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Gimbals

Take your handheld video to the next level. Thanks to a gimbal, you can shoot stable footage every time, without a tripod. And it’s not only videographers who can benefit – birdwatchers are getting in on the act, too. One thing’s for certain – once you’ve got one, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.

They say that with a three-axis gimbal, you can shoot smooth footage even when you’re running as fast as you can. That’s not as easy as it sounds, by the way, but it gives you a clue as to just how clever these devices are – and what a difference they can make.

A gimbal stabilises your camera across three axes, using motors to continually adjust the camera’s viewpoint, cancelling out any movement of the camera. This means that even if you’re hopping up and down, your footage won’t be. Many also support features like face-tracking and panning, and can link into apps that enable you to control close-ups and time-lapses.

A CONSUMER REVOLUTION

The gimbal is the natural evolution of a system called Steadicam, which was used by the movie industry in the 1970s. It was a complex system that employed counterbalanced weights to help smooth out film footage, but it worked. Steadicam was credited with creating award-winning cinematography in classic movies like The Shining and Marathon Man. The gimbal achieves the same thing but is simpler to use, more accurate and far cheaper.

Gimbals have mostly replaced the Steadicam in movie studios but, until now, they’ve been too pricey to be accessible to the rest of us. Not any more. As prices have tumbled, gimbals have become affordable. They’re now popping up more and more in all sorts of devices. You can get a gimbal for your smartphone, your DSLR, and of course your GoPro and drone.

CHOOSE YOUR STYLE

The shaky camera style has its uses and for documentary filming, where raw footage adds a gritty realism, it’s ideal. But a gimbal opens up so many more options that you’ll want to take it everywhere you go.

Tracking a subject looks more professional when the footage is steady. Natural-looking, smooth pans and sweeping movements work a treat. And if you want to shoot stills, you can leave the heavy tripod at home and hand-hold your camera instead. You’ll fall in love with the extra control, too – a joystick allows you to choose where to point your camera, and an app gives you full directional control remotely.

THE FINER DETAILS

How you hold the gimbal depends on the model you go for. If you’re looking for a gimbal for your smartphone or small compact camera, then a single-handed grip works well (the gimbal and your camera are mounted on the end of a pole). These are comfortable to hold, even over long periods. But for heavier cameras and DSLRs, you might find a dual-handed grip is easier to balance the camera’s weight and keep it steady. You won’t want to do that for prolonged periods of time, though.

Setting up your gimbal correctly is crucial. It needs to be properly balanced so the motors aren’t always compensating for the weight of your camera, and if you’re moving around, you still need to move smoothly and allow your arms to absorb your footsteps.

At its heart, a gimbal is three pivoted rings connected together so the centre ring maintains its position, no matter how the other rings are rotated. The idea dates back to the Ancient Greeks, but gimbals were of little use until gyroscopes and compasses were used at sea. They’re still used in rocket propulsion today, despite NASA’s Apollo 11 space mission when the gimbal disastrously locked because engineers overlooked the need for a fourth ring.

NOT JUST FOR VIDEO

There’s another use for gimbals, too: long-distance photography. These gimbals or stabilisers differ from the video kind because they don’t contain motors, but instead rely on the camera’s centre of gravity to make it easier to control a heavy camera and lens.

With bird photography and air shows, where very heavy long lenses are essential, it can be hard work tracking your subject across vast skies. Because it’s supporting all your heavy kit, the gimbal makes it easier to track your subject. It takes a bit of setting up, but once you’ve balanced your camera and lens on its centre of gravity, you’ll see how easy the tracking becomes.

If you’re still unconvinced, our team at the Jessops Academy have prepared a video showing how a gimbal can improve your video. See for yourself the dramatic impact a gimbal could have on your production values… and for relatively little outlay.

Take a look at our range of gimbals for smartphones, compacts, DSLRs and even drones .

See for yourself how much a gimbal can improve your photography: Take a look DJI’s Osmo mobile 2 and the Feiyutech a1000