Add a Gimbal to the HandlePod Steadicam

HandlePod steadicam gimbal

Add a gimbal to the HandlePod steadicam with Traxxas #5151 shafts and U-joint.

In a previous blog we described how to build a steadicam device for HandlePod using $3 to $6 worth of parts. This is the simplest and least expensive steadicam design out there and it can be built in five minutes or less! However it does depend on balancing the device by holding it carefully with your hand. This works quite well and with practice you can achieve impressive results. But most steadicam designs include some sort of gimbal to further isolate hand movement from the camera. That is the next step in the creation of a fully functioning steadicam using HandlePod.

If you peruse the on-line images for DIY steadicam , you will see that a great many of them use the same parts to create a gimbal—the #5151 half shafts available from Traxxas. These parts make an excellent gimbal. Though it is possible to build one yourself with pipes and bolts, I highly recommend using the Traxxas parts for their quality and the very modest cost of $8.

Traxxas 5151 set

The Traxxas #5151 half shafts make a perfect gimbal for the HandlePod steadicam.

The set comes with four shafts, each preassembled with its own metal ball U-joint. You have to remove the metal ball from one of the shafts then install that shaft on the U-joint of one of the others. I had a devil of a time trying to extract the ball from the shaft until I found this instructional video. Simply insert needle nose pliers between the ball and the shaft, then squeeze and jiggle until the ball comes free. Use pliers to squeeze that shaft onto the U-joint pins of one of the other shafts. For this assembly I used the smaller diameter external splined shafts from the Traxxas set.

Now you have a very functional gimbal. All that’s left is to install it on the steadicam and add a handle. That’s the easy part. Begin by finding the balance point of the steadicam . With the HandlePod attached and the camera mounted and centered, use a knife to find the place on the PVC pipe where the camera balances horizontally and score that point. Remove the pipe from the rig and drill a 3/8 inch hole completely through both sides of the pipe. The external splined shaft will fit through the hole and be nearly flush with the top surface. Secure the shaft with a #10-32 x ½” machine screw and #10 washer. Though it is not tapped, the shaft is hollow and the screw will thread into it nicely.

HandlePod steadicam gimbal parts

A gimbaled handle for the HandlePod steadicam can be made with PVC pipe and a few simple parts.

To create the handle, use a ¾” end cap and drill a 3/8” hole in the center. Insert the other end of the gimbal shaft and secure it to the cap with a #10-32 machine screw and washers. I also used some large hex nuts as spacers to avoid having to cut the shaft to shorten it. Tighten the screws on the ends of the gimbal shafts just enough to take up the slack but leave it loose enough to let the end cap spin freely. This will dampen rapid panning movement but provide enough friction to allow a slow, smooth pan. Most gimbal designs include a skate bearing to absorb hand movement. But if you are careful to keep your hand steady and turn the handle slowly to pan the camera, a roller bearing is not absolutely essential. Now add a short length of PVC to create the handle and cap it off.  Mount the camera on the HandlePod and you’re done—almost.

Balancing the camera above the gimbal is an important first step. Begin by adjusting the weight in the bottom of the steadicam to the weight of the camera. Insert nuts or other metal pieces inside the PVC pipe as a counterweight. Use just enough to balance the camera. Too much weight on the bottom will make the steadicam swing like a pendulum with every movement. The proper counterweight will keep the steadicam upright but will not pendulum even with rapid movement.

Because the gimbal rotates freely, you must also balance the steadicam so that the camera is level and points straight without tilting. This is where the HandlePod comes in. The camera mount on Handlepod is slotted so the camera can move backward or forward to achieve a perfect horizontal balance. To allow more space to move the camera you can take off the right angle bracket that holds the camera mount and attach it and the rubber washer to the opposite side of the metal pivot.  This moves the camera mount farther back to provide more balance adjustment. To keep the camera upright, rotate the camera mount to the left or right so that the camera stays straight and not tilted. The HandlePod camera mount allows plenty of adjustment to balance any camera precisely above the gimbal. HandlePod makes balancing a gimbaled steadicam an easy process that takes just seconds.

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