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Steadicam Volt, a unique hybrid stabiliser

Steadicam Volt smartphone stabiliser

+ The Steadicam Volt is faster and more responsive than electronic stabilisers
It uses affordable, easily available batteries

– It’s slow to set up and takes time to learn
– It can’t do vertical video or object tracking, and there’s no tripod socket

The Steadicam Volt is a unique stabiliser which combines physical and electronic stabilisation. It works with smartphones and action cameras.

It’s based on the same principle as the original Steadicam, which revolutionised filmmaking in the 1970s. So it uses a counterweight to balance the camera, and a physical gimbal to allow free movement. This allows for very fluid motion, but it requires more skill than all-electronic devices.

Traditional Steadicams are big and heavy. The Volt is relatively small and light, but it’s kept steady by a built-in motorised gyroscope. This provides ‘simulated inertia’, a trademarked feature that makes the device feel more stable without adding weight.

Getting started

It takes some time to set up the Volt, though you’ll get faster with practice.

You start by folding out the balance arm, releasing the handle, and clipping a wire brace in place. Then you fold out the phone clamp and insert your device.

Now you have to adjust the balance for your specific phone or action camera (the package includes a GoPro mount). There are four steps, though you shouldn’t need to repeat the first three unless you add accessories to your device.

First you add magnetic weights to the counterbalance at the bottom of the gimbal arm to get the approximate balance. Next you use a dial to fine-tune the balance, then adjust ‘pitch’  by moving the phone forwards or backwards on its platform. Finally you need to move the phone sideways in the rubber clamp until it’s level.

Once you’ve done this the Volt will stay level, but the balance feels very delicate. But as soon as you turn it on, ‘simulated inertia’ kicks in and it immediately feels much steadier and more stable.

You can now start to ‘fly’ the device. Simple moves can be done single-handed, but using both hands gives you more control. A hand on the handle supports the device; the finger and thumb of the other hand steady it and and control pan and tilt.

It has two modes. Sport mode, for beginners, is easier to use. Movie mode allows for more subtle movements and control. You can also use the Volt upside down for low level shots.

Using the Volt

If you’re not used to manual stabilisers, it’ll take some time to get the best out of the Volt. It’s more ‘organic’ than all-electronic stabilisers, so you’ll need a light touch to get really smooth movements. If you’re heavy-handed, you’ll be working against the motor and transmitting your body movements to the device.

The Volt works best with in-camera stabilisation turned off. Apple’s Camera app doesn’t allow this, so you’ll need an app that does: either Filmic Pro, or Tiffen’s own free ImageMaker. ImageMaker is very good for a free app, with the option of manual exposure and focus, and future updates will integrate with the Volt’s stabilisation.  But whichever app you use, you’ll have to use the on-screen record button for filming as there are no controls on the handle.

The Volt really comes into its own with fast-moving shots: you can quickly pan across a scene to follow action, where an electronic stabiliser would lag. But it’s not as good at static shots. My Osmo Mobile makes a pretty good tripod substitute, but I couldn’t get as steady with the Volt.

The Volt also lacks a tripod socket, so you can’t put it down while you’re shooting or mount it on a boom pole.

One advantage is that unlike most motorised stabilisers, it doesn’t block the ports on the base/right of the phone.  So you can connect external power packs or Lightning microphones.

It uses interchangeable, affordable (non-proprietary) lithium ion batteries with a claimed 8 hour life.

Performance

This side-by-side video compares the Volt (bottom) with the DJI Osmo Mobile (top). Both videos were shot using Filmic Pro with stabilisation turned off. The Volt was in the beginners’ Sport mode. I also did a trial in Movie mode, which was worse.

As you can see, the Osmo footage looks more stable, both in the moving and static shots. The Volt footage might get better with practice, but if you want instant results the DJI will suit you better.

Where the Volt does have the edge is in fast-moving situations. You can pan to precisely match movement, while an electronic stabiliser will lag.

Should you buy the Volt?

The Volt could be useful if you need its responsiveness, and you’re willing to take time to learn it properly. But if you want easy setup and instant results, I’d get an all-electronic stabiliser instead. That’ll also give you features that the Volt lacks, such as object tracking, a tripod socket, and the option of vertical video.

What about value? The Volt’s early Kickstarter pricing looked good compared with competitors like the original Osmo Mobile. But since then, more affordable competitors like the Osmo Mobile 2 and Zhiyun Smooth-Q make it look overpriced.

However, if you’re in the US, some online retailers are currently selling the Volt for around $80. That makes it a much better deal.

Buy Amazon.com

Note/disclaimer

  1. Tiffen sent me a free Volt to test, but I haven’t been paid to write this article.
  2. The first Volt I received was defective. It went out of level when switched on, so Tiffen sent me a replacement. Online reviews and Amazon customer feedback suggest that this problem isn’t uncommon.