Are Gimbals the New Tripods?

September 29th, 2017
Are Gimbals the New Tripods?

As the owner of a rental house, Stewart Addison has seen the rise in popularity of gimbals first hand. But could this device be considered as revolutionary to filmmaking as the humble tripod? Here’s his thoughts.

gimbals

Many filmmakers can point to the tripod as the tool that set them on the path to serious filmmaking. Regardless of camera or lens or codec, a properly-used, good-quality fluid head and legs can be the defining line between a professional-looking piece and an amateur one. Once filmmakers learn this, many of us never leave home without one. In 2017 though, the tripod isn’t alone on this pedestal anymore (nice pun).

Just as tripod affordability made unintentionally shaky video unacceptable, increasing user-friendliness and expansion of gimbals into most budget sizes has made smooth camera movement a necessary offering for any production. How the gimbal got to such a ubiquitous place, just as the positive and negative consequences of it, cannot be ignored.

From Steadicam to Gimbals – How We Got Here

The brushless 3-axis gimbals we know today are a natural extension of the Steadicam, which is itself a relatively new addition to the filmmaking landscape. American cinematographer Garrett Brown first came up with the idea of the Steadicam in the early 1970’s, but it wasn’t until the end of that decade that its implementation would be fully realized. Films like Bound for Glory, Rocky and The Shining cemented the Steadicam’s place in cinema history, untethering cameras from the tripods, tracks, or cranes they had been previously bound to. Most importantly, the Steadicam allowed filmmakers to begin thinking of camera movement in a different way.

Ronin 2

But before moving to motorized gimbals, let’s rewind a little bit. The concept of a gimbal isn’t new at all. In fact, it’s over a thousand years old. BC Greeks conceived it for pottery while Chinese inventors came up with a similar design for burning incense. Since then, gimbals have been used throughout history on everything from early navigation systems to rocket engines. I don’t know how much this information will impact your filmmaking life, but it’s interesting to think about.

Moving on!

Nino Leitner operating the MoVI M10

2013 is when everything changed. The MoVi M5 and M10 made brushless motorized gimbals a reality and were announced to major hype. For the first time, filmmakers were given access to beautiful Steadicam shots at a reduced price and with less required expertise, but MoVi was only the beginning. Rival companies began offering even less expensive gimbals in the MoVi mold. Most notably, DJI released the Ronin line, which has become the other dominant force in the gimbal industry.

All of these changes, of course, are being propelled by the emergence of drones, which also use gimbal technology for stabilization. Within two years of the MoVi announcement, filmmakers were offered truly inexpensive gimbal options with the DJI Osmo. The Gimbal shot was now available to filmmakers of every budget, making it hard to avoid seeing video content that didn’t employ a gimbal in some way. From commercials to YouTube videos, the saturation of gimbals in the filmmaking market has put a premium on smooth camera movement. Hell, even vloggers are taking advantage of being able to finally be able to walk, talk and film with ease now.

DJI Osmo

Note: As the owner of a rental house, I’ve seen skyrocketing gimbal use firsthand. The freedom gimbals have given filmmakers in just a few short years is amazing. There is, however, a learning curve. Yes, gimbals are easier to operate than a Steadicam, but balancing a MoVi or a Ronin takes time and practice. I’ve had many a frustrated customer return a ‘faulty’ Ronin on the basis that the gimbal wouldn’t work properly, when upon inspection, it simply wasn’t balanced correctly. Know your gear, filmmakers!

The gimbals have arrived, but now comes the real question.

What Do We Do Now?

Gimbal shots are all the rage. Why wouldn’t they be? Anyone paying for video work can see what smooth movement can bring to a project. This isn’t nuanced like color science – a good gimbal shot can be flashy in a way that makes someone pause from their social media scrolling. In today’s video world, that’s worth real money. On the filmmaker’s end, gimbals can be a less-expensive way to add real production value to your limited budget. The benefits are all around.

When I say that gimbals are the new tripod, I don’t mean that they’re replacing tripods. Like tripods, gimbals are becoming a mandatory item for filmmakers to be familiar with and know how to use. Also like tripods, they offer a fairly easy learning curve and don’t require the kind of specialization their Steadicam counterparts did.

Finally, and most importantly, both gimbals and tripods come at such a wide price range that filmmakers can evolve with them. Much like a filmmaker who starts with a $200 tripod to learn framing and basic camera movement and then advances to a $12,000 tripod for the smoothest, most perfectly-timed shots, a filmmaker beginning on an Osmo today could be ready for a MoVi in a year or so.

