Thanks to modern-day rectangles of doom, everyone has a camera in their pocket that can capture life in the highest of definitions. Shooting video is easier than ever before, with many a budding director using smartphones to create movie magic. Recording video is easy. Doing so with steady hands? That’s another matter entirely.
While Sony, Apple and Samsung might have devices that do a damn good job at stabilising your upcoming cinematic masterpiece, there’ll always be that wobble in the end result. If you’re going to get serious, then you need to fork out some equally-serious cash to keep your camera from bouncing around like a coffee addict after 9AM.
To that effect, filmmakers have plenty of kit to choose from, with the DJI Osmo being a particularly popular device for anyone on the go. Plop a phone in, hope you charged your battery and off you go. That premium experience does come at a hefty price however, usually demanding an easy $300 on the market. What about the filmmaker on a budget?
What options are there for someone who wants to balance affordability with quality? Tiffen’s Steadicam Volt is aiming to be that option. On paper, it should be a perfect marriage of ideas: The pedigree of the company that pioneered the use of steadicam rigs in movies such as the Shining, Raging Bull and Return of the Jedi, condensing their expertise into a compact device for smartphones. A match made in heaven you’d say.
Which the Steadicam Volt truly is…some of the time.
Full disclosure: When Tiffen hit Kickstarter, I backed the project. I’m currently obsessed with the idea of using as small a rig as possible to create disposable quality content, and the Steadicam Volt seemed to fit that bill. Several months later, and I had the kit in my hands. So what’s in the box? Open it up and you’ll get the Volt itself, several magnetic weights, a GoPro mount and the charger for its batteries.
Weight-wise, the Steadicam Volt feels light as a feather, although operating it for close to an hour is still an easy isometric exercise. The Volt itself boasts a construction of lightweight plastics and metals, that may feel like a cheap production at first. I’m going to hazard a guess that every single gram saved in its construction matters, as balance is the name of the game with steadicams.
So how’s the setup then? Balancing a phone on the Volt is easy enough, as practice makes perfect and you’ll soon work out which alignment and weights suit your particular phone perfectly. The first time is always the hardest, but once you’ve nailed the setup you’re good to go. The key selling point of the Volt though, is that it’s both a traditional and mechanical Steadicam, one that uses the inertia of your movement with its onboard gyroscopic motor to get the smoothest of shots.
And it does! The caveat here, is that the Steadicam Volt is a situational device. Going up a rough hill for a walk resulted in a surprisingly balanced experience:
While walking around the yard or inside the house also kept the camera stable. Where the Volt falls apart however, is that it’s entirely inoperable when the slightest gust of wind blows in. Any smartphone equipped (I used both a Samsung S7 and a Huawei P9 for testing) becomes a glorified sail, causing the device to spin and ruin the equilibrium of your shot.
The other key strength of the Volt is also its greatest weakness: Panning. Unlike other mobile steadicams, the Volt is capable of lightning-quick spins and pans, able to maintain its balance without any sense of lag whatsoever. It’s great, and when done properly it results in fantastic videos. It also means that you need to maintain a constant thumb on the gimbal or have your free hand ready at a moment’s notice, as the Volt is prone to spinning around on its own when your walking momentum starts bumping it around.
That’s not entirely unheard of, but it does make the device something that requires more finesse, more practice to master. And that’s fine, but it’s not exactly beginner-friendly is it? The Volt is also best left in its default Sports mode, as flicking to Cinematic mode requires even finer control. Fine if you’re a professional, less so if you’re an amateur.
The sad truth is, is that the Steadicam Volt isn’t a true three-axis stabiliser, as its horizontal balance is more temperamental than the Hulk after stepping on a piece of LEGO. There’s a definite flaw here, that no amount of balancing could sort out for long. Will you get a steady shot? Yes, but something will always be off, as if the internal gyroscopic motors were incapable of properly calibrating themselves.
I’m disappointed with the Steadicam Volt. When it works, it’s fun. But those moments are fleeting and the gremlins within the flawed design of this device are a bit too bothersome to ignore.
Last Updated: October 3, 2017