I've always dabbled in filmmaking to some capacity: I've had various flings with movie-making throughout my school days--including a particularly-inspired history class project recreating scenes from Star Wars for a unit on democracy--and the one thing I got drilled into my head, over and over, was that your equipment mattered. Your story could be phenomenal, but if you used no mic and bounced your camera all over the place, you'd have an unwatchable video.
A decade later, taking video with a smartphone is strikingly similar: the smartphone alone provides pretty solid footage, but paired with the right equipment, it can really shine. The iPhone, for example, is fairly miraculous in terms of what it can do naturally. If someone had told me at age 15 that in a decade I'd be able to afford a better, nicer camera than the DV model I had just shelled out for (and it'd be able to fit in my pocket!) I would have laughed them right out of the room. But its tiny camera has flaws: Its microphone isn't great. It has low-light troubles. And oh, my, the digital video shake.
So when I caught a glimpse of Tiffen's Steadicam Smoothee at CES earlier this year, I was rather captivated. Tiffen has been in the film business a long time--the Steadicam brand is recognized worldwide--and the company was one of the earliest to market with a Steadicam arm for mobile devices.
I've been using a review unit for awhile now, in a number of different circumstances and situations, and I'm incredibly impressed. Not only is the Smoothee incredibly stable for its rather small size--a testament to the brand behind it--but it's cheap, too. In contrast with other Steadicam units, which can range anywhere from $700 to tens of thousands of dollars, the iPhone 5 model retails for $169 (and is just $150 at B&H Photo).
Out of the box, the Smoothee is little more than a foot in height. The build is similar to Tiffen's handheld Merlin model, though the Smoothee uses quite a bit more plastic in various areas and offers fewer controls. Two knobs at the Smoothee's camera base allow you to adjust the tilt: The side knob offers left and right controls, while the rear knob lets you tilt up or down. These controls help balance your iPhone or GoPro through the gimbal and get it comfortably in your hand.
The Smoothee has two main controls for tilt.
The iPhone itself clips into the Smoothee using a spring-released square plastic mount. Pop the iPhone into the mount, then snap the mount into the Smoothee, and all you have to do from there is balance the stabilizer in your hand. You will need to remove any case or covering from your iPhone before inserting it into the clip, as it's designed to fit the shape of your device.
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