Rating: ★★★★☆

Originally designed and engineered to work with an Apple iPhone 3Gs , the Tiffen Steadicam Smoothee has filled the need for stabilizing video shot with mobile smartphones and pocket cameras. The Smoothee’s design is based on the same Steadicam technology used regularly in Hollywood and with handheld video cameras stabilizers like the Steadicam Merlin.

Selling for about $180, the Smoothee helps smartphone and pocket camcorder users improve their results by smoothing out any camera shake where movement takes place while capturing the moment. The Smoothee can be used with the Apple iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 (and now, iPhone 4S), the iPod Touch, and the Flip Mino pocket video cameras. Tiffen has also hinted at additional model compatibility planned which will make it advantageous for users of such cameras like the GoPro HD and Android users who would like to have a mobile stabilizer to help smooth out their video clips.

But while Tiffen claims that the Smoothee can be used right out of the box with great results , it requires some set up which may cause new users to feel frustrated with the learning curve. Here’s a few thoughts we have on the Smoothee and how well it works…

Setup

Tiffen says the Smoothee can easily be used to get perfect results “right out of the box and on the go.” But the Smoothee must be balanced and leveled once an iPhone or Flip camera is installed. Thankfully, that’s what the trim knobs on the side and back are for.  They perform this function well and there isn’t a shifting of weights to accomplish this balancing act. And every time you switch out cameras for a different model, you will have to re-trim the device.


Practice Technique

Additionally, the Smoothee does need some practice to refine the technique needed to control it and to prevent the camera from drifting on the gimble.   There are at least 3 different ways that you can control the Smoothee – one handed, one handed with the gimble resting between finger and thumb, and two handed.  Your mileage may vary as to which will work best, but once you have your technique down, with practice the drift is sure to be a thing of the past. It’s a very good idea to read the manual completely, watch some of the online videos, and then go out and do plenty of practicing before taking the Smoothee on vacation or for a family gathering.


Additional thoughts

A few thoughts on the custom Smoothee cradles …. it’s obvious that iPhones don’t come with a tripod mount natively, requiring some sort of cradle option to mount it on the Smoothee.  And the Smoothee’s cradle works really well. But the custom cradle for the Mino and other compact cameras (which sell for about $25 a piece) strike me as simply an attempt to make users buy more accessories. Cameras that already have a tripod mount could easily benefit from a universal, quick release mount, which is the accepted standard on tripods everywhere. And since today’s point and shoot cameras are rivaling camcorders with quality 1080p video, Tiffen is shortchanging customers by not having a point and shoot option.  That’s too bad.

The Steadicam Smoothee is a great mobile device, but it isn’t foldable, making it a challenge to pack when traveling. The ergonomic gimble handle can be stowed into travel position, but that doesn’t make the Smoothee any smaller in the suitcase.  And users hoping to push the envelope, and opt for a camcorder or DSLR, will need to spend a bit more and invest in the Steadicam Merlin as the Smoothee simply isn’t designed or balanced for anything outside the mobile arena.

Even with its quirks the Steadicam Smoothee can help video fans take better video by removing any camera shake when trying to capture a moment on the go. And with patient practice, it’s likely that even by pulling it out of the case, a user will be able to get a balanced, steady image, with a quick turn of a knob. But if you’re expecting to get instant results out of the box, you may be in for a frustrating beginning.

Pros:

  • robust design
  • balancing trim knobs
  • works as advertised

Cons:

  • Proprietary cradles, no universal camera mount
  • learning curve
  • a bit pricey ($189)

Final rating:  Even though it has some drawbacks, they aren’t deal breakers by any means, so we give the Smoothee a rating of 4/5 stars.

You can buy the Steadicam Smoothee at Amazon for $179.95.



James DeRuvo