DIY Steadicam Smoothee Mod – Cheesycam Baby Merlin

Yup, within the first few minutes the Steadicam Smoothee walked through the door it was laying helplessly in pieces on my workbench. As I suspected, it's quite easy to modify this little stabilizer. With a quick release adapter, a top stage that can be fine tuned Left/Right & Forward/Back for easy balance, and one of the smoothest Gimbals on the market, i'm calling this the 'Cheesycam Baby Merlin'. If you haven't seen how smooth the Gimbal is, check out the earlier video (here).

The original Steadicam Merlin will run you about $800 dollars (click here to see), and I know there's a ton of people who want something similar for their GH2 or Sony NEX5n cameras. With this DIY, you can have just about the same features for 1/5th the price! Here's how I went about the mod.

Peel Back the sticker at the  base and you'll find a few small screws. Remove the metal plates inside so you can drill through the base.

Steadicam-Smoothee-Mod (1 of 17)IMG_0939

I reassembled the base (without the metal plates) and then drilled through the center (almost center - oops). Using a 3/8" Drill Bit, I was able to stuff a 1/4 x 20 coupler perfectly inside.

Steadicam-Smoothee-Mod (4 of 17)Steadicam-Smoothee-Mod (6 of 17)

On the underside of the coupler, I added a washer and 1/4x20 screw to keep it from pulling through the top. On top I added my weight bracket. You could use just about anything here, and my counterweight was at 13.6 oz. which is needed to counter balance the 5D Mark II + 50mm F/1.4 (2.6lbs total).

Steadicam-Smoothee-Mod (7 of 17)Steadicam-Smoothee-Mod (8 of 17)

DIY TIP
If you want to build your own counterbalance that can swing left to right, and allow you to adjust weights up or down, check out this little mock-up using basic off the shelf parts (below). An Eye Bolt will be at the top of your counterweight setup (attached to the base of the Smoothee). A threaded coupler will allow you to attach a long all-thread rod. You can use heavy washers on the rod and a pass-through thumb knob at the bottom. You'll probably need a second thumb knob above the washers to clamp them down. If you need to make it less bottom heavy adjust the weights upwards. If you need to make it more bottom heavy, adjust the weights downwards.

Adjustable-Counterweight-DIY-Baby-Merlin-Stabilizer
Click image for larger view

Or you could also start with one of these slotted metal Dual Camera brackets to build up your swinging counterweight system.
Dual Camera Bracket
find-price-button Dual Metal Camera Bracket

Not really a cost saving idea, but If you really wanted that finished look like mine has, then here's where I cannablized the lower counterweight bracket from.
Opteka Steadicam Stabilizer
find-price-button Opteka Video Camera Stabilizer

For the Quick Release plate, I used a hacksaw to cut straight across and filed it down flat.

Steadicam-Smoothee-Mod (11 of 17)Steadicam-Smoothee-Mod (12 of 17)

Drilled a hole down the middle of the QR plate, and added a screw underneath. I had to trim a bit underside to get the screw to fit.

Steadicam-Smoothee-Mod (13 of 17)Steadicam-Smoothee-Mod (15 of 17)

There you go! A modified Steadicam Smoothee made into the Cheesycam Baby Merlin. A nice stabilizer with an adjustable top stage, a Quick release mount, Fine Tuning knobs for quick balance, and adjustable weights underneath with movement to counterbalance uneven weight.

Steadicam-Smoothee-Mod (16 of 17)

Originally modified to use with my Sony HX9V or Canon S100, but sturdy enough to rock my Canon 5D Mark II + 50mm F/1.4 (2.6lbs.) This is a no-brainer awesome Stabilizer for all kinds of smaller cameras like the Micro Four Thirds, or Sony NEX5n / NEX-7 type cameras. Right now these little Smoothee stabilizers are on sale (click here).

GoPro-Steadicam-Smoothee-DIY-Steadicam
find-price-button Steadicam Smoothee for GoPro and iPhone

Steadicam-Merlin
find-price-button Original (more expensive) Steadicam Merlin Camera Stabilizer

 91 Comments





91 thoughts on “DIY Steadicam Smoothee Mod – Cheesycam Baby Merlin

  1. keithm

    Hey. I'm just about to do this and I see some people have been asking about what mount to use. The iPhone mounts are a bit hollow inside so the gopro mount is the way to go. Hope this helps.

    km

  2. James

    Great job and thanks for the info!!

