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Build Your Own Steadicam

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the also-useful-for-mugger-whacking dept.

Movies 293

John Jorsett writes "Always wanted to film one of those cool 'walking' sequences, where the camera stays rock-steady as you trudge along? Well, so did Johnny Chung Lee, except he didn't want to lay out major cash for a professional Steadicam rig, so he built his own for $14. He further claims you can do it in about 20 minutes if you know what you're doing. What more could a cheap, impatient Spielberg wannabe ask for?"

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293 comments

I don't know... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822698)

How about talent?

Re:I don't know... (3, Funny)

geeber (520231) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822980)

Well, it's not like Spielberg himself has all that much...

Easy Question (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822702)

"What more could a cheap, impatient Spielberg wannabe ask for?"

Talent.

Re:Easy Question (4, Funny)

Monkelectric (546685) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822756)

this isn't really new, I studied under the great Steven Speilbergo and we used these all the time.

Re:Easy Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822770)

how is this insightful?
one of you moderators needs to reply and explain to me in more detail one insightful aspect to this comment. that way your mod points can be taken off as well.

Re:Easy Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822789)

Or more bandwidth...

MODS ON CRACK (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822802)

How is the parent insightful and at +4 while the previous post (the fp) which says the same thing is at -1 and modded as redundant? The parent is redundant and the fp is insightful.

Re:MODS ON CRACK (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822986)

Because morons with mod points have their preferences set to
view newest posts first.

Re:Easy Question (1)

SphericalCrusher (739397) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822822)

Or a 1000 deck that doesn't cost $1,000. OR a Sequel system.

Re:Easy Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822829)

learn to spell *vise*.

build your own jihad (-1, Offtopic)

digs dig dug (763162) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822703)

anti-slash [anti-slash.org]

First steady post! (-1, Offtopic)

bangzilla (534214) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822705)

Yeah!

In response to "What more could a cheap ..." (2, Funny)

mhesseltine (541806) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822707)

What more could a cheap, impatient Spielberg wannabe ask for?"

How about a better room to film in than the bathroom? Seriously, are we going to be expected to line up around the block for "SteadyShit"

Re:In response to "What more could a cheap ..." (2, Insightful)

daviddennis (10926) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822740)

Actually, what I noticed was that he really, really loves chopping people's heads off, which might not be the most brainy scheme for an actual production.

That nonwithstanding, this is still a pretty cool idea. I may ask my shop guy to give it a try since it would be really cool to have that for my XL1 - and he's right, these things really are pretty pricey.

D

Does what it says it does (5, Informative)

capz loc (752940) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822709)

I stumbled upon this site about a year ago and, being an ametur filmmaker, decided to give it a try. The parts were cheap and it really was quite easy to put together. But don't expect it to be perfect. It takes a little while to get the feel of it, and even then you won't be getting perfectly steady shots while running quickly. But for the price, it's tough to beat.

Re:Does what it says it does (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822842)

By using a cam corder with image stablization with this device I would think the cam corder would correct the shaking the device dosen't.

However the results would obveously get progressivly worse as you add shaking.
But if you don't push your luck the device and image stabilisation together could produce perfict results.
At least I think so....

Re:Does what it says it does (4, Informative)

capz loc (752940) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822919)

You raise a good point, but I will have to repectfully disagree with you. In-camera image stabilization corrects small jitters, like the natural motion of your hand when you are trying to hold the camera steady. This device eliminates the small shakes, so you could concievably use this as a replacement for image stabilization. When you are running while holding a camera, the shakes are much larger than even the most advanced camera stabilization can account for. This type of steadycam can eliminate a good portion of this motion, but in my experience image stabilization does not have the capability to correct the rest.

Tourist... (4, Funny)

Bl33d4merican (723119) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822713)

YEAY!...Now I can look even stupider when I visit other places and take meaningless film I'll never watch again.

Pretty cool stuff (3, Interesting)

Saint Stephen (19450) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822721)

The videos are pretty interesting. Sony should make a commercial version of this, if they can make it for $14. Isn't it amazing how much cooler things sound with a soundtrack.

Re:Pretty cool stuff (4, Funny)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822750)

Except that shipping anything with such and odd shape with a dead-weight attached is going to be more expensive to ship than $14.

Re:Pretty cool stuff (1)

ashot (599110) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822780)

thats silly; they don't have to ship it pre-assembled. and it doesn't have to be 14, it can be 100.

Re:Pretty cool stuff (2, Informative)

sakusha (441986) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822781)

Yeah, they do make commercial verisons of this. Well, not Sony, but there are plenty of cheapo handheld cantilever camera platforms for sale. They're useful, but not all that useful.

If you REALLY want to impress people, try building your own camera crane [creativemac.com] , bonus geek points for computer motion control.

Re:Pretty cool stuff (4, Informative)

beckett (27524) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822900)

Steadycam does: the Steadycam Jr. [smsprod.com] It even has an external LCD monitor.

the story's better at memepool. (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822727)

more links and such.

memepool [memepool.com]

Re:the story's better at memepool. (5, Informative)

dwave (701156) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822771)

There you can't post and complain about incomplete coverage. But the link to a site [homebuiltstabilizers.com] about home made stabilizers should have been mentioned.

Re:the story's better at memepool. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822988)

Also, my day would not have been complete without seeing this. [shomertec.com]

ANOTHER CHINK COPIES AMERICAN INVENTION (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822728)

When will it stop?

Re:ANOTHER CHINK COPIES AMERICAN INVENTION (0, Offtopic)

seekr_hidr (588453) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822745)

Come on! We don't need racism here in Slashdot... Keep this kind of comments to yourself....

