How to make a sound blimp for your camera

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.

homemade camera sound blimp

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Pelican 1150 case
    4

  3. 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.
  4. Case with cutout foam for camera body

  5. 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).
  6. 4 1/4

  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

    epoxy

    gluing pipe to case

  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. port cut out in case lid

    glass taped into lid

  13. 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.
  14. hole drilled for cable release

  15. 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.
  16. filter taped into lens shade

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.
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35 Responses to How to make a sound blimp for your camera

  1. Jim,
    this is your craziest concoction yet.
    And I thought taping a poster on an alley exterior wall because it was to big to shoot it anywhere else was crazy.
    what will you think of next.
    One question. If they called you last minute, how did you have 2 days to wait for the liquid nails to dry? Plus all the time to figure this out, buy the case, and do it. Your super powers astound me. Turning back time! All so the microphones won’t hear the digital click of your Canon 5D.
    You are dedicated. More so than me. I think its sad I am the only comment on your blog. mostly because this comment is getting lamer and more long winded. I need my own blog. Please send software and a how-to manual. (with photos hopefully)

  2. Jim-
    Being a strict adherent to the Chuck Berry aesthetic, I’m always searching for any new tools that might help me to remain as faithful as possible to Mr. Berry’s unique vision. Can your device withstand being submerged in a dirty toilet for long periods of time? Also, will I need your houseboy, Derek Erdman, to custom cut for me? Please let me know ASAP.

    DH

    • have written beorfe about the militarization of our police force. In many small towns and in many big cities police forces now havea0armoreda0vehicles and machine

  3. Hi Jim,
    I am gonna have a go at this as I am in a similar situation to the one you described. Thanks for the helpful step by step and looking forward to trying mine out!
    Cheers,
    Hamish

  4. Jim,
    I also created a blimp for my 5D using a similar method to yours, luckily I stumbled on a few modifications that reduced the noise even further. Using Dynomat or lining the interior of the Pelican (a 1200 in my case) greatly reduced the sound leak even futher. Instead of an epoxy I went to the local auto parts store and picked up two rubber garments that fit both my 70 to 300mm zoom and 28 to 75mm lenses. It gives it a more professional look and allows be to switch tubes for a much quicker lens change. It makes no more sound that a rustle of clothing and have had two sound techs comment on it’s efficiency (for them not being Jacobson.) Next time I’ll be experimenting with a plexiglass backing and I’m trying to work out a system with the tubes that will allow me access to zoom as well. I’ll document that process and toss it your way. Thanks for the helpful tips.
    Best Regards:
    Kevin

  5. Hey Kevin could you send me some pictures of your setup? I’m curious about what parts you used for lens extension. I’ve got a couple Pelican’s lying around and plan to build a rig with a full plexi back.

    Thanks,
    Lawren

  6. I am wondering how quite it would be without the lens pipe, I would love to mount it to a tripod with the tripod collar on my 80-200, and I would love to be able to change my zoom range without taking it apart.
    Anyone experiment with that?
    Dave

    • Dave: I haven’t tried it, but I suspect it would be quite loud with the lens exposed. You could make the blimp with a removable pipe.

  7. Hi Kevin,

    Any chance you can send me some pics of your set up,
    I have tried all sorts of contraptions to silence my camera with very little success.
    That would be much appreciated.

    cheers

    nicole

  8. dumb: It does look a bit shabby, but it cost me about $40, 1/20th the price of a Jacobson blimp. Also, this could be finished a bit more elegantly–this was my first crack at it.

  9. This is useful information. I am bidding still photography on a video set and may need a blimp. First I’ve heard anything about it. I’d like something to buy off the shelf…I don’t feel quite as creative as you or your neighbor.

  10. I’m a professional photographer shooting fashion and celebs but sometimes I love to shoot theater and the only way to do it is during dressed rehearsals or with a blimp. I spent a lot of time looking for an average blimp and it looks like I found one here. I’m planning to do it with a Pelican case with plexy back and cardboard tubes. Great ideas. Thank you for this posting

  11. Thanks for this. I thought it might be possible to make one with a pelicase – I am going to attempt to make my own and see if I can avoid the extra $800+ I’d need for the Jacobson!

  12. Hi All,

    I shoot for the Milwaukee Ballet and occasssionally the dress rehearsal is not an option. I like this idea (especially the price) but I do need to change focal lengths quickly. Any further developments?

  13. hey,
    I am in the same predicament as yours, can’t rent one or borrow one and the $2000 price for the real deal is too much since I don’t usually need one. I going to make it.

    thanks,
    Joseph

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