5 min read / Teach Me

What Is a Gimbal, and How to Use One

What Is a Gimbal, and How to Use One

If you’re serious about filming, you’ve probably heard of camera stabilizers. But should you choose a gimbal, how do you use it, and is Steadicam or bodycam better?

What is a gimbal?

When you film something on your phone or with a handheld camera, it’s usually a bit shaky. A gimbal uses sensors and motors to stabilize and support your camera, doing what a tripod usually would if you were staying in one location or taking a photo.

It looks a bit like a selfie stick, with a host of controls on the handle so you can pan, tilt, and control your shots on everything from DSLR cameras to GoPros, cinema cameras to smartphones.

The gimbal senses the difference between your intentional movements and small, unwanted interruptions like shakiness. Silent, brushless motors inside the gimbal make sure this happens and give you a result that looks super professional – the stabilizing motors are the same you get in drones.

This is why loads of content creators have invested in gimbals. They’re much cheaper than ‘proper,’ Hollywood alternatives like dollies or Steadicams, and they produce great results.

Steadicam vs gimbal

Is it worth getting a gimbal?

As with all camera equipment, gimbals aren’t cheap; unless you want your content to look like it came straight from The Blair Witch Project, you’ll need to spend a bit. Depending on what camera you’re using, a starter gimbal can cost anything from $100 to $1,000. For example:

Zhiyun Smooth 4

An iPhone-optimized gimbal, which lands at the lower price bracket of $99. It comes with an absurd amount of buttons and preset shooting modes, which can be a bit exhausting for a beginner. But, it does come with a detailed tutorial video and app, so once you get your head around it, it’s the perfect starter gimbal. Check it out here.

DJI RSC 2

A foldable, versatile gimbal that’s compatible with a host of DSLR cameras, and will set you back by $499. It features a technology called ActiveTrack 3.0, which uses the source signal from your camera (someone playing basketball or a dog running around, for example) to track the subject automatically. You can read more about the DJI RSC 2 here.

ZhiYun Weebill 2

A ludicrously flashy, all-out gimbal that justifies its $1,099 price tag. It’s compatible with a slew of Canon and Sony cameras, features an integrated 2.88″ flip-out touchscreen, and is a genuinely heavyweight piece of kit with more features than you can shake a stick (or another gimbal) at. Learn more about it here.

How to use a gimbal

Gimbals are pretty easy to use – anyone who’s used a selfie stick will understand the basics. The key is to fix and balance your camera before turning your gimbal on, to avoid any vibration or shaking once you start filming. Also, check how long your gimbal’s battery lasts, and ensure it’s fully charged before the shoot. There’s nothing worse than a gimbal going to sleep just as you’re in the middle of a perfect shot!

Gimbals can be used to achieve scenes worthy of big-budget movie studios. Here are a few!

Camera Stabilizer

Tracking shot

The old reliable. Circle your subject to achieve the ultimate tracking shot, or follow them as they’re in the center of the frame. The gimbal gives you the freedom to follow your subject fluidly and without shakiness!

Crane shot

This is a simple way to alter perspective, and go from low to high in a short space of time. You can achieve this by getting on your knees, focusing your gimbal on the subject, then gradually lifting yourself up.

Drone shot

For an alternative drone shot, simply walk towards an edge, push forward and reach out with the gimbal, revealing a suitably epic expanse underneath you. Obviously, be careful, and make sure it’s safe before you get near any ledges!

Pull back

Just walk backward! Make sure to keep the path clear, but once you nail this, it’s perfect for injecting drama into scene finales, or even if you want to get a bit creative with your transitions.

Gimbal

Dolly shot

Just find something in the foreground, move your camera to the left or right, and keep focus on the background to add a ton of depth!

Fly through

Super easy, and super strange! Find a gap like a window, bush, or cave (you’ve got caves, right?) that your camera and gimbal will fit through. From there, push your camera through the space, then carefully pull it back. You’ve got two shots here, which you can use independently, or together at once if you want to make something trippy.

So, you’re into all this gimbal stuff. You probably want some music to soundtrack your awesome shots. Don’t worry about that – we got you covered.

Should you get a bodycam instead of a gimbal?

Another popular camera stabilizer is the bodycam, also known as a SnorriCam (its brilliant name comes from its inventors, Finnish filmmakers Einar and Eiður Snorri.) It’s rigged to the subject’s body, so when they move, the camera stays focused on them in a point-of-view perspective – it’s their surroundings that move.

It looks incredible, and is ideal for personal shots where you want to feel like you’re in the subject’s shoes. This is why it’s often used in chase scenes, party scenes, and scenes where characters are shaken up or confused.

But, if you want diversity in your shots, a bodycam isn’t right for your content. It’s a worthy addition to your arsenal, though!

Bodycam vs gimbal

Should you get a Steadicam instead of a gimbal?

The Steadicam is the OG handheld stabilizer; it’s been knocking around since the 1970s. It won an Oscar for Scientific or Technical Achievement in 1977, and as a result, it’s not changed much.

It’s the cost and accessibility that edges gimbals over Steadicams for beginners, though. Gimbals come with a level of automatic functionality, whereas you need an expert to operate a Steadicam – after all, it’s a heavy-duty, fiddly piece of machinery.

Steadicams also cost a lot more than gimbals. We’re talking thousands of dollars. If you’re starting out, today’s gimbals offer a level of professionalism that you’ll only match after learning about Steadicams for years.

Now you know the basics about gimbals and how they stack up against other camera stabilizers, it’s time to soundtrack your content. Don’t worry about licensing, royalties, and other jargon – you’ve got footage to nail!

Are you a video editor or filmmaker? Whether you’re an absolute master or just a beginner, discover what Epidemic Sound has to offer on our Epidemic Sound for Filmmaking page. Oh, and if you’re looking for some music for video editing, check out our dedicated page.

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What Is a Gimbal, and How to Use One
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