DSLR Gimbal Guide

Recently we published a 10-part video series on how to shoot video with a gimbal on Envato’s Tuts+ tutorial site, and it’s received a lot of praise from both beginners and intermediate filmmakers.

But it seems there’s a split between people who have asked us to expand on some of the gimbal topics into more advanced discussions, and starter filmmakers who want us to simplify the lessons altogether.

So with that said, here’s our attempt to cover everything you ought to know when you enter the world of shooting DSLR and mirrorless cameras on brushless gimbals.

dslr gimbal

When they were introduced a few years ago, brushless gimbals became an instantly revolutionary tool for both pro and amateur filmmakers.

Before long, gimbals found their way to nearly every production, including feature films, documentaries, commercials, weddings, corporate videos, and so on. They're now a core part of our recommended documentary filmmaking equipment and corporate video production gear.

Unlike traditional steadicams, which often require expert training, precise balance and counterweight placement, and a healthy physique to carry even a DSLR for more than a few minutes at a time, a camera gimbal can be picked up and used by absolute beginners straight out of the box.

Okay, that’s not always true. First, you have to have the right gimbal. Some gimbals out there are complete junk.

And second, knowing how to shoot with a gimbal doesn’t come naturally. You have to retrain yourself out of your hardened filmmaking habits (i.e. you can’t touch the camera while it’s on a gimbal).

glidecam-steadicam-camera-stabilizer

Gimbals have a learning curve, but they're easier to hold than camera stabilizers like the Glidecam HD4000.

But once you figure out the basics, the magic of the gimbal can give you the freedom to shoot whatever, however, and wherever you want, without worrying about camera shake or jitters.

Most gimbals have 3 axis, and each of them work independently to make sure your camera stays level and steady. We’re not sure the exact number but essentially gimbal motors can sense and correct a camera’s motion several thousand times per second.

So whether you’re into shooting action sports with a GoPro, or you want to mount your DSLR, mirrorless, or even cinema camera onto a gimbal, this guide will give you some essential tips to getting started.

Gimbal essentials

The first step to shooting with a gimbal is to get a gimbal. Duh. But it’s actually not an easy task, deciding what gimbal to buy.

The most important consideration is the camera you’ll be using - namely, it’s weight. A typical DSLR with a wide lens can weigh anywhere between 2 and 6 pounds., which in the gimbal world is a huge weight spread.

Depending on the weight of your camera and lens, you could be looking at an ultra light gimbal that can be operated with one hand. Or you could be shopping for a giant rig that needs additional chest or back support just to hold it up for a few minutes at a time.

letus helix jr canon c100

In addition to your camera body and primary lens, you also want to think about other lenses you might be using, or different sizes of battery. Knowing the minimum and maximum weight of your base rig will help you narrow the gimbal choices out there to something that comfortably accepts most of your setups.

Also don’t forget accessories such as on-camera microphones, quick release plates, and especially external monitors. More often than not, you’ll want a monitor attached to somewhere on the gimbal where you can see what you’re shooting - since the camera’s LCD screen may be difficult to see and judge focus and exposure accurately.

On some gimbals, external monitors can be attached to the gimbal in such a way that it won’t affect balance and total load capacity. On other camera gimbal combinations, the external monitor plays an integral role in the counter balance. Also, don’t forget to include the various size of batteries that you might use on the external monitor.

Finally, when you look at the weight limits, you never want to go with a gimbal whose maximum load capacity is really close to the weight of your DSLR camera rig. Just like tripods, you want to pick a gimbal with a load capacity comfortably above what you plan to shoot with.

Gimbals We Recommend

Yes, we know there are hundreds of gimbals out there, but these are the ones that have been dependably used hundreds of times on actual productions, either by us or by our filmmaker friends, so we can comfortably recommend them.

GOPRO STABILIZERS AND SMARTPHONE GIMBALS

Zhiyun-Tech Crane-M

zhiyun crane m

The Zhiyun Crane M only accepts cameras weighing between 4.4oz and 1.4 lbs. But if your camera fits within that weight limit, the Crane-M is as easy as it gets. You can balance and be shooting under a minute.

For those of you who are into vlogging, the Crane-M can rotate 360 degrees and be used in any which way.

So you can point the camera at yourself while you drink your protein shake and skateboard down Madison Avenue or whatever.

