Introduction: GoPro-to-Car Stabilizer Mount
My customized car is getting close to being done. In the past, I'd take few, if any photos of my projects and adventures. I don't think I'd be able to live with myself if I didn't document the thing that's been keeping me from my wife and friends for the past 3 years.
Over the last few weeks I've been gathering the bits I'll need to produce a decent quality car video.
One item I'll need is a vacuum cup for the GoPro stabilizer mount. That's how I'll be able to get interesting action shots from outside the car. The camera is held to the body with a suction cup and records the scene from the car's point of view.
I wanted that for mine too. I could buy one from GoPro for about $40, but where's the fun in that?
Step 1: Making It Good Enough
If you already have a trustworthy vacuum mount, you can skip this step.
When I started this project, I didn't know if I'd get it right the first time so I found a cheap suction mount on eBay for about $5. I chose one with a metal pivot and housing, as that's the point of the mount that'll get the most abuse. You might have a different opinion, so choose a mount that'll work for you.
When it arrived, the first thing I did Was test the suction's strength and longevity. It turned out to be surprisingly good. The mechanical action in the $5 cup is the same used for professional glass cups. That's a known quality and I'm comfortable with that.
But for $5, some corners were sure to have been cut. The first of these was the plastic 1/4-20 camera locking knob. Plastic threads are not something I want holding my expensive equipment. And a cheap knob with plastic threads is what this mount had. It wouldn't take long to strip the threads to the point they're incapable of holding onto anything, much less a stabilizer and camera.
I replaced mine with a stainless 1/4-20 nut press fit into a knurled ring and filed flush. If I had an unused tripod, I could have saved myself the trouble and taken one from that, but what I ended up with was a super strong locking nut capable of holding equipment much heavier than any camera I had.
Taking the poorly operating ball joint apart I uncovered the reason people in charge of cutting cost need to go to engineering school.
The ball joint had been designed quite well. With all metal construction and a proper set screw, the pivot should work well for a long time.
Trouble is, someone thought the spring the engineers had specified was too expensive. He or she replaced it with something a few cents cheaper... And was probably given a raise by someone just as ignorant further up the line for doing it.
I shouldn't complain since that's the reason I was able to get it so cheaply.
Too small for the job, the ridiculous spring that came with the cup had already been destroyed by the time It left the factory. After replacing it with the proper spring, the mount was robust enough to be used. And was ready to become a stabilizer mount that can be used on a car (or helmet, if riskier activities are your thing).
Step 2: Making It Proper
Now that I have a decent vacuum cup and if my camera and stabilizer are going to be stuck to a car going 60 miles an hour, it'll need to be as low profile and drag free as possible. Because my stabilizer is designed to be held in the hand, it needs to be balanced aerodynamically so it'll work on a moving vehicle. A camera on the end of a stick just won't cut it.
Making it low means going horizontal and using as few attachment pieces as possible. By eliminating all but a 1/4-20 tripod-to-GoPro adaptor and a GoPro handlebar mount, the stabilizer can be fitted on top of the suction mount and be as close to the car's body as possible. The drawback here is, GoPro attachments are designed to connect a GoPro to something else, not another GoPro. Tools that do that are called "mules" and you don't want to use one of those unless you plan to make 3D videos. The attachments we're using will have the same 3 pronged joint where they'll meet. The GoPro handlebar mount is the perfect size to fit my G4. More likely than not, it'll work with most other handheld gimbals as well. The 1/4-20 adapter should have the smallest base possible. The Tripod adapter I used is by Revo and can be gotten from B&H Photo for $2.99.
To put them together, you're left with two options; offset the parts by cutting a leg off one of them or modify the thumbscrew to fit through a total of 6 legs.
Cutting is easier, but it also makes the joint a little bit weaker. I opted for strength and modified the thumbscrew to fit.
Begin by removing the screw from a long style knob and place it into a short one. The screw will end up being a bit too long, so you can grind the end of it down or do as I did and use a thin plastic spacer.
