Sunday, 16 May 2010

DIY Steadicam

After the disappointment of buying a broken Steadicam JR, and finding out that the only other one in the country had been sold, I thought I'd have a crack at making one. The two 'proper' steadicams I could get for my Canon 550d that are any good, are the Steadicam Merlin and the Glidecam 2000. They cost hundreds of pounds, but I preferred to spend more like £17.43.

This French guy and this Scottish fella seemed to have the best DIY examples I could find. It's pretty amazing what they've done for so little cash. Both designs were made with a universal joint & skateboard bearings to form the mechanics of the gimbal (wobbly handle). I ordered the traxxass universal joint (£5.61) recommended by Mr Scottish Man, some bearings for skateboard wheels (about £3 for ten) and two LED torches (the Scottish fella used one to make the handle. They were so cheap I bought two 'just in-case').

I couldn't find the right-sized washers or screws, and annoyingly it turned out that the DIY shop recommended to me in Hove didn't machine-cut anything. Defiantly, I raced around the house, looking in drawers and bashing things with hammers, until I found...

Some stuff.

DISCLAIMER. I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm completely hopeless at any sort of mechanical engineering/physics/fixing stuff/drilling/gluing etc.

Most of the bits I found fortuitously fitted fantastically, so I managed to attach the universal joint:

To my torch handle, via a mysterious bit of white plastic which perfectly fit inside the handle. Plus a screw, washers and a bearing.

I made something!

It was a tiny bit wobbly, so I took it to Dan Rickard, zombie-filmmaker extraordinare and 'man-with-vice'. He took one look at the fruits of my proud labour, and wiped the idiot smile off my face by completely disassembling it. Thankfully, he then made it better and put it back together again.

At the end of a depressing hour in B&Q staring at fittings and bits of metal, I was trying to decide whether to construct the frame out of metal tubing (hard to cut/bend/fit together) or pvc (not as sturdy) when I turned around to see this shelf bracket, five minutes before the shop closed.

Ooooh. Shelf bracket.

Much bashing, fixing and swearing later, I nearly had something testable.

Adding the camera plate from my old tripod onto the steadicam.

Dan drilling/fixing/vice-operating while I played with my new close-up lenses.

And after some epoxy-resin hardcore glue to keep the gimbal in place, behold, the shoddiest-looking steadicam ever made!

It needs a couple of adjustments. some weight tweaks/safety measures (I'm still slightly terrified every time I put the camera on there, although it is pretty sturdy) and the addition of an elastic band. The frame has a tendency to 'free-wheel' and start spinning on the gimbal axis as soon as I move, so I'm going to set up a little 'steering wheel' with an elastic band, operated by the thumb of the hand holding the gimbal.

So it will get better, and I'll get better at operating it, but for less than £25 in total I'm pretty chuffed.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

March 2009 Road Trip: Amsterdam

Next, we drove up (and slightly left) to Amsterdam...

Definitely the Netherlands

The amazing French weather didn't last though, and much of the last few days was blighted by this:

But it didn't stop us venturing out, to see some sights.

The Concertgebouw - Amsterdam's (and for that matter one of the world's) finest concert hall. It hosts over nine-hundred concerts per year.
It was closed.


Museums 'n stuff. It was a nice relief to walk around on the grass, since the pedestrian areas/pavements aren't marked with any particular distinction, so most of the time in the city was spent either trying to avoid cars seemingly driving on pedestrian areas, or being run over by bikes.

Bloody rain...

Bloody cyclists...

...much better! Our favourite little Italian place in the Leidseplein, near our hotel. I say favourite - we actually only went in two Italian places, so it wasn't much of an accolade. Beer glasses were huge though.


Now, hypothetically, if someone wanted to take part in the completely legal consumption of certain plant-based narcotic substances, then one might find a good coffeshop to go to, and mark it on a map.

Unfortunately, the location was a bit ambiguous, and led us on a bit of a wild, hypothetical goose-hash chase. 'Rookies'. How appropriate.

An artist's rendering of what might have been on offer if we'd have ventured inside...

After our hypothetical visit to a place we didn't go in anyway, we became strangely peckish.

Wok to Walk - select one or more things from each column, ask, wait about 3 minutes...

...instant chinese!

Amsterdam by day.

And by night.

Ah, the old "Aaah" song. Everyone knows it.

This one looks like I've turned evil and just lazered Rich into a cloud using only my rage-filled eyes.

I think I was just singing.

Danish people. Specifically, Danish girls.
Danish girls getting drinks for free as it was Ladies Night. (no apostrophe needed)
Because of the exchange rate & Holland's exploitation of the British penchant for BeerBeerBeer!!!! Beer!!! -we were buying a round of three drinks, for...

(Three drinks, remember)


-but the music was ridiculous and fun, so we stayed and became poor, and after about an hour, I finally got one of the Danish girls to get me a free drink. Result!
I did have to buy her a shot for £7 first though. Which is less of a result, really.

We had a wander 'round the Red Light district before we left. Strange atmosphere - but it definitely seems like the Netherlands have a much healthier attitude towards soft drugs and the sex industry than many other countries. We denied their enthusiastic offers of special cuddles, and wandered through the canals towards the Rembrandtplein, one of the city's main squares.

Unfortunately (since it was our last night) the Rembrandtplein happened to be awesome. Especially this huge bar, overlooking the square.

After Amsterdam, we finally headed back home, stopping off at Bruges.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

March 2009 roadtrip: Part 3

So on we headed, to Maastricht - where the inital treaty concerning formation of the Euopean Union was signed.


It's right on the southern border of the Netherlands, and is one of its oldest cities.

Although we only cared that it was
a) Close enough to drive to
b) Had a youth Hostel somewhere

And eventually, after a bit of meandering back and forth over bridges, and grabbing maps from posh hotels, we found the Hostel. Before we found the hostel, we ended up driving through a pedestrian-only cobbled area. People gave us disapproving looks.

25EUR per night. And a pretty stunning view across the river.

Due to an archaic legal loophole, this duck is actually the King of Maastricht, and has immutable and total power over the city and all of its residents. Although since it can't actually speak Dutch, no-one can interpret its royal commands, so mostly it just walks around doing duck things.

Here is his castle.

...and more culture.

Maastricht seemed like a lovely place, and I'd have liked to stay there longer, but we only had enough time to grab food, sleep, and set off to Amsterdam after a couple of hours in the morning.

The next morning, Jade Goody was dead, and we set off to Amsterdam.