I had a DSLR with HD video capability and a friend Andrew with a welder in his garage who was willing to teach (I’d never welded before). We decided making a steadicam would be a good project. While doing research, I found this Merlin-style steadicam build tutorial. We tried to make a cleaner version of this already great build while trying to keep it cheap (materials and costs are listed at the bottom).
Here are some shots I took while practicing with the steadicam:
We started with a heavy duty arm hanger from Home Depot (normally used for hanging ladders, etc. in your garage) and an EMT elbow. A grinder took off the coating/paint at the ends of each piece so that we could weld them together to get the main body. The same grinder was used to smooth the joint after the weld.
Next we needed a rail to clamp our gimbal to the body. After thinking of a few different designs, we settled on one. We did some rough measurements and cut lengths of steel flat bar. Using a mallet and brick, we got a nice bend in one of the pieces.
We took another length of flat bar and clamped it together with the bent piece. This allowed us to drill holes through both pieces that are perfectly lined up. Then we cut a slot in the straight piece for the gimbal to be able to move through (more on the gimbal later).
After tack-welding nuts to the bent piece, we had a nice clamping rail.
After drilling some extra mounting holes at the top of the main body, we welded the bent piece to it. We used part of an electrical flex squeeze connector as a sort of sleeve around the bearing. It seemed better to clamp to this sleeve, rather than clamping directly to the bearing.
It’s common for DIY steadicam-ers to use the Traxxas 5151 RC car driveshaft as their pivoting joint in their gimbal. We just used a screw to join it with a rollerblade bearing.
To fit a nice bicycle grip onto the bottom of the driveshaft, we needed something with a bigger diameter. The end of a rake handle was just about right. It just needed to be hollowed out and some JB Weld kept the driveshaft stuck in there. The rake was plenty long anyway.
Holes were drilled in key places to allow counterweight washers to be hung on a bolt or threaded rod. The quick-release plate is mounted at the top with spacer washers to get a little height. This keeps the steadicam body from showing in the shot and also allows space for the plate’s locking mechanism.
Some primer and black spraypaint and it was looking pretty good. There are cheaper DIY steadicam builds, but I had fun learning to weld and building a solid nice-looking model. We knew we’d done a good job when a woman asked me where I bought it.
If you’ve never worked with a steadicam before, it’s suprisingly sensitive to even the smallest weight changes, like flipping out the LCD on your camera. Smaller washers are useful for fine-tuning the weighting. As long as it’s balanced in all axes, the shot will always be nice an level. The shot will swing and lean back and forth if not.
We could have welded the threaded rod/bolt to the body for the counter weights, but in case it needs to be transported in a small space, we thought it might be better to be able to take it apart.
A few improvements that might be made somehow:
- The counterweights are just held on with nuts. Moving weight around is slow, so if you intend to change lenses/cameras in the field, don’t expect to do it quickly, because you’ll need to adjust the weights as well.
- There’s no good way to change the angle of the camera up or down easily. You could possibly do it by re-distributing weight from front to back at the bottom, but again that takes time.
- Professional steadicams have a guide ring just above the handle to rotate the camera smoothly. With this design, you just have to sort of use the rail.
Parts and costs:
|Traxxas 5151 driveshaft||7.44||Amazon|
|Rollerblades (for bearings)||4.00||Goodwill|
|Heavy duty arm hanger (ladder hook)||5.68||Home Depot|
|1″ EMT elbow||3.94||Home Depot|
|Bike grip (x2)||2.84||eBay|
|Manfrotto Quick Change Plate Adapter||7.87||eBay|
|Steel plain flat bar||5.51||Home Depot|
|Threaded rod||1.17||Home Depot|
|Steel wing nut (x2)||2.62||Home Depot|
|Hex nuts (x8)||0.83||Home Depot|
|Zinc machine screw and nut (x3)||1.18||Home Depot|
|Small washers (x10)||1.15||Home Depot|
|Primer and paint||0.00||Garage|
|Rake handle and flex squeeze connector||0.00||Garage|