How does a gimbal work in a video shoot?

By Alvin Motilla

How does a gimbal work?

And what is a gimbal in the first place? What does a gimbal do that benefits the shooter? How do you balance a gimbal, regardless of its brand? Wondering about how to use a gimbal, so that it's worth it?

Let's get to know these and more about this camera stabilizer called, the gimbal.

what is a gimbal mount

What is a camera gimbal?


A camera gimbal is a form of camera stabilizer that depends on battery power, to run its motors and sensors.

what is a gimbal stabilizerHow does a gimbal work to achieve super-stabilized shots?

It has a camera support that can pivot—or rotate—in these directions…

  1. up and down (or “tilt”),
  2. left and right (or “pan”),
  3. off-center angles (or “Dutch tilt”).

Because cameras differ in size, gimbal stabilizers also differ in size. So...

  • there are small gimbals for small cameras, like smartphones and action cameras (such as GoPro). And...

  • there are big gimbals for bigger cameras, like mirrorless and DSLR cameras.

In general, an electronic handheld gimbal, is lighter than the mechanical Steadicam stabilizer used in big film productions. Big studios typically use big motion picture cameras, which a handheld gimbal stabilizer couldn’t support enough.

Note...

The word “gimbal” has meanings and applications in the “early dry compass”, the “navigation system of ships and submarines”, and the “mounting for rocket engines”. But we’re not talking about “gimbal” in those contexts.

We’re defining “gimbal” here, only in the context of shooting videos.

Also, we’re focusing on the handheld gimbal stabilizer. Because it’s the type of gimbal, that’s suitable for everyday people, beginners, and hobbyists who want to include smooth motion in their videos.

Why is it called a gimbal?

That camera stabilizer is called "gimbal" because the word is simply a short name for, “motorized gimbal camera stabilizer”—or, “electronic gimbal camera stabilizer”.

And that’s all you need to know, when it comes to video shooting.

But, if you want to know more about "gimbal" or "gimbals", here’s some additional—but trivial info…

According to, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (in print), the word “gimbals” refers to “self-adjusting bearings to keep articles horizontal”.

Also, in that same book, “gimbals” is a variant of the term “gimmal”, which means “joints”.


Why use a gimbal stabilizer?


"Why use a gimbal?" "What is a gimbal used for?"

The purpose of a gimbal is like a coin with 2 sides. Or better yet, like a two-edged sword. Meaning, when you use a gimbal, there are 2 effects on 2 different people…

  1. The effect of gimbal shots… on human audience.
  2. The effect on you… the video creator… when shooting with a gimbal.

The first effect relates to your audience’s viewing experience.

The second one, concerns your own gimbal user experience.

Okay, the first “side”—or “edge”—of a gimbal’s purpose is…

To make your viewers experience pleasing, and smooth camera motion.

The thing is, the average audience can't tell, whether you used a motorized gimbal, or a mechanical stabilizer. How pleasing your camera movements to your audience's eyes, depends on how well you operate whichever device.

So, when it comes to our human audience, the purpose of a gimbal, is just the same as, the purpose of a mechanical stabilizer.

Now, here’s the second “side”—or “edge”—of a gimbal’s purpose, in relation to you—the video shooter…

To make it easier and more comfortable for you, to stabilize your shots. By sparing you from using so much muscular and mental energy.

Remember... when you use a mechanical stabilizer, like the handheld steadicam, everything you do to stabilize your shots is manual.

But when you use a camera gimbal, you get help from its sensors and motors.


What does a gimbal do?


camera gimbal

Here are some things that a gimbal stabilizer does, particularly for the video creator--or video shooter. Think of these as some of the benefits of using a gimbal...

  • Whichever way you hold a gimbal, it keeps your camera upright and level.

  • With the help of its sensors, a gimbal quickly responds to how you move it.

  • And it neutralizes vibrations caused by your sudden movement, in a different direction.

  • A gimbal gives your shots a smooth quality, making you think a gimbal has its own brain.

  • An electronic gimbal also gives you a sense of stability. When wind blows on the gimbal, or when you stop walking while holding it, your camera remains steady.

  • A gimbal can still offer you stabilized footage, even when you use it while riding a moving vehicle—like motorcycle, car, or speed boat.

  • And, if a gimbal can do that in less favorable conditions, how much more in ordinary situations—like when you’re just walking while shooting?

How does a gimbal work in a video shoot?


First thing you need to know is... when videographers talk about gimbal, they usually refer to the 3-axis camera gimbal.

To them, this type of gimbal is so reliable, that they get stable shots in different circumstances. Even in conditions that can really make the camera wobble. That’s why the 3 axis gimbal is so common.

