SteadXP+ for DSLR/Mirrorless and Cinema cameras. As a quick side note, we will focus on the SteadXP+ version for DSLR/Mirrorless/Cinema cameras only. To me, the [email protected] version for action cameras is outdated and doesn’t make sense anymore. Indeed, action cameras such as the GoPro Hero8 and DJI Osmo Action now features in-camera image stabilization that works excellent and doesn’t require any post-treatment. The [email protected] for action cameras was useful five years ago, but technology is moving fast.
SteadXP+ is a little black box that contains an IMU and that you mount on top of a camera. I didn’t know what an IMU was, but this is a type of gyroscopes and accelerometers. So, these sensors will precisely record all the motion data (3 axes) from your camera and store everything onto a microSD card that is located inside the SteadXP+. To synchronize the data from SteadXP+ and your footage in their in-house post-stabilization software, you need to record the audio output feed of the SteadXP+ into your camera. Then the software will stabilize your footage and let you adjust various settings, but more on that and the software later.
The concept is interesting, but before you rush to their website to buy a copy of SteadXP, I strongly advise you to read the rest of this article.
SteadXP+ is a compact box that won’t impress you when you see it for the first time. It is entirely made out of plastic – polycarbonate, to be exact – and it doesn’t scream quality at all. When I first got a copy in my hands, I was a bit shocked, as it looks like a prototype out of a 3D printer (and it might well have been just that!). The least we can say is that the design is minimalistic.
Let’s make a quick tour of the unit: at the bottom of the unit, there is a cold shoe adapter. It is flimsy and doesn’t hold very well when it’s secure on your camera, but it gets the job done. Take care not to break it, as there are no threaded holes on SteadXP+ or any other way to mount it on your camera.
On the left side, there is a 3.5mm mini-jack output – that is used to connect SteadXP+ to your camera -, and a Genlock connector, that doesn’t make sense anymore.
If you squeeze the device (hard) to open it, you will find a GoPro battery inside that powers the unit. According to SteadXP, the battery lasts ten to twelve hours. Also, note that only official GoPro batteries fit inside SteadXP+, don’t try to put third-party batteries. Third-party batteries won’t fit inside, and you’ll have to cut the housing of the cell to make it fit.
On the inside, there is also the microSD card that stores all your data, and a micro-USB port for future firmware updates/charge the battery.
There is no On/Off switch on the unit; it will power on automatically when you plug an audio cable. A small LED on the side will turn on to show you that it is up and running. The color of the LED indicates the battery level: green, orange, red. Also, each time you connect/unplug the audio cable, it creates a .XPD file. These proprietary files contain all your motion data that are used by the software to stabilize your footage. The team at SteadXP recommends that you plug/unplug the audio cable between each take, so you don’t end up with one single gigantic stabilization file at the end of the day.
As you can see, the build quality is not the selling point of SteadXP+, and if they want to enter the cinema market and Hollywood’s movie sets, they will probably have to come up with a new, more robust housing. But in the end, don’t judge a book by its cover, what matters, and all the technology is on the inside.
Does it Work with Every Camera?
In short, yes. You can use SteadXP+ with every camera that features an audio input. Otherwise, a camera that doesn’t have an audio input, and smartphones, don’t work with SteadXP+. Also, as it needs sound, some cameras in slow-motion modes (that doesn’t record audio) like RED cameras and the Panasonic GH5 in VFR mode, it doesn’t work internally. Of course, you can use an external recorder to get the sound and so on, but this is cumbersome.
Talking about mirrorless cameras, if you want to use SteadXP+ with a camera that features sensor image stabilization (Panasonic GH5/Sony A7RIII/ Sony a6500 and so on), it will work if you disable all internal stabilization systems (OIS and IBIS), but this is not the best-case scenario for SteadXP+.
The reason is simple: the sensor is stabilized inside the camera, the position of the sensor is not precise every time, and it can screw the post-stabilization software. In fact, during the test session that we did, I wanted to shoot a couple of test footage with my GH5, and I was strongly advised not to do so.
Another thing to keep in mind is that SteadXP+ outputs a microphone-level signal. While this is perfectly fine for 95% of the cameras on the market right now, it doesn’t work “straight out of the box” with the ARRI Alexa Mini LF, for example, and you need a special audio preamp for the camera to get the right audio level.
