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:
Video is no longer available: vimeo.com/28903374
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:
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:
- 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
- 1 x Large Storage Hook
- 2 x 2 1/2" Double Wide Corner Brace
- 2 x 6"- 1/4" Bolts (Smooth Shaft)
- 1 x Crown Bolt 1/4 in. x 7-1/2 in. Turnbuckle Eye/Eye
- 2 x 1.5"- 1/4" Flathead Screws
- 1 x 1"-1/4" Flathead Screw
- 2 x 3.5"- 1/4" Screws (Fully Threaded)
- 2 x 1/4" Locking Nuts (Nylon Locks)
- 8 x 1/4" Nuts
- 2 x 1/4" Wing Nut Locks
- 2 x 1/2" Washers with 1/4" hole
- 2 x 1.5" Washers with 1/4" hole
- 25 x 2" Washers with 1/4" hole
- 1 x Manfrotto 323 RC2 Quick Release Plate (w/ 200PL-14 Plate)
- 2 x Traxxas T-Maxx 2.5R - 3.3 F/R Center Driveshafts (#5151)
- 2 x 22mm Diameter Skate Bearings
- 2 x 7/8" Rubber Furniture Leg Tips
- 1 x 3/4" Diameter Male Threaded PVC Adapter
- 1 x 3/4" Diameter Threaded PVC Cap
- 1 x 3/4" Diameter Female Threaded PVC Adapter
- 1 x 3/4" Diameter, 4" Long Threaded PVC Pipe
- 2 x 1/2" #8-32 Machine screws + Washers
- 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.