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Keeping your iPhone steady

Keeping your iPhone steady

There’s certainly no shortage of gizmos and gadgets for your iPhone. One of my favorite’s is the Steadicam Smoothee from Tiffen. I bought it some time ago for my iPhone 4S, but it ended up in the closet after upgrading to the iPhone 5. Recently, I thought there must be an adapter mount for it that would fit my iPhone 5 and with a quick scan through Amazon, I found one for $20. I snapped it on my iPhone 5 and was ready to go.

smoothee-hold-vert-250pxNow, I should be perfectly clear, Steadicam Smoothee priced at $149.95 will not give you quite the results you might see on television or the movies, but if you take the time and effort to learn how to use it, you will improve your iPhone videos and it will give you some nice, steady video. If you’re using this outdoors, it works best if there is no wind.

This camera stabilizer works on a system of weights and balances with your camera. These balance adjustments are critical to making it work and do take some time to calibrate. The Steadicam Smoothee is relatively easy to adjust to especially since the camera is so light. It’s so much easier than trying to adjust to a heavy video camera with multiple weights.

The Tiffen’s website says it’s based on the same technology of the $60,000 rigs in Hollywood. In theory, they are correct and with some practice, you can get some nice results. But with a lot of practice, you can get much better results.

It’s really a case of how much extra effort you want to add to your iPhone movie productions, as this gizmo is not going to fit into your pocket or purse, plus it removes the spontaneity you have shooting video with our cell phone. You need to plan ahead.

smoothee-mount250px

It’s a very simple operation to get started. Just snap the iPhone into the mount. You will need to remove your case. It’s a snug, but easy fit. Now it’s a matter of calibrating the iPhone and the Steadicam Smoothee with two separate knobs: tilt forward and back and tilt right and left. It should only take about five minutes to get it ready.

Maintaining the steadiness of the camera from moving side to side, does take some practice. You control the camera with the hand grip which uses a gimbal to keep the camera in more of a floating state to give your video a smooth look as you move around and follow your subject. You can use your thumb with a light touch to keep the camera from moving left or right if there is a breeze.

Actually, one of the toughest problems with one of these devices, including the much more expensive ones, is when you shoot while walking backward as your subjects walks towards you. This part is difficult, unless you have eyes in the back of your head. I certainly stumbled as the path behind me curved and I didn’t.

You’re going to need to practice and become proficient at this skill because if you’re walking forward following someone you’re only going to get their back.

knobsThe Steadicam Smoothee or another gadget like an external microphone, is going to take planning and extra work to improve your video. It all depends which type of shooter you are with your iPhone video because it is possible to get some very nice smooth video while moving with the phone.

I’ve tried chasing the dogs around the house, zooming in on flowers and such, plus a trip to the local wetlands with Steve and Allison Sheridan from the Nosillacast podcast. We tried it out in a typical situation where we were moving while shooting. Of course, this was the spot where I tripped walking backward.

Remember if you’re on an important video shoot, change your phone to airplane mode. It’s a little embarrassing if you miss your best moment because your phone rings.

Overall, the Steadicam Smoothee did improve the footage and give a more professional result, but it does take some time to calibrate and to learn to fly the camera. The equipment works great, it’s the camera operator that needs to take the time  to get the results of a professional.

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steadicam-curve250pxNew from Tiffen is their Steadicam Curve for the GoPro HERO. No product seems more popular than the POV (point-of-video) cameras like the GoPro HERO. This camera stabilizer is nice and compact and available in four colors: red, blue, silver and black, It’s priced at 99.95.

robert.lachman@latimes.com

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Read more reviews and photography tips by Robert Lachman

1 Comment

  1. January 31, 2014, 2:18 pm

    Bought a Smoothee a few months ago, thinking to substitute iPhone 5 for bulkier AVCCAM on a New Zealand trip, but frustrating learning curve kept me from the jump. Wife's non-Smoothee iPhone 5 video made me wish I'd stayed with it, and this review moves me to revisit iPhone videography. To Lachman's caveat about wind gusts, I'd add that camera motion from pressing start/stop will be exacerbated when phone is affixed to Steadicam. Expect to edit lots of beginnings and ends of shots, as well as wind jiggles in between.

    By: jedunning@cox.net

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