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Review: Steadicam Smoothee for the Apple iPhone

Steadicam Smoothee

Anyone who loves making films knows what a Steadicam is. It gives you those beautiful shots that look like the camera is effortlessly floating around the scene like it’s on a cloud. Some of Hollywood’s best movies featured a scene with the Steadicam like Raging Bull, The Shinning and Children of Men. And it’s all thanks to Garret Brown: the Pioneer of the Steadicam. Did I mention he’s a really nice guy in person?

Tiffen came out with a much more simpler version of the unit that can be used with your iPhone, as well as for the GoPro camera–or dare I say this, the now extinct Flip Mino. In my use I must say it was not as easy as I was expecting. I ran into a few snags when shooting.

Tech Specs

From B&H’s listing for the Steadicam Smoothee

Mount Thread 1/4″-20
Dimensions (WxHxD) 8″W x 14.5″ H x 2.5″ D (20.3 x 36.8 x 6.4cm)
Weight Not specified by manufacturer

 

Ergonomics

 

When you first open the Smoothee, you will notice the bright red knobs on the side left side and back. The knob on the left side controls the tilt of the unit from left to right, and the knob on the back controls the tilt of the unit up and down. Your goal is to make the adjustments so the unit sits level with whatever camera you have mounted on the top of the unit. All of this will balance on the one center point of the smoothee–the gimbal. The Gimbal sits below the adjustment knobs in the center with a handle attached to it for you to “fly” the unit. If you have successfully made all the adjustments and your iPhone/other camera and it is sitting level, then congrats, you have found the center of gravity for your camera of choice.

Now depending on what camera you have mounted, you may need move the front mounted counter weight to help in balancing the unit. It took me a little time to find my iPhone 4′s balance to where I thought it was level.

Your camera of choice will mount into the the Smoothee by simply sliding it in, and turning the lock to secure it in place. The mounting plate will also double as a tripod mount as well.

Overall, from the very solid feeling metal, to the quality plastics used in this device you know you are getting a product that is of the Steadicam name.

In Use

I highly recommend that you don’t dive into this device without reading the instructions and watching the videos to get a better idea how to fly this thing. But even after watching the videos, you will have to practice using the unit to get an understanding of the physics involved of using it.

Before, I mentioned a had a bit of a hard time. I was a little frustrated at first. You can’t fight it. You must learn to understand how the Smoothee works, and than you will learn to fly it better. When I set out to shoot some video with it (you can find that at the bottom.) I put myself into the shoes of someone who will buy a Smoothee and want to shoot some video right away. My shots were not perfect, and at times I tend to swim a bit with the unit. Sometimes, there is a hint of a really smooth shot. With some more practice I feel I might get the hang of it a little better.

But video on the iPhone can be tough. I knew that there were some apps out there that worked a little better than Apple’s less than great Camera app that comes standard on your iPhone. I mean sure, it can record video. But you have no real control! The fact is you really don’t have too much control over exposure or shutter/ISO. And that my friends is a pain.

I was able to bring some of that control back with an app for the iPhone called CinePro . TheiPhone 4/4s and all others before have a fixed aperture. With the iPhone 4 the aperture is f2.8.

But at least with the help of CinePro I was able to take control of the ISO on the iPhone. Like most of the Photo/Video apps on the App Store, you are stuck with clicking on the screen to set your exposure. CinePro will allow you to lock both your exposure and white balance once you have the desired settings. You also have the ability to record with up to 55mbps quality video!

A bit of a warning though, recording all of the video for this review, I did not know it was set to SD instead of HD.You had to look for the “Best Available” quality setting to enable HD. It should be called HD quality instead of best available. This should be enabled by default!

Conclusion

Using the Smoothee was kind of interesting and frustrating at the same time. I have flown a bigger rig like the Pilot beforehand. That’s definitely more involved than the Smoothee. To me the Smoothee aims to take the difficult part of out of flying the professional rigs and bringing it to the casual user who likes to shoot video with their iPhone or GoPro.

Is this something I would buy? Probably not. Not because I did not like the Smoothee, but rather I’m just not a fan of iPhone video making. I rather feel a real camera for video is the way to go. Perhaps someday we will be able to make incredible videos with something as small as an iPhone with amazing quality. But for my discerning eyes, it just isn’t there yet.

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