Quick Tip: Balance Your Overhead Camera Rig with Counterweights

Craft & Design Photography & Video
Quick Tip: Balance Your Overhead Camera Rig with Counterweights

Since I began making content for YouTube, I have often needed to shoot from an overhead perspective to capture stop motion animations or to provide the correct view when explaining detailed builds. At first I considered building a pretty typical overhead camera support frame. However, since I use our kitchen table for all my shoots, I would be forced to store away the frame somewhere in our one bedroom apartment. Even if I made the frame collapsible, I wasn’t sure we had the storage space. Then it occurred to me that my existing tripod could be easily modified to serve as an overhead camera mount. This setup would be compact, inexpensive, and easy to move and store.

YouTube player

Since I already had a sturdy tripod and extra ball head, the major component I purchased for this build was a 3’×¾” square aluminum box tube. I also bought a ¼”×1″ long cap screw, a ¼” coupling nut, two 5/16″×3″ carriage bolts, two 5/16″ wing nuts, and several dozen 5/16″ fender washers. I splurged and used stainless steel bolts, and nuts. My overall cost for this hardware came in at around $30, but you could save some money by buying the washers in bulk and using steel bolts and nuts.

The first step is to cut the box tube to 2′ long with a hacksaw. Next, drill a ¼” hole through both sides of the box tube at a point directly in the center of the tube. This hole will be used to attach the box tube to the tripod. The ¼” hole needs to be enlarged to ½” on one side of the box so that the coupling nut can fit down inside the tube.

Holes also need to be drilled ½” in from the both ends of the box tube. On the one end of the tube, a ¼” hole should be drilled, while a 5/16″ hole is drilled on the opposite end. Both of these holes should pass through the box tube and be drilled in the same direction as the holes in the center of the box. The 5/16″ hole through the bottom (the bottom of the tube has the ¼” hole in the middle) of the box tube needs to be cut square to accommodate the carriage bolt head. I used a rotary tool with a carbide cutter to cut this hole square.

Once the holes are finished, the box tube can be attached to the tripod screw using the coupling nut, which is placed through the ½” hole in the center of the box tube. The ball head is attached to the end of the tube with the ¼” hole using the cap screw. I mounted the ball head on the top of the tube, but it could be mounted on the bottom as well. A carriage bolt is placed through the hole at the far end of the tube with the fender washers being slipped over it. These fender washers are to counterbalance the weight of the camera being used. I found that a single carriage bolt did not accommodate sufficient washers to fully counterbalance my large micro four-thirds camera. Because of this, I added a second carriage bolt and washer stack next to the first one. Once the washers are slipped over the carriage bolt/s, wing nuts are used to secure the washers to the carriage bolt/s.

Even with two stacks of washers, I was still not able to fully counterbalance my camera. Rather than adding more washers, I decided to move the attachment point between the tripod and box tube 2” toward the camera. This changed the pivot point of the system and allowed it to be perfectly balanced without the need for additional washers.

I’ve been using this camera rig for a few weeks with very good results. It’s quite sturdy for such a simple, compact system and will even work for stop motion animations – so long as you’re careful not to bump it. The ball head is very nice as it allows the camera to be positioned in any direction; not just directly down from overhead. In addition, since my tripod has a panning, tilting head, the rig effectively doubles as a simple crane and I’ve used it for short panning shots. When I’m filming builds, the camera is almost always on this rig as it allows me to position and hold the camera in virtually any position around or above the work area.

Thanks for reading and don’t be afraid to asking questions or offer input on ways to improve this rig. For more details on this build, you can check out my YouTube video and Instructable on it. This isn’t my only project and there are many more to come. You can see more of what I’ve been up to on YouTube, on Instagram, and on my Facebook page.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!
Josh Charles

Josh loves creating simple solutions to everyday problems. When he’s not building things and sharing them with the world, Josh is either working as an energy researcher, hanging out with his beautiful wife, or riding his bike.

View more articles by Josh Charles
Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 - Mare Island, CA

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).