The GH2 or other small video cameras are very lightweight and the selection for a quality stabilizer are few. Lately, there's been some interest around modifying a Steadicam Smoothee to work with such light cameras. I was able to modify one successfully, but I never got around to showing it's full capabilities. So it's great to see other examples out there, and here's one of the best videos i've seen so far about a modified Smoothee (a.k.a Baby Merlin) with a GH2 camera from Vimeo member MKVideoFilms.
Serge writes in and shares this cool little find. It's a silicone case that wraps around your GoPro housing (with LCD BacPac) to not only add a bit of style, but a short hood for making the LCD a bit more viewable on bright days. [Thanks Serge] Depending on your taste, you'll find them popping up via eBay in a few different flavors (click here).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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 Video Camera Stabilizer
For the Quick Release plate, I used a hacksaw to cut straight across and filed it down flat.
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.
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.
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).
(above) Possible GoPro Flat Lens Housing - Winter 2012
For years people have known that the stock GoPro Hero curved lens housing caused soft images underwater. We did a test not long ago showing how different a flat lens is compared to the stock GoPro (click here).
Several different companies addressed the problem with aftermarket flat lens kits, but where was GoPro's answer all this time? Well earlier today, Michael wrote in and shared some information about a GoPro Hero 'Dive Housing'. He's including some images from the GoPro product manual. States it would be available in Winter of 2012, compatible with HD Hero and HD Hero 2 cameras, for an MSRP of $49.99. I couldn't find any more information on the internet about this so far, looks like some exclusive stuff, spread the word. [Thanks Michael].
From the Manual
Available Winter 2012
The Flat Lens Housing provides maximum photo and video sharpness underwater in all resolutions.
The HD HERO's standard housing features a curved lens to maximize a wider field of view above water while keeping the lens as small as possible. While brilliant for above water use, the curved lens reduces the sharpness of photos and videos when used underwater. The Flat Lens Housing features a large, flat, lens that capture sharp photos and video above and underwater in any resolution setting. Waterproof to 197ft/60m, the Flat Lens Housing is ideal for diving, snorkeling, and any underwater filming scenario.
The Flat Lens Housing is compatible with the HD HERO, HD HERO2, and all GoPro Mounts and Accessories.
So there were a few great GoPro HD deals in the past few days. If you managed to grab yourself one, another must have accessory is the GoPro LCD BacPac. This adds so much more functionality than the little front screen. Here's something interesting, the GoPro LCD BacPac is also sold on outdoor clothing retailer Eddie Bauer. Since Ol' Eddie B. is having a Cyber Monday today with 40% off, this even applies to the LCD BacPac. [Thanks Stephen & Peter Heald] You can find the Eddie Bauer GoPro LCD BacPac deal following the link, and make sure to use coupon code: CYBER40
Quick deal blast over on the deals page, which drops the GoPro HD down $20 dollars cheaper than Amazon's best deal. [Thanks Jack & Rudy] Yes this is also the original 1080p version (not 960). Check it out following the link (click here).
One day only, Amazon has a nice price drop on the 1080p GoProHD Waterproof Camera. Although this is the original (not Hero 2), this version should have a firmware update allowing it to use the same Wi-Fi Remote Control via smartphone, tablet & computer as the Hero 2. Recent firmware on this Hero already allows it to use the LCD BacPac, Battery BacPac, and also compatible in the GoPro 3D video housing. The Hero 2 runs for about $300 dollars right now, so If you're looking to add more camera angles in your shots, now is the time to stock up on the original HD Hero POV camera. Find the HD Hero for sale (click here).
About a year ago I wrote an article about the Parrot AR Drone (new at the time) and how it would be fun to fly a GoPro HD on it. The biggest limiting factor at the time was that it operated over a WiFi connection to an iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad. This gave very limited range and if the connection was lost, the unit would go stray.
In the recent months there's been plenty of mods and mounts for these inexpensive AR Drone Quadcopters, including 2.4g Radio Control (no more wifi iphone). The mods allow you to fly the units further and higher. Not a perfect solution, but miles ahead of it's original intent to fly on just Wifi alone. Looks like lots of fun. With the new GoProHD Hero 2 quality should be even better. Vimeo member Chad Johnson has some good information in the video (below).
A nice look at the GoPro Cineform studio from Vimeo member Lucas Pfaff, and how it doesn't have to be used just for GoPro cameras. There's plenty of encoding options in the Cineform Studio to encode different video file types including DSLRs, and does an excellent job maintaining quality through the process. I know many who use MPEG Streamclip or Compressor before going into FCP, and this is another nice alternative. I'll have to try this out with my MTS files, see if it can convert those Sony HX9V files. [Thanks Serge].