Re:ANOTHER CHINK COPIES AMERICAN INVENTION (1, Interesting)

rossz (67331) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822782)

Especially since the original steadicam design was based on a principle obtained from the "rickshaw".

I used to work for the company that made the steadicam (Cinema Products). But that was a long-ass time ago.

stedicam+phone (5, Funny)

fermion (181285) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822729)

These are cheap enough to use with a picture phone. And with the inverting bracket, we can now have upskirt shots without the blur!

Re:stedicam+phone (4, Funny)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822759)

Though with all that pipework and the dumbbell, you would be hard-pressed not to make your picturephone look like some sort of S&M apparatus, or a sex toy on Viagra.

Re:stedicam+phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822926)

Two dumbbells, the one attached to the device and the one using it.

Re:stedicam+phone (5, Funny)

TummyX (84871) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822958)

I would be able to see the forest, if all these damn trees weren't blocking my view!

Given the context, I really hope that that is just your signature.

What I'd like to know... (5, Funny)

PS-SCUD (601089) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822731)

How'd he manage to build it without Duct tape!? Now that's impressive.

Re:What I'd like to know... (0, Flamebait)

cybersaga (451046) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822806)

you must be Canadian...

Re:What I'd like to know... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8823004)

Canadians are pretty fucking stupid. I like how they think Toronto is a world class city.

Stupid fucks that they are.

Re:What I'd like to know... (1)

name773 (696972) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822857)

he probably used epoxy putty

Hey a DUAL Purpose steadicam (4, Funny)

MajorDick (735308) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822732)

Wow thats got a dual purpose, works to keep your movement from interefeing with the shot and if the actors get out of line you can break it down and beat em with the pipe, also works great for self-defense when shooting ghetto style.

Re:Hey a DUAL Purpose steadicam (3, Funny)

name773 (696972) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822865)

when shooting ghetto style
i'm pretty sure that has nothing to do with cameras

Re:Hey a DUAL Purpose steadicam (1)

MtnMan1021 (47935) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822934)

nah, when you're shooting ghetto style you have to hold it horizontally and push it, for extra oomph.

Ouch... (3, Interesting)

_LFTL_ (409654) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822733)

Posted to /. with videos on the page to show sample footage. I'd say he's about to get hosed, but he is at CMU so I doubt it'll blink.

As I was reading his setup I was really expecting his footage to look like crap, but after watching the sample they really are incredibly smooth given that it was only $14 to make. Props.

oh, that's easy... (1, Redundant)

kaan (88626) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822735)

"What more could a cheap, impatient Spielberg wannabe ask for?"

how about this?

"extra bandwidth to handle the impending server doom after somebody posted my page on /."

(in all fairness, his site loaded pretty quickly for me, but given the voracious behavior of /. readers, I'm sure it won't take long to bring his server to its knees.)

Re:oh, that's easy... - oblinktext - (-1, Redundant)

the_illuminatus (205461) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822746)


$14 Steady-Cam
(the poor man's Steadicam®)
By Johnny Chung Lee
Why build a cheap steadycam?
Steadycams (or camera stabilizers) are attachtments used to capture smooth looking video even when the camera and camera operator are in motion. The camera operator may walk (or even jog), move through tight hallways and doorways, and even climb up and down stairs without shaking the camera. Unfortunately, professional steadycams cost around $1500. Even the cheap 3rd party ones cost $600+. Not exactly a bargain considering many of us use cameras in that price range. So, I decided to make my own version. It turns out, it only costs $14. Not too bad. And I'll show you how to build your own right here (or you may simply buy one from me). Whether you are an aspiring filmmaker, a videographer, the family documentarian, or just want more utility out of your video camera, you'll appreciate a steadycam.

If you know what you are doing, you can probably built one of these in about 20 minutes. It might take you an hour if you have to read this web page while you do it and aren't very good with tools.

This steadycam works with anything that has a tripod mount. However, I would not recommend attaching anything heavier than 5-6 pounds (without modification). This is because as camera weight increases, so does the likely hood that sudden movements will restult in physcial damage to the camera base (physics 101: larger mass = higher moment of inertia).
Tools
The main tools you'll need to get your hands on are a drill and a stationary vice. It's possible to do it without the vice, but it's far more difficult and potentially dangerous. You can buy a vice for about $15 from Lowes and it's well worth the money if you are going to do any future projects. It's meant to be table mounted, but I just bolted it to a big board that I can stand on while I use it. Mounting it is important. I tried doing this once without mounting it (didn't have spare board at the time) . It was a p-a-i-n.
You'll need drill and a 1/4" drill bit that can go into galvanized steel. So, cheap wood bits will probably not survive this project. This happens to be a very nice drill in this picture, but any power drill will do.
You also need a wrench, screwdriver (type depends on the bolts you get), and a hammer. I had a little combo thingy I got from the dollar store. It actually works pretty well because the wrench part is a little bit clawed, so it grips pipes really nicely.
Parts
Pipes
First you'll need three pipes. I like to use 1/2" galvanized steel. It's strong, threaded at the ends, and a comfortable thickness. You can use any length pipes you like, but this project uses three 12" pipes (about $1.50 from Lowes).
End caps
You'll also need three end caps. You can get away with just two, but the last one is used to cover up those nasty sharp threads on the end of the pipes. I've gotten cuts while building these things by accidentally grabbing the threads too hard . These are about 80 cents a piece. Make sure they fit the pipes, 1/2" diameter.

Tee
Basic T-joint. Again, make sure it fits the pipes. If Lowes doesn't have this, try Noland plumbing near the downtown mall. About $1.30.