Zhiyun Crane – a popular one-handed gimbal

It’s also worth mentioning that, again like tripods, just because we can gimbal the hell out of a shoot doesn’t mean we should. The market is already saturated with the gimbal look, meaning that filmmakers still have to be good at other things. Camera motion for camera motion’s sake looks silly, and there’s an abundance of it out there, similar to the shallow depth of field craze when the Canon 5D MKII video mode arrived where everything was shot positively wide open. You still have to be a well-rounded filmmaker to make gimbals work for you. If you have the kind of awareness and restraint to know when motion is needed and when it isn’t, gimbals are a godsend.

Are gimbals necessary for every shoot? Absolutely not. Neither are tripods, technically, but I’m sure you’ve kept one with you even when you didn’t think you’d need it. For filmmakers trying to capture attention in the scrolling world of social media video, or those trying to attract bigger clients with something impressive, or for filmmakers trying to emulate Scorsese’s infamous Copacabana Steadicam tracking shot in Goodfellas, a gimbal is not only a necessary piece of gear to have access to, but a necessary one to master as well.

Keep it next to your tripod.

The Counter-Argument

Conversely, maybe I could argue that gimbals have become a style – and styles fade, don’t they?

Yes, gimbals offer affordable solutions to the type of camera movements filmmakers have wanted to make for a century. Those movements, however, aren’t often as nuanced as the movements you make on a tripod or slider. Gimbal smoothness is instantly identifiable in the finished product. A gimbal shot almost always makes the camera appear to float, relies on a wide-angle lens to make focusing easier and often features low or high angles that gimbals have unique access to. In other words, gimbal shots have a look. If that look doesn’t change, isn’t refined or doesn’t develop over time, the gimbal shot could face the same fate as the 70’s zoom, rarely seen today due to its dated affect. If that’s the case, then gimbals aren’t necessary, they are a luxury, one we perhaps shouldn’t be overly excited to embrace.

MōVI Pro

Ultimately, though, I don’t honestly think this is the case. Gimbals can be used subtly, and their usefulness as a potential time-saver means filmmakers will find new ways to keep them relevant. The Steadicam certainly didn’t peak in 1983, and I doubt gimbals will peak now – on the contrary, the technology is still only developing, something that is plain to see with the likes of the Ronin 2 and MōVI Pro, game changers that are really pushing the technological boundaries.

How often do you deploy gimbals in your productions? Do you think they should be a part of every filmmaker’s arsenal? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Dan HymanYuki Ogura Kevin AlmodovarMalatesh Kp Recent comment authors
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Timmy Philip
Timmy Philip
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

Rather use a dolly any day

Sujit Nayak
Sujit Nayak
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

Brother I’m interested join your team

Mike Silverman
Mike Silverman
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

They’re the new steadicam, not the new tripods.

Christian Koll
Christian Koll
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

i don`t even think they are the new steady cam. They are uses as a stabilization tool instead of a steadycam, but i think a real steadycam is much better for framing your picture.

Vasily Schpraga
Vasily Schpraga
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

Yes

Jess Ponikvar
Jess Ponikvar
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

Especially since the cheap ones are easy to program for panning etc at predetermined speeds, absolutely.

Raya Fahreza
Raya Fahreza
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

No. There. Saved you a click.

Chris Stanley
Chris Stanley
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

no, they are not.

Jeff Hammond
Jeff Hammond
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

Buy a gimbal!

Don Rumsey
Don Rumsey
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

I love my gimbal…do I want to stand there and hold it with my outboard audio gear and mic for an interview for 45 minutes. Ahhhhh…NO!

 Bernard Shaw
Bernard Shaw
MemberSeptember 29th, 2017

Yes. We have the amazing Helix and Helix Jr. it is unique. It allows you to hold it close to your body and to set it down. It is super light weight. Easy to balance. Had amazing battery life. And the new motors allow you to hand reset your camera if bumped.

Field programmable. Super smooth. A must for high end weddings and short documentaries.

Brian McQuaile
Brian McQuaile
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

Dumbest headline I’ve ever read.

cinema5D
cinema5D
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

Nah, there are dumber ones than ours.

