Steadicam Smoothee review
A well-made accessory that gives handheld video a professional look
Most modern video cameras include some form of image stabilisation, but for the most part this type of technology is aimed at reducing static hand-shake, and doesn't cope as well with more exaggerated movements such as walking.
In professional circles, the answer to this problem has long been to use some kind of “rig” attached to the camera, allowing it to be rested on the shoulder, or isolated from body movements using one or more gimbal pivots and a system of counterweights.
That's the idea behind the Steadicam Smoothee. It uses a gimbal (the same sort of joint employed in keeping a ship's compass level) between the device and handle, but instead of costing hundreds or even thousands of pounds, the price is a reasonable £140.
And instead of a professional video camera, it's designed to stabilise a handheld device: through the use of interchangeable supports the Smoothee will work with an iPhone 3GS, 4 or 4S, as well as the iPod touch, Flip MinoHD and GoPro HD Hero2 action camera.
It's a very well made piece of equipment with a comfortable grip, as you might expect from a company better known for its professional and semi-professional gear, and it's a doddle to set up. The handheld device clips into a quick-release plate that slots in firmly on the top of the Smoothee, and a couple of small red knobs provide trim controls for left, right, forward and backwards levelling.
Operation isn't as simple, however. It takes a little practice before you can steer the camera smoothly, and the slightest touch sets it swinging around like a drunken student at a Ceilidh, but once you have the knack, the results are little short of astonishing.
Footage takes on a floating quality unlike anything achievable in-camera or even after with a decent editing application. Walking and even gentle running is possible with silky-smooth motion compensation, and the same goes for side-to-side movements.
The downside of the Smoothee is that there's no universal device mount, with additional mounts costing around £20. It doesn't fold up, which makes it a rather awkward travelling companion. However, as a means of transforming your footage from amateurish to something approaching professional in one fell swoop, it's a truly wondrous thing.