Weight
This is just a simple barbell weight from a sports store. The one shown in the picture is 2.5 pounds, but you can buy any weight you want. But, anything heavier than 5 pounds starts getting too heavy to carry around. Get a weight that has a 1 1/4" diameter hole. These are about $3.
Other small parts
Here's a break down of what you'll need:
A - two 1-1/2" 1/4" machine bolts
B - one 1/4" wing nut
C - three 1-1/2" diameter flange washers for 1/4" bolts
D - three lock washers for 1/4" bolts.
E - two 1/4" machine nuts.

All these together costs about two dollars. You can find these for really cheap at Philips Hardware. Lowes charges a lot for the specialty washers and nuts.

Total Cost:

3 x $1.50 + 3 x $0.80 + $1.50 + $2.00 + $3.00 = $13.40

There you go. Can't get much cheaper than that!
The handle
This first step is pretty easy. Just attach the tee and end cap to one of the pipes to form a basic handle. Feel free to tighten these parts together as much as you like. I recommend using the vice and a wrench. Don't use your hands, you'll just hurt yourself and not get it tight enough.
Drilling holes in the end caps

Put one of the end caps in the vice as shown. Then drill a 1/4" hole in the center of the cap. It's doesn't have to be perfectly in the center, but the closer the better. You really want to use the vice because you're drilling through a quarter inch of galvanized steel. It's enough to bring weak drills to a dead stop and will definitely do a number on your hand if you just try to hold it. Not mention it can get hot.

I like using a slow speed because when the bit comes out the other side it'll jerk from grabbing onto the the metal. It's far more pleasant to have a slow jerk than to have the drill suddenly fly out of your hand.

Do this in a place that's easy to clean up. You'll make lots of metal shards. Outside is where I did it. And don't use you fingers to wipe away the shreds!!! They'll get in your skin. Use a brush, or blow the shards away.

Do this for two end caps.
The mounting
The mounting requires the parts in the picture on the left. Bolt, two lock washers, flange washer, nut, wing nut, and a drilled end cap. Put a lock washer on the bolt and the put it through the end cap with the bottom of the bolt coming out of the top of the outside of the end cap like in the middle picture. Put another lock washer on and then the nut. Put the end cap in the vice and tighten with a wrench. The lock washer will keep the bolt from turning.

You'll want to make this really tight because this is where your camera attaches. You want it tight not because it'll fall off or anything, but because putting the camera on and taking it off requires lots of turning action. If it loosens, the bolt will pivot around as will your camera making hard it to keep still. If this happens while you're filming, you'll have to stop and find a wrench.

Use a hammer to dent the center of the flange washer. You can do this by putting the washer across the hole of the weight, putting the head of the bolt on the hole, and hammer the bolt. You want to have the center area of the washer higher than the rim. So when you attached the mount to the camera, as shown in the right picture, the rim of the washer pushes up against the area around the bolt. This washer will distribute the force away from the single point of contact. So, the wider the washer the better. If you don't use the washer, the camera will shake a lot right at this connection as well as putting a great deal of stress on this one tiny spot that could damage your camera. So if you loose this washer, I don't recommend using this steady cam without it.

Use your fingers to tighten the wing nut on the mounting. DO NOT use a wrench. You may risk stripping the threads on your camera or breaking the tripod mount. Both are equally bad.
The base

You'll need the barbell weight and the parts shown in the pictures below. They'll go together in the pattern shown in the next picture. The bolt goes through two washers that sandwich the weight. Then stick on the end cap, put on the lock washer, and then finally the nut. Hand tighten the parts until they are snug.

The lock washer deep inside the end cap will keep a grip on the nut. So, you don't have to stick pliers down there to turn it. Just turn the cap. Stick the cap in the vice shown on the bottom left. Then you can use the screwdriver to tighten the bolt, or just grab the weight and turn it. The weight should turn the bolt, and the vice will keep the cap from turning.

I like to tighten it until the outer washer starts to bend inwards. This reduces the amount the bolt sticks out - good for when you want to put it down on the base. If you do use the base as stand (not highly recommended because it's easy to knock over), you can buy rounded bolts and little rubber feet. These will make a much nicer base that won't wobble. You can tell I like to do this and I say it easy to knock over from experience. My camera still seems to work okay, though.

All together now...

Lastly, take the remaining two pipes, screw them into the T joint of the handle, and attached the base and the mounting. And your done! You can tighten these parts as much as you'd like. Either give them a good hand tightening or the full fledged vice and wrench tightening. The only reason not to do the vice-wrench tighten is if you want to be able to collapse this or swap components. You can vary the pipe lengths and barbell weight however you like.

I would probably refer to this combination as the sport model. Mostly because it's balance point (with camera) is near the T-joint and can be spun around by the handle pretty well. It's really agile. Longer bars and heavier weights change the handling.

When you store it without the camera, the mounting washer is left hanging on the end. I recommend taking off the the wing nut, putting on the washer, and then screwing the wing nut back on. That will help keep it from getting lost.
Using the steady-cam

The side handle is used to stabilize side-to-side rocking. The vertical shaking is pretty much dampened by the weight. You may hold it however you'd like. The way I like holding it is shown in the picture. How you use it is 80% of the smoothness. This even is true for the professional stuff with all the fancy shocks and hydraulics. Don't expect this thing to perform miracles, you have to practice using your arms and body to create a smooth motion. Watch your hands while you walk, and see how level you can keep them relative to the ground. Keep your legs bent and learn how to "glide". I talked with someone who has used professional steady-cams and they said this was, "really, just as good." Getting good results is not so much about the equipment, but how you use it. That's really true about everything.

