*UPDATE: This blimp is Version 1.0. I built a new and improved version for a D3 that includes a viewfinder for the LCD screen.
I was the set photographer for My Name Is Jerry, a feature length film shot in Muncie, IN this summer. It was filmed over 3 weeks, and I wanted to be able to take pictures during takes. because sound equipment is so sensitive, a naked SLR makes too much noise while they're filming. People would kill me after I ruin a few takes.
So, I set out on my quest to silence my camera. After my first google search I found a Jacobson Sound Blimp. This would cost me $900 to purchase or $25/day to rent. I thought, no way am I paying $900 for an oversized box that makes my camera look like it was made in the 1800s and offers me no controls. But I might spend $100. I found a "DIY guide" by Dave Buzzard. However, it is kind of rough around the edges and left a lot up to the imagination. So I am writing this to go into further detail and explain how I expanded on his initial design.
I built my blimp around a Nikon D300, which is a pretty large body. Going into the project I knew I wanted to be able to switch lenses while keeping the same box. One solution to use different lenses is to build a second blimp, but I wanted to save money by using one case and changing the lens tube. I think this is how the Jacobson blimp works, so I thought it'd be neat if I could do it too.
List of Equipment:
The case is going to be the most expensive part. A case that is waterproof works best. Why you ask? Because being waterproof, it creates a vacuum. Since there is no gaps, there is nowhere for the sound wave to exit, which significantly reduces transmitted noise. I used a Pelican 1150 case , just like Buzzard. Be sure the case you get includes a foam insert. The Pelican 1200 Case is the size you need for a large camera body like the D3.
I raided Home Depot's Plumbing section for the lens tube. I used a 4" diameter Female Adapter as my main lens tube. The 4" tube snugly fits both my Tokina 12-24mm and Nikon 80-200 AF-S lenses. If you are only shooting with prime lenses, you may be able to use a smaller diameter. You will also need a 4" screw-on Cap. I also picked up a second 4" female adapter and 4" Male Adapter to build the extension tube. $20
Also need a shutter release. I found one from Gadget Infinity, here. Note there are two different lengths of cable releases sold by Gadget Infinity, I opted for the short one so there wouldn't be excess cable spaghetti inside the case. $15
(Update: I would recommend buying a Wireless Shutter Release instead. It's one less hole to drill and not much more expensive)
Instead of buying a pre-made 4" glass filter (which cost $125!), I had a custom piece of glass made by a local glass company for $15.
All that's left is some strong adhesive to hold everything together. I used some weld adhesive from Wal-Mart that said it worked great on glass, pvc, and plastics! Perfect! $5
The first step is to determine the placement of your camera. Optimally, there is equal padding on all sides. No part of the camera should touch the edges of the case. If part of your camera is touching the case, sound will be transmitted. Bad. The case comes with soft foam padding that can be plucked out. I used toothpicks to make sure it was the right place before I started plucking. But afterwards I realized the camera was a bit off-center still, so I shifted it over a bit by cutting off one row from the right and moving it to the left. Once I was satisfied that my camera was sitting snugly in the correct place, it was time to cut the holes.
There are a total of 3 holes in the case, one for the lens, a second for the eyepiece, and a third for the shutter release. The placement of the lens and eyepiece hole must be precise, otherwise you won't be able to see through the lens, or put any lenses on the front. This is the part where you check thrice, cut once. If you screw this up, there's no remedy except buying another $30 case. That being said - my method of make sure I was drilling in the right place is rather barbaric. The process involves a lot of guessing and second guessing. Alignment and re-alignment.
*Side note: I decided not to make a hole for my LCD because I was afraid the large space with no padding might compromise the sound proofing. *UPDATE: NOT TRUE!
I used an old replacement eyepiece for a Nikon FE. It was nice because it had some threading, so I could screw it into the hole that I drilled and it would hold without any glue. I know most people wouldn't have a spare eyepiece from a 20 year old camera lying around, but a small piece of plexiglass will work just the same.
I placed my D300 in the foam and measured to the center of the eyepiece. Then I copied those measurements over to the lid.
After a few eyeballs gauging it from several angles, I made the incision.
When I was threading the eyepiece in, the hole was too tight and a little oblong, and I ended up cracking the glass. Oops. I used some adhesive to fill in gaps around the eyepiece. (the crack hasn't been an issue thus far.)
This was the trickiest hole to drill, because I don't have a large enough drill bit to drill a 4" hole (but they do exist), so I had to use a dremel. Also, there was not really a surefire way of making sure I was lining it up perfectly. What I ended up doing was using the lid from a can of spray paint. This perfectly fit over my lens mount. I placed the camera inside the case with the foam around it. Then I carefully removed the foam. That allowed me to have enough room to trace around the camera body while maintaining the correct positioning. I guess I could have used a lens on the camera to do the same thing. Now you have to turn that smaller circle into the outer diameter of the PVC pipe.
Then it's just a matter of slowly dremeling away until the the PVC fits snug.
Cut a piece of plexiglass and cut it to fit the bottom. Then dremel a hole that is the inner diameter of the PVC pipe. By gluing the extra layer of plexiglass to the bottom, it creates a lip that creates more support and surface area for the pipe. Once the plexiglass glue is set, you can attach the PVC to the body. Put a bead of glue on the lip of plexiglass as well as the edge of the case. This will ensure a secure bond.
I put a layer of foam around the inside of the PVC pipe to act as a noise dampener. The foam also doubles as snug padding for my lenses.
(pictured with optional extension tube used with telephoto lenses)
The shutter was purchased through gadgetinfinity.com, and only set me back $15. I dremeled one of the ridges off the outside of the Pelican case. Then I drilled a hole and used a strain relief bushing to secure it in place. I used a piece of velcro to secure the shutter release to the outside of the body.
This picture shows the extension tube and the front glass filter. Instead of buying a pre-made 4" glass filter (which cost $125!), I had a custom piece of glass made by a local glass company for only $15. The screw-on attachment I glued it to was a 4" Cap with Threaded Plug which I dremeled a hole into. I left a 1/8" lip that the glass will rest on.
Here you can see the glass fitted into the cut-out plug. I spray-painted the entire plug black before I glued it on, but as you can see, the adhesive ate through the paint around the lip. That's okay. I shouldn't have painted that portion.
The only downside to the custom piece of glass is that there isn't an anti-reflective coating, I've had a couple images where ghosting was an issue. I put a piece of extra foam around the inside of this PVC pipe as well.
This video is a little test I made.
Sound Blimp Test from Kyle Peters on Vimeo.
I used this blimp for the entire shoot, and found it to work very well. It wasn't too heavy or cumbersome. And as far as performance goes, Blair Scheller, the sound mixer, told me that it was almost as quiet as the Jacobson Blimps he's worked alongside! Not bad, for 1/10th the price!
I used the blimp for over half of the shots here.