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Build This DIY DSLR Flying Camera Stabilizer With Off The Shelf Parts for About $100

07.30.12 @ 9:00AM Tags : , , , , , , ,

There are a lot of tutorial videos out there about making DIY camera stabilizers/steadicams, but usually the ones I come across are either made for tiny consumer cameras or the test footage looks ok, but doesn’t quite possess that creamy smooth motion that I come to expect from a good stabilizer. Then I came across a video by Studio Amarelo in Vimeo’s Video School channel that demonstrated a highly adjustable rig that could be built from cheap off the shelf parts, and produced some fantastically smooth footage:

<embed src="http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=28903374" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="400" height="300"></embed>

You should also take a look at this video by WSCLATER as it goes over the gimbal joint in more detail:

Granted, these are not the most comprehensive tutorial videos, but between the shots of the rig/gimbal, the narration, and the parts list in the description of Studio Amarelo’s video, you can get a pretty good idea of what you need and how to put it together. Here’s the one I made:

However, some of the parts listed were either hard to find or not quite accurate in their descriptions. So here are the substitutions and solutions I came up with to make your build easier:

PVC Parts

In the video, the narrator says he’s using 1″ diameter PVC pipes, but the piping on his rig looked smaller than the 1″ PVC I was seeing in the hardware store. I went with 3/4” PVC as it’s a better fit for the hook and the bearings, and had a more natural feeling grip.

The “Ladder Hook”

Usually this is called a storage hook. I wasn’t able to find one with an angled end, but as you can see in the previous photo, I solved that issue with a combination of PVC parts. To get your 6″ bolts and braces to fit and mount correctly, you may need to drill another 1/4″ hole in the top of the hook.

The Gimbal Joint

The Traxxas 5151 universal joint is definitely the way to go. You’re going to want to use needle nose pliers to pry one of the ball joints off of one of the male connectors (the plastic is pretty tough, so you probably don’t have to worry much about breaking it), and then pop that connector onto the joint that’s already seated in the other male connector. You’ll also have to shave down the ends of the plastic shafts with a dremel to get them to fit into the bearings.

Speaking of which, you’re not going to be able to find 1-inch skate bearings because –as far as I can tell– skate bearings only come in metric sizes. The closest to an inch I could find was 22mm, and it fits nicely into the 3/4″ PVC.

As for seating your gimbal joint in the PVC adapters, at first I used rubber cement, rubber bands, and gaffer tape as a temporary fix, but after a little experimentation I found that 7/8″ rubber furniture leg tips to be a perfect fit.

Because they’re tapered, the rubber tips hold the bearings securely while also fitting nicely into the PVC adapters. I used a dremel to drill holes for the shafts and to cut off part of the top tip so I could get the right shaft length. Also, the #8-32 machine screw and washer helps secure the Traxxas joint to your bearings and adds a nice bit of adjustable friction to counteract drifting.

The “Universal Bracket”

Every time I went into a hardware store and asked for this, the clerk would get a blank look on their face. So what did I do? I picked up the closest thing I could find, which was a couple of 2 1/2″ double wide corner braces. Unfortunately, these braces came with pre-drilled holes that weren’t parallel. There were pre-made parallel divots so you could drill your own holes, but I needed my holes farther apart than the divots, so I measured my own and made some 1/4″ holes. This will also eliminate the need for the U-Clamp and the zip tie (aka zap strap).

While this solved my rail problem, it created a PVC problem. Unless you can find a wider corner bracket that will allow you make holes farther apart, you’ll have to use your dremel again to sand off the bottom most threads on the male PVC adapter.

The “Double Eye Tension Rod”

It was a little surprising to me how hard this was to track down, but it could be due to the fact that it’s usually referred to as a turnbuckle. One thing you want to keep in mind when you buy one though, is that the spacing of the middle piece is big enough to accommodate the heads of the 1/4” bolts. I didn’t do that, so I ended up experimenting with larger washer weights.

I also discovered that one of the eye bolts was left-handed (most bolts and screws are right-handed). Good luck finding a place that sells long sections of left-handed 1/4” bolts, because I haven’t found one yet. However, as an alternate solution to either add more weight or just move the weight further out from the rig, you can pick up a 3-way PVC elbow and then attach lengths of PVC pipe and caps to each side, allowing you to attach an electrical ground clamp/turnbuckle weight to each side.

Last Thoughts on Parts and Construction

There are a few more things that should help the construction of your flying camera stabilizer go smoothly. Rubber cement was mentioned as the primary adhesive in the above video, but it’s only partially effective. Epoxy would probably be a better choice for affixing the bearings to the rubber tips, and for attaching the rubber tips to the PVC adapters . You could probably use this for the PVC arm that holds the weights as well, but in this case I would just drill a 1/4″ hole through the PVC and the storage hook and secure them together with a bolt, washer, and a nut to make sure it doesn’t fall off.

