Do-It-Yourself Camera Stabilizer: The Home Made Steadicam
|The commercial version of the ‘Steadicam’ has been around for a very long time, and has helped create many defining moments in popular cinema; many of us still remember the harrowing chase through the maze in Steven King’s ‘The Shining’ and the amazing way that the camera seemed to float behind the actors as they ran… one bent on murder, the other on survival.For as long as companies have been selling tools to assist the filmmaker, people have been exploring ways to accomplish the same thing better, faster, cheaper… and in today’s day and age of anybody-can-be-an-indie-filmmaker, they usually focus on ‘cheaper’ 🙂 This page chronicles my humble adaptation of the many DIY designs floating about the internet.|
|Before we begin|
|This article isn’t intended as a complete building guide…I really just wanted to chronicle some of the unique aspects of the stabilizer I put together. If you decide to copy what I’ve done here, I just ask that you give a little credit to ‘YB2Normal’ and send them over to my site to check out my other work. To be clear however, I take no credit for the physics behind why this works, or even the overall design. Really I only consider three aspects of the design original… the PVC gimbal, the use of all-thread for the main tube, and the wooden camera x-y plate. Putting together my own steadicam represented some unique challenges… I had seen many references to the ‘$14 Steadicam’ on the internet, and I have to applaud the grace with which Johnny has dealt with the know-it-alls who feel compelled to point out the limitations of the design… read his FAQ and you’ll get a small sense of his patience and sense of humor. (These are links to his college website, please mail me if he graduates and the links get broken)
My budget was a bit higher than $14 and I wanted to put something together that emulated, as best as a homebrew project could, the design of the commercial steadicam. To that end I trolled the internet and discovered a whole community of amateur filmmakers, physics nerds, and cheap folk like myself who just had to see if they could build a camera stabilizer for less than the cost of a compact car. The successes I found on the internet, and the elegance with which folks have done it, inspired me to do the same.
|The main conundrum I faced in putting together my SteadiCam was the mechanics of the gimbal. The commercial unit has many beautifully machined parts, and while my garage workshop is reasonable well equipped, I was completely unprepared to do any precision metal machining or drilling. I needed to find a material that was easy to work with that could be cut with my predominantly wood-working tools. The answer turned out to be common (in the USA anyway) PVC pipes and fittings. I went with Schedule 40 white pipe which is readily available at my local hardware stores.This first picture shows the first step of building the gimbal… a small ring of 3/4″ PVC pipe was heated in the oven to 200 degrees and then forced over a standard skate bearing.|
|Jumping ahead in the construction we see:
– The PVC ring on the skate bearing has been drilled for pivot points. Note that the bearing itself is NOT drilled into
– An outer ring cut from a 1″ PVC coupling has been drilled to accept screws which are screwed in until they just bottom out in the sockets drilled into the inner pvc ring.
– Larger holes have been drilled in the 1″ coupling to prepare it for the next step
|The outer ring is cut from a 2″ PVC coupling. Holes were drilled into this ring to accept bolts which are screwed in until they enter the holes in the middle ring, but not so far as to interfere with the rotation of the inner ring. Later I added locking nuts to these bolts to hold the middle ring centered (the locking nuts are not shown in this picture)|
|Here is the final gimbal assembly mounted on my stabilizer. You can just see the lock nuts inside the outer ring that center the next ring. The main tube of the stabilizer is 5/16 inch all-thread rod which is almost a perfect fit through the hole in the skate bearing. Lock nuts hold the skate bearing in place on the all thread rod, and can be screwed up or down to tweak the geometry of the stabilizer.|
|The gimbal is fully functional and offers 3 axis of separation from the spastic movements of the operator. The bolts sticking out of the sides gouged into my hand… I later wrapped them with duct tape to make them smoother. I don’t have detailed pictures of the camera mount yet, but I can say that it offers 2 full inches of travel in both the x and y plane to help tune the balance of the camera.|
|The weighted bar at the bottom of the stabilizer is 1×2 pine stock which has been cut to length and drilled for the all-thread rod and 2 bolts to hold the weight stacks… basically just a bunch of fender washers. Originally I felt that the bar was too long (It kept bumping my leg when walking) but now that I have some practice on the unit I am appreciating all that mass being far out from the main rod. It allows me to initiate a very slow pan that just keeps going and going until I put the breaks on.Below is a sample of some of the first video I shot with the stabilizer. This was after about an hour of practice.|