How does a gimbal work?
And what is a gimbal in the first place? What does a gimbal do that benefits the shooter? 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.
But before we answer, "How does a gimbal work?", let's find out first what a gimbal is.
A camera gimbal is a form of camera stabilizer that depends on battery power, to run its motors and sensors. It has a camera support that can pivot—or, rotate—in these directions…
Because cameras differ in size, gimbal stabilizers also differ in size. So...
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.
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.
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?" "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…
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.
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...
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?
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.
A gimbal has…
… 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.
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…
In a way, this electronic “brain” can sense…
The software, then, tells the motors how to move, to stabilize your shot.
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.
What is a 3-axis gimbal?
A 3-axis gimbal is a type of gimbal stabilizer that many videographers love, because of its strong capacity to stabilize the camera, in different 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
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.
2. Yaw axis
3. Roll axis
Another type of gimbal is the 2-axis gimbal.
Unlike the 3-axis gimbal, the 2-axis gimbal stabilizer only affects…
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.
Only you can honestly answer. But let me help you assess yourself if, indeed, 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?"
You're such a person if…
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.
Compared to a gimbal for bigger and heavier cameras, you'll find that a smartphone gimbal is cheaper. And so, more affordable.
This is you if…
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.
You're a vlogger who needs a gimbal if…
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.
You're an up-and-coming pro videographer if…
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.
You're most likely this kind of shooter if…
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.
You're an action, sports, or wildlife shooter if…
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.
Here's some tips to make owning and using a gimbal, really beneficial and enjoyable…
Now, let's discuss them one by one...
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.
You don’t want to miss crucial moments when covering an event. And you don’t want to slow down a video shoot, just because you’re constantly adjusting and fine-tuning your gimbal.
So, don’t let a tool that’s supposed to help you, get in the way of content creation and storytelling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, what are some takeaways we can get from this article, "How does a gimbal work in a video shoot?"