What I made…
Why I made it…
So I have had an iPhone since mid 2008 and I’ve always been a huge fan of it. Last year, I upgraded to the iPhone 4 and was excited to use its 720p recording capabilities along with all the other cool things. I used the video camera a few times and after a few weeks, it became one of the less frequently used apps on the phone. One of the reasons was that it was very difficult to record good looking video. I knew that it was prone to the “wobble” effect if you panned too quickly, but even when trying to minimize panning, the small form factor of the phone made it difficult to hold steady.
But in January, I received an iTunes gift card from my brother-in-law (thanks, Geoff!!!) and I just recently purchased a couple of apps that sounded interesting. One was the TiltShift Video app. The other was Splice - a video editing app. With these two new apps, I set out to see if I could produce anything that looked even close to all the cool stuff that Keith Loutit had done with his Canon DSLR and an actual tilt-shift lens.
The first video test from the TiltShift Video app was so good that I decided I needed to build a tripod mount so that I didn’t have to keep holding the camera while it captured 10-minute video clips that would ultimately be sped up to a 1-minute clip. I saw that there were products such as the OWLE Bubo, but that was $169.95 and I wasn’t ready for fork over that much cash for a device where the iPhone was basically wedged into a rigid case. I know it comes with a wide angle lens, but from the sample video that I had seen, it seemed to exhibit significant parallax distortion so the lens wasn’t the main attraction for me anyway.
I wanted to make sure that the camera had no chance of falling out accidentally. In addition, the shape of the Bubo seemed to force an awkward hand position that might cause some hand fatigue after a few minutes of holding. Lastly, the Bubo did not seem to offer an easy way to turn off the camera when the camera was wedged into its case. So with some important design considerations in mind, I set out to build a tripod mount that could be built with a very low budget (by low, I’m talking under $10).
How well does it work?
Fantastic! It is very comfortable to hold in your hands when it is not on a tripod. The camera does not movie within the frame so when it is on a tripod, it is completely still. It is very easy to get the camera in and out of the device. It is easy to operate the device while it is in the rig (including being able to lock the phone to save battery life). To lock the phone, simply open the door and then press the bottom of the phone gently so that the lock button is depressed by the frame. It works well with most iPhone cases. My wife has a case that is different than mine and it works equally well with her case. Note: This rig can be built to accommodate any smart phone. The dimensions may need to be modified slightly depending on your phone size, but the general design should be compatible with all phones.
I have recorded a couple of videos so far using this tripod mount and I’ve been very happy with the resulting video quality. Go to 1:40 in the first video to see the fountains recorded using the tripod. In the scenes where I’m hand-holding the camera, the camera is still in the wooden frame – I’m hand-holding the wooden frame.
This second video is comprised entirely of tripod footage.
What I used to make it…
Some wood – I happened to have some strips of wood that were 3/4″ thick and about 2 1/4″ wide (I know, not a standard width – I must have ripped it on a table saw at some point)
One small hinge
One Simpson Strong Tie plate
One nut that fits a 1/4″ bolt
One 1/4″ bolt
As far as tools, the only things I had to use were a chop saw, a drill with various bits, a screwdriver, and some sandpaper (to smooth out any sharp corners or edges).
Putting it together…
I had some scrap wood lying around so I grabbed a couple pieces and took them to the chop saw so that I could get some nice right angles which would help in keepin this rig square where necessary. Basically, I built a hollow frame that would ultimately hold the iPhone in place. This way, the camera lens would be unobstructed and I would still have convenient access to the screen to operate it as necessary. On the side was a hinged door that allowed the iPhone (or any other smart phone) to be inserted into the frame. The iPhone is held in place by a couple of plastic coated wires - these work surprisingly well in keeping the phone secure and wobble free during filming. Since this was my first try at this, I wanted to build the frame a bit bigger than the actual phone so that I could make some adjustments and tighten things up by adding foam padding, etc. Turns out that I didn’t need to add any foam to make the camera more secure.
Step one: Build the frame. Measure out your phone and case and cut the pieces so that the interior dimensions of the frame can accommodate your phone. Leave about a 1/4 inch of extra space on the interior length to allow for the 1/4 wood strip in the next step. The base is where the tripod mount will be built and this screws into the walls of the frame. If you are looking from the back of this frame, the left side is where the top of the camera will rest against. The right side is where the camera will be inserted into the rig. In order for the camera to be able to slide in, the right side is made of two posts with enough space for a phone to slide through. I had already assembled this thing before I started taking pictures for this blog post, so I don’t have pictures of the build process for the frame, but this part should be fairly straight forward. Here is the pic of the frame already assembled.
Step Two: Glue a 1/4 inch thick wood strip on the left hand side of the rig to ensure that the wood frame does not hinder the view of the camera. Drill holes for the wires that will hold the camera in place. Two holes on top and bottom for each wire. Spacing of these holes is very important. On the bottom of the frame, I spaced these small holes apart based on the thickness of the iPhone. On the top of the frame (especially since I left a little headroom in this frame), I placed the holes a little closer together. The snug fit at the top helps to keep the phone steady. It is more important at the top since the top of the phone is not resting against another surface. Thread the wires through holes and tie them to prevent them from slipping back through. At the bottom of the phone, I notched the wood with a chisel to make sure that my steel plate could sit flush against the base.
Step Three: Drill a half inch hole at the bottom of the frame to hold the bolt that will accommodate the standard 1/4″ bolt used by most tripods. Use a little epoxy to ensure that the bolt sits tight inside the hole. Then drill a hole in the center of the Simpson Steel Tie plate to allow a 1/4″ bolt to go through it. Then line up the center hole of the plate over the bolt and then screw in the plate to the base of the frame. Without this plate, the tripod mount will not be completely secure and if the epoxy grip on the 1/4″ bolt ever gives way, your rig (and the camera) will drop off the tripod.
Step Four: Drill a 1/4″ hole to the side of the hinged door to accommodate a 1/4″ bolt. This will allow you to slide a bolt into the hole to keep the door closed. If you are holding the rig with your hands, the right hand actually holds this door shut, but if you have it on your tripod and you turn the rig on its side, you will want to make sure that the bolt is in place.
Step Five: Add a wood block to the inside of the hinged door that fits between the two posts to keep the phone from sliding back towards the door. I haven’t had the problem of the phone sliding backward to the point where the camera could slip out, but this piece will ensure that it never happens. Note: There are a few images where this block is not in place, but it is an important part of the rig.
Questions and Comments
I hope this comes in handy if you ever have a need to put your iPhone on a tripod. I’m excited to try it out with a camera stabilizer similar to Johnny Chung Lee’s. If you have comments or questions, please leave them below and I’ll try to respond. Cheers and happy shooting!