What is a gimbal and how do you balance it?
Filming with your camera on a gimbal gives your smooth-looking footage the look of a professional production. Want to start filming using a gimbal, but don't know how to get started? We explain what a gimbal is, when to use it, how to balance the gimbal and we explain the different modes. That way, you'll be well prepared before you start filming.
What is a gimbal?
A gimbal is a tool that stabilises your camera to create smooth video footage. A gimbal - also sometimes called a camera stabiliser - has three axes with powerful motors and an intelligent algorithm that can recognise if you are making a deliberate movement, or if your camera is vibrating or jerking that you don't want to see reflected in images. The three motors ensure that tilt, pan and roll movements are corrected.
- Tilt: from top to bottom; from bottom to top.
- Pan: from left to right; from right to left.
- Roll: rotating movement.
That compensation ensures that you create super-stable, smooth images with the gimbal. This creates a professional look that is popular with viewers and clients alike. This is often asked about when you are working as a videographer. Besides giving stable and smooth footage, a gimbal has other features on it that give you much more flexibility and creative possibilities.
When do you use a gimbal?
Gimbals are widely used in music video shoots, at events and, for example, in wedding videography. It is also important to know when not to use a gimbal. This is when you need to film from a fixed point for a long time, for example during a livestream. Then it's better to use a tripod with a video head, so your arms don't get tired.
"What can be done is to add camera shake to your smooth footage in post-production."
In action scenes or a chase, a jerky image gives a sense of panic and urgency. If you don't use a gimbal then of course you can add a nice amount of camera shake. The downside to this is that if your footage has camera shake, you can never get it out during editing. What you can do is add camera shake to your smooth footage in post-production. In short, a lot to think about before you start filming
Which gimbal fits my DSLR or mirrorless camera?
Before choosing a gimbal, there are a few things to think about. For instance, you need to consider the gimbal's load capacity. If the camera and lens are heavier than the load capacity, the motors will no longer be able to compensate movements and shocks properly.
Do you have a zoom lens on your camera? Then pay attention to whether it has an internal zoom or not. When the lens extends, the motors have to work harder to keep the camera balanced. This affects how long a battery charge lasts. Also, the gimbal will have more trouble with fast movements.
Use accessories only when really necessary and try to attach larger accessories such as monitors as much as possible to the gimbal itself so the motors do not have to carry them. If you will be filming with a smartphone, choose a gimbal for smartphones.
Why use the Zhiyun Weebill 3 combo?
The gimbal we use to show you how to balance a gimbal is the Zhiyun Weebill 3. This compact and lightweight gimbal is powerful enough to easily carry a full-frame camera with a 24-70mm F/2.8 lens. It features Zhiyun's latest algorithm that compensates for even the smallest movements.
"This gimbal allows you to film relatively long and comfortably."
This gimbal allows you to film relatively long and comfortably. If you go for the Weebill 3 combo kit, you will also get a wrist rest and a sling handle. This takes weight off your wrist and provides more convenience and comfort. With the built-in microphone, you'll record an almost always better sound than with your camera's built-in microphone, which helps when editing. And with the LED light, you can better highlight a subject and easily give your video that little bit extra.
How do you balance a gimbal?
When balancing the gimbal, you balance the camera and gimbal. The Weebill 3 features a quick-release system so you only need to balance once. Put all accessories (follow focus, filters, ect.) on your camera before you start. You mount the quick-release plate (baseplate) under your camera with the screw, before placing the camera on the gimbal. You can do this with a screwdriver, Allen key or with the coin at the bottom of the baseplate.
Placing the camera on the gimbal
It is important to set the gimbal on a flat surface (such as a table) to make sure it does not move and is not skewed, otherwise you will not be able to balance it correctly. All axes of the gimbal are locked when you first take it out of the box. That means nothing can move. First of all, you need to place the camera on the gimbal. This is easier if your axes are not mechanically locked. There are three sliders you need to turn to unlock them.
Position the camera with the screen facing yourself. This may go a little screwy at first. Press the silver button so that you can slide the quick release plate all the way back. When you release the button and hear a 'click', the quick release plate is properly placed on it. You can still move the plate slightly, but that means it can no longer slide off.
The gimbal has three different axes, with one axis making a compensating movement. The tilt axis handles the smooth vertical movements: top to bottom or bottom to top. The pan axis takes care of smooth horizontal movements, with left-to-right being the most common camera movement in film and video productions. The roll axis handles camera rotation, although it is less commonly used in a camera movement, it is essential for balancing the camera on the gimbal.
