A while back, I saw a post with a video of a skateboarder riding around a skatepark in London while being filmed by his dog.
Although the skating is fairly great, the footage’s incredible stability stands out. A secret is a cool gadget called a “gimbal” stabilizer, not some sort of dark sorcery.
A gimbal is a device that supports and stabilizes a camera using motors and sophisticated sensors, allowing you to record silky smooth video while moving.
How a Gimbal Operates
In the past, Hollywood filmmakers frequently used expensive Steadicams or Dollys, which use actual moving parts to maintain stability. These tools don’t have computer assistance; therefore, utilizing them effectively calls for a highly competent operator.
On the other hand, gimbals are a more current style of “digital” little stabilizer. They possess a tiny brain and employ advanced motion detection techniques to distinguish between the videographer’s deliberate actions and unwelcome camera wobble.
Let’s think about your phone for a moment. It most likely features built-in accelerometers and gyroscopes, allowing it to detect when the screen has been turned over or lifted off the table.
A gimbal includes all of that sensing capability, some pivots that can move, and a camera mount. The mounted camera can be perfectly steady by using quiet (obviously, you don’t want the sound of motors being picked up by the mic!) brushless motors that perform micro-adjustments to the arms. It works similarly to when you raise and move a chicken around:
A Closer Examination of the Gimbal Science
Although I won’t claim to be an authority in the physics involved in gimbals, I can at least give you the dirt.
Pitch, yaw, and roll are the three directions in which every physical object can rotate. You undoubtedly have experience adjusting all three dimensions to obtain that perfectly lined-up shot if you’re accustomed to setting up camera tripods.
A moving camera will cause random, undesirable movement in all three directions. However, by creating movements in the opposite direction, it is feasible to successfully counteract such movements. Pitch, yaw, and roll movements are reversed, and presto, we have a perfectly stable camera.
It’s not complicated science, but how can we create those precise countermovements? The technology of today, of course.
IMUs, simply motion and rotation sensors used in motorized gimbals, instantly provide movement data to a computer, determining how much countermovement is required in each axis.
Of course, there are situations when the photographer will purposefully tilt the camera. To determine if a movement was intentional or not, the computer employs sophisticated heuristic algorithms. Cool, no?
Two and three-axis gimbals
The majority of gimbals will either have two or three axes. You probably already know that a 3-axis is better. A 3-axis gimbal is more expensive, though, and the additional pivot may not make a difference that justifies the higher price.
A two-axis gimbal can rectify a camera rolling from side to side or pitching forward and back. It won’t stop unintentional yaw axis motions. On the other hand, a three-axis gimbal counteracts unintentional motion in the yaw axis, producing even more stable footage.
You will likely be able to control the camera shake when capturing videos, especially on one axis. Therefore, a 2-axis gimbal is excellent for many uses.
The drawbacks of a 3-axis gimbal are distinct. It’s heavier in weight since it has an additional pivot. This is a particularly significant drawback if you intend to use it with a camera drone, where a greater load will shorten the drone’s flight time. Additionally, a 3-axis gimbal has a second motor. The additional motor causes the gimbal to use more battery power, resulting in lower battery life.
How To Use A Gimbal To Stabilize Video
A gimbal is fairly simple to use. Finding something fascinating to video is challenging since once it is set up, it takes care of all the difficult stabilizing work for you.
There will be some difficulties, though, at least initially. The first step is picking the appropriate gimbal for your camera.
A small handheld gimbal can be used with an iPhone or GoPro. A GoPro gimbal will have more direct compatibility, although most iPhone gimbals can also accommodate GoPros because of their movable clamps. I’ve done a lot of research and testing and compiled lists of the best gimbals for GoPros and iPhones.
On the other hand, you’ll need a lot larger gimbal if you want to use it with your DSLR or video camera. Naturally, the price of these larger gimbals will also be much higher. Here is my list of the top DSLR gimbals.
After you have it, you will need to follow the instructions to link your GoPro, phone, DSLR, or video camera to the gimbal, and then you should be good to go. Just remember that the gimbal is only intended to eliminate those extremely minute motions, not larger ones. For instance, the entire camera will move up and down as you climb the stairs. Even if you don’t want that, you must deliberately maintain a smooth upward camera movement.
Mechanical vs. Gimbal Stabilizers
Hollywood has produced incredibly stable videos without using this new gimbal technology for years. Steadicams, a type of fancy mechanical stabilizer, have been used in place of that. To mechanically offset camera shake, these animals employ a variety of big counterweights, small counterweights, nuts, bolts, springs, and more.
Gimbals are a more recent development, and they are only technically possible because of the diminutive size of GoPros, iPhones, drone cameras, and DSLRs. However, although they are technically more sophisticated than mechanical stabilizers, professional film studios use camera equipment that is too huge for electronic motors to operate.
Gimbals are preferred by the majority of GoPro, iPhone, and DSLR users for stabilizing video. Many videographers WISH they had a motorized gimbal for their massive video cameras, but they simply do not.
It’s important to remember that mechanical stabilizers exist for DSLRs, GoPros, and smartphones. These are less expensive than motorized Gimbals but are less useful and require a skilled camera operator. Before motorized gimbals became popular, these were utilized by amateur videographers, but they are no longer necessary (other than not requiring a battery).
Before gimbals existed, a startup named Glidecam led the way in small-camera stabilization. Still, there’s no denying that the future of the smartphone and action camera industries lies with motorized gimbals.
Everyone can now use incredible camera stabilization.
Modern camera stabilization is now accessible to the general public thanks to gimbals. Anyone with an iPhone, Android, or GoPro can easily capture breathtaking action camera footage.
Despite being a photographer who used to only occasionally shoot video, I have developed a deep love for gimbals and videography. It’s a more affordable and enjoyable hobby than photography. Using a gimbal is considerably superior to your phone or action camera’s built-in stabilization, whether you’re filming while traveling, skateboarding, skiing, or anything else.