    How heavy of a camera can you use before you have to start adding weight to the counter weight? Right now I am looking at 14.5 oz (410 grams) to start off.

    Thanks!

  3. Steve

    Just got one of these to use with a Panasonic HDC-TM700, which with the high capacity battery weighs 1.07 lb. I think I'm going to try a version of this mod wherein I attach extra weight directly to the counterbalance...

  4. If I had only grown up handy. But I didn't. I am not to be trusted with tools.

    So....If you ever decide to take on the modification business please let me know. Really... I have the Gopro smoothie version and use the Redrock Micro Cobalt cage for both my cameras. So a tripod screw would be great.

    How much would you charge to make the modification if you would even consider it.
    Thanks,
    Elliot

  5. Steve

    Love the mod. I did it slightly different. Instead of removing the metal plates in the base, drilled a hole @ tapped threads through them. Simple & leaves the original weight right there.

  6. chris

    Awesome job man! I stumbled across this while looking at low cost steadycam options for my 5d3 and Nex5n. I already have the Smoothie to use with my GoPro - to be able to use it instead of buying a second stabilizer is almost too good to be true. Keep up the good work!

  7. Paola

    Hi, I would really love to get this done by someone because I am a woman and have no idea how to get this done well. Could you make this for me and sell it to me already already modified?

  8. JT

    Great post, thanks for the info. One question, if I would be using the smoothee just for the GoPro, would it be beneficial to complete the mod? or is this only for larger DSLR cameras? Thanks!

  9. Emm

    Post author

    @Jess - As with any stabilizer, you won't be able to buy something off the shelf and start shooting the next day. It takes weeks to months of practice to get good results. What camera and lens combination are you trying to balance?

  10. Jess

    Emm- I am having THE hardest time balancing this thing. I was planning on shooting with it tomorrow morning, but that doesn't look like its going to happen by the way things are going. Everything on top (camera/battery/lens/giottos QR plate/mount) weighs exactly 3lbs.

    Do I need more weights on the bottom? No matter what I do, it never gets even close to balanced. If you have any tips for balancing, like moving the counter weight first on the bottom, then making tiny adjustments up top or whatever please let me know. I hope this didn't all go to waste!

    TIA!

  11. Jess

    Emm- I just now calculated out the weight for my d800, battery, and 50mm lens and it's under 3lbs. So it should work. The only thing I need to know is what QR brand/model did you use? I need to check the weight for that and verify before ordering all this.

  12. Jess

    Thanks for your quick response!

    Is there any other stabilizer you'd recommend to modify for heavier setups over 3lbs?

  13. Emm

    Post author

    @Jess - I was able to balance my 7D or 5D on here, but it's really better for small cameras. I'm don't think it will work with the D800 and that lens setup.

  14. Hi Emm- This is amazing and I am so excited to do it. I showed my husband your videos and instructions and he is confident he can put it together. Before starting the project and ordering the smoothee, I wanted to ask if it were possible that it could support any more weight than 3lbs?

    I shoot with a Nikon D800 and think I'll use my 50 or 35 lenses the most, but I'd like to try it with a 24-70 which is REALLY heavy.

    My D800 is 900g = 1.9lbs and the 24-70 is also 900g.

    If it is possible, what would we need to do in order to make this possible?

    TIA!

  15. Chris

    I may have missed something, but what type of mount did you use to house the actual camera? The mount for the iPhone looks pretty small. I want to do it on a much small camera than the 7D. Thanks.

  16. Emm

    Post author

    @Nick - Slightly bottom heavy. Don't use more weight to correct the 'horizon' leveling, you need to shift the camera around. Get a quick release plate if you can't get it centered so you can slide it forward or back a bit more.