So, how does a gimbal work in video shoots?

How a gimbal works: Relies mainly on electronics for video stabilization.

The gimbal keeps your camera on an upright and balanced position, by electronic means for the most part.

You're not the only one who tries to improve your shots. When your gimbal notices jerks or shakes, it corrects them. So, you end up recording smooth and stable footage.

How gimbal stabilizer works: Has crucial parts that work together.

A gimbal has…

  • electronics,
  • sensors, and
  • motors

… that work together to stabilize your shots.

Those parts work so well and silently. Which means, you get clean sound. Because the camera’s mic doesn’t pick up any noise, from the gimbal’s motors.

How does a gimbal work? Like it has a mind of its own.

A gimbal works like it has a brain of its own, because of its built-in computer software. This software interprets what you’re doing with the gimbal. Like…

  • when you’re shooting with it, and
  • when you’re pushing its buttons, to give commands, on how it should respond to your movements.

In a way, this electronic “brain” can sense…

  • if you’re making intentional camera moves, or
  • if the movement is something that the gimbal should counteract.

The software, then, tells the motors how to move, to stabilize your shot.

--

how gimbal stabilizer works

--

How do camera gimbals work: Shot correction happens so fast.

The way a gimbal counterbalances the jolts, happens so quickly.

And when you review the recorded shot, your eyes may not even notice, that the “correction” has happened.

How does a gimbal work - The 3 axis gimbal

What is a 3-axis gimbal?

A 3-axis gimbal is basically a fancy camera holder that videographers love. Why? Because it keeps their camera steady and stable in all sorts of situations.

By the way, "axis" is the center where something rotates around.

On a 3 axis gimbal, there are sensors that assess what’s going on, on the 3 different axes.

So, what are the 3 axes? And how does a 3-axis gimbal work, when you're shooting videos?

1. Pitch axis

  • It is where the up and down rotation of the camera happens.
  • It is when you tilt the camera up or down.
  • If there’s some disturbance in the “pitch” axis, the gimbal counteracts that.

Note about the following images...

For better understanding, I use a human head, as an analogy for a camera mounted on a gimbal. So, the direction of the head's movement, corresponds to that of a camera on a gimbal.

3 axis gimbal - pitch axis analogyHow does a gimbal work, specifically the pitch axis of a 3-axis gimbal?

2. Yaw axis

  • It is where the side-to-side rotation of the camera happens.
  • It is when you pan the camera from left to right, or from right to left.
  • If there’s some disturbance in the “yaw” axis, the gimbal makes the needed correction.
3 axis gimbal - yaw axis analogyHow does a gimbal work, specifically the yaw axis of a 3-axis gimbal?

3. Roll axis

  • It is where the clockwise—and the counterclockwise—rotation of the camera happens.
  • Imagine you rotate the camera from landscape to portrait, or the other way around. That’s the "roll" motion.
  • If there’s some disturbance in the “roll” axis, the gimbal will make an effort, to level the shot with the horizon.
3 axis gimbal - roll axis analogyHow does a gimbal work, specifically the roll axis of a 3-axis gimbal?

How does a gimbal work - The 2 axis gimbal

Unlike the 3-axis gimbal, the 2-axis gimbal stabilizer only affects…

  1. the pitch axis—the up and down rotation of the camera, and
  2. the roll axis—the clockwise, and the counterclockwise, rotation of the camera.

It’s not the business of a 2 axis gimbal, to manage the panning motion—or the ”yaw”.

So, when you use a 2 axis gimbal, it’s up to you to do the panning on purpose. And you need to do it well.


What are the benefits of a gimbal?


We've talked about how a gimbal works to create buttery smooth footage. But what exactly does that translate to in your videos?

Let's look at some of the benefits of using a gimbal that take your videography to the next level:

Higher Production Value

Using a motorized gimbal isn't only for eliminating camera shakes when you're moving. It allows you to do lively camera movements that would be impossible, if you use a fluid head tripod, or even a handheld steadicam.

This means, you have more creative storytelling techniques at your disposal.

Thanks to the electronics and motors inside a gimbal and your skill as a videographer! Combine them and you give your shots a higher perceived production value. Simply because of the smoother camera motion that viewers associate with "quality".

Think of capturing a dynamic shot while running alongside your subject. Or a high-speed car chase shot but maintaining your camera's stability. How effortless is that!

You're free to experiment on how to use a gimbal. I like the idea of mounting the motorized gimbal on a monopod. You can make drone-like shots with that kind of setup!

--

What are the benefits of a gimbal?

