Steadicam Smoothee review
A well-made accessory that gives handheld video a professional look
Review Date: 7 Jun 2012
Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray
Price when reviewed: £117 (£140 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
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.
Author: Jonathan Bray
I teach video production and I test a lot of kit - and some cheap kit can produce very poor results. Or rather, regardless of what you buy, you need to practice to get the best from it, some more than others, and unless you are prepared to spend £1000+ on a stabilizer system, they're pretty much the same.
In fact, if you have a video camera - you can get a pretty good stabilizer from simply using a plastic bag: here's an example from YouTube -
For any stabilizer - including the Smoothee - practice is essential. Even a £1000+ Stedicam system requires you to train with it to use it properly.
Apart from the fact that it's hard to make an iPhone sit in a plastic bag - if you want it at eye level, you're going to have to hold it awkwardly high - and you will look a bit idiotic. But that's only what you're paying for - ease of mounting and use.
Apart from a plastic bag, there are cheaper alternatives (around £90-£100, and made in the UK);
This Smoothee is nice - but I suspect it is no different from Hague's iPhone stabilizer.
If you're also prepared to look on eBay you may find that from time to time that cheap stabilizer's are available for around £40-£50 which perform no differently than the ModoSteady (costing £60-£75) - as long as you're prepared to practice with it, then you will get the same results as 'cheap' kit three times it's price.
By Jimraf on 7 Jun 2012
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