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Steadicam Smoothee makes your iPhone glide

Serenity Caldwell | March 28, 2013
Don't undermine the video capabilities of smartphones. Alone, it provides pretty solid footage but paired with the right equipment, it can really shine.

Though Tiffen includes a step-by-step picture guide for setting up the Smoothee, it's almost not needed--the controls are simple and easy to figure out, as is the initial balancing of your device. The one tip I thought proved most helpful was how to control the system--filmmakers not used to stabilization devices might think the metal arm is there to grip and turn, rather than to provide counter-balance for the camera base. Being told that the only touch needed to control the system is a trigger-finger-and-thumb combination may seem crazy at first, but it works surprisingly well.

Using the Smoothee

A great stabilization system becomes an extension of your arm, balancing your movements without impairing them. Despite the Smoothee's (relatively) tiny price tag and plastic components, it does this with aplomb: I love holding this device while I film. It's infinitely more comfortable than shooting iPhone video with my hands--without gear, I'm terrified of jiggling or shaking the device, holding it to my chest like a prison number while I attempt to get the right shot. It's a horrible experience, and I'm constantly worried I'm going to drop it when filming in crowded areas.

Shooting with the Smoothee is smooth indeed. I took it to task during my months with the review unit, shooting while racing around on roller skates, walking down a steep hill in the snow, even incorporating a 360-degree movement shot or two. All were easy tasks for the Smoothee. It doesn't eliminate all shake, of course; in my walking and running tests, you can still tell that there's a person behind the camera. But it makes camera movements much smoother than they would be if capturing the same shot without stabilization.

I did find it harder to control the tilt and pan when moving quickly. The Smoothee's calibrations require the device balance to be perfect to get a steady tracking shot with just your fingers guiding the handle; my calibrations were often a few notches over-balanced, occasionally sending the Smoothee into a dizzying whirl if I stepped too far to the left or right.

Wind, too, is not your friend here: When I shot in windy snowfall, it was very difficult to keep the device level and shooting straight on while only using the handle. In that situation, I eventually decided to forego some of the device's smoothness by controlling direction with the balancing arm, rather than the handle. You'll lose some of the floating quality of the Smoothee, but you gain much more horizontal and vertical control.

Unsurprisingly, your arm will get tired after a few minutes of holding the device--while it comprises only a few pounds of plastic and metal, even those few pounds seem exhaustively heavy after a period of time. But chances are you won't be shooting three continuous minutes of video; taking short 30-second breaks made all the difference for me in shooting a thirty-minute roller derby scrimmage.

 

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