Here is some example footage of the steadycam in use. These are for educational and demostrational purposes only. NOTE: These samples, as well as all of my own films, were captured with a $300 Sony Digital 8 Camcorder (the cheapest digital camcorder you can buy).
Duration/Size:0:13/617KB
Description: Sprinting down a hallway with camera about 3-6 inches from the ground. Uses the inverting bracket to position the camera near the ground.
Notes: The vertical motion is clean, even around the turn and up the ramp. There is a little side-to-side motion because I was only using one hand and not using the side handle. I did this run cold without any practice. You should really practice a scene a few times and get used to what you'll have to do before you try to record it.
Duration/Size:0:33/1.2MB
Description: Tracking fast moving/running subjects playing soccer.
Notes: This involves running along side and around soccer a player during practice. The steadycam and the inverting bracket are the only pieces of equipment used. Also demonstrates some of the dangers of field recording in active environments.
Music Credit: Squirrel Nut Zippers
Duration/Size:1:00/1.4MB
Description: Competitive squash player practicing. The reason she is hitting softly is because she would probably kill me otherwise. :)
Notes: Lots of circular panning around a moving subject. Uses inverting bracket to dramatize viewing angle.
Music Credit: YoYo Ma
Duration/Size:1:31/4MB
Description: Tracking a subject walking through various environments.
Notes: Fairly complex camera control, some not acheivable with many commerical stablizers. Rising from ground level to shoulder level while in motion, steep camera pitching, stair navigation, circular panning around subject while ascending a stairwell.
Music Credit: Take Care of My Cat Soundtrack
Optional add-ons
These are some additional things you might want to consider making because they make the steady cam more versatile.

Inverting bracket
The bad thing about the steady cam by itself is that it makes it very hard to get near ground shots. It's hard to get a shot running along the ground moving or looking up at a person. So, you can build a little inverting bracket that wraps around the camera and allows it to be attached on the top rather than the bottom. The camera in the picture is a 35mm still camera, but the idea is the same.

You can buy the aluminum bar at Lowes, cut it to length with a hacksaw, drill the holes, and bend it using the vice. Make sure the top hole is exactly above the bottom hole, otherwise it becomes off balance. Use a ruler to make measurements. You'll loose about 1/8" of an inch in the bend so be careful and account for that. It's also much easier to get a controlled bend if you make a little notch with the hacksaw on the inside where each bend should be.
Alternative weight and bar length
Here I used a 24" tube at the bottom and a 5 pound weight. This produces smoother shots for vertically oriented movement. Tilting the camera is much harder because the heavier weight and longer arm. So, if you want more agility, use the sport version with all 12" bars and the 2-1/2 pound weight. Having a variety of lengths and weights is a reason you may not want to tighten everything with a wrench. Good hand tightening is usually good enough to keep everything together for a days worth of shooting. This version is pretty tall. You can see it reaches almost up to the light switch. Using the inverting bracket, you can get nice near ground running video like the stuff above.

Large sled platform
Here's a simple way to add a big platform to the top of the steadycam for use with larger cameras (or simply so you can turn the mounting bolt rather than turning the camera). Cut a rectangular piece of wood at least as large as the base of your camera. Buy a 1/2" flange to replace the mounting cap on top. Put screws through 3 of the 4 holes of the flange into the wood plaform. Drill a 1/4" hole all the way through the platform where the 4th hole in the flange is and use that for your mounting bolt. You can see semi-top and semi-bottom views of this on the left. This is a quick and easy way to really beef up the camera support for bigger cameras. Unfortunately, you can't the use inverting bracket in combination with this.
Would You Like To Buy One?
I have stopped selling these until Summer of 2004 at the earliest. I'm away on a research sabbatical and can't bring my shop with me.

In the mean time, you can browse some testimonials/comments I've recieved.

Re:oh, that's easy... - oblinktext - (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822889)

Do this in a place that's easy to clean up. You'll make lots of metal shards. Outside is where I did it. And don't use you fingers to wipe away the shreds!!! They'll get in your skin. Use a brush, or blow the shards away.

Or, collect them and dispose of them properly so they don't get in other people's (or animals) skin, etc. Sheesh.

Also, isn't this just a nice weighted handle? It doesn't appear to be a dynamic balance [steadicam-ops.com] . Or does it actually have moving points?

Re:oh, that's easy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822824)

Eh. He's at CMU. I'd expect they could handle a /.ing, and they have before...

Soo.

Toilet (-1, Flamebait)

Jesus IS the Devil (317662) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822739)

What I wanna know is, why is that guy holding his steadycam near the toilet? Is he filming his lady friend running toward the potty while taking her pants off... for that inevitable diarhea?

Re:Toilet (1)

Darth Maul (19860) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822910)

What's even more scary is realizing that bathroom in the picture is in the dorm you stayed in freshman year.

I went to CMU, and I'm pretty sure that's Hammerschlag.

Re:Toilet (1)

Cyno01 (573917) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822927)

Its a obviously a dorm, probably the only place with a mirror large enough to do that picture is the bathroom.

Lego steadicam (5, Interesting)

dead nancy (239321) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822741)

LEGO (C) Hand Held Stabilizer [astercity.net]

xox,
Dead Nancy

Re:Lego steadicam (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822810)

The smooth rooftop pan from Expiration [imdb.com] was filmed with a motorised base made from Lego.

Good film btw.

