Introduction: Video Pole for Sport Videos - Design Logic
This is my first instructable - so be gentle in the comments - but do comment!
I needed a solution to elevate my video camera above the heads of average humans after a very frustrating Lacrosse tournament where the footage ended up being unusable because of people continuously walking in front of my regular tripod. I've built my first version in summer 2016 and had quite a few questions to publish basic instructions - so it's about time...
In a nutshell, this video pole design is not unique or original, but with all the DIY options I made it my own. It basically connects a speaker stand tripod, telescoping flag pole, garage door pulley's, some angled and flat aluminium bar material, select camera connectors, a few nuts and bolts, copious amounts of duct tape, and even part of an old cutting board into a manual pan and tilt 20 foot tripod.
Electronics consist of the video equipment I already had: a Sony video camera, portable monitor, microphone and wired remote, supplemented with some longer cables to connect the head to the control base.
This is NOT a step by step "how to build" Instructable, but rather a discussion of the design concepts and some ramblings on how I approached it - long after the initial build.
Step 1: Material, Parts and Tools
All the materials and tools were readily available from local hardware stores or online retailers. Below is a short summary of the main parts:
Materials and Parts:
Mechanical and Hardware:
Harbor Freight 20 Ft Telescoping Flag Pole (or similar 25 Ft Aluminum Telescoping Flagpole)
6 Ft Speaker Stand
3 inch Garage door pulleys
2" x 2" Aluminum Angle
Nite Ize RR-04-50 Reflective Nylon Cord (or any strong, non stretching cord - like paracord)
Liberty Mountain Aluminium Guyline Adjuster
Miscellaneous camera equipment parts for the control arm:
15mm rods (30 cm length) - 3 pieces
rod clamp rail block - 1
rod clamp with 1/4"-20 thread - 2 pieces
rod clamp with hot shoe mount - 2 pieces
Rod End Protective Cap Stoppers (or similar sized M12 bolts and nuts to fit the ends of the 15mm rods)
Quick Connect adapters:
1/4" Mini Quick Release Plate system - 2 pieces (for monitor and camera)
Manfrotto 323 style quick release plate with special adapter 200PL-14 (for head unit to pole connector)
Cold Shoe flash stand adapter (for microphone)
Electronics and Cabling:
Movo VXR1000 microphone
Sony RM-VPR1 Extension Cable 27 ft. (PR27 Cable)
Sony HDR-CX455 Full HD camcorder
Neewer NW759 7 inch 1280x800 IPS Screen Camera Field Monitor
Sony RM-VPR1 Remote Control with Multi-Terminal Cable
HDMI to Micro HDMI left Angle cable
Assorted other materials:
U Bolt clamps to fit around flagpole (3 or 4 inch?)
Threaded wingnuts to fit the U Bolts - both round and star shaped heads
Simpson Strong Tie 66T 14-Gauge 6-Inch by 5-Inch T-Strap
ABS or PVC pipe with inner diameter just big enough to fit over speaker stand raiser pole, and outer diameter slightly smaller than flagpole lower section inner diameter (use duct tape to build op the OD to fit)
Techflex 1/2 inch braided cable sleeve - 25 ft
3/4" flat metal bar
HDPE sheet from an old cutting board
Various screws, nuts and bolts
Step 2: Design Decisions
There are many commercial video pole solutions out there, each with benefits and drawbacks (for me, mostly the price!).
My design is based on extensive online research and borrowing ideas from others - or finding confirmation for some of my own ideas, but already executed by somebody else. I wanted a cost efficient, light weight, portable solution to use for mostly youth soccer and lacrosse videos. It should be easy to set up single handedly, move between games in a "run and gun" fashion, and pack compact enough for a regular sized vehicle - even possibly airline friendly for away games.
Initially I looked at many electric and electronic pan and tilt solutions, but they were either to expensive for my budget, or lacking in functionality - mostly high speed panning to keep up with close up video of fast moving sport either cost thousands, or took 10's of seconds to pan 180 degrees side to side.
It became clear that a manual pan and tilt option would be needed to keep my budget (and wife) happy, and provide the desired pan and tilt options. My first version pole is based on the principle of rotating the pole for a panning, and a mechanically connected tilt mechanism.
I eventually stumbled on a design by the Frugal Filmaker for a camera boom that was easily adaptable to a fixed pole solution. This design became the basis for my first pole - but I already have improvements in mind for a future version. More later...
