ShopBot Camera Arm – Handsfree Project Documentation

UPDATE: This project now includes a metal locking plate that makes adjusting the arm and keeping it locked down for time-lapses easier. You can find a tutorial and description on that part of the build here.

I’ve been wanting an extra set of hands to hold a camera while I document projects for a long time. Kari and I are writing a book for MAKE all about soft robotics, and I figure there’s probably not going to be a better time to have a serious documentation setup than when someone’s paying me to do a good job at it. Since NYC Resistor just got a ShopBot and I’ve been meaning to get back into plywood fab for years, it seemed like a pretty auspicious syzygy. If you’d like to replicate this design for yourself, you can find the source files and project notes here. You can also see my photos from the cutting and assembly of the project here.

The camera arm was milled from a single sheet of plywood and assembles fairly quickly with only a few hand tools. I tried to keep the part count low to keep the cost down and empower myself to change elements on a dime as I spend more time with the device and get a feel for where to improve it. I also built a foot switch to fit in with the whole “handsfree operation” thesis. I was pleased by how simple the mechanism in the cheapo shutter release I bought to hack apart was – just a few strips of metal and wires to create a multi-level switch for the focus and shutter release states.

In retrospect, I’d adjust some of the tolerances on the friction fits up at the top of the arm to eliminate some wobble, and I’d increase the size of the top two screw knobs to have more leverage for cranking those joints down, but on the whole I’m very pleased with the results of this experiment. It is a million times easier to set up a shot with this arm than to try and negotiate a photo with my old tripod.

If you do end up making one, I’d love to know how it comes out.