Making YouTube Videos with a Desk Mounted Tablet

There is an electronics enthusiast on YouTube that I enjoy watching, named bigclivedotcom. I am particularly envious of his ability to produce content several times a week. This is in part due to his comfort with prioritizing fun over production values, but also because of his camera setup. Somehow, the camera is over his desk, while he is still able to see the video and have access to the controls.

Here was my first attempt:

Prototype iPad holder made with PVC pipe

Prototype iPad holder made with PVC pipe

Inexpensive plastic PVC pipe from the local hardware store forms the frame. Flat cabinet LED lighting provides diffused lighting for the subject, with a more color-balanced quality than fluorescent lamps. The iPad rests on the LED strips, with self-adhesive neoprene rubber strips to prevent scratching.

This portable camera rig can be placed on your desk when shooting videos, or carried to another work surface. The legs are not glued in their sockets, so they can be swapped out for taller or shorter legs as needed.

In practice, I was unhappy with the reflection of the lighting on dark desk surfaces, as well as on the clear display window of multimeters, calculators, and so on. Because the camera sits in a far corner of the iPad, the lighting is stronger on one side of the image (where the tablet rests on the LED lights). The white paper backing on the rear of the rig helps reflect light somewhat, but prevents me from reading my computer monitor. Although it wasn’t a deal breaker, the legs can interfere with placement and motion, and swapping legs to adjust camera position is awkward and coarse.

Desk Mounted Swing Arm

I thought, why not use an adjustable position arm from a desk lamp or magnifier instead? It turns out that companies already offer similar desk mounts for tablets. Huzzah!

Here is the LapWorks full motion desk mount tablet arm holding an Apple iPad Pro 12.9 tablet.

Desk mount tablet arm for YouTube videos

Desk mount tablet arm for YouTube videos

This makes it easy to adjust the position of the camera while recording, while simultaneously being able to see if the subject is properly framed. Because the arm takes up little space, it doesn’t interfere with the project or my movement. I’ve even considered mounting it from overhead for additional freedom. The mounting bracket screws on and off the table quickly.

Room lighting can pour in from all directions. Because the camera is in the far corner of the iPad, the tablet body does not block three-quarters of the overhead lighting.

The tablet can be tilted to take a video of the computer monitor, or it can be used for its intended purpose as an ordinary tablet when I’m not recording.

I looked at many other swing arms / desk mounts, but I was disappointed in how flimsy they looked. For those products, reviewers complained about sagging or difficulty adjusting the position. The LapWorks mount is solidly built and the motions are smooth. For this purpose, the LapWorks mount is perfect... almost.

Big Tablets

The chosen swing arm is not rated for a 12.9” size tablet. I was given the tablet as a company bonus -- so that’s what I have to work with. A better choice would be an iPad Mini 4, because it has the same camera, fits the mount, and blocks less light.

Tablet bracket doesnt fit iPad Pro 12.9

Tablet bracket doesn’t fit iPad Pro 12.9

I wanted to alter the mount to extend the arms, but in a way that would not be permanent. I particularly want to retain the soft rubber gripper ends of the arms (hands?). Unfortunately, they appear to be molded on and not removable.

Soft molded gripper

Soft molded gripper

In order to take the mount apart, peel off the rubber pads and then you can remove the six screws. (By the way, the image below shows the finished mount, after alteration)

Screws underneath rubber pads

Screws underneath rubber pads

Each sliding arm attaches to the mount with two springs. The tension of the springs holds the tablet snugly. The hook at the end of the spring is screwed into a threaded brass insert in the sliding arm. The brass insert is a nice touch as it lessens the likelihood of the plastic tearing or cracking, and the screw can be removed and inserted repeatedly.

Springs connect to threaded insert on bracket arm

Springs connect to threaded insert on bracket arm

Being from the land of obsolete measurement systems, I didn’t immediately recognize the screw size. It’s a 3 mm x 0.5 mm pitch fastener -- which is relatively common in the rest of the world. I determined the pitch size using a PEC 5625 screw pitch gauge. (Less expensive versions are available and perfectly acceptable.)

Simply place the unknown threads against a blade on the gauge and see if the teeth all line up. If not, try a larger or smaller gauge blade.

Measuring screw threads

Measuring screw threads

Because of the detachable springs and undetachable molding, machining an extension slide to attach to the original slide was the best way to modify the mount for the larger tablet.

For materials, I considered using aluminum plate for lightweight strength, but decided on black Delrin (acetal) plastic instead. Delrin will better match the appearance of the existing slide, Delrin will not scratch or wear down the mount like aluminum would, and Delrin is easily machined. It turns out that last reason was more beneficial than I anticipated.

I thought that I could make the entire extension slide by simply drilling a couple of holes into a flat plate. But, after milling the plate to the proper dimensions, I discovered it didn’t fit. The slots in the original slide were not only to save on material expense, but are also structural features to provide dimensional support. In the photo below, notice how the relief pattern mates where the slide enters the tablet mount.

Slots and grooves in arm mount

Slots and grooves in arm mount

Using a digital caliper, I measured the width of the ribs and slots. They appear to consist of two 7 mm wide outer slots with a 6 mm inner slot. The ribs do not appear to match a clean metric value (like 1.5 mm). So, I used the existing slide as a guide when machining the extension slide.

Using the existing arm as a template

Using the existing arm as a template

In the end, the homemade extension arm turned out within the tolerance on the mount. It slides smoothly without too much wiggle. A small piece of plastic accepts screws to connect the extension to the original arm.

Original arm and extension

Original arm and extension

I am pleased with the final result. The large iPad Pro fits securely in the arms of the desk mount. The swing arm has enough heft to hold position even with the total weight (I’m not sure cheaper desk mounts would do so.) The extension modification is easily undone with a screwdriver.

Now that I realize how complicated the extension slide is to make, I recommend someone make a 3D design instead. I initially declined to do so, because I was concerned about the structural strength of 3D printed plastic. However, the fundamental force on the arms is tension, rather than shear. This should not be an issue for a 3D printed part where the stress is in the same direction as the filament path.