Aliens (2, Interesting)

The AtomicPunk (450829) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822744)

I always wanted to use one of those industrial strength ones to build the machine gun supporting apparatus from Aliens. :)

Inventor of the original Steadicam (-1, Informative)

vudufixit (581911) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822749)

Was Garrett Brown. Moderators: please don't mark as "redundant" since at the time of this posting, no one else has mentioned this.

Note to Moderators (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822779)

Please mark as "Overrated" due to poster's plea not to be moderated as redundant and the fact it's boring and not really related to this discussion at all.

Re:Inventor of the original Steadicam (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822792)

tool

Re:Inventor of the original Steadicam (1)

dwave (701156) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822819)

I wonder what Garrett Brown thinks about about Dogma95 [dogme95.dk] .

Re:Inventor of the original Steadicam (1)

vudufixit (581911) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822844)

I know that some directors in their DVD commentaries have lamented about the overuse of steadicam and the excessively smooth camera movements it can create.

Steadicams are OUT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822751)

Everyone knows that REALITY is IN, HOT, HAPPENING... NOW! And what's more real than reality? Reality through a shaking camera! That's REAL.

Text-only mirror in case of slashdotting (1, Informative)

-kertrats- (718219) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822755)

Site is already loading slow, in firefox at least, and having half a dozen videos on it isnt exactly intelligent for front-page /. --- $14 Steady-Cam (the poor man's Steadicam®) By Johnny Chung Lee
Why build a cheap steadycam?
Steadycams (or camera stabilizers) are attachtments used to capture smooth looking video even when the camera and camera operator are in motion. The camera operator may walk (or even jog), move through tight hallways and doorways, and even climb up and down stairs without shaking the camera. Unfortunately, professional steadycams cost around $1500. Even the cheap 3rd party ones cost $600+. Not exactly a bargain considering many of us use cameras in that price range. So, I decided to make my own version. It turns out, it only costs $14. Not too bad. And I'll show you how to build your own right here (or you may simply buy one from me). Whether you are an aspiring filmmaker, a videographer, the family documentarian, or just want more utility out of your video camera, you'll appreciate a steadycam.

If you know what you are doing, you can probably built one of these in about 20 minutes. It might take you an hour if you have to read this web page while you do it and aren't very good with tools.

This steadycam works with anything that has a tripod mount. However, I would not recommend attaching anything heavier than 5-6 pounds (without modification). This is because as camera weight increases, so does the likely hood that sudden movements will restult in physcial damage to the camera base (physics 101: larger mass = higher moment of inertia).
Tools

The main tools you'll need to get your hands on are a drill and a stationary vice. It's possible to do it without the vice, but it's far more difficult and potentially dangerous. You can buy a vice for about $15 from Lowes and it's well worth the money if you are going to do any future projects. It's meant to be table mounted, but I just bolted it to a big board that I can stand on while I use it. Mounting it is important. I tried doing this once without mounting it (didn't have spare board at the time) . It was a p-a-i-n.
You'll need drill and a 1/4" drill bit that can go into galvanized steel. So, cheap wood bits will probably not survive this project. This happens to be a very nice drill in this picture, but any power drill will do.
You also need a wrench, screwdriver (type depends on the bolts you get), and a hammer. I had a little combo thingy I got from the dollar store. It actually works pretty well because the wrench part is a little bit clawed, so it grips pipes really nicely.
Parts
Pipes
First you'll need three pipes. I like to use 1/2" galvanized steel. It's strong, threaded at the ends, and a comfortable thickness. You can use any length pipes you like, but this project uses three 12" pipes (about $1.50 from Lowes).
End caps You'll also need three end caps. You can get away with just two, but the last one is used to cover up those nasty sharp threads on the end of the pipes. I've gotten cuts while building these things by accidentally grabbing the threads too hard . These are about 80 cents a piece. Make sure they fit the pipes, 1/2" diameter.

Tee
Basic T-joint. Again, make sure it fits the pipes. If Lowes doesn't have this, try Noland plumbing near the downtown mall. About $1.30.


Weight This is just a simple barbell weight from a sports store. The one shown in the picture is 2.5 pounds, but you can buy any weight you want. But, anything heavier than 5 pounds starts getting too heavy to carry around. Get a weight that has a 1 1/4" diameter hole. These are about $3. Other small parts Here's a break down of what you'll need: A - two 1-1/2" 1/4" machine bolts B - one 1/4" wing nut C - three 1-1/2" diameter flange washers for 1/4" bolts D - three lock washers for 1/4" bolts. E - two 1/4" machine nuts.

All these together costs about two dollars. You can find these for really cheap at Philips Hardware. Lowes charges a lot for the specialty washers and nuts.

Total Cost:

3 x $1.50 + 3 x $0.80 + $1.50 + $2.00 + $3.00 = $13.40

There you go. Can't get much cheaper than that!
The handle
This first step is pretty easy. Just attach the tee and end cap to one of the pipes to form a basic handle. Feel free to tighten these parts together as much as you like. I recommend using the vice and a wrench. Don't use your hands, you'll just hurt yourself and not get it tight enough.
Drilling holes in the end caps

Put one of the end caps in the vice as shown. Then drill a 1/4" hole in the center of the cap. It's doesn't have to be perfectly in the center, but the closer the better. You really want to use the vice because you're drilling through a quarter inch of galvanized steel. It's enough to bring weak drills to a dead stop and will definitely do a number on your hand if you just try to hold it. Not mention it can get hot.

I like using a slow speed because when the bit comes out the other side it'll jerk from grabbing onto the the metal. It's far more pleasant to have a slow jerk than to have the drill suddenly fly out of your hand.

