July 6, 2016

9 Important Things to Know if You Want to Use a Gimbal Like a Pro

Shooting with a gimbal can help you capture some incredible images, but it's not as easy as it looks.

Gimbals have certainly become one of the hottest new tools in filmmaking ever since the MōVI dropped in 2013. Everybody and their mom wants to get their hands on one so they can start capturing those mesmerizingly smooth images gimbals are known for—but before you do, you might want to hear these pearls of wisdom from professional gimbal operator Casey McBeath, who lays out the benefits and limitations of working with a gimbal, as well as the drawbacks.

  • Gimbals aren't replacements for other tools: No, gimbals can't do everything, and even if they could, they still have their limitations. Sliders, jibs, and dollies are still the cinematic workhorses they've always been, so don't be so quick to sell all your gear once you get that sexy gimbal in the mail.
  • Gimbals are great for free motion: Steadicams allowed camera operators to move around pretty freely before gimbals came along, but thanks to the fact that they're lightweight and compact, operators can take their camera virtually anywhere or through anything and still get a smooth shot.
  • They have a wide variety of motions: Setting up a shot takes a lot of time, especially if each requires different camera movement tools. Gimbals allow shooters to get similar shots in less time, which is good for run-and-gun filmmakers who simply don't have the time, space, or patience to set up all of that extra gear.
  • Remember, everything must serve your story: Okay, I get it. You just got a new gimbal and you want to use it to capture all of those awesome continuous shots we've all been drooling over for the past three years. But guess what—fancy gimbal or not, you're still telling a story. Just because you're shooting with a gimbal doesn't mean your shots don't need to be motivated.
  • Keep an eye on vertical movement: The three axises gimbals control are pan, tilt, and roll, but they don't control vertical movement, which means any vertical movement you do—whether it be walking, jumping, etc.—will affect your image. This is something first-time gimbal operators tend to forget, resulting in the "swimming motion"—a kind of floaty, bobbing movement that isn't very pleasing to watch.
  • Invert your gimbal if and when you can: McBeath says that because of the way gimbals are designed, as well as the strain on the operator's body, the natural position to hold a gimbal is near the waist or chest with the gimbal situated below the handles. This is all well and good, but McBeath says that if you're not inverting your gimbal's position (if it has that capability, like the DJI Ronin), you're not really being selective about your shots.
  • Balance your gimbal: You're probably saying, "Well, duh," but there are actually more consequences to improperly balancing your gimbal than your setup just not working. McBeath says that some operators can use a gimbal without even knowing it wasn't balanced correctly, which overworks its motor and drains its batteries.
  • Save your energy: Shooting on a gimbal seemed so easy when I saw videos online; the thing looks damn near weightless. However, I was ready to scrap my shoot minutes into operating it because I hadn't prepared for how laborious it actually was. So, rest up, don't carry it if you don't have to, and plan your shots ahead of time.

What are some tips you can share about operating a gimbal? Let us know in the comments below!       

Your Comment

8 Comments

great tips and insights!

don't forget the usability of these gimbals on weddings. i've been using this for the past year and i've been able to successfully improvise long takes where i was only imagining what would happen next, i.e. bridal car arriving and pulling over on a great palace or during the first dance where the dance was unchoreographed: https://vimeo.com/168306143

July 6, 2016 at 4:59AM

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John E.
DP, Editor
88

So very true, great tips.

A comment though about balancing the gimbal, especially if working with longer focal lengths, it is very important, not just because the power consumption.

If a gimbal is well balanced the lateral or up/down movements do not affect pitch, roll and yaw. On unbalanced gimbal they do and the gimbal always makes a small movement when there is any acceleration.

It is a bit difficult to explain understandably, but just believe me, balance your gimbal well especially if using longer focal lenghts.

About up and down movement when walking, yes that is my problem, some tutorials for "gimbal walking" would be great.

July 6, 2016 at 8:04AM

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Kim Janson
Gimbal developer
147

Saving your energy is very important!
Since I'm using a MoVI ring saving energy has become easier: the ring around the gimbal allows me to let it rest on a table or floor when not shooting. You just need 1 hand to keep it balanced, but you don't have to carry the weight. This means I don't need a stand or assistent to be only 1 second away.
The ring also makes it easy to position the camera higher, although inverting is no problem either.

Having an assistent to push record or focus the shot before recording will save you energy and muscleache, because you can continue to hold the gimbal with 2 hands. Holding it with one hand to focus, zoom or push record is an unneccessary strain on you arm and back.

Don't overstretch and overstrain: keeping the gimbal close to you at belly height is the most comfortable way to carry it. When streching your arms forward, the strain on both your arms and back will increase. This is pure bio-mechanics.
Check out this calculator to get an idea on how 'human payload capacity' is influenced by the position of the payload:
http://gezondbelast.nl/safelifter.html
REMEMBER: these calculations are based on a straight spine and posture. When walking a gimbal posture is often a little bit bent to absorb vertical movements. This means your body can carry less than with a straight posture. So don't blindly trust the numbers in this interactive graph, but understand how the maximum payload decreases depending on the position.
This graph does clearly show that every addition gram (or ounce) matters.

(Last week I did 1 shot stretching my arms forward, pointing the camera down to look down a staircase while moving forward. It was heavy as hell: it was too heavy. It didn't fall. Not even close, but I used straps to keep it safe, btw.
I could really feel the muscles in my back. I needed a serious break after less than a minute shooting like this. No way I would do a second take like that :-p The shot was pretty cool btw, but can't be seen online just yet.)

One more advice: bring good deodorant :-p

July 6, 2016 at 8:04AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9013

Tool tip to attach camera to gimbal or pretty much anything:

https://www.vimeo.com/173649978

Makes your life easier. ;)

July 6, 2016 at 7:47PM

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Kei Kosonoy
Director I Actor I Editor
187

The head of a regular key does the same thing

July 8, 2016 at 3:25PM

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John Morse
Producer + Director
2149

Very nice reading. Overusing the tool/gimbal is in my opinion one of the most common mistake. The same happens when some people start to use sliders, dolly, etc. Instead of coming up with a great story some people comes up with a great gimbal, etc.

July 8, 2016 at 3:45AM

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d h
172

I have found that I use my gimbal (Ronin M) more on my dollies and jibs than handheld, primarily to take advantage of the wireless remote for pan and tilt that makes it so versatile. Having the dual duty saves money and gear storage limitations. Having a dedicated pan/tilt head can be very expensive and requires more training, maintenance, and troubleshooting, That one feature was the primary selling point for me when going for a gimbal.

July 9, 2016 at 11:29AM

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Joseph Lippencott
Instrument Designer/Fabricator
22

Thanks for the tips, I hadn't seen those gimbal videos before, very helpful. As John E. says, Using a gimbal for a wedding video, means you can get shots that just wouldn't be possible normally, Like standing on the dance floor at the reception with everyone dancing around you!

June 30, 2017 at 8:27AM

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Tim Nicholls
GoPro enthusiast
6