Regarding lenses, it works with every glass (if you disable the OIS), no matter the focal length or the aperture, even if it works best with wide-angle lenses. SteadXP recommends that you only use prime lenses. However, if you want to shoot with a zoom lens, only the lens ends can be used, for example, 16mm & 35mm for a 16-35mm zoom lens. Also, you will have to create two stabilization profiles. The stabilization profiles are susceptible to the focal length, and if you are shooting with a zoom lens, they advise you to secure your glass’ zoom ring by using gaffer tape.
All in all, it works with nearly all cameras out there, including the BMPCC 4K/6K, but not every camera.
Starting with SteadXP+
The concept of this stabilization technology is impressive, and while they are trying to move to the cinema market, the SteadXP team invited me for a quick demonstration. The event happened in late October at Indie Rent, a rental house in Lyon, France, that kindly let us run some tests with their ARRI Alexa Mini LF. An entire team was invited, including a Steadicam operator, a 1st AC, a talent, and so on. But, we also had a guest with us, Dan Kneece, a legend of the Steadycam and director of photography.
The idea behind this workshop was to show us how the SteadXP technology works, the strengths and the limitations of the system. The first thing you have to do when you want to use SteadXP+ is to mount it on your camera. You can install it nearly everywhere on your camera, but the cables need to be on the left side of your camera when you are behind the camera. You can’t change the direction, or it won’t work. Be careful with that and make it ideally 90 degrees straight to your sensor.
Once the SteadXP+ is firmly attached to your camera, if this is your first time with a camera and/or lens that is not in their library of built-in stabilization profiles – you can look at the full list here – you need to calibrate your setup. They already have a couple of lenses and cameras ready to go, and once a profile is created for a specific combination, you won’t have to do it again. You can also share your profile with other users; if it works for you, it will work for them.
The Calibration Process
Let’s be honest; the calibration process is probably the most challenging thing to do when working with SteadXP+. It works in six steps:
- You don’t need SteadXP+ to be on your camera.
- Launch the calibration software on your computer. It is better and more comfortable to connect a big screen or television to your computer’s HDMI output. The team at SteadXP advises you to close your aperture and crank up your ISO. Indeed, noise/grain does not affect the results, but focus issues do.
- Then, you have to shoot the screen of the calibration software that displays a series of dots and patterns. You have to pull it from various angles, with no reflections on the screen.
- Import your footage and your SteadXP file onto the calibration software. It’ll automatically run an analysis of your footage, and if you did everything right, it’d generate a stabilization profile.
- Export your profile, and you are ready to shoot.
The calibration process is not easy and takes quite some time. If you do it by yourself for the first, it will take you around half an hour. And remember, this is for one lens, one camera, and one specific resolution. Indeed, 4K and FullHD stabilization profiles are different. A lot of video tutorials are available on SteadXP’s website to help you with that process.
Otherwise, this is not a last-minute process or something you want to do directly on set. You better do it during your camera tests days before the shoot. You can do it after the shoot, but I won’t recommend it.
The good thing is that once you’ve done it once, it will work forever. For rental houses, for example, you can create stabilization profiles for all your lenses and cameras. So when someone rents a SteadXP unit with their package, they don’t have to do that calibration process.
Shooting with SteadXP+
Once you finally have a stabilization profile to match your setup, you can start hunting. Set your shot, plug SteadXP+ to your camera, wait 10sec while not moving so it can boot and calibrate itself, and then point your camera to the sky. But, why do you need to do that? In fact, once you hit the record button on your camera, you need to do what they call a “sync move.” At the beginning of every shot, the idea is to make a quick and fast move from the sky to the horizon. That way, the software will be able to interpret these data as the “sync move” to calibrate itself.
Talking about camera settings, it is best to shoot at the highest resolution possible, with a shutter speed of minimum 1/125, and a recommended shutter speed of at least 1/250 for running situations. These settings will avoid motion blur when stabilizing your footage later on.
As with every post-production stabilization software available on the market, the SteadXP software will crop in your footage. The more your original footage is jittery, and depending on the smoothness/stability you want as a result, the more the software will have to crop in your footage. So, if you know you will use SteadXP in post-production, you have to remember to frame your shot wider with more headroom, 15 to 20% larger at least.