Feiyu G5 for GoPro Hero 4, 5, and 6

feiyu g5

The Feiyu G5 gimbal is made specifically for GoPro actioncams, and it’s splash-proof for shooting in rain, snow, or near water.

The battery is supposed to last up to 8 hours in use, but it’s removable, so you can always carry a spare or two.​

Some people who travel with a GoPro never take theirs off a gimbal, since it takes the level of shots from shaky unwatchable sports cam footage, to really nice travelogue videos that look pretty advanced.

But if you’re shooting video professionally, you probably should move up to a DSLR or a mirrorless camera for your gimbal shots, and luckily there’s a few lightweight gimbals that are made for that weight category specifically.​

EVO Gimbals GP-PRO for GoPro hero 3, 3+, 4

EVO GP-PRO gopro gimbal

Although we haven't used EVO Gimbals ourselves, we've heard a lot of good things about this company.

What we really like is EVO Gimbals is a small company based in Oregon, USA. Which means you can count on excellent support, quality manufacturing, and a solid warranty.

The EVO GP-PRO comes with removable, rechargeable batteries that last a long time and can actually power your GoPro too.

This gimbal has advanced encoded motors in them, which means the motors are very powerful, they can move 360 degrees, and they won't jitter if the camera or gimbal gets touched.

EVO Gimbals Evo sp-PRO for smartphones

EVO smartphone gimbal

This is the smartphone sized gimbal by EVO Gimbals. It can handle any size smartphone, including the larger iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones, up to 9.1 oz.

As mentioned above, EVO Gimbals is based in Oregon, USA (which is also home to Letus, maker of the Helix gimbals). So if you like to buy stuff made in USA, this is your company for small gimbals.

DSLR AND MIRRORLESS CAMERA GIMBALS

ZHIYUN-TECH CRANE V2

zhiyun crane v2

An update of the original and very popular Crane, the Crane V2 gimbal works out of the box, as simple as it can get. It supports DSLR and mirrorless cameras up to 3.9 lbs, such as the Sony A7SII and Panasonic GH5.

The included batteries give it a runtime of a whopping 12-18 hours, perfect for long day shoots on documentary productions, travelogues, and personal films.

There’s a two handle accessory for an additional $100, and honestly we always prefer shooting in two-handed mode (what do you do with your other hand??). But many fine folks out there prefer one-handed mode on lighter cameras, so it’s really up to you.

Zhiyun-Tech Crane-2

zhiyun crane 2

Not to be confused with the Crane v2, which is simply an upgrade to the original Crane, the Crane 2 is essentially a gimbal in an entirely different class.

The Crane-2 supports DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, camcorders, and cinema cameras weighing up to 7 pounds. That’s really impressive.

Of course, holding a 7-pound camera on a gimbal with only one hand can get tiring fast, so we recommend opting for the two handed accessory.

Like the previous Crane, this version has easy balancing without the need for technical motor tuning, and the batteries last quite a long time.

But unlike the previous Crane, this model has some new features, including an integrated follow focus control, using a thumbwheel on the handgrip.​

Feiyu A2000

feiyu a2000

The Feiyu A2000 is a DSLR gimbal can handle up to 4.4 lbs for its payload, and apparently it can detect the weight of different cameras and set the motor strength accordingly.

There’s an optional 2-handle mode, which we always recommend, if not just to give you options for shooting but also because placing even 4lbs of pressure on your wrist for long periods of time can be really painful.

Pilotfly H2

pilotfly h2

With its encoded motors, the Pilotfly H2 remains dead steady no matter what you throw at it.

Unlike previous generation gimbals, it doesn’t shake or jitter if you touch the camera or gimbal, or if you push it too hard.

We’ve had the Piloftly H2 for a while now and it’s been super easy and fun to use. As always, we recommend the two-handed accessory, because carrying a camera close to 5 lbs with one hand can get tiring fast.

You can, of course, flip the single handle so the camera is below the handle, making it quite easy to get shots low to the ground while letting the weight of the camera hang down. But still, two handles are a must.​

The other bonus with the two-handed accessory is you can flip it in such a way that the camera sits above the gimbal. That way you can see the LCD screen easily, lift it higher for more shot variety, and most importantly, set it down for balancing on any flat surface.

