Simple Conversion: Tripod Into Steadicam.

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Introduction: Simple Conversion: Tripod Into Steadicam.

About: The answer is lasers, now, what was the question? If you need help, feel free to contact me. Find me on Reddit, Tumblr and Twitter as @KitemanX

One of the dangers of getting into new hobbies is the urge to spend out on gadgets you think you need, but end up gathering dust in the back of a cupboard. There must be millions of dollars-worth of almost-new golf clubs, fishing poles and photography gear lurking, unused and unloved, in the world's wardrobes.

So, Conker-X has decided that he "needs" a steadicam so that he and some friends can make videos with his bridge digital camera.

Rather that pay out for a dust-gatherer, I decided, I could make that!

Here's what he got.

Step 1: The Theory

So, it turns out that basic steadicams work by moving the centre of mass of the rig to be well away from the optical centre of the camera.

That turns the natural vibrations of bodily movement into gentle, low-angle, low-frequency swings.

So, to make a steadicam, you need to hang a weight below the camera, and provide a smooth pivot near the camera.

Step 2: Materials

You need weight. For reasons I am not very clear on, I had three lumps of lead in my stash, which already had a hole cast through the centre. Between them, they weighed two kilogrammes.

Also from my stash came a piece of general-purpose 10mm nylon rope (left over from another project).

From Conker-X's stash came some rather impressive Duck-branded duct tape.

Step 3: Making

After a bit of experimentation, we determined that all three blocks of lead were too heavy for continuous use, so we split them into a pair and a single.

I used a pair of needle-nosed pliers to round off the holes in the blocks, and threaded the rope through. At the lower end, I tied a simple overhand knot as a stopper, then at the top end I tied a bowline to form a hanging loop. A little furtling brought the loop closer to the blocks, then I trimmed off the excess rope and used a lighter to fuse the end and prevent fraying.

Step 4: Safety

Obviously, lead is a toxic substance. Although the few minutes of handling involved in making this steadicam would not cause enough exposure to worry about, the effect is cumulative. Each tiny exposure adds up.

To prevent this, we sealed the lead blocks in duct tape. Purely coincidentally, the tape was slightly wider than the blocks, meaning it could overlap at the corners and ensure the seal.

Step 5: Using

To turn the tripod into a steadicam, hang the weight on the bottom (most tripods have a hook for just this reason), extend the central stem, and grip loosely around the stem below the camera.

If you grip tightly, you will get a sore hand and the steadicam won't be so steady. Let the weight rest on the top of your hand, and let the tripod swing as it will, and your images will be smoother and your hand less sore.

With the two sizes of weight, Conker-X has four options for how much to hang, depending on requirements (nothing, 0.7kg, 1.3kg and 2kg).

As an extra bonus, the weights also help when using the tripod as, well, a tripod. It's quite light-weight, so it suffers in windy situations. Add the weights, and it is much, much steadier.

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    39 Discussions

    Building suppliers sell lead, but these blocks were just sort of acquired - I tend to accumulate stuff from odd places.

    If you don't want to use lead, a bag of sand or rocks will do the same job.

    Excellent job on the steadicam. And the first paragraph ...I am sure a lot of people can relate to that (including myself). Buying gadgets that we think are "needed" to help us with our new hobbies...I've done this a lot of times. :) Great Job!

    3 replies

    This is rather cool! I have tried hanging a cloth bag of shoes on my wrist when using a small video camera and it helps to smooth out pans quite a lot.

    2 replies

    I happened to have my shoes in a drawstring bag in the winter while I was wearing my boots and I tried this with my camera. The weight was just enough to steady my hand while shooting.

    Hi Kiteman,
    Nice project. One small (pedantic) point. The knot above is not a bowline and is likely to behave differently to a true bowline in use. (Up through the hole, round the tree and back down the hole. Not up through the hole, half way around the tree and back through the other side of the hole)

    1 reply

    Interesting and cool idea...I'll have to try this

    Not all camera stabilizers work by moving the center of mass.  This is a spring/mass/damper system with a force input coming from gravity and the user's hands.  With modern lightweight cameras, the user's unsteady finger motion can affect how steady the camera is supported.  When the finger input is only an inch away from the camera system, small movements translate into relatively large changes in camera angle.  If they happen during filming, then you get blur.  Whereas if the camera is supported between handles 20 inches apart, then the small finger motion results in a much smaller change in angle during the shot.  This is one aspect of stability.

    What you are suggesting is setting the camera at the top of a pendulum.  That works great, too.  By dangling a tripod off the camera, the finger motion is damped out by the inertia of the heavier system.  The input by the user comes from holding the pendulum at a pivot point.  With a pendulum you have the added force of gravity helping you hold the camera and tripod steady.  With this in mind, I don't think you really need the weights. Just extending the tripod neck steadies the camera considerably. Then you can experiment with holding the assembly up by the camera with the tripod dangling, or by the tripod with the neck and camera well above the hands.

    1 reply

    We had tried with just the tripod, but it's very lightweight. It needed the extra weight.

    I think this is the best instructible I have read all year. Clear point and goal. SImple instructions without leaving anything out. Pictures are helpful and give just the right amount of info without being too little or too much. On top of that the pictures are clear and crisp well lighted.
    The only thing I would have done differently is paint the lead blocks with an enamel paint before handling them at all to avoid any exposure and seal all surfaces (even the interior of the holes).
    Great Job! I'm probably going to do this as well if I ever take any video while moving. (I already have the weight. :)

    1 reply

    Gosh, thank you, that is praise indeed!

    (Now I have to hope that lots of other people agree with you and hit the vote button!)

    The bowline is one if my favorite knots. Nice 'ible :)

    1 reply