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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Homemade Steadicam Camera Stabilizer

Recently I was trying to make some short videos of things and I wanted to walk around while filming, to get shots of all the sides. Trying to keep the camera steady while doing that was difficult so I decided to build a camera stabilizer! There are a lot of instructional videos of homemade steadicam camera stabilizers and the simple ones are nothing more than a counterweight that adds mass and keeps the camera stable while moving around. The tricks (if you can call them that) to building one is you have to have some way to hold the camera and stabilizer that decouples your hand and body movements from the camera. The other challenging thing to making one is balancing the camera with the weight so that the camera is at the right angle for your shot.

The easiest and most obvious way to decouple your movements from the camera is to have a gimbal of some sort that lets the camera move all around relative to your hand. I decided rather than building a gimbal I'd use a small universal joint that is used in the drive shaft of radio controlled cars. Other people have built camera stabilizers using these and got good results. I decided to use one because I had a few laying around the garage!
My homemade Camera Stabilizer and the parts I used to make it
The counterweight has to be adjustable so that when changing from one camera to another one of different weight or center of gravity you can level it out. Also if you want to angle the camera down or up you have to do that by adjusting the weight. Most camera stabilizers require you to add little weights and/or move them around on some kind of arm. I decided to get around that hassle by using a flexible gooseneck mount with the weight mounted to the bottom end. These goosnecks are used to position microphones and car accessories. This allows me to adjust the weight position and camera angle by just bending the gooseneck. Here are the details of how I went about building this, along with a video! Watch the video!!

The first thing to make was the gimbal and handle assembly. I had a 1-1/2" square aluminum plate with 4 holes in it that I drilled a hole in and pressed in an extended inner race ball bearing. The extended inner race means that the center part of the bearing that the shaft sits in is longer than the bearing is thick. Because of this it sticks out a little past the outer race of the bearing making it easier to mount. I pressed the bearing into the plate and used a metal washer to prevent the bearing from pulling out of the plate. I also glued a small piece of thin teflon sheet to the plate in case the washer rubs a bit. It doesn't rub but the teflon is there in case it does. teflon can be hard to glue because it's so slippery but you can get it with an acid treatment that lets you glue it.
After getting the bearing mounted in the plate I screwed the shoulder screw into the end of one of the RC car universal joint drive shafts. The drive shaft that I have is made by a company called HPI Racing and the drive shafts came in a set of 2. Check out the picture above, the set I had was #82008. I had to use a couple of blue plastic spacers because the shoulder screw was longer than the bearing. The blue spacers are from a Knex toy that kids use to build stuff. I have a lot of these Knex toys around because my son and I use them to build stuff! The spacers that they have are just right for 3/16" shafts and handy.
The drive shaft with the universal joint is only about 3 inches long and a little over 1/2" in diameter so it doesn't make a good handle. I made a handle by taking a 1" square piece of PVC bar stock that I have and filed is down and round (see picture above and video below). I drilled an over sized hole in the PVC handle then a smaller sized hole at the bottom. This way the drive shaft will slide into the handle almost all the way, then get tight when it gets to the smaller diameter hole.  I left one end of of the handle square so the stabilizer will sit on the edge of a table nicely and not fall over.
Check out the video below for a visual summary of what I am trying to describe here.
The next thing I had to do was make a base for the handle / bearing / gimbal assembly to attach to that will hold the camera and gooseneck. I had a small piece of 3/8" thick aluminum scrap that I decided to use for the base. I rounded 2 of the corners for aesthetics and milled a small pocket into one side to allow clearance for the shoulder screw and bearing. The gooseneck had a couple of holes in it that I matched drilled into the metal plate and tapped for 8-23 screws to hold it together. I had to drill one more hole through the plate for a 1/4-20 screw to hold the camera. Once I had dome all that I painted the plate black because everyone knows that high quality camera accessories have to be black - otherwise they look cheap!
The last few things that I had to do were put some adhesive backed foam on the plate so the camera wont spin around too easily when it's screwed down and also to prevent scratches. I threw some washers onto the end of the gooseneck to add some weight and pressed a red thumbscrew cap onto a 1/4-20" socket head cap screw for attaching the camera.
This was a fun project to build and it works a lot better than I thought it would. the only thing I think I'm going to add to it is a 1/4-20 hole in the handle to attach the red thumbscrew when I don't have a camera on it. I'm going to use thins to make videos (obviously) and when I do I'll post some examples. If you want to know more about this than the video or this post provides email me at or leave a comment!! The gooseneck counterweight works really well and allows for very easy adjustment of the camera angle and position. It also is handy for storage because you can roll it up or straighten it out as needed.

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