We also like the Pilotfly H2’s long battery life - over 20 hours for the integrated battery in the single handle, and similar results for the removeable batteries in the two handle kit.

Even though it has a load capacity of 4.9 lbs, as always you want to fall somewhere under the maximum load. We’ve been using the Canon XC10 on the H2, and it’s only 2.3lbs.

As an experiment we tried to use a Canon C100 with the Canon 10-18mm lens on the Pilotfly H2, and that rig is a little over 4 lbs. The H2 could manage it, but it was pushing it. So for heavier DSLRs and cinema cameras, you’ll need to move into the next weight class of gimbals.


Heavy Duty Gimbals

To be honest, we’re not really sure anyone with a heavy camcorder is placing their big rig on a gimbal, but that doesn’t stop the manufacturers from marketing toward this group. Maybe the Panasonic DVX200 fits into this category?

On the other hand, a huge majority of professional video shooters are using cinema cameras as a step up from DSLRs. Cameras like the Canon C100, C200, C300, Sony’s FS5, FS7, FS100 and FS700, Panasonic’s AU-EVA1, and so on.

These popular cameras will most likely will not fit on any of the DSLR Gimbals, even with super light lenses. You could strip one down to under 5lbs and try to use the Zhiyun Crane-2, but that’s not the intention of that particular gimbal.

And so, you’ll need to move up to bigger gimbals. While the cost of these may not be exponentially greater, the complexity of setup, tuning, and operation can be a signficant barrier to using them.

They also get quite heavy along with whatever cinema camera you’re using, so even a few minutes of gimbal shooting becomes tiring. Which might lead you to research other gimbal support products, and of course that adds to the complexity.

Canon C100 Letus Helix Jr Camera Gimbal

The one gimbal we recommend for this category is the Letus Helix Jr., which we’ve been using to fly our Canon C100 for a few years now. It’s simple and easy enough to use for extended periods of time, that we think most people can pick it up.

**The new encoded version of the Helix Jr increases the technical requirements for balancing, however. Check out our article on PID Tuning the Letus Helix Jr. first.

Of course there is also the widely popular DJI Ronin M, the original Movi (and now Movi Pro), and knock-offs from competitors like Came-TV and others.

These are all amazing gimbals and are very capable. However, they can be cumbersome to travel with, use as a solo operator, and they can attract a lot of atterntion to themselves.

For these reasons we don’t think they’re perfectly suitable for documentary filmmaking. But for corporate video production, depending on your crew and scope of the project, any of these gimbals would be great.

Cinema Camera Gimbals

If you’re thinking of using a heavy camera rig that requires something like the Letus Helix Standard, or a Movi M15, or a gimbal setup so heavy that you need additional chest, waist, or shoulder support, then this beginner/intermediate guide is probably not for you.

Heavy, professional rigs require a lot more work to setup, balance, tune, and operate - outside the scope of this article!

gimbal support vest

Lasty, there's a new site out there that allows you to search by camera and lens combination to find the gimbals that fit. Check it out at gripup.com/gimbal-guide.


Gimbal Balancing

When gimbals first came out a few years ago, the most difficult part of using them was balancing the camera on all 3 axis. And then everytime you slightly zoomed in on the lens, or shifted the LCD screen, or just breathed a little… you would have to stop and rebalance.

And at that time, you would also need to carry around a C-stand or an expensive gimbal stand to hang the camera gimbal rig for balancing. Which meant that for anything but controlled shooting environments featuring at least a crew of two, gimbals were unweildy.

Fast forward a few years later and the gimbal motors are generally a lot stronger and can handle slightly off balanced cameras. But that doesn’t mean you can skip balancing altogether, and every gimbal is a little different.

Essentially, you want to balance the camera on every motor, so that if you physically rotate or move the camera along that axis, it’ll stay in position. That will put less stress on your motors when they’re on, so they can do their job of stabilizing along their axis better.

Typically you’ll want to start with the tilt axis, or what’s called the pitch axis. Thinking of it in terms of “tilt” is easier for us to remember. You want to move the camera forward and backward on this axis until it stays in position, rather than tilting forward or backward when you let go.

dslr-gimbal-balancing

Next you’ll want to balance along the roll axis, which is where the camera tilts sideways to the left or right. This axis keeps your camera level on the horizon no matter how you’re holding the gimbal. Balancing the roll axis usually means moving the camera up and down until it’s center weighted.

