First, what is a gimbal?
Gimbal video stabilizers are relatively modern film tools, used to help prevent unwanted camera shake while filming. Mount your small camera or cell phone to a gimbal, and the gimbal senses movement and uses electronic motors to prevent the camera from moving inappropriately around 2 or 3 axes, depending on the stabilizer.
While professionals agree that gimbals don’t fully replace traditional steadicam systems, in some senses, that’s exactly what they did. Before gimbals, camera operators had to use mechanical devices to stabilize their cameras. These steadicams were large and cumbersome, and required an entire skillset to use. Steadicam operators are still a thing–professionals who make a living exclusively with their steadicam rig.
Now that gimbals are mainstream, many smaller shops rely on them over steadicams. They deliver amazing, stable video footage with minimal effort and skills required. Sometimes they’re just the perfect tool for the job.
Pros and Cons
Both tools have their pros and cons, often times revolving around what kind of camera the user wants to stabilize. There are a ton of options on the market for GoPros and iPhones, and similar cameras, but the larger your camera gets, the fewer options are available–and the heavier it all becomes.
The best thing about gimbals is their versatility. Gimbals allow you to fake all kinds of camera motion with one set up, from jib shots to slides. Of course gimbals don’t replace sliders or cranes, but they do allow you to get a variety of types of shots, with just one piece of equipment. Our opinion is that they hold an edge over steadicams in terms of flexibility.
The best thing about steadicam vests is that they remove camera shake from footsteps, when set up and used properly. And it’s awesome. With gimbals, avoiding footstep shake is all in the technique. That technique isn’t always conducive to fast paced action shots, or shooting on uneven surfaces.
Gimbals are much more user friendly than steadicams. Both require initial set up and balancing, and both do have their challenges. But generally speaking, gimbals in the hands of a first timer will still yield impressive results, they don’t require the finesse that steadicams sometimes do.
We started out with a Merlin Steadicam system when we were using smaller cameras, and waded into the gimbal game slowly. After much research, we purchased a Letus Helix, Jr. in 2015. Now we have two!
The Helix has been a game changer. From the moment we opened the box and ran through set up, it’s provided amazing video stabilization. It gives us the ability to capture low angle, and low to high angle shots with ease. Two reasons we selected the Helix over other systems:
- The compact nature of the unit means we aren’t holding our arms too far apart. The ability to tuck our elbows means way less fatigue. In fact, we’ve filmed a full day of interviews and b-roll footage entirely on the Helix.
- The flat bottom! Yes, the size means we can hold on to it for longer, but the ability to put it down on any flat surface is essential. 100% best feature it has.
Check out the video we filmed the very first time we picked it up!