  17. hey emm - what's the exact weight of the counterweight you are using. I'm having a hell of a time getting the rig to be balanced...and I'm using a GH2 with a 20mm pancake (i.e. same lens as you)

    I'm using some kind of el cheapo ebay flash offset bracket like many others...I started with 9oz of weight at the bottom (bracket included)...the rig was all over the place - so then I went to 12 - then 16 - eventually I was up to 2lbs of weight which made no sense since the entire camera assembly on top is 1.5lbs give or take. I remember enough about high school physics to know that the moments must balance...but I can't seem to get close ;( any tips are welcome

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  19. Emm

    Post author

    @juan leal - I can tell you get more comfortable towards the end, but the side to side twitching is from your steering hand or steering finger. You have to practice controlling the steering without forcing it.

  20. Andy I

    Thanks so much for this mod tip Emm! I just finished up modding my Smoothee. I bought the Opteka weight and bracket from Opteka directly as a replacement part. The mod works perfectly! I sold my Steadicam Merlin because it would always go off balance and just didn't work all that well for me. This mod makes it better than the Merlin. Well, at least for me it is. It is smooth, more stable and my entire NEX-5n rig with the quick release and Sony shotgun mic is under 4 lbs. I LOVE it!!

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  22. Kyle

    Thank you for this post, very useful information!

    I plan on purchasing 2 of these units now, & modifying them for use with the Sony NEX-5n & NEX-7. I am currently using the FlyCam Nano for both, but this idea looks legit!

    Just curious... is there anyone out there that can assist me in finding a secure mount for the Sony NEX Series cameras? They only put one hole on the bottom for threading it to a mount, but alignment is by eye every time. Also it is not a completely flat surface bottom, super odd 'hex looking' design.

    This plate seems to be the best I've seen so far - http://reallyrightstuff.com/ProductDesc.aspx?code=BNEX5N&type=0&eq=&desc=BNEX5N%3a-Plate-for-Sony-Alpha-NEX-5N - but it still doesn't have that alignment tab hole on the bottom, so it too would be 'eying it out' every time I mount it to the quick release plate. I plan on modifying that mount to have a flat bottom, & an alignment hole for the tab on the QR plate to fit.

    Thanks again for the post, & everyone's feedback!

  23. Mister Big

    Too late. Smoothee just arrived. Waiting for a few little parts from B&H, and I will begin the mod.

    I'm impressed with the Smoothie's build quality, which is why I went for it instead of some of the Ebay stabilizers.

    The whole point for me is to fly light with the GH2 and pancakes. Bang for the buck!

  24. Mister Big

    You've got me thinking of pulling the trigger on this. I'm thinking Smoothie + GH2 with either 20mm or 14mm pancakes could be an awesome lightweight flycam.

    Stop me before I splurge.

  25. Pead

    Great stuff Emm, have it modded as you showed. Works great with an iPhone, but now I am trying to figure out where to position and how much counterweight to fly my 60D - Tokina 11-16. Any tips for first time user?

  26. db

    As an alternative to chopping the gopro mounting plate you can pick up a GOPRO UNIVERSAL TRIPOD MOUNT ADAPTER TO 1/4"-20. It lets you mount your camera to your gopro rigs (like suction mount) which is pretty cool. They run about 20$. On the smoothee it raises the camera up about an inch so you need more counter weight. It does add an extra point of articulation that can unbalance the rig at the gopro screw though.

  27. Emm

    Post author

    @Thinley Gyaltsen - Looks like you're on the right track, but that camera strap will kill your balance. I would fly it without camera straps.

  28. Emm

    Post author

    @MK - I think you did an awesome job on that mod, and video! I can see in different clips your technique in steering the stabilizer around gets better and better, but already it looks great. Thanks for sharing.

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  30. Emm

    Post author

    @Thinly Gyaltsen - You can't upload images or pics directly into this website. You can upload your video to YouTube or Vimeo and share a link, or upload an image to Flickr and share the link.

  31. Thinley Gyaltsen

    Hi Emm sorry to bother you How do you upload pic & vid on this page i trouble finding it
    thanks i appreciate !

  32. ToddO

    I love this mod! I chose to keep my GoPro QR plate and cut a black Ikea cutting board to fit the Smoothie's sled. I used a tapered head 1/4-20 screw that ends up flush with the bottom of the QR plate. I works great! Thanks for an AWESOME site!