Additionally, depending on the DSLR or cinema camera you’re using, you may need to add counterweights to counterbalance the right or left weight of the camera, or shift it left or right if your gimbal can do that. For the cameras we’ve used, the right handle grip has pushed the weight to the right, so we’ve had to either add counterweights or shift the camera to the left.

You’ll know when the roll axis is balanced when you can tilt the camera on either side and it stays in position.

And finally, you want to balance the pan, or yaw axis. This is different for many gimbals, but essentially this part adjusts the overall balance of the camera/gimbal within the frame of the handle or handles you’re using.

For example, say your gimbal is on a table, and the camera is balanced perfectly on its forward-backward and side-to-side axis. You can move the camera every which way, and it holds its position.

But as soon as you put your hands on the gimbal handles and pick it up, the camera filts forward or to the side. That means the camera gimbal unit needs to be balanced within the context of where the handle or handles are.

Word of Caution: when you’re balancing your camera at this stage, you typically have to pick up the camera repeatedly to see which direction the gimbal needs adjusting. At the finer stage of this operation, you can pick the gimbal up and your camera will only move slightly.

gimbal-balancing

But at the beginning, when you pick up your camera, it may suddenly rotate face forward before you can stop it, potentially damaging your lens as it hits the table.

So please be careful when you’re picking up your gimbal and camera during this balancing phase. It’s happened many times to us, and the sound of a lens hitting the table hard is never a good feeling.

When you start to balance your camera, remember to also include any accessory that you’ll be using with your gimbal. So plug in your gimbal battery, flip the LCD screen where you want it, attach the external monitor if you’re using one, place the external microphone in position, and so on.

When you go out on a shoot, you’ll also want to make sure to use the same size of batteries, same placement of accessories, the same lens and whether or not you had a hood on it - all that will ensure you don’t have to re-balance again out in the field.

Finally, if you mostly shoot with the same camera lens combination on your gimbal, you really only have to balance once. Then you can simply apply some gaff tape to where the balance points are. So next time you take the gimbal apart for travel, or if it unscrewed out of position, you can quickly find your balance points and only have to do micro adjustments from there.

dslr-gimbal-gaff-tape

Gimbal Stands

When you start to look for a DSLR gimbal, you have to also think about how you’re going to balance the rig. With lightweight one-handed gimbals, you can certainly balance the camera while simply holding onto the gimbal or by bracing it against a hard object. But you won’t be able to hold a heavier gimbal in one hand while performing all the balancing operations with the other.

gimbal stand

So you’ll most likely need a stand to hang the gimbal from. Some gimbals might come with one, but most likely you’ll need to either build one from scratch or buy one that will fit your gimbal. They can be as simple as a collection of rods to a heavy duty setup with a C-stand and gripheads.

When we bought our first gimbal years ago, it took us many attempts to build out a DIY gimbal stand before we gave up, about a year later.

It’s just easier to buy something premade than to assemble random parts, and a real stand will always be more dependable on a shoot. DJI sells a Ronin gimbal stand that works for most other gimbals.

This is why Freefly enjoyed a lot of popularity with their first gimbals, the Movi M5 and Movi M10. They came with a stand, and users didn’t have to think about it anymore. More recently, the Movi Pro (and now the DJI Ronin 2) are configured in a figrig that has built in feet, so you don’t need a stand.

Alternatively, if you want to use a smaller DSLR gimbal, there’s a couple that can be set on a table or any flat surface for balancing. This is one of the main reasons why we ran to buy the Letus Helix Jr. the second it came out - we could balance it anywhere, even in our laps while riding in cars, boats, helicopters, planes, and so on (and we’ve done all those things).

The Pilotfly H2 can also be flipped so that the main crossbar and handles hold the camera and gimbal motors up, making it easy to balance on any surface (see the image above of the Canon XC10 on a Pilotfly H2). Came-TV also has a new gimbal that looks like the Movi Pro and DJI Ronin 2, but is smaller and lighter, and it too has built-in feet.

dslr-gimbal-tripod-mount

Finally, many gimbals can be quite top heavy by the time you add your camera rig to it, so even if they have a flat base, it can be impossible to set them down ​on a table without it toppling over. So many gimbals actually have a tripod mount on the bottom - both one handed and traditional two handed gimbals can have them. So you can place the gimbal on a tripod, lock your fluid head, and balance away.

