The steadicam smoothee in use
Steadicams come in all sizes for most shooting rigs. The latest is the Steadicam Smoothee—a camera stabilization device designed for iPhones (namely the iPhone 4, 4S or 5) and also the GoPro Hero 2 and 3 video cameras. Doing exactly what the full sized unit does (as well as the Merlin and Flyer), you can now have stabilized shots with your iPhone.
The Steadicam Smoothee comes packaged in a lightweight box complete with the mount for the camera—in my case, the iPhone 4. The only assembly is mounting your phone to the top plate, which is no different than mounting any camera to a tripod.
The next step is balancing, and the Smoothee is the easiest Steadicam device to balance of all those I’ve been privileged to review. The initial or “rough” balance is achieved by sliding the plastic Steadicam name plate up or down the stabilization bar. Fine balance is accomplished by using two red knobs: the knob on the back, which controls the fore and aft movements, and the side knob, which adjusts left and right tilt. These minor adjustments help fine tune the Smoothee’s stabilization and may require a few moments to adjust, depending on the wind conditions you might be experiencing and other factors. The comfortable handle fits easily in your hand and takes no effort to use.
Once the Smoothee has been balanced, you might want to consult the great online tutorials that Tiffen offers. They visually explain exactly what the Smoothee can do and it’s well worth spending 20 minutes or so to watch the video, which is available at www.tiffen.com/steadicam_smoothee_operations_video.html.
However, the Smoothee is probably the only device I’ve reviewed that needs no instruction manual due to its very intuitive nature.
I’m not a big fan of shooting action with an iPhone, as I have access to all of the video capture goodies stored in our school’s equipment cage. However, a lot of my students had been bugging me to obtain a Smoothee to provide better shooting with an iPhone. I’ll admit that iPhones have come a long way in image quality, and the next logical step was for someone to create a stabilization device that could make good shots look even better.
In attempting to achieve a fluid shot in one of our university’s cornfields, we mounted a student’s iPhone 4 to the Smoothee and took off running.
Right out of the box, the Smoothee needed only minor adjustments with the red knobs for leveling. The student then ran through the cornfield shooting a smooth point of view shot of someone else running. A heftier DSLR or standard video camera would have been a lot more awkward to use in this situation due to size. The Smoothee’s small profile was much easier to maneuver through the stalks of corn. We quickly learned though, that the trick in moving quickly with the device is to make sure your legs—or in this case, corn stalks—do not brush against the Smoothee.
Wanting to get the reverse angle of someone running through the cornfield was as simple as mounting the iPhone so that the camera portion was facing rearward. It would have been much more difficult—and possibly dangerous—to run through the cornfield backwards. Instead, by mounting the camera facing toward the rear, the operator had a pretty good idea of where to shoot. Holding the camera slightly higher, the student again ran through the stalks and never got her shoulder in any of the footage.
The last shot in the sequence was of the actor’s feet during the run through the cornfield. By simply holding the Smoothee with the camera upside down (pointed toward the ground) and flipping the image on the iPhone, we got a great low-angle shot of the talent’s feet. The Smoothee certainly makes these types of tracking shots easier, without a lot of wear and tear on the operator.
If you’re shooting with an iPhone or GoPro and need stabilized shots, look no further than the Steadicam Smoothee. With its extremely short learning curve, anyone can master the device in a short period of time. And as with any stabilization device, the more you use it, the more adept you become.
Chuck Gloman is chair and associate professor of the TV/Film department at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adding smooth, stabilized shots using your iPhone or Go Pro as the camera
Ready to use right out of the box, compact and easy to carry and use
Steadicam Smoothee, $170 MSRP; iPhone 4/4S mount, $25 MSRP
The Tiffen Company