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Product Review: Steadicam Smoothee for the Apple iPhone from Tiffen

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If you have ever shot video on your iPhone, you know how hard it is to pull off smooth filming in general, but when you are trying to film something that is in motion across uneven ground or when trying to navigate around obstacles, it really makes it that much more difficult.

When the masters of Hollywood films want to shoot smooth footage, they rely on a camera stabilizing mount for motion picture cameras. This device isolates the movement of the camera from the operator even when moving over an uneven surface, giving the film a steady, even motion.

The original device that revolutionized the film industry was the Steadicam. Now, with the introduction of Steadicam Smoothee for iPhone 4, Tiffen has produced a product that can give the same movement isolation for your iPhone and allow you to give your videos that same steady, even motion.

Steadicam Smoothee

The Steadicam Smoothee is small and comes in two pieces. The first is the main unit which contains a gimbal handle which is allowed to rotate through several directional planes. It has a curved, weighted, counterbalanced frame that works to keep the unit balanced. On the handle area are two screws that allow you to adjust the unit into a level position. The second part is the mount, a hard plastic unit that holds the camera. The unit that I have holds the iPhone 3Gs and iPhone 4/4S. There are other mounts that hold FLIP MinoHD, iPod Touch, and GoPro Hero. The company is in the process of making mounts for other similar devices. The mount also has a universal screw on the bottom that can be mounted to a tripod or monopod. The quick release mount on the Steadicam Smoothee lets you swap between them easily.

Once you put the iPhone in the bracket and mount it on the unit, the first thing is to balance it. There are two screws – one that balances to the left and right, and one that balances front to back. The goal is to try to get the camera as level as possible.

Once you get everything in balance, you have to get the hang of working with the sway – the floating movement that the Steadicam wants to do as you move. There are several ways to try to do this. The one that seemed to work best for me is a light touch of the thumb and index finger to the gimbal handle.

Steadicam Smoothee
I have loaded a video here that I captured the first time I used the Steadicam Smoothee. The first 20 seconds shows me walking down a rocky road filming with just the iPhone held as steady as I could straight out in front of me. I was surprised at how much movement there was – and no, this wasn’t an infomercial overreaction of movement, just a natural walking pace.

The second 20 seconds were using the Steadicam Smoothee. Because of the wind on this day there is some swaying movement. I was still trying to get a better feel for steadying the unit without interfering with the job it is supposed to do. This takes a little getting used to and comes with time and practice. But it is amazing to me how much difference the Smoothee made in the video.

The remainder of the video shows more of my practice with it, with my daughter horseback riding. I was moving all over the place, raising it up above my head to keep her in the frame, and the Steadicam Smoothee was keeping everything level.

I found that the Steadicam Smoothee is a real winner if you want to shoot video with your iPhone – and, I assume, the other devices that it supports. While it does work miracles with the general smoothness of the video footage, it will still take practice to really get it down – especially with strong winds or lots of movement on your part. But it really does work.

If you shoot video with an iPhone, or always wanted to but it turned out too bad because of all the shaking, then you really need to check out the Steadicam Smoothee for iPhone 4. With a little practice, you will be able to shoot anything at a much more professional level. This is why I highly recommend the Steadicam Smoothee.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.