DIY Gimbal for DIY Steadicam or How To Build the Perfect Camera Stabilizer

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Since I'm no longer selling the DIY Highball steadicam, you may wanna check out these other camera stabilizers. Click on any picture.
GoPro Smoothee Stabilizer by Steadicam
Glidecam HD 2000
Flycam Stabilizer
Check out the stabilizers on Amazon CanadaAmazon.UK and Amazon.DE.
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Update: There's a new article where you can learn how to build a GoPro steadicam - it works with compacts and DSLRs as well. Watch the videos below to see my new glidecam design.





This article is part of a series that teaches you how to make your DIY steadicam.

The pictures below and the above construction scheme show you how to make a gimbal for your DIY camera stabilizer. But as simple as it may look, the reality is it's a painstaking work that needs lots of attention to details if you want to get that smooth video footage.

Why am I saying this? Well, I wasn't able to get the steadicam to work properly with this gimbal design (which was inspired by YouTube user realbuggerwatch his clip below). What I mean is this: I didn't execute the work perfectly and I accumulated small errors here and there that ultimately made it impossible for me to balance the glidecam...



I'm currently working on another design (I dropped the cube idea) which includes some machinery work (also a two piece top plate for placing the camera on - sliding in two directions for fine tune balancing). The point is the cube and ball bearings gimbal work fine if you execute it right. Just as realbugger shows you in his clip - even though he admits he went through trial and error before reaching the final version.

Wooden cube and skate bearing

How to make the gimbal

You need a wooden cube and a drill with a spade drill bit and a regular bit: the spade to drill holes for the bearings and the regular one to drill the gaps for the bolt heads and the hole for the threaded bar that goes through the cube.

Spade drill bit

I had the cube made by a friend of mine who runs a furniture business (he has the proper machinery for this kind of work, lathe and all). And I recommend you do the same - look for a local workshop that can do it for you. They have special drilling machines where the piece is being held in a vise and the boring is much more precise. A specialized shop can usually do it better than you and as long as the cost is not prohibitive, you should give it a shot.

The cube has to be perfect in all aspects:
  • each set of faces have to be parallel 
  • respect the 90 degree angle on each corner
  • each hole must be perfectly centered on the face
  • each pair of holes must perfectly aligned so that the skate bearings will be parallel and centered on an imaginary line that passes through them (see the infographic above)

Ball bearing and wood cube

Wooden cube for DIY gimbal

Bolt and ball bearing

Pass a bolt through each of the bearings on which the gimbal handle will be attached. In my case, the gap wasn't large enough to accommodate the bolt head so I cut it off with a hack saw, leaving just a thin piece (see pic above).

Gimbal from wooden cube

Add a self locking nut on the bolt and tighten it. Now the bearing spins on the bolt. Add some resin glue on the bearing and inside the hole and slide the bearing in the cube. Use a ruler to make sure the bearing is aligned with the surface of the cube.

Do the same with the rest of the bearings. One pair of bearings shouldn't have any bolts in - those will hold the main shaft of the whole rig. Let the glue harden over night.

Ball bearing and wooden cube

Make a frame out of flat stock for the handle. Drill it accordingly on the lateral ends to be placed on the gimbal. Also drill a hole for the handle.

Gimbal handle

Take a PVC 90 degree elbow and heat it above an open flame. Force the bearing in while the pipe is still malleable. Bent the margins as to hold the bearing inside - let it cool down and you're done! Don't forget to prepare the bearing beforehand (slide in on a bolt and add a locking nut).

DIY gimbal

DIY Steadicam gimbal

Assemble the gimbal and you're good to go.

Now just add the main shaft along with the upper and lower weight plates and you've got yourself a new stabilizer. That's the easy part - the hard part is shooting and editing interesting videos. :-)

Steadicam gimbal

Steadicam DIY gimbal

Add duct tape on the bar for a close fit. I used 8 mm thick threaded bar (50 cm long) and bearings with 22 mm exterior diameter and 8 mm interior diameter.

Make a gimbal

You don't wanna tighten the bearings too much on the threaded rod. Actually leave a tiny gap between the bearing and the two nuts tighten against each other that act as a stopper. This grants a free spin of the bearing.

You can also use locking nuts to hold the gimbal in place but the thing is it's hard to thread a locking nut 20 cm on the bar. If you want to move the gimbal higher or lower on your rig (depending on the camera you're using) it's easier to loosen the nuts and then spin then by hand (you need pliers to hold the rod if you wanna do that with the locking nut).

DIY Steadicam

DIY camera gimbal

Notice my previous DIY gimbal in the background. The main advantage with it is that it "auto" adjusts since it has 3 concentric PVC rings - you can't go wrong with it.

However, professional camera stabilizers have a 3 axis gimbal where the movement on each axis is done via a ball bearing which means everything is much smoother. That's the goal you want to accomplish with this design (and with the one I'll be releasing soon).

Steadicam Gimbal in DIY Camera Stabilizer

And there you have it - a DIY glidecam to shoot movie like scenes that'll impress your friends. You'll also get tons of attention whenever you're out shooting videos (people coming to you asking What's that?) :-)

See the full batch of pictures with my project here.

DIY Glidecam for GoPro Camera

Why this didn't work for me

Firstly, I didn't ask my friend to drill the wooden cube as I show you in the infographic above (see top of this post). So each hole was deeper than it should have been.