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  34. MK

    I just completed my mod Smoothee - I used a cheap straight flash bracket by Bower from B&H plus $6 worth of bolts, wing nuts and washers from Home Depot. Hardest part was carving out the underside of the QR plate for the 1/4 20 screw. My first thought was that the plate is so tiny - how will it hold a complet DSLR? Had to put some rubber from the flash bracket on top of the plate to keep the cam in place and not shifting about.

    Well I now have the Calumet version of the Manfrotto 577 with the GH2 and 20mm hanging off the rig and have it balanced OK(love the trimming adjustments) The rig tends to slightly wobble at the bottom and spin to one side. I know there is more to learn about balancing - is there a method for calculating how much weight to put on the bottom? I also need some serious practice with the flying skills. The 20mm is to narrow - wish I had the Panny 14mm 2.5 or better yet the Oly 12mm 2.0. Thanks Emm for a great filmmakers site!

  35. Emm

    Post author

    @Thinly Gyaltsen - I'm excited to see your completed project! You would be the first I know of with another modded Smoothee. Send pics and vid.

  36. Thinley Gyaltsen

    HI! Thanks a lot man it worked perfectly well with my modification, i did little different instead of swinging bracket i used one of the speedlight l bracket hot shoe mount, on one end where i drill and inserted 1/4" on the on the end of the cheesecam leg my shoe mount screw fits perfectly and on my other end of shoe mount where you put light stand i bought this long bolts 1/8 " and stacked 6 of the biggest washer and closed it with nut and inserted the right under neath the shoe mount with counter balance with my 5d mark2 28mm 1.8 lens! i will post the video and pic soon !

  37. Emm, great work as usual, bro!
    Speaking about the Opteka that I happen to have (and so do you) ... I'm having a hard time trying to balance it with my GH2+14-42 lens. Camera and lens weigh 1.448 lb (or 657gr or 23.15 oz). The bottom weight is too heavy (11 oz), so I'm trying to figure out the right counterbalance. I'm somewhat stuck with a 6.30 oz weight (178gr). I'm close but not yet there. Could you please advise on how to go about it (since you're very experienced in balancing steadycams)? I think I'm not alone in this. Thank you, man!

  38. Emm

    Post author

    @Sam Shea - It would not be too heavy. Right now I just added a quick release under the 7D + Tokina 11-16mm and was able to balance it. I'm still trying to find time to do a demo.

  39. Emm

    Post author

    @Paolo - There is more friction in the Gimbal than the Smoothee, and the Gimbal has limited range of motion.

  40. Emm

    Post author

    @Josh Mills - I'm going to try it with a Sony NEX-7, but not sure what lens to use yet. I like the wide angle look and the crop factor on these little cams make wide angle harder to achieve.

  41. Josh Mills

    I just ordered the iphone version and plan on making it work with my Sony 5n. Love the site.

    Anyone else planning on using it for the 5n?

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  43. Emm

    Post author

    @osiris majestic - Thanks! I have another video going up soon showing a closer look at a few pieces.

  44. osiris majestic

    cheesy ....this is what this sites all about.....thank you. You must have a taste for baked roadrunner cause you're always working on a contraption making stuff. Don't hurt yourself like a crazy cartoon coyote. Hmmmm...why am I not surprised that you pulled this one off?

  45. Allen H.

    I own a 5dmkII w/ a flycam already. It works ok and a pain to balance but this seems like it would be smoother. I'm thinking about picking up the smoothee and getting rid of the flycam nano. I hope in your testing/review you can compare the two. It'd help me make my decision. Thanks!

  46. Emm

    Post author

    @Adam Jeal - For every ounce of weight on top, you need to counterbalance. I haven't tried it, but i'll need to add more weights to try that setup.

  47. Emm

    Post author

    @Adam Jeal - I haven't used the iPhone version, but it appears the base of the 'mount' is the same. If you cut it across it would look like mine.

