By Chris Oaten
My bread and butter work is long-term construction time lapse. A key element of this work is a stable platform for the camera. The more stable the better. One of my cameras, for instance, is on an eight-metre high scaffold so rigid I’ve not needed to stabilise the video rendered from its thousands of still frames. That’s not, however, a luxury you can always enjoy. Sometimes, the only spot for a camera can’t support much in the way of sturdy rigging and you just know the only way to deal with the wobbles will be in post.
Now, it’s worth noting that both Final Cut Pro and Premiere and After Effects are in my kit bag. However, I’d be happy to dump the Adobe apps from my Creative Cloud subscription and save on the subscription fee, especially as about the only time I fire them up is to stabilise video. Also, it’s a sledgehammer/walnut thing. If there’s a simpler way of doing it, I’m all for it.
Enter Mercalli SAL.
It does just one thing and, based on my first set of results it does it very well and, importantly, very simply. The interface is dead simple with a video preview window flanked by a Media Clips bin on the left and the Settings options to the right. Workflow is also simple. Import a clip, run the analysis, pick your stabilisation settings, apply and export.
Settings include Pan Shot Smoothing, Roll-Balance, Avoid Border and Dynamic Scaling as sliders; two stabilisation profiles, one a universal and the other for action cams; and three options for stabilisation method being Best Stabilisation, Best Resolution and Fix Border. For the results I need to accomplish, the default settings get the job done. The result speaks for itself. In the video sample, you can see the building under construction is pretty solid after stabilisation. What I’ve found is that combining Mercalli with Final Cut Pro’s stabilisation really does the trick, with Mercalli doing a good job of fixing the worst of it and Final Cut Pro’s stabilisation really locking it down.
For fun and to push Mercalli SAL’s capability to an illogical extreme, I tried a handheld hyperlapse capture passing through and under architectural details in a manner that would send After Effects apoplectic. The result? Not great but surprisingly good. Indeed, sped up by 400%, the clip would be useful in an appropriate context, by which I mean of course not cut in with clips of exacting production value.
Complaints? Yeah. Mercalli SAL can’t smoothly preview 4K clips. Takes usually about three or four seconds before the video jams up, even though the playhead keeps tracking. Not a dealbreaker. Just annoying. Otherwise, no serious usability issues.
And is it better than Final Cut Pro’s stabilisation? Absolutely. Final Cut Pro has a nasty habit of drifting the image once it’s applied stabilisation, which would be OK if you could just check of the Tripod Mode option to lock the image in place. Except, for reasons I’ve never understood, that Tripod Mode option is sometimes simply not available, rendering the stabilisation useless.
In the end, what Mercalli SAL offers is a relatively low-cost package that achieves exactly what I need it to do with the minimum of fuss. It is available for USD$119 at www.prodad.com
Chris Oaten can be contacted at Insight Visuals via firstname.lastname@example.org