Step 3: Building the Pole
The main part of the Video Pole consist of a modified Harbor Freight telescoping flagpole - it's affordable, lightweight, stable, and readily available in the USA. Similar models are available from online retailers as well...
I removed the top ball portion from the pole and replaced it with a wooden dowel center support - this will allow for a much stronger connection to the swiveling head unit. A hole was drilled to act as the axle for the swiveling head assembly.
I also removed the cap on the bottom section of the pole to allow it to slip over the tripod to stand upright.
Step 4: Tripod
To make the flagpole freestanding without having to dig a 2ft deep hole each time (which most field owners frown upon - especially if artificial turf is involved) I looked into many commercial options. Several people use surveyor tripods, large camera tripods, or custom build tripods. I could not find any tripod online that meet my needs - either to expensive, not strong enough, or center hole not big enough to fit the flagpole base.
I ended up using an inexpensive speaker stand that slip into the bottom section of the flag pole - the reason why the flag pole bottom end cap was removed in the previous step. To make the flagpole fit over the center column of the speaker stand required the removal of the center collar and locking pin of the stand - this is the part that normally connects to the bottom of the speaker when mounted on top of the stand. For my stand it simply required the removal of a few screws and slipping off the plastic bracket from the central column. Later I cut a few inches from the center column so that the tripod assembly could fit in a stand roiling duffel bag to allow check in for domestic airline travel - it worked surprisingly well and didn't affect the overall stability.
To prevent the pole from wobbling due to the differences in diameter of the flagpole and speaker stand pole, I used a section of ABS pipe that had almost the same inside diameter as the speaker pole's center column's outter diameter - it's not a snug fit and should have a bit of play to allow the flagpole to rotate.
The ABS pipe was then covered in duct tape (make sure to role it on very smoothly, without wrinkles) to get the outside diameter to match the inside of the flag pole bottom section. To prevent an unstable pole (which translates into shaky video) try to get the diameters as close as possible - a smooth fit that is not to tight helps with final stability and setup. I used almost a roll of duct tape - and it's still holding up a year and hundreds of games later (scuffed, but worth the effort to get it smooth and correct thickness).
If you have access to a lathe, or is very determined to manually sand ABS or PVC, it should be possible to get interconnecting pieces of pipe to fit closely, with turning down the outsides to make them fit perfectly. Since I don't (yet) own a lathe I tried a manual sanding approach initially, but gave up after a few tries and found the duct taped option much easier.
Step 5: Tilting Head Assembly
Now that the flagpole and tripod base has been completed, the next step involves the construction of a tilting head to allow for almost 180 degree tilting - yes, it can be used as a very long selfie stick, and tacking pictures of airplanes overhead is possible...
My design is very simply a horizontal axle (long bolt) through the top of the flag pole that is tied on one side to a garage door pulley, and on the other side supporting an optional additional bracket for a wide angle camera.
A piece of Aluminum angle is bolted to the pulley to form a platform to mount the camera on - this required strategically placed holes to be drilled into the angle and pulley. On top of the angle I attached a Manfrotto 323 style quick release adapter that connects the head to the camera support plate - this is really useful to quickly assemble and disassemble for transportation.
Step 6: Central Control Base Unit
The central control base unit is where everything comes together - it connects the tilt head, flagpole, electronic controls and operator into a fully functional unit.
The base should be big enough to comfortable hold, and have room for your monitor/s, the tilt handle, and any remotes or other equipment. And my next version will include a cup holder big enough for my water bottle - if you are busy following high speed sports you can't turn around looking for a drink...
Since I'm left handled, I decided to mount the tilt handle on the left and screen and remote on the right. When operating the pole, especially when panning, I hold onto the tilt handle and right side bracket to stabilize everything.
The control base was assembled using a square piece of HDPE plastic from an old cutting board as the base - this is a strong, lightweight and cheap solution, but any flat rigid material can also be used. This square was attached to the flagpole using large U Bolts with nylon nuts for easy removal for transport.
On top of the sheet a 15mm clamp rail block was mounted to capture two horizontal 15mm rods that form the main support and control bar - this was probably overkill but since I had them laying around it worked for me...
Step 7: Electronics
The Video Pole can be used with any small to medium sized video camera - as long as there is some way to control it remotely. I initially used my Sony DSC HX90V point and shoot digital camera in movie mode connected via Wi-Fi to an LG tablet with the standard Sony PlayMemories app. This worked better than expected, but eventually the slight lag in display feedback and zoom controls, combined with the short battery life in movie mode, convinced me to move to a dedicated video camera - a Sony HDR CX-455. This model was selected due to HDMI output, remote control capability, external audio jack for a microphone, and light weight. Image quality in full HD is acceptable, but 4K would be my next choice (but the 4K Sony model is quadruple the price of this HD model).
