What Is a Gimbal? – An Overview and Guide

In the world of videography, achieving smooth, cinematic shots often seems like a quest reserved for the elite with high-end equipment. Enter the gimbal: a game-changer that has democratized professional-grade stabilization for creators across the globe. Gimbals, with their intricate yet user-friendly design, have transformed shaky handheld footage into smooth cinematic sequences, making them indispensable tools for anyone serious about the quality of their visual content.

This comprehensive guide dives deep into the realm of gimbals, offering insights into their origin, functionality, and the science that powers them. Whether you’re a novice just dipping your toes into videography or a seasoned filmmaker looking to optimize your toolkit, this guide promises to enhance your understanding of this revolutionary device. I’ll explore the various considerations to keep in mind when choosing a gimbal, the nuances of their operation, and even delve into a comparative analysis with Steadicam. Welcome to the world of stabilized content creation, where the power of professional cinematography is, quite literally, in your hands.

What Is a Gimbal?

A gimbal is a pivotal tool in the world of videography and photography, serving as an ingenious mechanism designed to stabilize cameras. At its core, a gimbal is a device that allows a camera to rotate around specific axes, ensuring that despite any external movements or shakes, the camera remains steady, resulting in smoother shots. This technological marvel, often compact in size but vast in utility, has revolutionized content creation by providing filmmakers and photographers with cinematic stability without the bulk or complexity of traditional stabilizing equipment.

The history of gimbals traces back to ancient civilizations, where they were used for navigational purposes, stabilizing compasses on moving ships. Today, they’ve been ingeniously adapted for modern cameras, from DSLRs to smartphones, and are a favorite among content creators looking to elevate the quality of their work. Beyond mere stabilization, gimbals often come equipped with features allowing for intricate camera movements and precise control. For anyone passionate about producing fluid, shake-free videos, understanding gimbals and their potential is paramount. They represent a harmonious blend of technology and artistry, enabling creators to envision and capture shots previously deemed impossible without significant investment.

The Mechanics Behind a Gimbal

Delving into the heart of modern filmmaking and videography, the gimbal stands out as a beacon of technological advancement, making intricate camera movements and stable shots a possibility for everyone. But how exactly does this groundbreaking tool manage to deliver such professional results? Let’s explore the mechanics and science behind the gimbal.

Introduction to the Science of Stabilization

At its core, stabilization is about maintaining the position and orientation of an object against disturbances. Picture a tightrope walker using a long pole to balance; the pole aids in distributing weight and offers resistance against sudden shifts. In the world of videography, stabilization prevents those pesky shakes and abrupt tilts, delivering a smooth, cinema-like quality to the video. The gimbal acts as the “balancing pole,” countering unforeseen movements with precise counter-movements.

The magic behind this balance lies in a combination of physics, engineering, and technology. As cameras move, they face various forces – from hand jitters to gusts of wind. Gimbals counter these forces by continuously adjusting the camera’s position, ensuring the lens stays steady and maintains its orientation.

The Concept of Axes in Stabilization

Understanding how a gimbal stabilized footage requires us to get familiar with the axes of motion. Every camera movement falls under three fundamental axes:

  • Pitch (Tilt) : This motion is when the camera moves up and down. Imagine nodding your head; that’s the tilt.
  • Roll : Think of this as the motion a plane makes when it tilts its wings. In camera terms, this would be tilting the camera sideways.
  • Pan : This is when the camera moves from left to right or vice versa. Picture shaking your head; that’s the pan.

The effectiveness and fluidity of a gimbal’s performance largely depend on how well it can counter movements in these axes.

2-axis and 3-axis Stabilization

Now, when we discuss gimbals, you’ll often hear the terms 2-axis and 3-axis thrown around. But what do these terms signify?

  • 2-Axis Gimbal : This type typically stabilizes the pitch and roll axes. While it provides considerable stability and is often more affordable, it might not account for the horizontal movements (panning) which can sometimes result in less than perfect footage, especially when there’s lateral movement.
  • 3-Axis Gimbal : As the name suggests, this gimbal stabilizes all three axes: pitch, roll, and pan. The added stability on the pan axis offers a significant upgrade in terms of the smoothness of the footage, especially when the camera operator is walking or moving side to side.

The choice between 2-axis and 3-axis often boils down to the specific requirements of the shot and, of course, budgetary considerations. However, for those serious about videography, the 3-axis gimbal, with its comprehensive stabilization, has become an industry favorite.

Cameraman and a steadicam.

