Here at Interactive Communications, we like to experiment. We’ve built DIY camera rigs and try the nightly builds of Magic Lantern firmware on our Canon cameras. Heck, I even built my own timelapse camera slider, going so far as to write my own program to set the move speeds. We do it because we want to tell the best story and have different tools to use to do that.

So in 2012, when we saw the short video that Vincent LaForet did with the Movi, our jaws dropped. Fast-forward just under a year and now the do-it-yourself crowd has built a community around these gyro-stabilized camera gimbals, blossoming out of the RC hobby.

A couple of us in the office are in to the RC hobby. Flying helicopters and quadcopters kind of got us thinking; we could build one of those! And so we decided, when the right project came to our attention, we jumped on the opportunity to build one.

The finished gimbal during its debut shoot
The gimbal at its first real video shoot

Before I get too much further, I want to make this clear: This is NOT a how-to. Realistically, if you are toying with the idea of making your own camera gimbal, then you have to be able to tinker or pay up for the out-of-the-box solutions. However, I’d like to give some tips that would have helped us from the start.

Our parts list (all from HobbyKing):

  • Turnigy PRO Steady-Hand Gimbal 3 Axis KIT
  • Quanum AlexMos Brushless Gimbal Controller 3-Axis Kit Basecam
  • Turnigy HD 5208 Brushless Gimbal Motor (BLDC)
  • Lithium Polymer Charge Pack 18x22cm Sack
  • TL-262 Thread Locker & Sealant High Strength
  • Hobbyking 2-8S Cell Checker with Low Voltage Alarm
  • Cable Ties 160 x 2.5mm White (100pcs)
  • 5.6mm x 13mm M3 Nylon Threaded Spacer (10pc)
  • EC3 plugs (10pairs/set) (USA warehouse)
  • Turnigy 420 Balancer/Charger 2S~4S
  • Wire Mesh Guard Black 3,6, and 8mm (1mtr)
  • HobbyKing Power Supply 100~240v 5A
  • Turnigy 2200mAh 3S 20C Lipo Pack

Totaled out to be around $600 shipped vs the Movi equivalent at just under $5,000.

Additional parts were bought from Quadframe.us who we were able to provide IMU and AlexMos board cases. We also took several trip to our local hardware shop, where we got our nylon screws, nuts and spacers for mounting the board. Here’s a short video that includes some shots with the gimbal:

Some notes and tips (specific to this build)

  • The Hobby King frame is not easily adjustable and thereby very frustrating to balance. Be prepared to tighten and untighten the screws about a thousand times.
  • The hardware provided with the frame was not quite adequate, it was missing motor mounting screws and it was not in the motor box. Some screws broke threads or just didn’t work. Have some additional screws on hand!
  • Another suggestion to Hobbyking: Please include a stand for the gimbal, it would save people so much time and frustration. What we did was use two light stands to hold up the gimbal, which worked great but if there was an option to buy a simple stand, we would have definitely done that.
  • Get yourself a halfway decent set of hex drivers, they will save your fingers and sanity.
  • Providing a case for the IMU and the AlexMos board would be really helpful in protecting the electronics, especially if people are going to fly this on a camera ship and if it is intended on being used on a production shoot.
  • A longer IMU cable would have been tremendous; we tore ours off so many times, eventually creating a longer one.
  • Header pins for the IMU would have been nice so we wouldn’t have to keep resoldering the wires.
  • BE SURE to check all axes for friction-less motion, it is super important and gave us too many headaches.
  • BALANCE is essential to the success of this, we followed the basics from the Movi online manual on Vimeo and found it very helpful.

So the big question is, was it worth it?

Yes and no. We saved a ton of money by doing it ourselves and we sure as hell paid for it in the time we spent tinkering and adjusting the thing. In the end, I can build one of these things with a bit more confidence and the experience we gained is new territory in the world of cinematography. So to answer the question, it was mostly worth it minus the times we wanted to throw the gimbal through the window.

-Darryl

This is a quick video tour of our new office space. It is also a test run of a new toy that Justin put together. He picked up the new GoPo HERO3+ and built a motorized brushless gimbal. Which of course means, a thingy that helps keep the camera stable and smooth while you move around.

The test turned out well. He tossed on a warp stabilizer in premiere for kicks, but honestly I think it wasn’t worth it. You can see a little bit of the warp side effects when you first come down the stairs. Otherwise it provided a really smooth hyper stable shot. This isn’t our first venture into “steadicams”.  We tried something called a Cowboy, which was borderline a scam. We went with an actual steadicam, but the lack of uber forearm strength has really limited our abilities. This contraption is very lightweight making it easy to get the shot. You can also do it 4 or 5 times over, which we all know is what we really need to get it right.

Toss that on top of the freaky high quality image that you can get from the newest Go Pro Hero3+ and you have a pretty sweet rig. Next we need to take it out to the track or in the field somewhere to give it a real test.

Kegan-