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Review: proDAD Mercalli SAL for Mac

Paul Schmutzler demos and discusses the first-ever Mac version of proDAD's popular and powerful Mercalli stabilization solution.

Mercalli Stabilization in Action

Let’s jump into it. The top two clips shown in Figure 5 (below) are some POV cycling footage I got from a good friend of mine, Rob Gillen, who went on a ride a couple of years back with some friends and a GoPro. He gave me some really terrible bouncy footage to play with. You can see me preview the footage at the 1:44 mark in the tutorial video. The first one is not too bad, because he's not going too quickly. You can see in the clip that the road vibration is transferring all the way up into the lens, making it pretty bouncy. Plus, the rocking back and forth from his peddling makes a big difference too.

Figure 5. POV cycling clips for stabilization

You’ll also notice that, as another rider comes into the frame, you get a little bit of the familiar, Jell-O rolling shutter effect. Mercalli calls it the rolling shutter skew, but in the clip you can see every once in a while that some of his frame, his legs, and the tires deform in an unnatural way. That effect comes from the shutter speed of the GoPro.

The second clip, as you can see in the preview, is essentially more of the same, but it’s got a different quality to it. It has a lot more harsh vibration in it, so it’s going to provide more of a challenge for Mercalli.

The new few clips are all of a waterfall (see the preview) that I shot from a wooden platform where there was a lot of foot traffic, and it caused a lot of vibration and shaking in the tripod. You can see on the edges of the frames how the camera is just constantly bouncing around. There was really no way for me to avoid that, so the best thing I could do was shoot it as steady as I could, and then try to fix it later.

The final clip--trigger warning--has a snake in it (preview here). If you don’t like snakes, don’t watch this one. I did get a pretty cool shot of this snake at the waterfall and I just couldn’t pass up getting this clip. It’s a very steady clip already, except you'll notice there's just a little bit of a camera movement to it. I felt like this snake did such a great job posing for me and staying still that I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted everything to stay rock steady in this shot, so I decided to throw the plug-in at it and see what it could do.

Comparing Mercalli and Built-in NLE Stabilization

Back to our cycling footage. You’ll notice in Figure 5 that these two clips are very long--nearly 11 minutes and 26 minutes long, respectively. Those are really long clips for anybody to try to stabilize, start to finish. So what I did was, I first ran them through my favorite NLE, Adobe Premiere Pro CC, to see what its built-in stabilization would do.

You probably know that stabilization plug-ins first have to analyze the footage. They look at each frame. They determine what moves, and they pick out points that are stable, and they try to move, crop, rotate, or do whatever they need to the footage to make it stable in their results. A lot of times, that can end up with a pretty bad conglomeration of things. You end up losing a lot of footage because it has to crop so much, or it rotates it and it looks goofy.

Premiere Pro took 4.5 hours just to analyze these clips. Any time I wanted to make a change in the settings, it had to start analyzing all over again. That’s not efficient or practical. When I ran these same clips through Mercalli, it took 24 minutes. What’s more, Mercalli allowed me to make a lot of changes, basically from the pan shots moving on down, without having to reanalyze the clip.

The exceptions are the Stabilization Profile settings shown in Figure 6 (below). You have Action Cam and Intelli-Universal, which is basically if you're using an action cam or any other camera those are the settings you want to start with. Then you can correct for CMOS issues (Figure 7, below Figure 6), plus you can correct for a specific camera, which is what I’ve done in Figure 8 (below Figure 7) by choosing the GoPro Hero 3.

Figure 6. Choose a Stabilization Profile here.

Figure 7. Tell Mercalli to correct for CMOS issues here.

Figure 8. Correct for your specific camera here.

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