The off the shelf Sony RM-VPR1 remote control has a cable that unplug from the remote and this allows you to use a 27ft extension cable. The zoom control and remote power switch makes controlling the camera much easier than the Wi-Fi based tablet app - zoom especially is incremental and much smoother.
Video out is via the camera's HDMI port to a separate field monitor - also via a 25ft lightweight HDMI cable. Since this camcorder model doesn't show the control data / text via the HDMI output I had to add a separate little spycam camera to the head unit (powered via a 12v AA battery pack on the base control unit) to simply show the camcorder's screen - especially to see if I'm recording or in standby mode. The video is displayed on a 7 inch 1280x800 IPS screen field monitor with dual inputs - main is the HDMI feed from the camera, and auxiliary is for the spycam feed to see the camcorder controls. Toggling between the two inputs is very easy with the provided buttons.
To round off the electronics I added a cheap shotgun Condenser microphone with a dead cat windshield to minimize the wind noise and capture mostly referee whistles and sometimes chatty spectators.
All the cabling (remote, HDMI, spycam power and video feed) was included in a 1/2 inch braided cable sleave to keep them together and protected.
Step 8: Camera Mounting Plate
Using Manfrotto style quick connect, built on a standard T shaped metal connector plate used for fencing, with some strategically places custom holes to fit a camera quick release, microphone hotshoe mount, and the spycam. Make sure this is balanced as much as possible to avoid unnecessary strain on the tilting mechanism.
I also used some spacer blocks to make sure the cabling routes directly to the relevant camcorder ports without putting strain in the ports - which can easily break!
A sun shade to protect the camcorder's fold out screen is highly recommended - for now I'm just taping gaffer's tape over it to provide some shade, but a lightweight foam more permanent version is in the works...
And finally, when erecting the whole system make sure to table the cable to the top part of the pole to allow for strain relief - when the 25ft cable is hanging straight down it completely over powers the tilt mechanism and makes the controls virtually unusable. Simply using gaffer's tape to add a strain relief loop below the top mechanism resolves this problem.
Step 9: Using the Pole
Now that everything has been built, some notes on how to assemble and disassemble the contraption is helpful.
Set up tripod - leveling as needed with shims, rocks, any way you want. (later added 1/4 inch stainless screws with wingnuts to the tripod legs to allow for better leveling)
Add spacer tube
Slide bottom section of the pole over the spacer tube.
Connect camera and microphone to the camera plate - make sure all connectors are correctly connected.
Add a new battery to the camcorder - have plenty of spares!
Manually raise the pole sections by hand as high as needed - keep it lower on windy days to minimize vibration.
Connect the tilt control rope - two turns around each pulley (top and bottom) and then a turn or two vertically to add some friction is sufficient. Make sure pole is at correct height, not binding at the bottom on the tripod, and then tension the control ropes. Test the tilt control - and adjust the direction as needed. Depending on how many turns are included to twist the rope, lifting the tilt handle could either point the camera up or down - this is a personal preference and can be adjusted to suit your filming style.i like to have the camera move in the same direction as the tilt handle - i.e, when the handle is lifted, the camera points down. But you might prefer it in reverse...
Connect the monitor and control cables, add a battery or external power, and test that everything works as expected. I now take about 5 minutes to set up the system - but initially it took significantly longer.
To disassemble follow the above in reverse.
Sometimes games are played back to back on different fields, and it's fairly easy to move the whole system without collapsing the pole - just make sure to keep it absolutely vertical, and have a helper carry the tripod to the new location.
Step 10: Future Enhancements
Better pole - the telescoping pole was not designed for repeated assembly and disassembly - the twisting locking mechanisms seems to be wearing out and fails to connect sporadically - a big role of gaffer's tape is very handy!
Tripod redesign - build custom, larger footprint version to be more stable - and find smoother pasnning solution (using sleave bearings and or lazy susan style turntable bearings.
Better tilt control ropes - possibly remove the pulleys with ropes around them and replace with a spreader bar style connection with two direct ropes or straps - might not be able to do full 180 degrees anymore, but will be easier to control in smaller range?
Or go for an all electronic pan and tilt head - there are several instructables and other examples, or a semi custom build bassed on ServoCity pan and tilt mechanisms could work. Speed of operation, weight, and power requirements should be considered.