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Camera Accessories

This phone stabilizer puts an end to shaky video (hands-on)

The MarSoar three-axis handheld gimbal isn't cheap, but its smooth results are priceless.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you shoot a lot of video with your phone, you may have considered picking up a motorized gimbal. It's a battery-operated handgrip that typically uses three motors to counteract shake and sudden movement to make your movies look smooth even while you're running.

There are several out there to pick from, but the MarSoar, currently a crowdfunding project on Indiegogo, addresses a few common problems I've come across with other models. I tested out a preproduction version that, despite the occasional quirky movement, worked as the campaign promises.

It's a compact gimbal with a comfortable contoured rubberized pistol grip. I was able to bike the streets of New York with it in my hand and I never felt like I would accidentally drop it. I also thought my phone might shake loose from the phone mount as I rattled over manhole covers and uneven and broken pavement, but it held tight. It will stretch to hold devices from 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm).

To stabilize bigger phones, other gimbals rely on a counterweight, but the MarSoar is able to adjust for different phones automatically. Similarly, there's no complicated calibration process to go through if the balance seems a little off. You just put in a phone and hit its Mode button three times.

The Mode button also allows you to choose how the gimbal behaves. One mode keeps your phone always pointed forward at your subject no matter how you hold the grip, while another will shoot wherever you aim it, so you can, for example, record straight down or up. The Portrait mode is the standout, though, making it possible to shoot stable vertical video -- a feature I haven't seen on other models.

MarSoar's makers claim the battery is good for up to 2 hours of continuous use, but since it's sealed in the grip, there's no way to swap out for a fresh one when it's drained. The MarSoar charges via a Mini-USB port at the bottom of the grip, so you could hook up an external battery.

There are also no controls to pan and tilt your phone while you keep the grip stationary. You can, of course, turn your body to pan the camera or even put it on a tripod or monopod using the mount in the grip, but the lack of tilt was frustrating. For example, without tilt I couldn't easily shoot the bottom of a skyscraper and slowly angle up to capture the top of the building and the sky without moving my arm and hand.

Again, the MarSoar addresses some issues I've experienced with similar gimbals, so you would be getting something different by contributing to this campaign. Backers can get one for $250 (approximately AU$335 or £190), which is good for this type of device, and it's expected to ship in October. There's also an optional GoPro mount available for $30. The retail price for the MarSoar will be $450 (about £340 or AU$600) once the campaign ends. That's high for the category, perhaps artificially so in order to scare up backers.

Editor's note: CNET's reporting on crowdfunding campaigns is not an endorsement of the project or its creators. Contributing to a crowdfunded project comes with risk. Before contributing to any campaign, read the crowdfunding site's policies, such as those for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, to find out your rights (and refund policies, or the lack thereof) before and after a campaign ends.