The Frugal Floater (DIY Steadicam)

Another highly requested episode, my version of the Steadicam Merlin is done! If you really want a floating camera platform, this one might just fit the bill. There are a lot of these on the web and I hope mine works well enough to compete with the others, and payoff for those who build it.

Fortunately, it's not too difficult to put together, but I have to admit that balancing it can be a real trial of faith. This is an issue with all of these types of stabilizers, so please don't put a hit out on me if it's driving you crazy. It's just the nature of the beast.

If you can get past the bumps and are willing to put in the time, you'll have some unique footage that you can't get any other way. Just don't try using this thing in the wind (or even a slight breeze)--it won't work!


12" length of 1/2" PVC pipe
7 1/4" length of 1/2" PVC pipe
5" length of 1/2" PVC pipe (shown with optional bicycle grip)
3x 90-degree 1/2" PVC elbows
1x 45-degree 1/2" PVC elbow
3x 1/2" PVC plugs
1x 1/2" PVC end cap
1/2" PVC pipe scrap
1/2" CPVC coupler

Traxxas 5151 universal joint for RC car
Rollerblade bearing
tiny washer
tiny machine screw
tiny lock washer

Sima Quickonnect
Macro slider rail
1 1/2" length of 1/4" threaded rod (or headless machine screw)
hockey tape

2x 1/4-20 machine screws (1 1/4" long)
1x 1/4-20 machine screw (2" long)
1x 1/4-20 machine screw (1 1/2" long)
4x 1/4" hex nuts
2x 1/4" wing nuts
2x 1/4" washers
3x 1/4" lock washers

at least 10x 1/4" fender washers (2" in diameter)
2x 1/4" fender washers (1" in diameter)

electrical tape

For the origin of the gimbal design and some amazing DIY floaters:


Little E said…
You are awesome dude! Thank you, and keep up the great work!
Hal Robertson said…
Built a Frugal Floater today - minus the macro focus rail. Thinking that may be my next online purchase. However, I found an interesting alternative for a platform.

I used a 1/2" electrical conduit T box like this

This gave me a mounting point for the front arm, back arm and the gimbal without having to engineer anything special. I also have a flat surface for camera mounting, but I need to find one of those puck thingies too.

In the video, you asked if anyone had a better way to trim the Traxxas joint. I do, and you do too! Just use your PVC cutters. Worked perfectly for me - after some prolonged diddling with the Dremel.

Thanks for the DIY. Now, if I can just get this d@3n thing balanced...
Scott Eggleston said…
Hal, I know the macro rail is "expensive" compared to the other parts, but it is really nice being able to adjust the camera front to back in very tiny increments. Not sure how you would do it otherwise.

Good luck on the balancing part, it can be really aggravating.
Hal Robertson said…
Thanks Scott. I've got the macro rail on order and my local Sears (of all places) had the Sima puck. But I watched your video and got impatient, since I already had all of the other goodies lying around.

Based on my experience yesterday, I'm thinking my 60D is probably too heavy for this rig, but I'll try again when I can do some finer adjusting.

Today, I'm going to attempt balancing my Kodak Zi8. Probably have to add weights to the top too since this thing weighs practically nothing. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thanks again for feeding my DIY habit.
Anonymous said…
Scott, how did you get the u-joint together?? I'm afraid I will break the yoke arms trying to remove the ball pins!
Scott Eggleston said…
I put the u-joint in a vise (spiked ball thing pointing up) and used some needle-nosed pliers as spreaders. I was able to spread the plastic out far enough, that the spiked ball was released.

Since my hands were occupied spreading, I threaded some fishing line through the ball and into my mouth. When the plastic was spread, I yanked on the line with my teeth and POP! The joint came out.

Putting it back together was much easier. Again, use a vise.
Hi Scott, the Traxxas 5151 universal joint you linked is not available. Googling this brings up several options. These are mostly 3.3 rather tan the 2.5 that you referenced. Do you think this matters?
It's a big mistake to point to an eBay page for the Traxxas joint. Once the item is sold the page is no longer good, like it is now. LOL

A better alternative would be to point to a seller's website where the items are currently stocked or the manufacturer's website.

BTW, I understand Hobby Lobby in the USA stocks Traxxas products.
Robin Hill said…

Love your site and all the good work you post on it.

FWIW I was having such a hard time balancing the unit out I ended up setting the rear counterweight perpendicular to the unit versus the swivel setup that you have on your version. It made adjustments very quick and easy. I did this by having a 1/4" threaded rod through some scrap pvc tubing and putting some washers on that. With a few turns of the nuts I can adjust the left/right weight distribution and get it balanced. With the swivel version each time you adjust that it also throws the front/back balance off.

Keep up the good work.
Ivy said…
Modified floater
I used the floater as the tutorial showed and had a lot of luck. I didn’t have a quick connect, so I just screwed my HDD Canon Vixia right to the plate, easy to balance. Along comes the manfrotto clone (which works great) and suddenly the balance was way too high for my Vixia camcorder and it was impossible to balance. I could still use it with my smaller camcorder, though.

After consulting my dad, we decided to fill the top traxxas joint with a strong epoxy, then drill it out and thread it. Then we got rid of the nut and hockey tape, cut down the traxxas joing so that just ½ inch was sticking up, cut the threaded rod about a ¼ shorter, screwed the rod into the bottom plate, then the, now, threaded traxxas joint to the rod. It tightens down very nicely and lowered the center of gravity to where it become very easy to balance. I think it took me less than 5 minutes to balance.

I think if you have a light camcorder, you don’t have to do this, but if you have a heavy one, this might really help and all you need is some nice epoxy.

Photos on the Frugal filmmaker facebook page, album: Modified Frugal Floater said…
I checked this out and was really blown away from the quality of the footage you shot with the Frugal Floater.

You could do this kind of a trick with only a tripod, if you're hard up for the money to build this.

As you've mentioned before, the difficulty in using a stabilizer is getting it stable, which seems counterintuitive for a tool that's supposed to accomplish just that.

Thanks for this video; I might have to give this one a shot!
Scott Means said…
Great tutorial! I love the Commodore 64 monitor in the background!
Unknown said…
I saw on YouTube that the Floater II is coming "in the near future"... Just how near is this future? A nice non-committal "days", "weeks", or "months" would suffice, I don't want you to feel pressured into rushing if you say something, but I'm about to commence a build for my DSLR, so if it's very near, I'll wait :D If you don't want to say anyway, can you roughly describe the changes, or just say how major they are? Bleurgh. Do what you want - you're awesome :D
Unknown said…
I found a nicer way of making the handle. The outside diameter of the bearing is 22mm and I found bicycle handlebar grips on Amazon that fit a 22mm shaft. The bearing fits inside beautifully and a hex screw tightens it up.

Mine were listed on Amazon as "BLUE DOUBLE LOCK ON LOCKING BMX MTB MOUNTAIN BIKE CYCLE BICYCLE HANDLE BAR GRIPS" so those keywords should work. They were shipped from China but arrived quite quickly.

Now to get it balanced...