Balancing Tip: Even though it adds weight to your rig, we highly recommend placing a quick release plate on the gimbal camera plate. That way you don't have to keep taking the gimbal apart and losing its balance points every time you need to take the camera out, even to change batteries.

dslr-gimbal-quick-release

And like any camera support, including tripods, monopods, and shoulder rigs, they all tend to come with some form of standard or proprietary quick release plate.

It's best to simply invest in one plate system that you add on top of every piece of camera support gear you own. We recommend the Manfrotto 394.


PID Tuning

After you get your gimbal put together, your camera balanced, batteries charged and everything ready to go, you might think you’re all done with the prep. But unless your gimbal happens to work perfectly with your camera out of the box, you may have to do a little software tuning to match the gimbal motors to your camera’s size and weight.

PID tuning - which is short for the three settings you adjust, the P, I, and D values - can potentially be the most frustrating thing you’ll ever do in video production. SimpleBGC, the open source software for tuning gimbal motors is about as user friendly as an electronic circuit board.

PID tuning

There are a hundred different input boxes with all sorts of numbers, controlling various buzzing frequencies, power settings, motor speed, and so on.

The good news is, most of the time gimbal manufacturers provide templates for the most popular camera lens combinations to be used on their gimbals. Some gimbals even come with smartphone apps to make the user interface a thousand times more friendly.

dslr-gimbal-pid-settings

But the best possible scenario is you never have to touch PID settings. And for our recommended actioncam and DSLR gimbals, that’s often the case. Usually these gimbals are preconfigured to handle cameras well within the range of their load capacity, so you don’t have to touch any of the techie stuff that is beyond most of our comprehension.

So the first thing you ought to do when you get a gimbal is just to try it out without changing anything - literally plug and play. If it works well enough, then you’re golden.

Now chances are that when you’re using a gimbal, things will happen throughout the shoot that make the gimbal misbehave a little. If you touch the gimbal, or turn it too fast, or for whatever reason, the gimbal will jitter, or go out of alignment, or just buzz a little. It usually fixes itself, but if it doesn’t, simply setting it down and restarting it will most likely correct the issue.

If, however, you notice a little bit of buzzing, jitters, or odd behavior when the gimbal is turned on but not moving, then your PID settings need to be adjusted. It could be a little adjustment, or a lot of little changes, but whatever you do, make sure to save the default settings before messing with your gimbal’s PID numbers. You don’t want to have to send the gimbal back for repair just because you’ve made a lot of crazy adjustments and can’t figure out how to go back to the initial settings.

PID Tuning for Heavy Duty Gimbals

If you’re using a heavier DSLR gimbal or wanting to fly your cinema camera or camcorder on a more robust gimbal, chances are you’ll definitely need to play with the PID settings. The DJI Ronin, Movi’s gimbals, and the Letus Helix and Helix Jr. all have different methods of tuning the gimbal motors, so you’ll need to follow the support instructions with your gimbal model.

We’ve written an extensive article on gimbal tuning the Letus Helix Jr and our Canon C100, and we’ve found even changes in the gimbal model can affect how much PID tuning you’ll need to get into.

For example, our original Letus Helix Jr. only needed about an hour of initial tuning to get perfect, and we haven’t messed with the settings since that session years ago. For the newer encoded motors, however, we’ve had to go back to the drawing board and work with completely different settings. Thankfully, Letus has amazing support and has Skyped with us multiple times to get our settings down.

Gimbal Follow Mode Adjustments

If you’re lucky and you don’t ever have to make PID settings to your gimbal, you still might need to access the gimbal software to adjust the follow speed. This can be a personal decision or it could be based on the type of shooting you’re doing, but you can choose the speed at which the gimbal follows along as you turn it in any direction.