  48. juan leal

    Thanks for the info I have the NEX 5N (463g total) and according the specs it will be lighter than the GH2 so I have decided for the smoothie instead of the nano based on your feedback, also I heard its more difficult to balance with those Glidecam style stabilizers. Anyway one last question could you please show us the the detail on the back of the QR and how you put the screw and what bit size you used to drill a hole, and how deep or how did you smooth out the screw head underneath the quick release. I just dont dont want to damage it and its not very clear from the video. Thanks alot man, you rock!

  49. Hi Emm,

    Can you use one of your 717 QR baseplates on this (I ordered 3 last week) - can it take the weight of that and something like a 5D?

    Many thanks

  50. Emm

    Post author

    @pops - I thought about that too! Making a nice metal quick release for the Smoothee and a counterweight system, but i'm a bit worried Tiffen would have something to say about that...

  51. So it sees my 550D should be able to fly on this depending on which lens I use.

    It'll be cool if you sold a modded version (I suck at handyman stuff lol).

    I think I'll give it a shot though. Nice trick here, you the man.

  52. pops

    Emm, I frequent your site way too often (but haven't posted) ! I really don't comprehend how you fit everything you do into your schedule. BUT.... Thank you!!!

    Anyway, I just ordered one last night (GoPro version) for my GH2's. I have a complete Smooth Shooter HD4000 setup that I use for heavier loads. But the GH2's don't require something as robust. Like you, I'm constantly trying to figure out how to travel lighter and accomplish the same quality of work.

    I think I may try to make a mold or have a plate CNC'd. Although, 25 dollars for a replacement GoPro mount isn't horrible either.

    Thanks again!

  53. Emm

    Post author

    @Landon - I bought the GoPro version and was able to cut it up to my needs. I don't know about the iPhone version. You could always buy the adapter separately for both GoPro or iPhone if you wanted to. The good thing about the mod is that you can always put the weights back in the base and revert back to original design. You just need an extra mount.

  54. Landon

    Hi Emm, BH sell 2 version Steadicam Smoothee for GoPro and iPhone 4. Is it exactly the same, and difference mounting? Which one I shout buy to using GH2 or 5D?

    Thank for your help.

  55. Emm

    Post author

    @juan leal - Both great little stabilizers, but I can tell you that the Flycam Nano needs a certain amount of weight. If you plan on using a light camera like the GH2, then you'll need to add more weights to the top of the camera. If your camera is under 3lbs, then a modified smoothee will work. I'm going to fly it around tomorrow with a few different setups.

  56. juan leal

    From someone who has never used a stabilizer.. Im about to pull the trigger and dont know if I should just get a proven Flycam Nano or to try my luck and make Cheesy Smoothie? They both have their pros and cons but seem to work for about the same price. Please advise.

  57. Emm

    Post author

    @Travis W - The Lensse works great for it's price. This one is a bit more expensive but there's more to it's value. Not only does the Smoothee (or Merlin) have very little friction in the gimbal, it also has more range of motion. Being able to angle the Gimbal is important when doing more aggressive movements like walking up stairs, jumping, or fast walking (running).

    Even little things like having a quick release mount so you don't need to rebalance when taking your camera off, and a top stage with fine tuning knobs is a huge plus when balancing stabilizers. If you could tackle this DIY, it's quite an amazing price for the features and quality.

  58. John

    Props to Emm!

    Great idea. I just went ahead and bought the one for the iphone 4s (never knew this even existed!)

    Don't plan on modding it, but ill have a quality stabilizer for when i want to record the kids around the house!

  59. Emm

    Post author

    @JC - Yeah I tried the Flycam Nano with GH2. It's a bit overkill for such a light camera. I ended up having to stack more weights on top of the camera to get it to balance, which sort of defeats the purpose of trying to fly light.

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  61. J Toha

    LOL that's amazing, Emm!

    For those of you who have some driller lying around, this is a fantastic DIY. Even better than a Flycam Nano perhaps, since it has a smooth gimbal and handle, and a nicer form factor IMO.

  62. AWESOME! Emm you should buy a few and charge for the mod!
    I can now give up my Glidecam 4000! That thing is a wrist breaker and a challenge to stab

  63. Andy I

    Awesome! What parts did you use for the weight and extension piece? You think this would fly a 5D2 with a 17-40L?

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