Do this in a place that's easy to clean up. You'll make lots of metal shards. Outside is where I did it. And don't use you fingers to wipe away the shreds!!! They'll get in your skin. Use a brush, or blow the shards away.

Do this for two end caps.
The mounting
The mounting requires the parts in the picture on the left. Bolt, two lock washers, flange washer, nut, wing nut, and a drilled end cap. Put a lock washer on the bolt and the put it through the end cap with the bottom of the bolt coming out of the top of the outside of the end cap like in the middle picture. Put another lock washer on and then the nut. Put the end cap in the vice and tighten with a wrench. The lock washer will keep the bolt from turning.

You'll want to make this really tight because this is where your camera attaches. You want it tight not because it'll fall off or anything, but because putting the camera on and taking it off requires lots of turning action. If it loosens, the bolt will pivot around as will your camera making hard it to keep still. If this happens while you're filming, you'll have to stop and find a wrench.

Use a hammer to dent the center of the flange washer. You can do this by putting the washer across the hole of the weight, putting the head of the bolt on the hole, and hammer the bolt. You want to have the center area of the washer higher than the rim. So when you attached the mount to the camera, as shown in the right picture, the rim of the washer pushes up against the area around the bolt. This washer will distribute the force away from the single point of contact. So, the wider the washer the better. If you don't use the washer, the camera will shake a lot right at this connection as well as putting a great deal of stress on this one tiny spot that could damage your camera. So if you loose this washer, I don't recommend using this steady cam without it.

Use your fingers to tighten the wing nut on the mounting. DO NOT use a wrench. You may risk stripping the threads on your camera or breaking the tripod mount. Both are equally bad.
The base

You'll need the barbell weight and the parts shown in the pictures below. They'll go together in the pattern shown in the next picture. The bolt goes through two washers that sandwich the weight. Then stick on the end cap, put on the lock washer, and then finally the nut. Hand tighten the parts until they are snug.

The lock washer deep inside the end cap will keep a grip on the nut. So, you don't have to stick pliers down there to turn it. Just turn the cap. Stick the cap in the vice shown on the bottom left. Then you can use the screwdriver to tighten the bolt, or just grab the weight and turn it. The weight should turn the bolt, and the vice will keep the cap from turning.

I like to tighten it until the outer washer starts to bend inwards. This reduces the amount the bolt sticks out - good for when you want to put it down on the base. If you do use the base as stand (not highly recommended because it's easy to knock over), you can buy rounded bolts and little rubber feet. These will make a much nicer base that won't wobble. You can tell I like to do this and I say it easy to knock over from experience. My camera still seems to work okay, though.

All together now...

Lastly, take the remaining two pipes, screw them into the T joint of the handle, and attached the base and the mounting. And your done! You can tighten these parts as much as you'd like. Either give them a good hand tightening or the full fledged vice and wrench tightening. The only reason not to do the vice-wrench tighten is if you want to be able to collapse this or swap components. You can vary the pipe lengths and barbell weight however you like.

I would probably refer to this combination as the sport model. Mostly because it's balance point (with camera) is near the T-joint and can be spun around by the handle pretty well. It's really agile. Longer bars and heavier weights change the handling.

When you store it without the camera, the mounting washer is left hanging on the end. I recommend taking off the the wing nut, putting on the washer, and then screwing the wing nut back on. That will help keep it from getting lost. Using the steady-cam

The side handle is used to stabilize side-to-side rocking. The vertical shaking is pretty much dampened by the weight. You may hold it however you'd like. The way I like holding it is shown in the picture. How you use it is 80% of the smoothness. This even is true for the professional stuff with all the fancy shocks and hydraulics. Don't expect this thing to perform miracles, you have to practice using your arms and body to create a smooth motion. Watch your hands while you walk, and see how level you can keep them relative to the ground. Keep your legs bent and learn how to "glide". I talked with someone who has used professional steady-cams and they said this was, "really, just as good." Getting good results is not so much about the equipment, but how you use it. That's really true about everything.

Inverting bracket
The bad thing about the steady cam by itself is that it makes it very hard to get near ground shots. It's hard to get a shot running along the ground moving or looking up at a person. So, you can build a little inverting bracket that wraps around the camera and allows it to be attached on the top rather than the bottom. The camera in the picture is a 35mm still camera, but the idea is the same.

You can buy the aluminum bar at Lowes, cut it to length with a hacksaw, drill the holes, and bend it using the vice. Make sure the top hole is exactly above the bottom hole, otherwise it becomes off balance. Use a ruler to make measurements. You'll loose about 1/8" of an inch in the bend so be careful and account for that. It's also much easier to get a controlled bend if you make a little notch with the hacksaw on the inside where each bend should be.
Alternative weight and bar length Here I used a 24" tube at the bottom and a 5 pound weight. This produces smoother shots for vertically oriented movement. Tilting the camera is much harder because the heavier weight and longer arm. So, if you want more agility, use the sport version with all 12" bars and the 2-1/2 pound weight. Having a variety of lengths and weights is a reason you may not want to tighten everything with a wrench. Good hand tightening is usually good enough to keep everything together for a days worth of shooting. This version is pretty tall. You can see it reaches almost up to the light switch. Using the inverting bracket, you can get nice near ground running video like the stuff above.