To sum up, here’s my suggested modified list of parts, and the tools you will need to make this camera stabilizer:

Tools

  • Power Drill with 1/4″ bit
  • Dremel (with a #952 grinding stone, #402 Mandrel, and #426 cut off wheel)
  • Philips Head screwdriver
  • Flat Head Screwdriver
  • Needle Nose Pliers

Main Body Components

  • 2 x Electrical Ground Clamps
  • 1 x 3/4″ 45 degree PVC elbow
  • 1 x 6″ – 3/4″ threaded PVC pipe
  • 1 x 3/4″ threaded PVC cap

Main Body Hardware

Gimbal Components

Optional

  • 1 x 1/4″-to-3/8″ Step Up Screw Adapter
  • 1 x Rubber Bike Grip

The cost for this should come out to about $100, although it’s entirely possible to make it for less (Studio Amarelo was able to make theirs for around $65). You may have noticed that my rig isn’t done yet. There are a few kinks I’m working out and I’m attempting the difficult task of trying to balance my AF-100 on it. But for the DLSR owner, this is something that you could easily get the parts for and make in an afternoon.

If you have any suggestions for design improvements, feel free to post them in the comments.

Links:

COMMENT POLICY

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  • Wow, they really did manage to get very stable footage!

    Thanks for adding more details in the post btw. Usually these videos do not feature all the details and then I am always wondering whether I got something wrong if I cannot find some parts in the store. Glad to hear I am not the only one who has trouble locating some parts :-)

  • The Flycam nano or Opteka merlin clones each cost about $200. And for your extra $100 you get a whole day or more of actually shooting footage rather than being seized in preparatory arrest.

    If you like tinkering, be clear with yourself…you like tinkering. More than filming.

    • Well, tinkering and film making have had a long friendship since film’s inception, but point taken.

    • I agree. I have the Flycam Nano from ebay ($228 total with shipping) and it was well worth the extra $$. My time is valuable, so I’d prefer to spend it on making videos/films, rather than building gear, whenever possible. And the Flycam Nano is much better build quality and easier to use than any DIY option I’ve used.

  • I started out building everything a couple of years ago (I was very proud of my rig system ;) ). But then realized prices for had dropped so much lower for film equip that I was spending more trying to design and build things. The Flycam Nano I bought for $105, and it has gave me loads of great, smooth footage before I up grades to something more adjustable and efficient. It is a lot of fun though, designing and building (if you have time for it)

  • this entire project looks like a headache. if you have the patience to build on then you will probably need another day balancing it. then you would need to keep the same camera and lens or waste another day balancing for something different. i’ve used the flycam nano and its great since you don’t need it perfectly balanced all the time.

  • The Flycam Nano only handles up to 2 kg and is about the kind of product I’d love to have.

    Does anybody know if there is any equivalent that can take camera rigs up to 4kg or so?

  • Just a comment on Justin’s picture – I think from a physics standpoint you want the distance between the camera and the gimbal to be as small as possible to keep things balanced with a minimum amount of weight on the bottom. Your design looks like it will sit very high above the gimbal, which I think will require a lot more weight to balance things than it would otherwise. Your design also does not have the weight as far below the gimbal as the design in the vimeo video, which will probably exasperate the problem.

    I’m not trying to be critical – just trying to throw out some ideas.

    As for the low end stabilizers available commercially, I wonder how good their gimbal design is? I think that’s what really separates the cheaper stabilizers from the more expensive models.

    • Everything you just said is exactly why I’m not even attempting this project. what I can do is share my experience with other similar small commercial designs.
      i mentioned a flycam nano earlier. I meant to say that I have used a steadydslr which is a little more on the expensive side ($287). It can fold up into a shoulder mount as well but the shoulder mount starts to take a toll on your back http://steaddslr.com/

      The gimbal design is almost perfect for what you are using it for. It has a little bit of friction. I find it more of a run and gun design. That friction will help when its not balanced perfectly.
      I have also used different versions of the Glidecams. These might take a little longer to get balanced but once you do its pretty flawless and is definitely and very noticeably smoother than smaller commercial of diy projects.

  • But for less than $100 you could just order the Hague MMC??
    That’s the best low budget stabilizer I’ve ever used. The thing is flawless. Same price a this and a hell of a lot more easier on the eyes ;)

    • Jean Amoris on 08.3.12 @ 1:56PM

      I agree! I am very happy with the hague MMC too. DIY can be nice but there are often better crafted products out there, which are worth it when there is no price difference like in this case.

  • The trouble with a lot of these low-er budget stabi’s you can buy is that the gimbal sucks. Worse, they’re often ball-in-cup type things. I’ve yet to see one that has double bearings around a quality gimbal like this one does.

    Anyway, since when is it a bad thing to want to tinker to improve your kit? I thought that attitude is what this site is all about?
    -Olaf

  • Many of – you have just got to be kidding (Trouble building / tinkering / etc). Why in the world are you into Low budget to begin with? Because you can’t afford to do it at all like the big boys unless you go the low -budget way I Suspect. Non of this stuff is that hard to build. Really – try it.

  • How would you manage to create such a fantastic masses regarding commenters to your website?

  • How would I go about building this to work with my DSLR if I don’t have a quick release plate?

  • Ha ha…it’s clear that those in this thread who have responded by saying it is better to buy than build….like Jef-Aram above….might have been better to state simply that their decision to do so was purely because they possess no mechanical inclination :)

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