At A Glance: Tiffen Steadicam Smoothee

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GoPro’s acquisition of video compression and workflow technology company CineForm Inc., made them much more than just a wearable camera company. And with the HERO3 Black Edition’s ability to capture 2.7K in 24p with a RAW-like profile, cinematographers took immediate notice because they were now able to place GoPro action shots into an editing timeline side by side with ARRI ALEXA or Sony F3 clips. Because of this, there has been an explosion of new tools that enable shooters to capture cinematic shots with their small $399 HERO3 camera.

Since the GoPro is primarily an action camera, its obvious strength is movement. For surfing or snowboarding, you can mount a GoPro to a helmet or strap it to your body, but if you’re on foot, you’re going to need proper stabilization like a Steadicam to reduce camera shake.

Tiffen has recently released the Steadicam Smoothee, a camera stabilizer that’s designed to work with the Apple iPhone 4/4S and 5, iPod touch, and GoPro HERO2 and 3. Tiffen sent me a review unit of the Steadicam Smoothee with a mount for my HERO3 Black Edition. Although much smaller and lighter, the Smoothee is based on technology that’s similar to $60,000 Steadicam rigs that are used on big Hollywood productions.

The Steadicam is a camera-stabilizing device that was invented in 1975 by camera operator and inventor Garrett Brown and mechanically isolates the camera from the operator’s movement, allowing you to capture smooth movement while walking or running, even while operating on an uneven surface. It contains a pivoted support, or gimbal, that allows the rotation of an object while remaining independent across a single access.

Tiffen’s Steadicam Smoothee is simple to use right out of the box. The device came with a special mount designed for the GoPro that you lock into the Smoothee by simply rotating a lever to a closed position, similar to any quick-release plate. Once the camera is secure and you’re holding it by the handle, you make adjustments to the Steadicam’s balance by turning two knobs—one on the side that handles tilt from right to left and one on the back that handles tilting up or down. I was pretty much able to mount the camera, make adjustments to the balance and go.

You can operate the Smoothee using one or two hands. For one-handed operation, you can place your thumb on the slot used to lock the gimbal in place, and by lightly touching with your thumb, you’re able to balance, pan and tilt your camera. For two hands, one hand is on the gimbal handle and then with the other, you can place your thumb and index finger on the guide ring. I found I got the best results operating one-handed with my thumb not touching the guide ring unless the camera started to drift. With a small amount of drift, it gives the frame a nice floating feeling.

With the GoPro attached, the Smoothee is quite small, approximately 8×14.5×2.5 inches (WxHxD), so you can easily maneuver through tight spaces or crowded areas without calling too much attention to yourself, unlike a traditional Steadicam system. And the HERO3 has the new LCD Touch BacPac (sold separately), so you’re able to view your shots while shooting on the go. Because the GoPro captures extreme wide shots and shoots autofocus only, pulling focus isn’t an issue. But for narrative work, it’s important to remember that because of its ultrawide field of view (similar to a fisheye lens), the GoPro isn’t suitable for every type of scene.

The Steadicam Smoothee retails for just $169, but you have to specify which mount you need.

So, if you want to capture your low-budget version of Danny pedaling his Big Wheel down the scary halls of the Overlook Hotel (just like Garrett Brown did for The Shining in 1980), Tiffen’s Steadicam Smoothee is the perfect tool for you.

Contact: Tiffen, (631) 273-2500,