For us, we like to set the gimbal to as slow as possible. This results in the most cinematic look, in our opinion, but the downside is when we’re in a car or following a subject who makes a lot of turns, the gimbal can often lag behind in its follow ability. So, it’s up to you whether you want to change the follow speed or not.

dslr-gimbal-follow-mode-speed

As a bonus, some gimbals have a mode that disables one or more of the axis in follow mode. For example, you can have the gimbal stay perfectly straight-on as you’re moving the gimbal, even as you turn it left or right. This mode makes for some really excellent dolly-like shots where there is absolutely no micro movements left or right as you’re doing a long push or pull in.

Another mode your gimbal might have allows you to turn on the roll axis follow mode, so that it no longer tries to maintain a straight horizon if you tilt the camera. This gives your shots a first person or an airplane effect as you fly around objects and the camera twists and turns along with your movement.


Shooting with a Gimbal

Once you’ve moved past the balancing and tuning phase, you’re ready to take your DSLR gimbal out on real world shoots. By now, you’ve probably seen several dozen if not hundreds of gimbal shots in videos, so you might have an idea of what’s possible.

filmmaking equipment

But there’s a big difference between the kind of gimbal footage you see from planned, studio or narrative shoots where there are multiple operators, versus using a gimbal on documentary, travel, or corporate shoots. One big consideration is whether you’re shooting with an average subject on a documentary or corporate shoot, versus having a trained actor ready to take directions.

For us, we only work with non-professional subjects, so when we take out a gimbal, we mostly have to follow our subjects as they go about their business, rather than setup elaborate shots with blocking and set direction.

So given our limitation, there’s only so much we can get in terms of a variety of gimbal shots, but within the framework of documentary or corporate shooting, there’s actually quite a lot you can do with a gimbal that you couldn’t do before when shooting handheld, locked down, or even with a traditional steadicam.

So here’s a breakdown of a few of the shots that we like to get with our gimbal:

The Walk

This is probably the most simple and basic shot out there, but honestly, on any run and gun shoot, there are loads of opportunities to capture your subject walking. And now that you have a gimbal in hand, a normal walking scene goes from boring and often useless to an essential part of your edit.

letus helix

For every subject we work with, we take at least one walking shot, on every shoot, no matter what. It gives us another sequence to work with, and there’s no action to setup. It’s all very simple.

Start with following the subject behind them, focus on the feet for a few seconds, then slowly move the gimbal up to their shoulders and head, and get a few seconds of that shot. Once there’s a good opportunity, start to make your way around the subject, first to the side - again get the feet and then a slow move up to the body and face - and then all the way around in front of them.

dslr-gimbal-running-behind-subject

It might help to ask the subject to walk a little slower, so you can keep up even as you’re walking backwards.

Once you feel like you have these shots down, take a moment to get a few cutaways for your edit. Point the gimbal up at the sky, down at the ground, or off to the side, and then slowly pan or tilt toward your subject. Do that again but in the opposite direction - start with your subject for a few seconds, and then pan or tilt off frame. Those shots will become essential to editing together sequences.

To add some variation to the walking gimbal shot, you can try shooting at different focal lengths, in slow motion, maybe focus on a particular piece of the subject’s clothing as they’re walking, or other parts where you don’t see the subject’s face, which makes it easier to cut into a sequence.

dslr-gimbal-walking-in-front-of-subject

Remember to be safe when you’re walking backwards while shooting your subject from the front. If possible, you might be able to walk forwards while holding your gimbal facing your subject. If not, then just make sure to take it slow and watch where you’re stepping. If there’s another person around, ask them to lead you by touching your back or shoulders as you’re walking backwards.

Although there really is no easy way to avoid the dreaded up and down motion while walking with a gimbal, anytime you have a subject in the frame, the human eye doesn’t notice the up and down motion at all.

Bonus tip: we often shoot a walking shot two or three times with a subject. Once with the gimbal, using the above method, then again with a locked down camera from farther away, zoomed in with a telephoto lens. Additionally, if our gimbal camera doesn’t have good slow motion (like the C100), then we also shoot the subject walking with a handheld camera in 60p.

Combing two or three of these shots will turn any simple walking motion into a completely usable sequence in just about any video.

The car ride

Once you have the walking shot nailed down, you can take it to the next level by shooting your subject in motion. An easy sequence is shooting from the passenger side of a car, while your subject drives. Tell them to remain quiet for a few minutes while you’re shooting, so you don’t record them talking to you.