Because of that, my bearings weren't exactly resting on anything. They were only touching the lateral walls of the bore so my only solution for fixing them was to add the resin glue.

I tried to have them parallel with the faces of the cube but what if each set of faces weren't parallel? Or what if each pair of holes wasn't perfectly aligned nor diametrically opposed? Maybe there were small imperfections in the cube itself which led to other minor imperfections in placing the bearings which also cumulated with...

Bad placement of bearing in PVC pipe handle. The bolt sticking out of the bearing was sightly tilted, which means the bearing was tilted within the PVC handle, etc.

I should mention the metal frame of the handle was imperfect as well. There was more weight on one arm which also caused imbalance and the bends were incorrect: one arm was lower than the other. The two arms weren't within the same mathematical plane.

The funny part was I only became aware of all these issues after I assembled the stabilizer and tried to balance it for more than two hours without any success.

Conclusion

At this point I'm pursuing another design but I may come back to the cube since it's kinda cute and easy to implement. And now I know what I did wrong so that's a valuable lesson about physics and the principles behind this type of gimbal.

I'll be experimenting with custom manufactured pieces coz I want to achieve the best performance possible. Mostly I'm curious if that's the key to perfect balance and optimal work flow when actually shooting video.

Over to you
  • Did you build a camera stabilizer?
  • Do you think it's worth the effort?
  • What other tips can you suggest for a minimalist DIY steadicam design with maximum functionality?http://www.highballblog.com/2011/07/how-to-edit-gopro.html


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13 comments :

  1. I wish I was handy enough to create stuff like this on my own... I wish I could,but I will have to find one for purchase!

    ReplyDelete
  2. :-) I may sell the new prototype I'm working on. Gotta fix all the issues first.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Do you think such a design would work for a more heavier camera, one weighing almost 1 Kg? I've been wanting to make one since I first saw your design almost a for a year now, but I never ended up actually doing it. Now I need one really bad for a work I'm gonna do, so I'm trying to get informed about the easiest and most effective way of making one that works right and isn't hard to balance.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi, Robert!

    It should work with a heavier camera as well. The one thing I'll modify is the handle. Currently I'm doing another gimbal design along with a new (stronger) handle that should work with a DSLR.

    I got some pieces from the manufacturer and waiting for the rest (the upper sliding camera plate that should accommodate almost any type of camera, compacts and DSLRs included).

    Experiment a little (with the risk of failing) and you may come up with a good solution.

    Anyway, my short answer is yes. The only problem I see is the fatigue one can get by operating a heavy camera for a long time (without the articulated arm as in the original Steadicam).

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey!
    Good job!
    Unfortunately the 3 axis gimbal requires a high precision machine:( but this isn't the only problem: I see you're using threaded shaft there. Unfortunately their diameter always change (depending on manifacturers). Let's say you have a 8mm inner diameter bearing. You'd need a 7.98 diameter shaft, but M8 threaded shafts you find at hardware store are in the best of case 7.90 (7.70 in the worst of case!) So you have play there and that's not good at all for a 3 axis gimbal since system can pan by itself:(

    For a 3 axis gimbal a milling machine and a lathe is required!

    Why not a universal joint+ball bearing on Z axe? This doesn't require all that precision and it works pretty good!!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey,Jaco! Thanks.

    I used some duct tape on the threaded shaft to fit the bearings perfectly.

    There's a new prototype up, where I used a lathe for the gimbal. Click here to see how it looks and how it performs.

    I like the shaft design better than the Merlin-like type of stabilizers. I think there a few advantages here:
    - better titling of the shaft
    - the possibility to shoot upside down with the camera
    - easier to rotate the camera by spinning the shaft

    Most of the TV and Hollywood camera operators use a shaft Steadicam for their gliding shots. There must be a reason for that.

    Garret Brown himself made the Merin as a second option stabilizer but not as a prime tool for professional looking steady footage.

    These are my reasons for not using the universal joint glidecam. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is great!!
    thanks for the excellent post
    Bravo!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Very informative!!
    thank you for this great post!
    i have tried making this using limited resource and not well measured, and failed....
    your explanation make me understand and ready for another try by tomorrow :d

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hear you, man. It's a lot of trial and error until you get it right.

      Thanks!

      Delete
  9. I like your basic design, but I am going to make a smaller inverted "steadicam" for use in a Quad / Hexacopter.

    I am adapting your basic cube design to use aluminum square tube stock and flanged ball bearings.

    The flanged bearings will just require a single hole drilled from one side through the other (alleviating misalignment and bearing depth problems) and the flanges will hold the bearings from going through.

    Flanged ball bearings are about $3.50 each from bearings direct for 1/4" ID bearings which is what I am going to use for the GoPro.

    I have a milling machine, but this job could easily be done with a drill press and careful layout.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I am adapting your basic cube idea to use square aluminum tube stock and flanged ball bearings for an upside down "steadicam' for a quadcopter.

    Much easier to drill correctly from one side through the other and flanged bearings eliminate bearing seating issue.

    1/4" ID flanged ball bearings are bout $3.50 each from Bearings Direct.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cool project, Gary! Drop a link with a Facebook photo album or something when you're done. Or a video. :-)

      Thanks for the comment.

      Delete

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