 Stephen Chollet
Stephen Chollet
MemberSeptember 29th, 2017

There are (essentially) three types of camera support and movement:
• Fixed location (locked off, tripod, mounted)
• Linear movement (jibs, dollies, sliders)
• Free-form (Handheld, steadicam, gimbal)

All have their place in storytelling. Great films have been shot completely handheld, others all on steadicam, some only using fixed methods. And ever combination. Certainly no one really replaces another, although the gimbal is very versatile and can bridge some gaps for sure.

Ultimately, each has it’s place and the true test of a filmmakers knowledge in this area is whether or not they know when it is the appropriate time to use each one. The best use of any of the tools is when the method of camera support contributes to the storytelling.

 Erkki Juurus
Erkki Juurus
MemberSeptember 29th, 2017

“Are Gimbals the New Tripods?”

Nope.
Next question.

Jorjdin Bardell
Jorjdin Bardell
GuestSeptember 29th, 2017

I love a gimbal as much as the next guy. But I will still use a cine 30 head if I need to pan or tilt. It’s a lot faster and I have more control over it. However I think gimbals are putting Dolly’s and sliders out of business.

 Ajit Patel
Ajit Patel
MemberSeptember 30th, 2017

As a documentary filmmaker I’d rather have good inbody stablisation rather than have to deal with and baby another electronic device on location.

 Hannu Pyyhtiä
Hannu Pyyhtiä
MemberSeptember 30th, 2017

I’ve seen people shooting long interviews with gimbals and also seen people balancing the camera for a gimbal for one easy tracking shot, just because it supposed to be faster than building a track for a dolly. Ending up using post stabilizer plugins to get the shot right. The end result never looks so stable as a good dolly shot.

I also find steadicam more organic and stable as gimbals. 

Yes, there are a lot of situations where gimbals become very handy (like fitting it trough a tight spaces or handing the camera over to another operator in the middle of a take) but often it seems so, that people think that new technology instantly improves their shots and storytelling so they want to use that as much and as often as they can. It’s good to have these, but I’d still plan shots well beforehand and build those tracks than run around with gimbals just to get something.

Malatesh Kp
Malatesh Kp
GuestSeptember 30th, 2017

Yes… slowly changing but yet to gibmbals to fine tune accordingly

 Kevin Almodovar
Kevin Almodovar
MemberOctober 2nd, 2017

They are just another tool. Unfortunately, like a young student buying his first slider, it is overused and often used as a substitute for proper planning of shots and having purpose behind those shots.

I have been on shoots that have foregone planning, storyboard and cohesive stories with a gimbal operator running amuck acquiring mounds of footage in the hopes of pulling 3 seconds of magic out of many minutes they capture..

It’s not a fad, but the way it is being overused is. I think it will slow down, go the way of the other tools we have and will eventually be used the way it was intended, when needed and with a reason.

Yuki Ogura
Yuki Ogura
MemberOctober 4th, 2017

I’ve never used those brushless gimbals. I’ve been employing a glidecam to make some smooth shots.
However, I tend to avoid even the glidecam these days… I love handheld shooting as it always challenges me physically and artistically to express my voice.

Clayton Moore
MemberOctober 6th, 2017

Its actually a good question taken in context. Its about smooth “moving” shots and how affordability is making the idea more of a requirement for anyone being paid for their work. You cannot be a serous professional without a tripod of course and its becoming more likely you cannot do without a “mobile steady moving” solution of some kind. I don’t shoot weddings but you can see how even that gig requires one now.

Clayton Moore
MemberOctober 6th, 2017

Related to this – Easy rig and Atlas camera support are two other hand held moving solutoions that I have seen in broadcast these days too.

Someone using one of these with a gimbal.
https://vimeo.com/144693996

 Dan Hyman
Dan Hyman
MemberOctober 10th, 2017

I like gimbals & stabilizers, I don’t love them. My go to is still good carbon fiber legs with a Duzi slider. How long are your shots going to really be? 2-5 seconds?

For an extended shot, or something in a vehicle, yes a stabilizer is great. I think they still need a lot of work tho. We’ve owned the Ronin M (twice), Letus Helix, Zhiyhun Crane, PilotFly, and Osmo (with the Z-Axis).
They’re bulky and awkward, focusing is a challenge unless you engage auto or spend a small fortune. The technology is getting better and soon there will be a stabilizing solution. I think it’ll come in the tune of a stabilizing HEAD, as opposed to an entire setup. Then you could use it on a monopod, or any grip configurations you wanted. They need to be self balancing and easy to setup on site. Then, the game will change to how did we work without one of these? Right now it’s a nice trick pony with a lot of drawbacks, even on the good ones.

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