This is a lot of things to remember, and there is a learning curve: the sync move, framing your shot accordingly, and to do not forget to plug/unplug SteadXP+ between each takes. But is it worth it?
The Post-Production Process
Before you can start editing your files, you have to go through the SteadXP software to stabilize your footage. It is compatible with both Mac and PC.
When you first launch it, the software asks you for your email (registered with your purchase) and serial number of your SteadXP+. Each SteadXP+ is paired with an email address, and you won’t be able to load/process someone’s else files if you don’t have this email address and the serial number of the unit that was used to shoot this footage. I see it as a significant drawback if you have multiple units on set, or on feature film sets. I don’t want to imagine the nightmare it would be to pass these login information to the DIT and post-production house later down the road.
After your login information is set, the SteadXP software asks you to download FFmpeg to read your footage. You have to do it once, it is straightforward, and it installs directly inside of the SteadXP software. Then, you can finally import your footage.
I don’t know how it works inside the software, but the synchronization engine is potent. It automatically links and synchronizes your video files to the .XPD stabilization file. The software also automatically creates proxy media files from your videos in the background. Last step before you can start playing with the stabilization parameters: link your camera/lens stabilization profile to your footage. You are ready to go by double-clicking on your video.
We are finally inside the real “wow part” of this entire SteadXP experience. You can adjust nearly every parameter you can think of:
- Select which axis you want to stabilize (roll/pitch/yaw).
- How much you want to stabilize your footage, depending on the type of result you want.
- You can introduce some motion blur directly in the software.
- There is an option to “reframe” your shot digitally.
If you don’t want to mess with all the settings, an “optimize” button does a good job on its own.
The software itself is reactive; it playbacks smoothly, and if you change some settings, you don’t have to recalculate for hours, it is almost immediate. The results are years ahead of any stabilization software I’ve used in the past.
Once you are done, you can export your result in the same frame rate and resolution as your original video, or in another one if you wish.
This sounds magical, isn’t it? Indeed, for non-RAW shooters, it works perfectly. You can export your footage in various 16 bits codecs like ProRes, DNxHR, or PNG frames.
Otherwise, if you are shooting with a camera that records in any flavor of RAW, there is one workflow issue for me. If this is your case, there are multiple steps:
- You have to make an export of your RAW file into something the SteadXP software can read like a ProRes file, for example.
- Do your stabilization inside of SteadXP.
- Export your stabilized footage and edit it.
- If you want to grade your video in DaVinci Resolve, for example, you have to re-link your stabilized file to your non-stabilized RAW data. Then, you can do your final grade.
- Export your graded video, and re-stabilize it inside SteadXP.
- Export from SteadXP your last version, and put it back in your edit.
- Do your final export.
To me, and I am probably not the only one; this is too much work. All-in-all, it works, but if you are shooting in RAW, you know what to expect.
If you want to download the software and play with the footage from the Canon C200 we used for this review, you can download everything here on SteadXP’s website.
Should You Get One?
This is a tough question, and it depends a lot on your shooting style, the camera you use, and your needs. I have no doubts about the technology behind SteadXP and all the hard work they put into it. It works exceptionally well, as you can see in the video above.
Otherwise, you have to be prepared for the deep learning curve you’ll face. Don’t expect to buy SteadXP+, plug it, and make it work magically. It won’t, and you will be disappointed. But, once everything is set up correctly, what you can accomplish with it is incredible.
I look at SteadXP+ as a “working prototype” mainly due to the poor build quality of the unit. I do hope that they will come sooner or later with a more robust version for cinema applications, as it is their main target now.
Price and Availability
SteadXP+ is available now, and you can order it directly on SteadXP’s website for $310/280€ without taxes, plus shipping.
I’d personally want to thank Sarah Leblanc, Maël Andre, and the entire team at Indie Rent for having us and letting us use their ARRI Alexa Mini LF. But also all the people that made this review possible, Guillaume Mattana, Benjamin Verrier, Pierre Barbier, Jake Russel, Polina Derkach, and Dan Kneece.
Music for the above video is courtesy of MusicVine.com – Get 25% off any Pay-Per-Use license with code C5D25 (valid for one use per customer)
Did you already shot with SteadXP+? What do you think of the stabilization results you can get out of SteadXP+? Do you use another type of stabilization software? Let us know in the comments down below!