Large sled platform
Here's a simple way to add a big platform to the top of the steadycam for use with larger cameras (or simply so you can turn the mounting bolt rather than turning the camera). Cut a rectangular piece of wood at least as large as the base of your camera. Buy a 1/2" flange to replace the mounting cap on top. Put screws through 3 of the 4 holes of the flange into the wood plaform. Drill a 1/4" hole all the way through the platform where the 4th hole in the flange is and use that for your mounting bolt. You can see semi-top and semi-bottom views of this on the left. This is a quick and easy way to really beef up the camera support for bigger cameras. Unfortunately, you can't the use inverting bracket in combination with this.
Would You Like To Buy One? I have stopped selling these until Summer of 2004 at the earliest. I'm away on a research sabbatical and can't bring my shop with me. In the mean time, you can browse some testimonials/comments I've recieved.

It real (and really cheap) (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822769)

Saw this in RES magazine last year. Built one in under 30 mintues and with exactly $16 worth of parts. It actually works too, though you do have to practice with it to get good at controling your own body movement. Also, I reccomend making the lower section about 50% longer than the upper section to further even out movement.

Re:It real (and really cheap) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822855)

Did you sue for the extra $2?

Maybe a class action if that's what it cost other people too.

Re:It real (and really cheap) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822880)

Did you sue for the extra $2?

now that was unwarrented. i know it's an American site, but you can't just assume that he's an American.

Re:It real (and really cheap) (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822920)

Dude, he's an anonymous coward. How could he not be an American?

Yes, I'm from the U.S. too.

Girl Walking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822784)

Don't really have the urge to build one... can I just see some more video of the girl?

Spielberg wannabe? (3, Funny)

chgros (690878) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822787)

Actually, more of a Kubrick wannabe

obligatory Sam Raimi reference (4, Interesting)

ghostlibrary (450718) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822790)

Bruce Campbell in "If Chins Could Kill" relates some of the improvised steady-cams used in 'Evil Dead', especially for running shots or window shots.

They just had 2 people carry a heavy board with the camera through the forest, and had a 'camera plus battering ram' for the crash-through bits.

A lot less elegant than this design, basically, the idea of "really heavy = not much vibation or wobble" worked for them.

No... (1)

gfxguy (98788) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822938)

That was the "Shaky Cam." The "Steady Cam" involved vaseline, AFAIR.

Re:obligatory Sam Raimi reference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822964)

Ahh, the ram-o-cam.

Re:obligatory Sam Raimi reference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8823006)

There are a couple of making-of videos on the Evil Dead 2 DVD that detail this stuff. Good DVD (watch the movie with the commentary, it's both interesting and amusing).

Damn! (5, Funny)

pair-a-noyd (594371) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822791)

How the fsck do you /. a .edu system?

Holy shit!

Re:Damn! (2, Insightful)

repetty (260322) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822812)

"How the fsck do you /. a .edu system?"

Bandwidth shaping?

Re:Damn! (1)

TheSpoom (715771) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822823)

Same as you do any other server?

Re:Damn! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822833)

It's a friday night. All the geeks are at home and feeling lonely, so they're browsing slashdot personals. Duh.

Re:Damn! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822839)

Especially over Easter break when most of the campus is out..

Thats amazing (5, Funny)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822803)

Like any of you jog, let alone with a camcorder.

Re:Thats amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822872)

I skate. So I don't need a camera stabiliser.

Nothing you can't do (4, Interesting)

KalvinB (205500) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822808)

with a background in marching band (or martial arts) and steady hands.

All he's doing is adding a weight to make it hard for you to move your hands. And you can tell he's having a rough time with it as many of the shots are crooked. It's not properly weighted on the other side so he has to push down with one hand, up with the other and maintain a horizontal position throughout the shot. And he can't do it so the image is tilted most of the time. He'd have a chance of keeping the horizontal straight if he made a "T" instead of an "L"

This is why real steady cams are mounted on the chest like a snare drum. The springs/hydrolics take care of the vertical bounce and the mounting position balances the horizontal. The operator would have to bend over to one side to tilt the shot. If you want to get an "up" shot you bend over, point the camera up and walk backwards.

This is also why most movies move the camera around a lot. Besides it adding to the scene. It's actually easier to keep a steady path of movement than to hold a camera still.

Ben

Re:Nothing you can't do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822854)

It's actually easier to keep a steady path of movement than to hold a camera still.
I don't know about that. I'm not all that talented, but I find a tripod pretty easy to use.

No (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822918)

"This is also why most movies move the camera around a lot. Besides it adding to the scene. It's actually easier to keep a steady path of movement than to hold a camera still."

Keeping a camera still is trivial if you use a tripod. A steady path of movement gets expensive (in crew and equipment) quickly. The steadier you want it the more it costs. Even getting a non-jerky pan multiplies the cost of a tripod time ten.

The reason that movies move the camera a lot is because that is usually what tells the story best.

Re:Nothing you can't do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822936)

No, if you want a camera still, you mount it on a trolley, you ignorant clod!

Re:Nothing you can't do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822995)

That's like saying: "If you want an oscillator, try to build an amplifier"

Slashdotted? Here is a PDF copy of the site! (3, Informative)

eaglebtc (303754) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822811)

I was able to load the site, and printed a copy to PDF. Download it here! (right-click, save as)

The $14 Steadycam [yorbamicro.com]

Re:Slashdotted? Here is a PDF copy of the site! (2, Funny)

ashot (599110) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822941)

am I allowed to simply left-click, or is that against the rules?

Look into something more sophisticated... (5, Interesting)

PotatoPhysics (126423) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822820)

I've built one of these too, and all things being equal, I think you would be better off spending $120 to get one of the Steady cam clones. True, he has some cool shots on his page but those are not nearly as easy as he makes it out to be. Maybe I am just clumsy.

