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First introduced in 1975, the Steadicam launched a film industry revolution by freeing camera operators to shoot moving footage without traditional dolly and tracks. Now that the iPhone 4S can shoot 1080p HD video footage rivaling that of dedicated camcorders, Tiffen’s Steadicam Smoothee is a natural choice for mobile cinematographers.
But wait! Doesn’t Apple already include video stabilization on its iPhone 4S? Indeed it does, and compared to earlier footage shot with an iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4, it’s a huge improvement. But it’s no match for the Steadicam Smoothee, which can make footage look absolutely fluid, regardless of whether you shot it standing still, walking, or even running.
Film industry Steadicams can cost upward of $60,000 and require the operator to wear a harness, but obviously the iPhone is smaller and lighter than a huge 35mm film camera. This allows the Steadicam to shrink down to roughly 8 inches wide, 14.5 inches high, and 2.5 inches deep. The Smoothee is deceptively simple: a plastic handgrip attaches to a gyroscopic base where the phone sits, while a curved pair of weighted metallic tubes extends downward to balance and level the camera.
Smooth out your iPhone videos.
Your iPhone snaps into a quick-release mount, available for the iPhone 4/4S, iPhone 3GS, fourth-generation iPod touch, Flip Mino HD, and GoPro Hero. Conveniently, these mounts can also be moved to any quick-release tripod. Establishing proper balance is perhaps the most difficult aspect of using the Smoothee, but that’s not really saying much. Two knobs adjust the tilt left and right, and forward and back. At first we found the Smoothee hard to control, but video guides on Tiffen’s website revealed the secret: while holding the handgrip, gently use your index finger and thumb to help keep the gyroscope level. You can use any video recording app on your iPhone; Tiffen recommends coupling the Smoothee with any software-based video stabilization (such as the one built in to the iPhone 4S), if available, to help make footage even more fluid.
Although the Smoothee is much smaller than carrying around a tripod, it does come with a few small caveats. Shooting with one hand for an extended period of time can really be exhausting on your wrist. Be careful not to bump into objects or scenery while shooting, which will cause the gyroscope to lose control and ruin your shot. Otherwise, the Smoothee is a dream come true for home moviemakers or even prosumers looking to eke out the absolute highest quality video from their iPhones.
The bottom line. We’ve had more than our fair share of footage ruined by efforts to hold the iPhone as steady as possible. While it’s not really practical to carry the Steadicam Smoothee around with you all the time, for special occasions it’s absolutely worth the price.
iPhone 4/4S, iPhone 3GS, or fourth-gen iPod touch
Quick-release mount can be removed for tripod use. Works with front or rear cameras on newer iPhones. Rig can be used upside-down for low-angle shots.
Mount requires removal of even the thinnest iPhone cases. Hard to use with one hand for extended periods of time. Requires attention during shooting to make certain rig doesn’t get bumped.