If you have a zoom lens, take the shot of your subject driving at a few different focal lengths. Also get shots of objects in the car, your subject’s hands on the steering while, the perspective of your subject through the rear view mirror, and shots out your window or the front windshield.

dslr-gimbal-shooting-in-a-car

Like the walking shot, this sequence can make it into just about any video, especially because the subject is looking forward - out the front windshield - which visually translates as a thoughtful state of mind, which makes for great B-roll over an important part of your story.

The main challenge of shooting from inside a car is space, so if you happen to be using a big DSLR gimbal, which you have to hold up high in order to shoot your subject at eye level, you might be hitting the car’s headliner.

The Everything Else Ride

This is where gimbal shooting gets a lot more interesting. If your subject can get onto anything that moves, then all you need to do is safely follow them for a killer sequence.

We’ve shot with our gimbal inside of airplanes, helicopters, on boats, snowmobiles, bikes, in wheelchairs, in shopping carts, on playground equipment, and so on. If you can get yourself or your subject moving, shooting with a gimbal can elevate those shots into stunning sequences.

Once again, it’s important to think about your edit when you’re shooting these moving sequences, so anything you can do to create movement going in and out of the frame will be essential in your edit.

dslr-gimbal-helicopter

The beauty and establishing shots

One of the more surprising benefits to owning a gimbal is it can replace a few other niche tools in your gear bag, like a slider dolly and a jib. A gimbal won’t be as exacting as a slider - simply because you’re likely to move it up and down a little as you emulate a side to side or forward/backward slide motion. But for a simple establishing shot of a scene from right outside a door, it works.

Actually, the gimbal takes this shot one step further, because you can rotate the gimbal around as you “slide,” enabling you to do a slight “wrap around” as as you introduce your scene. It’s like sliders that have a parralax accessory, except you can move yourself/your gimbal a lot more dramatically then you can with a parralax slider. Try it the next time you’re on a shoot, you might be surprised at how great this shot is.

If you’ve never had to bring a jib on a fast paced documentary or corporate shoot, count yourself lucky. They’re a huge pain.

That’s why it’s so brilliant to achieve a similar effect with just your gimbal.

Like a jib, you start low to the ground and point the camera toward your subject, then as you move up you slightly rotate the tilt so the camera stays locked on your subject.

You can do the same by starting your gimbal up high and then move it down low to the ground. The clearance you get with just your body alone is more than most travel jibs out there.

Additionally, you can add a left and right motion for a diagonal jib shot, which makes for really dynamic establishing shots in even the most boring interiors (think conference rooms).

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The most portable jib, the Kessler Pocket Jib Traveler

There’s a few other shots we like to get on many of our shoots, and they’re probably similar to traditional track dolly shots than portable sliders. First, if you have a subject sitting or standing in a relatively static position, you can do a slow push in or pull out with the gimbal, and you can typically move a whole lot more than the small track on any travel slider.

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We also like to take the gimbal out on beauty walks like in forests, or on trails, pointing toward the sky while rotating the gimbal, for example.

There’s really no limit to what kind of shot you can achieve, now that you can keep your camera smooth and jitter free in just about any scenario. But you can always take a shot to the next level by putting yourself on anything that moves. So whether that’s in a car, or on a trolley, or a moving walkway, or on a train, or anything that moves really, just holding your gimbal while you move is enough to give yourself an opportunity for a great shot.


Choosing a Lens for Gimbal Shots

A few words about lenses if you’re shooting with an interchangeble lens camera. First, 95% of the time you’ll simply want to use the widest lens you have. We used to shoot our C100 with a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, but that was before the Canon 10-18mm came out. Yes, it’s not good in low light, and it’s plasticy and cheap, but honestly the extra 1mm makes a huge difference even on a Super 35 crop sensor camera.

Plus the 10-18mm is super light, which makes the whole rig easier for the gimbal to handle. One of the main reasons we’re holding out on buying one of the Sony or Panasonic mirrorless cameras for gimbal shooting is that we really like the Canon 10-18mm and want to keep using it for gimbal shots.

Below are a couple pictures showing the difference between shooting at 10mm on the Canon C100, versus shooting with the Tokina 11-16mm (probably closer to 16mm here).​

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The other reason why we love shooting with the Canon 10-18mm on the C100 is the autofocus just nails every shot, without question. At a super wide angle there’s really not a whole lot of focusing work that needs to be done anyway, but you’d be surprised at how poorly some lenses and cameras perform at focusing while shooting wide on a gimbal.

