Getting smooth handheld video as you pan around with a smartphone isn’t easy, and professional Steadicam solutions run to four figures and up – perhaps just a little OTT for a smartphone.
But high-end smartphones have very capable cameras these days, and the StayblCam is a $75 device designed to give you some of the benefits of a Steadicam at a rather more smartphone-friendly price. Available for pre-order now for delivery in September/October, I tried out a prototype to see how well it performs …
Look & feel
The StaybylCam is a little less than a foot long and a touch under two inches in diameter, and weighs in at close to a pound, so it’s not the kind of thing you’re going to carry casually in your pocket. It does, though, slip easily into pretty much any bag, so is convenient enough to take along with you anywhere from a bike ride to a beach trip.
There’s a foam slot to hold a smartphone, or you can unscrew this to reveal a tripod screw beneath for use with a GoPro, Garmin Virb or similar camcorder.
The other end is a cylindrical counterweight which makes up most of the length. This section is smooth ABS plastic, then the aluminium grip, with matt black plastic collar and foam rubber smartphone holder.
Using the StayblCam
To use it, you slide out the telescopic sections, slot your phone into the foam slot at the top and then adjust the length of the sections until it is balanced when held by the gimbal in the middle. StayblCam put together a video to illustrate this:
Once this is done, you hold it vertically with a thumb and forefinger around the grip, then steady the lower section by resting your other three fingers against the telescopic pole. It takes a few minutes practice to get the hang of this, but once you do, it’s very easy.
My brief video-clip isn’t very interesting, but was my first ever use of the StayblCam after no more than about five minutes practice:
When you first try it, it isn’t obvious how to make the phone pan around with you as it free-floats in the gimbal, but this is where using your other fingers to gently steady it come into play – with just a light grip on the lower section, the poles can no longer rotate through the grip, so the phone follows your movement.
You can also use the StayblCam upside-down if you’re brave enough to trust the foam grip. I tried this briefly, and it worked well, though must confess it made me a little nervous despite the firm-seeming grip! I can definitely see using it this way up with my Garmin Virb Elite securely attached by the tripod thread, though.
Changes for the production model
The model I used was a prototype, and StayblCam says they are working on a number of improvements for the production model. These are:
- A better looking design for the mobile phone adapter (the prototype is flat on top, whereas the final version will be rounded on top, so that both ends of the StayblCam will be rounded).
- The grip surface of the mobile adapter will be enhanced with a new rubber compound allowing for even better grip of the iPhone / smartphones
- There will be a hole where you can string a lanyard/wriststrap (which will be included free) so that you don’t risk dropping the StayblCam
- The bottom will have a screw hole where future attachments can be added
- The StayblCam will eventually also be available for sale in a variety of colors. White being the first one (after the default black), then possibly others based on votes we get for wanted color schemes.
Possible future optional extras include a collapsible tripod support, a tablet mount and a clip-on phone holder for use as a wifi viewfinder for a GoPro/Garmin Virb camcorder.
I’m impressed. It definitely offers significantly smoother movement than just holding the phone in your hand, and you’re up-and-running with just a few minutes of practice. It not only smooths your panning, but also slows it down, allowing the frame-rate of the camera to keep up with the movement.
It’s not something I’d carry around on the off-chance that I might need it, but if I’m planning to shoot some video, it’s sufficiently portable to throw into a backpack to take along for the ride.
At $75, it will likely appeal most to those who use their phone or action camera to shoot action video on a fairly regular basis, but if you do, this is an accessory that will definitely improve the quality of your footage. Pre-order from the StayblCam website.