--

Versatility for Various Video Projects

Doing action shots with a gimbal is just one thing!

Try doing a casual handheld interview shoot with gimbal. You smooth out those unwanted jitters.

Or, execute a smooth gliding shot showcasing a product. It holds your viewers' attention better than a static shot.

Or, smoothly pan across a breathtaking landscape during a hike for your travel vlog.

Or, if you'll do a short film, try a slow push-in with a gimbal to reveal a key detail in your scene. Instead of using a slider or a dolly.

Or, do a dramatic Dutch tilt to inject a sense of unease in your shot.

I think you get what I mean. A lot of possibilities and polished-looking videos you can be proud of.


"Do I need a gimbal?"


Only you can honestly answer. But let me help you assess yourself if, indeed, you need a gimbal...

Do you need a gimbal?

There are types of video creators and video shooters, who could honestly say “Yes” to, "Is it worth getting a gimbal?"

1. The smartphone-based video content creator

You're such a person if…

  • You depend heavily on mobile phones—like iPhone or Android—to record videos. Or…

  • You shoot with your smartphone, to upload videos to social media—like Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok. Or…

  • You have a social media channel or page, where you upload many smartphone videos.

You carry your phone, almost—if not—all the time. For you, it's your best and most accessible video camera. A gimbal for smartphones, in your case, will help you execute tracking shots smoothly.

Smartphone gimbals are way easier on the wallet compared to those big ones for fancy cameras.

2. The on-the-go video content creator

This is you if…

  • You travel often.

  • You love videography and adventure trips, and combine these 2 hobbies.

Because you love to travel, you prefer to carry light and portable things, like a small point-and-shoot camera—or a mirrorless camera.

Since you enjoy shooting videos while traveling, you can see it's practical to use a gimbal, together with your camera. Gimbal's electronics will help stabilize your shots, almost anywhere.

3. The vlogger (or, video blogger)

You're a vlogger who needs a gimbal if…

  • You shoot a lot of selfie videos, while walking and making commentaries.

  • Like the “on-the-go” content creator, you favor small cameras.

Because you take handheld, walking shots, it’s natural for you to want to smoothen those shots. So that your audience won’t get dizzy watching your videos.

A gimbal designed for small, lightweight cameras, is going to be an attractive solution for you.

4. The promising professional videographer

You're an up-and-coming pro videographer if…

  • You’re seriously learning about, and gaining skills in, video production.

  • You’re passionate about cinema, and cinematic language.

  • You aspire to land a job—or make it your career—as a pro videographer someday.

Perhaps, you may not be that confident yet, to handle a manually-operated camera stabilizer—like the steadicam. So you want to practice and learn, first, filming smooth motion using a gimbal.

But maybe—for more ease of use and comfort—you'd settle for a gimbal, eventually. Even if it means, you need to buy an expensive gimbal for your big, heavy video camera.

5. The run-and-gun video shooter

You're most likely this kind of shooter if…

  • You love this particular mode of filming—moving fast... carrying the fewest production tools possible... and flowing almost like water, from one shooting angle to another.

  • You shoot many real-life subjects, events, or situations. Or, you shoot documentaries.

  • You shoot mostly in uncontrolled environments. You don’t have much control over your subjects, the people, the happenings. You’re not operating in a Hollywood-like studio, which is a controlled environment.

  • You don’t want to bother securing permits, just to capture some simple shots you need for your project.

Since you don’t want to bring too much equipment for the shoot, you pick up tools that won’t hinder your footwork. Tools that let you quickly execute motion shots.

So, you may favor using an electronic gimbal.

It doesn’t mean, you’re unskilled at handling, the manually-operated steadicam stabilizer.

It simply means, you opt to work in a certain fashion—the “run-and-gun” style. Or, what others call, “the guerilla style of filmmaking”. To you, it’s very practical to shoot this way, because of the uncontrolled environments you’re in.

6. The action-sports-wildlife shooter

You're an action, sports, or wildlife shooter if…

  • Most of the times, you record videos of fast-moving subjects. They could be people who do skateboarding, biking, motorcycling, etc.

  • Your hobby is to record your own "point of view" —or, POV—shots, while performing some fast action, like cycling.

  • You happen to be working in the sports field, as a sports videographer. Or, you're lucky enough to become a wildlife videographer.

These are some of the situations, where using a gimbal just makes sense.

The electronics and the automatic feature in a gimbal, will make your shooting life easier. You’ll be able to focus more on filming your video content.

Of course, the gimbal size will depend on your camera. A small action cam—like Go Pro—will only need a small gimbal. But, a big professional cinema camera, will need a larger gimbal, to cancel the camera shakes.