If you want to shoot at a more zoomed in focal length, then you’ll really need to depend on autofocus, or you’ll need to step down and try to stay in the focus zone as you move around your subject. That, or you’ll have to start thinking about a wireless focusing system and possibly a camera assistant to control focus/exposure, which also requires a wireless monitor and so on.

There are some innovative focus controls that are purpose built for solo gimbal operators, such as the Aputure DEC LensRegain, which can be mounted as one of the gimbal handles. That could be a lifesaver if you’re shooting at focal lengths of 24mm and higher.

And then there’s the question of Image Stabilization. More specfically, should you turn yours on or off when shooting on a gimbal? And that goes for not only lens stabilization but IBIS, or in body image stabilization.

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This is where it comes down to simply experimenting with the cameras, lenses, and gimbal you’re using.

We’ve heard from a lot of users who have claimed that they get better results with lens IS on, while others say theirs messes with the gimbal stabilization, and there are even reports from users who have recommended using a camera’s IBIS + lens IS + gimbal motors for the most perfect stabilization.

So, YMMV.

Gimbal Accessories

Finally, we get to the accessories. This is a gear site after all, and we love talking about gear. So, what should you consider adding to your gimbal rig to enhance the shooting experience?

Firstly, it’s entirely dependant on your gimbal load capacity for whether you can add anything above your camera and lens whatsoever. Secondly, it depends on how the gimbal rig is setup, and where your camera’s LCD screen lies, for if or where you can attach accessories.

Most often, gimbal operators will add a small external monitor to their DSLR gimbal rig, so they can see what they’re shooting as they move the gimbal around. Some monitors can be powered by the gimbal battery, but most often you’ll also need to think about batteries. And of course you’ll need a long enough cable to attach the monitor to the camera, in a way that it doesn’t get tangled.

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The smallest monitor for gimbals, the Ikan VL35

The most difficult thing about external monitors is figuring out how to mount it to the gimbal. You may be able to mount it in a way that doesn’t affect the balance of the camera rig. Or in some cases, maybe your monitor serves as an appropriate counterweight to a bottom heavy camera.

In either case, you’ll want to add your monitor (and any other accessory) to the rig before you start balancing the camera on a gimbal.

The other accessories you might consider adding is a small microphone. That’s because you’ll probably have to remove your bulky XLR preamps, shotgun mic, top handle, cage, or anything else that weighs the camera down. And if your camera doesn’t have an internal mic, then you’ll need to get something for a scratch mic.

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The Rode VideoMicro is a fantastic gimbal solution for cameras that are not Canon. We say that because Canon does not provide the necessary power over the 3.5mm stereo jack that’s required to power the Rode Micro. If you shoot with Canon, you’ll want something like this Polsen mic, or a Rode VideoMic Pro Plus, or simply a small lavalier gaff taped somewhere.

And lastly, you may be tempted to use an additional toggle or remote control if your gimbal offers one, so you can pan and tilt with your thumb rather than depending on the follow mode alone.

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Honestly, we have never come across a toggle that can pan or tilt in a smooth, feathered motion that is usable in a shot. Usually it’s only useful to reframe quickly if your camera is pointed off to the side, but you can always just use your hands to move your camera back in position.

So skip the toggle, and use the money to buy extra batteries. The last thing you want is to have carried your gimbal, set it up, balanced it and have it all ready to go, only to find that the battery is out and there’s no time to charge it.


DSLR Gimbal Guide Conclusion

Getting started with a DSLR gimbal can be fun, easy, and affordable, but it can also spiral out of control quickly into a frustrating, expensive, and distracting piece of gear.

So it’s important to decide first what camera you absolutely have to shoot with before you look at gimbals. If you can get away with using a small, lightweight mirrorless or DSLR, then your experience will be a thousand times better right from the start.

However, if you absolutely must use a heavy DSLR or cinema camera on a gimbal, then your path to using it succesfuly on shoots may be a little more challenging. Not impossible - lots of videographers are using them on shoots every day - but it comes with a higher learning curve.

We hope this guide has been useful to you, and if you have any comments or questions, please shoot us an email!