A few weeks ago I got hired to photograph a stand up comedy performance. It was to be filmed for a DVD release, and the producer called me a few days before the show to tell me I’d need a sound blimp–my camera noise would be picked up by their microphones. I’ve shot on film sets before, but it was usually during rehearsals or in between takes, so camera noise wasn’t an issue. I called around town and couldn’t find a blimp for sale or to rent. The only place that I know of that makes these is in L.A. So I did some Googling and found this site, which illustrates how David Buzzard made his own blimp from a Pelican case and a length of plumbing pipe. I made my own based on that idea. Since the aforementioned site doesn’t go into detail, I thought I’d share how I did it.
Disclaimer: I did this for my Canon EOS 5D with 80-200mm f2.8 lens and it worked out well. I have no idea how this will work with other bodies and lenses.
- The main parts: a Pelican 1150 case, with foam, and a length of 4″ PVC pipe. At Home Depot I found that they had precut 2′ lengths. The pipe comes in (at least) two thicknesses; I got the thicker-walled version, because I thought that might insulate the sound better. I’ve heard that most of the camera noise travels through the lens. Tip: look for pipes where at least one of the edges is smooth–you’ll need a smooth edge to glue to the case.
- The case comes with instructions on how to “pick and pluck” the pre-scored foam to fit your camera body. You’ll want the body to go into the case lens-first, with the back against the lid. It’s better to make your foam opening on the small side, because you can always make it bigger if needed, and you want a snug, not loose, fit.
- I determined where the lens hole should be by eyeballing it, and used a grease pencil to mark it. I used a 4 1/4″ Rigid saw blade that attaches to a drill. This results in lots of plastic shavings strewn about, so you might not want to do this over your camera sensor. Note: the reason that the hole is not in the center of the case is because the lens is not centered on the body of my camera (5D).
- The next thing I did was to use an Xacto knife to cut away the ridge the ridge that runs near the hole just cut (see photo). That’s because the pipe will be glued to the surface of the case, and the ridge would keep you from getting the edge of the pipe flush with the case surface.
- You’ll need to cut the pipe. The length depends on what lens you plan on using. I cut my pipe to 8″–a bit longer than I really needed. Hold the pipe firmly in place and have Derek Erdman cut it with his handheld jigsaw.
- Using fine sandpaper, I sanded the edge of the pipe. Then I glued it to the case with Loctite Epoxy Gel. I used a can of paint to apply pressure on the joint while the epoxy dried. A few hours later, I applied Liquid Nails to both sides of the joint-inside and outside the case. Note: It took a few days for the Liquid Nails to dry completely. There might be something better than that to use to reinforce the pipe/case joint.
- Now would be a good time to paint the pipe. Again I turned to my friend and neighbor Derek Erdman; he had some matte black spray paint that worked perfectly.
- I hope you were nice to Derek Erdman when he helped you cut the pipe, and when you asked to use his spray paint, because now you’re going to need that jigsaw again. Have you ever thought about buying your own? Maybe you should think about that. Anyhow, you need a port on the back to look through the camera’s viewfinder, and, if you’re using a digital camera, at the LCD display. Once again, it’s hard to say exactly where to cut–do the best you can. I took a sheet of glass from a small picture frame I had lying around–approximately 3×4″. So I made the port a bit smaller than that. Then, after peeling and cutting away the stray plastic shreds, I used black gaffer’s tape to attach the glass to the inside of the case lid. I also used gaffer’s tape on the outside of the lid to mask the edges of the glass, to make it look a bit neater. You’ll need to cut holes in the piece of foam that lives in the lid as well, to line up with the port you just cut out.
- Almost done! Now you need a hole for your cable release. I bought a cheap generic one on ebay, that seems to work fine. I used a really fat drill bit for this. You can try drilling a hole in the bottom and rigging a connector for tripod use, but it might be a bit tricky–I tried this and had trouble aligning the hole in the case with the tripod socket in the bottom of the camera.
- Final step–you need to seal the front of the pipe. I gaffer’s taped a 77mm UV filter to my lens shade (the one that goes with my 80-200 lens), and then gaffer’s taped the lens shade with filter to the front of the pipe. As long as you have the gaffer’s tape out, put a piece over the cable release hole to keep the sound from seeping out.
That’s it! Now you have a ridiculous looking contraption to walk around with. It’s not completely silent, but it’s much quieter than a naked SLR. With my 5D, I can use the cable release to focus (partially depressing the cable release button engages the auto-focus). Unfortunately you’ll have to pull the camera out to change the focal length (zoom setting). Besides shooting on film sets, a blimp is handy for shooting in bad weather (the Pelican cases are waterproof), or other situations where you don’t want to make noise–photographing animals, or shooting at a low volume concert, wedding, etc.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask them via comments below.