Other factors to consider

We've talked about the types of persons who may need a gimbal. Now, let's consider other factors that will help you decide if you really need a gimbal.

Is a gimbal worth it?

Camera type and budget

Different gimbals have different features and load capacities. So, do some research to find a gimbal that fits your camera and budget.

Some gimbals are made for lighter cameras, like smartphones and action cameras. Others are designed for heavier cameras, like mirrorless cameras and DSLRs.

Your skill level

Are you a newbie when it comes to using a gimbal? If so, consider having a user-friendly gimbal.

It could mean that the gimbal has only the core features, and less of the customization options.

But it will be one that you could easily master and use in the real-world video shoot.

Your Video Project Needs

What sort of videos do you want--or, need--to make?

You'll find the gimbal to be a useful asset,...

  • If you see yourself shooting many high-energy dance routines and fast-paced sports highlights. Or
  • If you're always on the go and need to quickly capture candid moments--vlogging on the go. Or
  • If you simply want to experiment with unconventional or unique camera movements.

Interesting fact: A report by KBV Research indicates that the demand for gimbal stabilizers is growing. This is because there's a growing demand for smooth footage, not just by professional videographers, but by everyday creators.


How to balance a gimbal


It is sensible to prepare the gimbal stabilizer, and practice using it first—before you can use it well, in real-world situations.

An average person simply cannot learn, develop, and refine the needed skills overnight. It takes time…

  • Time you need to invest in rehearsing how to prepare and operate a gimbal stabilizer. And...
  • Time away from your "real-world" video shoot, or video coverage.

--

Here's how to set up and balance a handheld camera gimbal...

using a gimbal for video
  1. Keep your setup to the minimum.
  2. Choose your camera and lens combination, and stick with it—when using an interchangeable lens camera.
  3. Securely mount your camera on the gimbal plate.
  4. Balance your camera, by making gimbal adjustments—one axis at a time.
  5. Make some markings on your gimbal, by using a pen or pieces of tape.

Now, let's discuss them one by one...

A quick note...

We're not going to talk about how to set up and balance, specific brands of camera gimbals. Because there's so many. We'll only talk about some key guidelines common to different brands of gimbal stabilizers, that will help you set up and balance a gimbal.

1. Keep your setup to the minimum.

Include just the basic camera itself. Or maybe, the camera and a small external mic mounted on it.

Remove the lens cap, the camera strap, and the lens hood—just like what you do, when setting up a handheld steadicam stabilizer.

2. Choose your camera and lens combination, and stick with it—when using an interchangeable lens camera.

Why?

Because different lenses have different weights.

Let's say you settled for a lens to attach to a mirrorless camera body, or a DSLR camera body. And you set up the gimbal. But then, you replaced that lens on a whim with a different one.

You now have to set up your gimbal again—making the needed adjustments and fine tunings. Which could be a hassle.

Hey! Just letting you know, an "interchangeable-lens camera" is basically a camera that lets you swap out the lens for different ones, not just the one it comes with. Think fancy mirrorless cameras, classic DSLRs, even some cinema cameras!

3. Securely mount your camera on the gimbal plate.

But, make sure not to overwind anything, when doing so. Because...

... You don't want cracks on your camera, or on your gimbal.

4. Balance your camera, by making gimbal adjustments—one axis at a time.

On a 3-axis gimbal, the first axis is where the tilting, or the up and down rotation of the camera happens. This is called the "pitch axis".

The second is where the panning, or the side to side rotation of the camera happens. This is called the "yaw axis".

And the third axis is where the clockwise, or counterclockwise rotation of the camera happens. This is called the "roll axis".

What you want to achieve is this—the camera stays level, even if you move it into whatever position.

5. Make some markings on your gimbal, by using a pen or pieces of tape.

Those marks will serve as your reference points. They'll help you easily and quickly assemble, and disassemble your gimbal.

Do you own, or have access to a specific brand and model, of a camera gimbal? Would you like to know more about setting up and balancing that particular device? Please refer to your brand’s user manual, or any product demo that the brand may offer.


How to use a gimbal - so that it is worth it?


Here's some tips to make owning and using a gimbal, really beneficial and enjoyable…

Using a gimbal for video: how to use gimbal stabilizer
  • Plan your shots before you shoot.
  • Prepare the gimbal.
  • Make efficient use of gimbal's battery power.
  • Use gimbal in combo with other tools you may have.

Now, let's discuss them one by one...

Plan your shots before you shoot.

