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Smartphone Shooting: Tiffen’s Steadicam Smoothee Transforms Your iPhone or GoPro

3/21/2013 9:32 AM Eastern

Steadicams come in all sizes to accommodate most shooting rigs. The latest is the Steadicam Smoothee from Tiffen, a camera stabilization device designed for iPhones (3GS/4/4S/5) and the GoPro camera (HERO2 and 3). The Smoothee does exactly what full-sized Steadicams do, except on the much smaller scale appropriate for iPhone videography. This 1.75 lb. unit does a fantastic job of stabilizing the roughly 5 oz. Apple iPhone, turning a lightweight media device into a steady shooting platform.

Features

Steadicam Smoothee may be operated one-handed with just a thumb. Hold the gimbal handle with your dominant hand and place your thumb on the slot used to lock the gimbal in place for travel mode. With a light touch of your thumb you can pan/tilt and guide the Smoothee.

Steadicam Smoothee ships with camera mount (iPhone 4, in my case), user guide and belt clip. The only assembly required is mounting your phone to the top plate. The process is no different than mounting any camera to a tripod, so users should have no trouble. (Note that the addition of an iPhone case or attachment may prevent your phone from fitting properly into the Smoothee device mount.)

The next step is balancing. The Smoothee is the easiest Steadicam device to balance of all I’ve reviewed. The initial “rough” balance is achieved by sliding the plastic Steadicam nameplate up or down the stabilization bar. Fine balance is accomplished by using two red knobs: the knob on the back, which controls the fore and aft movements, and the side knob, which adjusts left and right tilt. These minor adjustments to fine-tune the Smoothee’s stabilization may require a few moments to execute, depending on wind conditions and other factors. The comfortable ergonomic grip fits easily in your hand and takes no effort to use.

Once you’ve balanced the Smoothee, you might want to consult the great online tutorials Tiffen offers. There’s a video that explains exactly what the Smoothee can do—it’s well worth spending 20 minutes or so to watch it.
Smoothee tutorial: www.tiffen.com/steadicam_smoothee_operations_video.html
Keep in mind, however, that the Smoothee is probably the only device I’ve ever reviewed that needs no instruction manual. It’s very intuitive.

In Use
I’m not a big fan of shooting action with an iPhone, as I have access to all of the video capture devices in our school’s equipment cage, but a lot of my students had been bugging me to get my hands on a Smoothee. iPhones have come a long way in image quality, and the next logical step was for someone to create a stabilization device to make their good shots look even better.

The Smoothee’s quick release mount lets you swap camera connections between the Smoothee and a tripod. The quick release removable mount also serves as a tabletop stand or can be mounted to any tripod with a standard 1/4” x 20 camera mount.

I examined the Smoothee with a few of my students. The test scenario was capturing a fluid shot in one of our university’s cornfields. We mounted a student’s iPhone 4 to the Smoothee—I needed to make only minor adjustments with the red knobs for leveling—and she took off, shooting a smooth POV shot as she ran. A DSLR or standard video camera would have been awkward to use in this situation because of its size and weight, but the Smoothee’s compact profile was easy to maneuver through the stalks of corn. We quickly learned that the trick to moving quickly with the device is to make sure your legs—or corn stalks—do not jostle the Smoothee.

Capturing a reverse angle of someone running was as simple as mounting the iPhone so that the camera portion was facing rearward. It would have been much more difficult—and possibly dangerous—to run through the cornfield backward. Instead, by mounting the camera facing toward the rear, the operator had a pretty good idea of where to shoot. The student ran through the corn again and, holding the camera slightly higher, kept her shoulder out of the footage.

The last shot in the sequence was of the actor’s feet running. Simply holding the Smoothee with the camera upside down (pointed toward the ground) and flipping the image on the iPhone, we got a great low-angle shot. The Smoothee certainly makes these types of tracking shots easier, without a lot of wear and tear on the operator.

Summary
If you’re shooting with an iPhone or GoPro and need stabilized shots, look no further than the Steadicam Smoothee. With its extremely short learning curve, anyone can master it quickly. And as with any stabilization device, the more you use it, the more adept you become.   
 

Product: Tiffen Steadicam Smoothee
Score:
Pros: Very easy to mount and master. Much shorter learning curve than with other Steadicam models. Ready to use right out of the box. Compact and easy to carry.
Cons: Quality limited by what your iPhone/GoPro shoots.
Bottom Line: The easiest way to get smooth, stabilized shots with an iPhone or GoPro.
MSRP: Steadicam Smoothee $169, iPhone or GoPro mount $25