Remove the nut that's on the handlebar mount and join the two parts together as I've shown here. Give them a 90 degree bend at the joint and tighten it all down. A single dedicated part can be 3D printed, but that's for another time and another instructable
Depending on how you want to use it, you can do three things at this point. If you're planning on keeping your stabilizer permantly attached, you only have to attach it to the handlebar mount the way the mount comes out of the package. The mount is designed so one of the tightening bolts can be removed without having to unscrew it all the way. I suppose GoPro did it like this for versitality, but if you'll be taking the stabilizer off and putting it back on again like I will, that feature will become a pain in the neck real quick.
The easy solution, if you don't mind having to slide the stabilizer's handle all the way through the mount each time you install or remove it, is to reverse the clamp halves. That way, each bolt will share a slot and a hole, preventing either from falling out.
If you're like me and the easy way doesn't work for you, then you have a little more work to do. Thinking ahead, I see myself having difficulty leaning over the car, sliding a handle in and out of a 2 part hole. I'd much rather slip everything in from the side with one fell swoop. Leaving the setup the way it comes would kind of do that, but loose screws and knobs are difficult to handle and too easy to drop.
I entrapped the removable screw by "hinging" the end of it to the slotted side of one of the clamp's halves. I prepped both halves to be used as the hinged end because I didn't have a clue to what I was doing at the time, but my best advice is to determine which way you want the bolt to flop and work accordingly.
Place a screw in the slot you want the hinge to be and with a small drill, make a hole through both sides of the slot as far away from the end of the plastic as possible, but not so far that it's blocked by the screw inside. Thread a stiff wire through the hole and lock or glue it in place.
When the bolts are unscrewed far enough to allow the slotted one to slip free, the peices will stay together but rotate out of the way. This will allow you to work with both hands without the fear of losing anything.
The amount of "flop" can be increased by curving the wire into a "U" and grinding one side of the bolt head flat. Be careful not to remove too much material or the bolt will be able to spin in the 6 sided hole, preventing any tightening from happening.
Keeping the stabilizer low as possible will most likely require a bit of modification to the tripod adaptor. Unless you've found an adaptor with an extremely small base, it'll be in the way.
Grind the side of the adaptor's base that lines up with the handlebar clamp. That will allow the stabilizer to lay directly next to the suction cup swivel. Be sure everything is tightened as much as possible before grinding. Otherwise, you'll find yourself doing it again.
Finally, rotate the suction cup's ball joint so it's attachment point faces perpendicularly across the width of the cup. This will insure all weight is centered over the suction cup and not off to the side.
You may want to glue the threaded housing to keep it In place, or do as I did and use the metal threads to cut the plastic ones by carefully forcing things until everything lines up nice and tight.
When you're done, the handlebar mount should be bent to 90 degrees, the mount centered over the base and the mount aimed just off of the upper edge of the pivot. For balance forward and back, the z axis motor mount should be located close to the pivot.
Step 3: Making It Friendly
If your swivel is covered or made of plastic, you're done. Go outside, clean your car and make a FaceBook video to impress your friends.
As a reward for reaching the final phase of my car project, I traded my old FeiuTech G3 3 axis mount in for the new G4. I know it's expensive, but hey, I'm worth it.
Because it's new and the mount has metal parts close to it when I go bumping down the road, I wanted to keep the G4 scratch free as long as possible.
One of the items used for this project was the GoPro handlebar mount. The mount comes packaged with a rubber fitting that allows it to work on a child size bike. That bit will become a bumper to separate my new toy from metal things that can deface it.
This requires some skill, so if you're not ready, grab a bunch of tape, wrap it around the metal parts and be done with it.
If, on the other hand, you need your hacks to be presentable, follow this last bit closely.
If you look at the rubber fitting (sorry, no photo of an unmodified one) you'll see the "C" portion is well suited to fit around the pivot's slot. There's also a plug attached to the side. It's there to hold the fitting in place when it's being used the way it was intended.
With the plug facing the side where the stabilizer will be, outline what needs to be removed so it fits over the pivot housing. Using a Dremel with the sanding drum attachment, carefully carve the fitting to match the housing's shape. When that's completed, super glue it in place.
Now mount your stabilizer. Make certain you'll be able to move the lever that creates the vacuum and mark where it contacts the plug at the side. Shape the plug so your stabilizer lies horizontally, against the cover you just made and the plug underneath it.
Now, find some GoPro stickers to decorate your handiwork and terrorize the neighbors as you careen up and down the street.