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Guest post: DIY sound blimp project

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Having worked on a few sound stages, sets, and quiet studios now, I felt the need for something to effectively suppress the rather loud shutter actuation and mirror slap of my D800. The “quiet mode” on that camera is a bit of a joke, and definitely does not cut it when sound is rolling on set. This limits when I can get behind-the-scenes/production shots without the audio crew wanting to murder me.

Jacobson Sound Blimp

The classic solution is the industry-trusted Jacobson Sound Blimp, one of which I last saw in the wild at an on-location set of a TV show production that I assisted on recently. It makes your camera look like something straight outta The Great War, which is both awesome and awful. There are no controls other than the shutter release button, and they cost almost a grand to buy.

Alternatively, and also less effective, is a soft camera muzzle that I’ve seen ‘togs use at classical music concerts in auditoriums etc. The upside is that you can stick your hands into them and use all the controls. The downside is that you can still hear the mirror slap a few paces away. And you look like a sock puppeteer.

I cast about for other solutions, and came across several DIY tutorials based around a Pelican case, the best of which was this one. I love the fact it supports a removable extension tube for different-length lenses, so I can go long with my 70-200mm when I need to reach, or stick to my physically shorter 85mm prime when I want maneuverability and max light (both in photons and atoms). The fact that the whole rig should, in theory, end up being completely waterproof is another huge plus for me (pool shoot ahoy!). So, without delay I ordered the Pelicase from B&H and raided my local Home Depot for the rest of the components needed:

Preassembly

That total project cost is an order of magnitude less than what a Jacobson fetches, and I’m guessing the sound suppression results are about 80-90% as good! I improved on the original design in a couple of ways; the main one being the use of a wireless trigger for shutter release and autofocus. A wired one means you need an extra hole through the Pelican case which is troublesome to keep watertight around the cord passing through. It also means you have to attach the button to the outside of the case somehow, and I’d rather just have a wireless trigger in my pocket that I can press through the cloth while aiming the camera/case with the other hand. I also opted for Lexan instead of the more fragile and less flexible glass for the rear LCD and viewfinder windows. It should be easier to cut to the proper shape, too.

The only big question mark at this point is how to best do the front window for the lens. The above design had a plain piece of glass custom-cut into a round shape by a local glass store, but this is a hassle and can cause ghosting because there is no anti-reflective coating on it. I thought about somehow using a spare 77mm UV filter that can screw onto the front, but that’s probably not a good idea since it would cause direct hard contact between the lens (which is where the most of noise emanates from) and the outer shell of the sound blimp, which I think might transfer the sound vibrations to the outside. I ended up trying the Lexan, but it’s way too easy to scratch when you’re cleaning it and make optically crappy, so I’m going to see about that real glass after all..

Here are a bunch of shots detailing the assembly of this project:

Stay tuned for a video update where I test the water proofing of this contraption! Nothing like trusting your pro photo gear to something you cobbled together from sewage pipes… ;)

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