When I walk forward my system wants to behave like a pendulum causing the camera to rock forward and back around the horizonal fulcrum. If things aren't perfectly balanced it is very difficult to keep the cameras tilt at a given attitude. Your left hand (if you were the author in the photo on the page) will not be able to keep the attitude without pendulum style oscillation. It's also difficult to make the camera turn around the camera of the horiontal bar and the fact that the rotational inertia of the person-pipe-camera system is not appropriate for turning around the camera.

Beyond those basic problems: it's also hard to hold on to and I tend to smack into door frames and innocent bystanders with the horizonal pipe.

One of the key parts to a steady cam rig is a gimbal joint that isolates tilt/tip motions of your hand from the "mass" that has the camera. Without this isolation it's really hard to get good shots without Zen master balance or just being lucky.

If anyone out there wants to make a Steady-cam like rig, I suggest they copy something like the Flowpod [varizoom.com] . Note the gimbal connecting the handle to the body of the device.

Re:The best thing about the flowpod... (1)

Mengoxon (303399) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822922)

...you can use it for combat videography (?)

Dear Slashbot Bitches: (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822828)

...MY ANUS IS BLEEDING!

Happy Birthday to me.
Happy Birthday to me.
I paid for some pussy,
but you got some for free.

Counter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822836)

/. the only place you can refresh a link and see 1000+ more hits since you loaded the page.

Not quite the same thing. (4, Interesting)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822856)

This isn't quite the same as a real steadicam. What makes steadicam rigs so smooth is the combination of the weight AND the gimballing. His $14 unit has the weight, but requires that your HAND be the gimbal mount. Even the cheapest, simplest steadicam unit (the Steadicam Jr [steadicam.com] ) has a gimballed grip. One of the most important things you can do with a real steadicam is set the shot angle of the camera beforehand and, no matter how much you tilt the handgrip, the shot angle stays the same. Also, real steadicam techniques involve panning the camera by applying minute preassure with the fingertip to make the rig swivel on the grip. Again, the $14 model can't do that.

Cripes, it's a T-shaped pipe arrangement with a weight. Steadicam it ain't.

let's play watch the page hit counter! (2, Interesting)

psoriac (81188) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822871)

In the two minutes it took me to skim the page and hit reload, his counter went up by 780. I wonder how long it will take before either the network admin shuts down his account or it wraps around. :)

Re:let's play watch the page hit counter! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822968)

Yeah, I'm counting about 5-10 hits per second from all you other people also refreshing to watch those 5-10 hits per second. :p

steady server... not... (-1, Redundant)

Lord Haha (753617) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822876)

he might have paid 14$ for the his camera, maybe he should spend more on his server before slashdot hits it....

Getting good results... (4, Funny)

dj245 (732906) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822879)

Its a ghetto type job, but it looks like it works. This quote from the article is a little disturbing though:

Getting good results is not so much about the equipment, but how you use it.

I tried that bit on my girlfriend but she didn't fall for it.

Glidecam (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822885)

Another possibility, if you don't want to or can't shell out for a Steadicam, is a Glidecam [glidecam.com] . A Glidecam 4000 or 2000 mated with a body vest shouldn't put out a videographer who has already shelled out for a good camera [digitaljournalist.org] .

This is a DMCA violation. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822907)

This "dude" has obviously violated the SteaduCam patent as per the DMCA. Gentlemen, quite simply, this is IP rape, of the vilest order. I'm notifying the patent holder immediately.

There was an old magazine called Cinemagic (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822923)

It ran in the 80's, briefly. It was a special-effects howto for 16mm and 8mm. There was an article in one that described how to build a better "steadicam" than this, using pvc pipe and springs. I think that one actually worked better than the one in this article, as it handled horizontal as well as vertical. It also strapped to the body. The author received a cease & desist from the Steadicam people (he offered to sell completed versions of his as well).

Re:There was an old magazine called Cinemagic (2, Informative)

ElectricPoppy (679857) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822930)

In fact, here's a link. [geocities.com]

I thought you needed a gyroscope for these things (1)

laing (303349) | more than 10 years ago | (#8822978)

This would seem to be a half-a$$ed solution at best. The expensive units have gyroscopes to keep them steady under extreme conditions. This thing just uses a bar and a weight.

--
All I know about Bush is that Clinton had a job before he was president.

Re:I thought you needed a gyroscope for these thin (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 10 years ago | (#8823002)

The expensive units have gyroscopes to keep them steady under extreme conditions.

Maybe the most elaborate, custom built steadicams have gyroscopes, but according to this faq [kiwifilm.com] , most, including the $44,000 model, do not, as gyroscopes increase mass.

Better Links (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8822996)

The 14$ thingy is pure crap...

if you want some real inspiration check out the following websites:

http://homebuiltstabilizers.com/
The original site for all your home built video needs

http://pub173.ezboard.com/bhomebuiltstabilizers
Discussion forum full of lots of useful information

http://www.codydeegan.com/

Might take a bit more effort, but the results are incredible. Cody's plans are awesome, and I would gladly purchase them again.

Not a Steadicam (4, Informative)

IcEMaN252 (579647) | more than 10 years ago | (#8823015)

With the exception of the Steadicam JR [steadicam.com] , most Steadicams [steadicam.com] have a body harness. That makes them much more stable than using you hand.

This is really more similiar to a lower end Glidecam [glidecam.com] stabilizer (even this is floating).

There are also some rather cheap [markertek.com] alternatives out there to make a camcorder smoother.

Granted this is significantly cheaper to make than these products, but from my experience anything that is handheld doesn't work as well as the bodyrigs. Personally, I'd rather just do it by hand alone.

You also might want to check out a relatively cheap [markertek.com] jib [glidecam.com] too.
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