Balance the tilt axis
Obviously, the gimbal is not yet balanced. We start by adjusting the Tilt axis. Temporarily lock the other two axes, the pan axis and the roll axis, with the sliders. Have the camera pointing up and slightly loosen the wing nut located directly under the LED lamp. Now look for the balance point where your camera keeps pointing straight up.
So if the camera tilts forward a little, then physically move the QR plate with the camera a little backwards. Or push it forward if it tilts backwards until it is just at the right point that it no longer tilts forward or backwards. It's subtle adjustments each time. At some point, the camera keeps pointing upwards by itself, at this point you tighten the wing nut again.
Balance the roll axis
After the Tilt axis is balanced, we will set the Roll axis. To do this, you first need to unlock the Roll axis. You will see that the camera tilts slightly inwards. Now let the camera point forward. At this axis, you have to physically slide the baseplate a little to the left or right until the camera stops tilting and stays in the same place. After the roll axis has been balanced, check that the camera still keeps pointing up neatly at the tilt axis.
Balance the pan-axis
Next, we are going to balance the pan axis. You balance this axis slightly differently, because the moment you pick up the gimbal, your camera is going to turn one way. Depending on which way it turns, you have to move the fork of the pan-axis forward or backward. If the camera automatically tilts to the left, then slide the fork slightly forward. If it tilts to the right, you slide the fork slightly backwards. As with any axis, you have to make minimal subtle adjustments every time. It is balanced if you tilt the gimbal and the camera stays in the same place.
Checking and calibrating axles
After you have balanced the three axes, you can still check if you have done it right. Let the camera point in different directions, whereby it should not tilt by itself. If it stays in every position then you've done well. Now you can turn on the gimbal.
If you slightly unbalance the gimbal, it will still work and will nicely straighten out the balance of your camera itself. But then the motors have to work a little harder to keep your camera balanced. And that affects battery life and how smooth the images become. You can also optionally calibrate the gimbal. That option is available via the menu, but this is not necessary to use the gimbal.
When do you use which mode?
After the camera is balanced, you can try out the different modes. You switch modes by pressing the little button with the letter M. The default, and most commonly used mode is the Pan Follow Mode. In the different modes, the gimbal's software locks certain axes. So you don't have to lock the axes yourself with the sliders like when balancing.
Pan Follow Mode (PF)
In Pan Follow Mode, the camera follows the movements you make with your arms and body. For example, the camera swings from left and right. You then don't have to do that with the joystick. This movement is most commonly used in film productions and is thus also the gimbal's most commonly used mode.
Lock Mode (L)
Then press the M button once and it goes into Lock mode. In this, you point the camera at one subject and it stays set up there continuously. The gimbal locks the pan and tilt axis, preventing it from rotating. The camera direction remains locked; this mode can be used, for example, when you are walking parallel to someone.
Follow Mode (F)
If you then press the M button again, it goes into Follow mode. This mode is almost identical to PF mode, except that in this mode the tilt axis also moves, so now you can also make a nice smooth movement from top to bottom.
POV Mode (POV)
Now press the M button twice and you go into Point Of View mode. And that means you are filming from your own field of view. In this mode, all axes are unlocked, including the roll axis. This allows you to even tilt the camera, giving you dynamic and abstract shots. These shots are often used in music videos.
Portrait Mode (P)
Press the M button twice again to activate portrait mode. The camera rotates on its side. This allows you to instantly record vertical videos, which is handy for Shorts, Reels or TikToks.
Vortex Mode (V)
If you press twice again, your camera rotates upwards and the gimbal is in vortex mode. In vortex mode, the idea is to actually tilt your gimbal forward, called undersling mode. Using the joystick, you can roll the camera 360 degrees around its axis. You can use this creative image, for example, to make nice transitions in post-production.
GO mode (GO)
GO mode is activated by pressing and holding the little red dash button on the front of the gimbal. GO mode is suitable for super-fast action and abrupt movements. So if you have to run after someone or in an action scene. As soon as you release the button then it exits GO mode again.
You now know exactly what a gimbal is, when and how to use it. The creative interpretation is of course going to be up to you, but think about what you want to tell with your video beforehand. To make a convincing video, the viewer likes the type of image to match the type of video.
For example, angled camera shots from POV mode are less suitable during the Yes vote at a wedding. In a cool hip-hop video, for example, it fits much better. In addition, a quiet pan-movement is just right for filming an interior. Now you only have one thing left: lots of practice! The Weebill 3 makes long-term filming as comfortable as possible, allowing you to try out all the different modes.