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A guide to gimbals: what, why and which?

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Camera stabiliser gimbals come in many shapes and sizes, from the standard handheld devices that people use to run around and shoot tracking shots, all the way up to the stabilisers mounted on drones. A gimbal is a powerful tool in filmmaking, allowing an operator to control and stabilize their shots even during intensely shaky and fast-moving situations. It allows a camera operator to move independently without the need for large and complicated setups, while still achieving the professional Hollywood look of smooth, controlled shots.

Footage that moves through the location can be far more compelling to the viewer when compared to a static and locked-off shot from a tripod. A camera stabiliser offers the ability of movement and spatial awareness, letting the viewer better connect with a location when viewing footage on a flat and two-dimensional screen. When set up and used correctly, a gimbal can become one of the most valuable tools on a shoot.

How a Gimbal Works

At a glance, a handheld gimbal might seem like it uses magic to stabilize footage. A person running upstairs and jumping over walls can achieve the most incredibly smooth tracking shots in a way that almost doesn’t seem possible. These shots are actually produced by a system of small brushless motors, each performing to correct a movement of the camera on a particular axis. Each axis of gimbal movement is classified by the direction of the camera’s position: roll, pitch, and yaw. The best way to think of the different axes is simply by the direction that the camera can move. For example, side to side movement is known as yaw, up and down movement of the camera tilting is known as pitch, and the camera rotating to change the horizon of the shot is known as roll.

Gimbal Axis

The Axis of Movement:

Pitch – Tilting the camera up and down from the ground to the sky

Yaw – Turning the camera side to side from left to right

Roll – Tilting the camera so that the horizon of the image rotates

These motors act as small servos to push against the direction that the camera wants to move, dampening and reducing shake. The best way to think of it would be if your camera were to hang from an elastic band or a spring. If you let go of your camera, instead of it falling and crashing to the floor, the elastic band would slow the movement down until it stopped. The brushless motors are doing the same thing, just in a more controlled and refined way. When these motors are linked up by software, you gain complete control of how much the camera will move and what resistance to shaking it will see. A gimbal is nothing more than a system of small motors working together to keep your camera pointing in the direction that you want to shoot.

Gimbal Types and Designs

Gimbal PITCH

You might have seen different types of stabiliser gimbals out in the field, from the large two-handed versions like the Ronin-MRonin-MX, and Ronin 2, to the single-handed devices like the Ronin-S. Whether it’s a large gimbal like the Ronin 2 or a small and compact setup like the Osmo Pocket, the mechanical function is identical. The motors are achieving the same effect; however, they are built and designed for different arrangements and camera weights. Knowing this, you can pick out and chose the gimbal that best suits your needs. Pay attention to the number of axes that the gimbal provides stabilisation for, as this affects how effective the gimbal can be in your shooting environment. For instance, some smaller gimbals offer only 1-axis stabilisation, correcting forward and backward tilt movement. Other gimbals offer 3-axis stabilisation that corrects roll, pitch, and yaw described above. Depending on your camera, a smaller and more compact handheld gimbal might be a better option for a lighter camera, as it reduces the overall weight of your setup. However, if you are using a larger camera with bigger, heavier lenses, a larger DJI gimbal such as the Ronin 2 could be a better option for you. Many of the various gimbal types will have a specific weight range classified in the gimbal specifications. What that means is that the entire weight of your camera and lens must not be heavier than the specified amount for your gimbal to work effectively. There is a handheld gimbal for various situations, so just pick the one the best suits you.

Setting Up and Balancing a Handheld Gimbal

Before using a handheld gimbal, it’s important to set up and balance the rig first. What this does is make sure that the camera is sitting in a neutral position when the gimbal rig is not moving, reducing the stress on the motors, and allowing it to function more efficiently. If the gimbal has to fight the weight of an unbalanced camera, it is not able to correct shake and movement as effectively.

The concept of balancing a gimbal is quite easy and straightforward. The idea is that the camera is sitting in a neutral position and does not want to tilt or tip over when sitting still. Think of this like you are balancing a pencil on your finger. If the pencil is balancing exactly in the middle, you can move your hand around without it tipping over and falling to the floor. Balancing the gimbal is similar; you want the motors to be working to correct shake and bumps, instead of fighting to hold the camera up.

Gimbal Balance

To balance the gimbal for your camera setup, place the gimbal on a stand while using the adjuster plates to slide the camera backward and forward, as well as side to side until the camera will sit flat and level without tilting over. You should be able to let go of the camera without the gimbal arming tipping over. Repeat the balancing steps, sliding the adjuster plates until the camera is nicely level.

Pictured above: The gimbal plate was balanced for a standard 18-105mm lens (left image). When a heavier 12mm fisheye lens was added (right image), the gimbal plate was moved backward, shifting the weight of the camera body to compensate for the weight of the large glass element with the fisheye.

Gimbal tip: Remember to adjust the balance of the camera every time you switch lenses, as the difference in lens weight can be enough to through the total balance off.

The Best Small and Compact Handheld Gimbals

Osmo Pocket

DJI Osmo Pocket

Osmo Mobile 2

DJI Osmo Mobile 2

Some of the smaller gimbal stabilisers such as the Osmo Pocket have integrated cameras built in that do not require balancing. These can be a great option for quick and compact setups that can be taken out of a bag and used immediately without adjustment. The Osmo Mobile 2 even allows you to attach and use your smartphone, allowing for quick shooting and smooth videos to instantly share with friends online. These handheld gimbals are incredibly smart and contain software that know the size and weight of the camera and has the ability to correct itself, which means that you can focus on your shot and what you want to share! If you’re looking for a quick and easy gimbal setup that you can throw in a camera bag and pull out in a moment’s notice to achieve high-quality images, these integrated setups can be a great choice.

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DJI Osmo Mobile 3

Osmo Mobile 3 is DJI’s first foldable smartphone gimbal, which gives users a more portable option for filmmaking. With a lightweight design, foldable tripod grip, and quick balancing, users can quickly shoot incredibly smooth footage. This new smartphone gimbal also lets you transition between portrait and landscape mode with just a tap of the M button. With the new Gesture Control feature, content creators can also take a photo or start recording with simple gestures. Osmo Mobile 3 combines all these useful features with the convenient DJI Mimo app, allowing users to take cinematic footage at the touch of a button.

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