If a particular video project won’t need gimbal shots, then don’t bring a gimbal. Carrying it all the time during the shoot soon gets tiring. And you may accidentally leave it somewhere.

Is there some motivation from the story, to record smooth camera motion? Does the proposed video require you to capture clean tracking shots, of fast-moving subjects? Then, bring and use your gimbal.

Prepare the gimbal.

Filming an event can be crazy. You've got things happening all around you, and the last thing you need is to worry about your gimbal acting up. Constant tweaks and adjustments can slow you way down, and you might miss those golden moments!

A gimbal should be there to make your life easier, not get in the way of capturing that awesome story.

Make efficient use of gimbal's battery power.

You’ll want to use your gimbal as long as possible, during your shoot.

What you don’t want is, when you still have camera movements to do, you can’t do them anymore. Simply because your gimbal ran out of power.

Gimbal’s battery drains faster than it should, when gimbal's motor works so hard. It works so hard, when compensating for a shaking camera, mounted on a poorly balanced gimbal.

So, to save battery power, make sure to set up your gimbal properly, so that its motor works efficiently.

Use gimbal in combo with other tools you may have.

Camera stabilizer devices, and other video production gear, are tools for conveying your thoughts, and expressing your feelings through video.

You may have a gimbal. But, if you also have other stabilizers, one of them may help you better execute needed shots.

A slider, or an improvised dolly, can do things similar to what a gimbal can do. And there could be subtle differences in the effects, that these video stabilizers can give. You’ll learn more about this by practice.

The point is…

… The story or content, and your take on it, will help you decide which tools at your disposal, you’re going to use.

And one day, you may find yourself using production tools, in combination with each other. It’s like combining different ingredients, to cook and serve good food.

--

When not to use a gimbal

There are situations where owning a gimbal may not be worth it. And, if you already own one, there are times when it’s not worth using it.

"To use a gimbal, or not to use a gimbal, that is the question"

1. When all you want is to shoot or record some decent videos.

If that’s the case, perhaps what you just need is a tripod, a monopod, or a steady pair of hands.

Buying a gimbal might be excessive in your case. It’s better if you invest your money in something else, that will truly serve a clear production purpose.

If you can’t clearly see what you’ll use the gimbal for, maybe you don’t need it… yet.

2. When you’re just after the smooth and pretty look a gimbal can give your shots, so you’re overusing it.

In this case, you already own a gimbal, but you’re mindlessly using it—you’re using it for all your shots.

You’re somehow convinced, that good-looking shots is all you need to show your audience. But that's not the case.

3. When your circumstance demands you to be discreet when shooting.

Let's say you’re using a large motorized gimbal for a big video camera, when shooting documentaries. These tools attract too much attention from people around you. (I like to call it, “the swashbuckler effect”.)

In a controlled studio environment, it doesn’t matter. Everyone in the production team knows, you have to use the bulky gear. It’s in the production plan, and in the shooting script.

But, in uncontrolled environments, you usually have to make yourself less noticeable. Even though people know you’re shooting some video.

4. When you can’t see how a cinematic gimbal shot that you’d love to do, will relate to other shots in the video presentation.

As a video creator, your ultimate goal is to present your human audience a story that resonates with them.

If your smooth gimbal shots contribute nothing to the story, (Wait, you have a story to tell, right? ;-) )… then those shots could appear isolated, or irrelevant to your audience.

A smooth motion shot made with a gimbal, is just one of the many ingredients you put together, to form a coherent presentation.


Key takeaways - How does a gimbal work


What is a gimbal? A gimbal is a form of camera stabilizer that depends on battery power, to run its motors and sensors.

How does it work? A gimbal works by using sensors and motors. It keeps your camera level and upright, electronically correcting for jerky movements.

Benefits of using a gimbal:

  • Higher production value: You get smoother camera movements, which add professional look and feel to your videos.

  • Versatility: You can use a gimbal for a variety of video projects.

  • Improved storytelling: You can experiment with your camera movements to enhance your story.

Who needs a gimbal? Different videographers, especially those who:

  • Capture videos with smartphones, or lightweight cameras.
  • Travel and film on the go.
  • Create vlogs or online video content.
  • Aspire to be professional videographers.
  • Shoot documentaries or fast-paced action.
  • Need to capture smooth footage in uncontrolled environments.

Is a gimbal right for you? Consider your camera type, budget, skill level, and video projects before investing. Sometimes, a tripod or steady hands might suffice.

If you're clear about how a gimbal works and its advantages, you can decide if it can take your videography to the next level.

Do you think a gimbal would be helpful to your video creation process?

See also a camera stabilizer similar to the gimbal...