In an earlier blog we described how to build a steadicam with PVC pipe for around $6. This version was simply held and balanced by hand but it worked quite well as you can see in the accompanying video. The key is balancing the camera with counterweights, in this case nuts packed into the PVC pipe. But because the steadicam is directly supported by hand, care must be taken to avoid rapid movement. There is nothing to isolate and absorb unwanted hand movement. It is important to hold the steadicam lightly at the balance point.
The obvious improvement is the addition of a gimbal to keep hand movement from affecting the camera. This is a simple DIY construction using the Traxxas 5151 half shafts and U-joint as described in the previous blog. The gimbal further separates hand movement making the camera appear to float a bit more smoothly. But there is a tradeoff. Supporting the steadicam by hand makes it easy to tilt and pan the camera with simple hand movement. With practice this can be done smoothly. The gimbal, however, keeps the camera pointed at the level at which it is balanced. Tilting up or down is difficult though possible by grabbing the counterweighted pipe. But touching or releasing any part of the steadicam besides the gimbaled handle is difficult. Doing it smoothly without introducing unwanted motion takes a bit of practice, but it can be done. Panning is another camera move that takes some concentration. The gimbaled device described does not include a ball bearing to dampen panning motion. Care must be taken not to rotate the steadicam too rapidly. It is best to keep the wrist still and pan with a slow, sweeping motion of the arm. The following video demonstrates use of the gimbaled HandlePod steadicam in the field. As you can see some movements are smoother than others but the overall effect is quite successful. It works extremely well for a device costing around $12 to build. The key is using HandlePod as the camera mount and taking advantage of its easy camera movement to achieve perfect horizontal balance over the gimbal. And when you’re done shooting with the steadicam, you can remove the HandlePod and use it for the other camera stabilization functions it provides.