Gimbals Vs Steadicams

In the realm of camera stabilization, both gimbals and Steadicams hold revered spots. While their end goal is similar – capturing smooth, stable footage – their mechanics, history, and application can differ significantly.

The Steadicam, pioneering the stabilization game since the 1970s, relies on mechanical methods such as counterweights and a pivoting arm for passive camera steadiness. This system is predominantly favored by major film studios, which utilize camera gear often too hefty for electronic stabilizers.  Mastering the Steadicam, however, is an art, given its complex balance mechanics. Additionally, top-tier Steadicams come with a substantial price tag, often stretching into several thousand dollars.

Conversely, gimbals represent a more recent innovation, birthed from the compact design of smartphones and mirrorless cameras. They boast technological advancements that eclipse traditional mechanical stabilizers like Steadicams. Modern gimbals cater to a more user-centric approach, featuring intuitive software and diverse operating modes. For novices stepping into the world of cinematography, gimbals present a more approachable entry point, both in terms of functionality and cost.

How to Use a Gimbal : Basic Steps

Gimbals, despite their intricate technology and features, are designed for usability. With the right approach and a bit of practice, anyone can harness their potential to capture stabilized, professional-grade footage. Here’s a detailed step-by-step guide on using a gimbal:

Setting up : Mounting the Camera or Smartphone

Before diving into the myriad of modes and features, it’s crucial to securely mount your camera or smartphone onto the gimbal. Most gimbals come with a mounting bracket or clamp. Ensure the device is tightly secured, keeping its lens or screen free from any obstructions. For cameras, the mounting may also involve attaching a base plate to the camera before fixing it onto the gimbal.

Balancing : Ensuring the Camera Stays Stable Without Power

One of the crucial aspects that novices often overlook is balancing the gimbal. A well-balanced gimbal reduces strain on the motors, leading to smoother footage and longer battery life. To balance:

  • Start with the tilt axis by ensuring the camera remains level when you let go.
  • Adjust the roll axis by making sure the camera doesn’t tilt to the left or right.
  • Finally, address the pan axis by tilting the gimbal forward and checking that the camera remains facing forward without rotating.

Minor adjustments using the gimbal’s knobs or sliding mechanisms can achieve perfect balance. When correctly balanced, the camera should stay in any position you place it in, even when the gimbal is off.

Operating Modes : Understanding Different Gimbal Settings

Gimbals typically come with various modes tailored for specific shooting needs:

  • Pan Follow Mode
    In Pan Follow Mode, the gimbal allows the camera to move or “pan” horizontally based on the user’s movements while keeping the tilt (up and down) and roll (rotational) axes locked. This ensures that the camera remains level with the horizon, maintaining a steady vertical orientation, even if the operator turns to the left or right. The primary objective of this mode is to follow the subject laterally, whether it’s a person walking by or tracking a moving vehicle, without unwanted up or down movements that could disrupt the shot’s stability.

    For videographers, the Pan Follow Mode is particularly useful when they want to create smooth, sweeping shots that move from one side to the other. It eliminates the chances of vertical jitters and maintains a consistent height level throughout the footage. This mode is often used in scenarios where the subject is moving across the frame, and the filmmaker wishes to follow them smoothly while ensuring that the horizon stays level.

  • Lock Mode
    When a gimbal is set to Lock Mode, all axes – pan (horizontal), tilt (vertical), and roll (rotational) – are stabilized and locked in their positions. This means that regardless of how the gimbal handle is moved or rotated by the user, the camera remains fixed in its orientation and direction. Essentially, the camera will maintain its focus on a specific point or subject, not panning, tilting, or rolling even if the user moves around.

    Lock Mode is particularly useful in scenarios where a consistent and steady shot of a specific subject or scene is required. For instance, if a filmmaker wants to move around a subject while keeping the camera consistently aimed at that subject, Lock Mode ensures that the framing remains unchanged. It’s also beneficial when creating tracking shots where the camera moves forward or backward but needs to maintain a constant direction.

  • Full Follow Mode
    Full Follow Mode on a gimbal enables both the pan (horizontal) and tilt (vertical) axes to respond to the user’s movements. This means that as the user moves the gimbal from side to side, the camera will pan; and as the user tilts the gimbal handle up or down, the camera will tilt correspondingly. However, the roll axis remains locked to prevent any rotational movement.

    This mode provides a great deal of flexibility, allowing for dynamic shots that capture a range of motion. For instance, if a videographer is capturing a subject ascending a flight of stairs, the Full Follow Mode allows the camera to not only track the subject’s lateral movement but also to tilt upward as the subject rises. It’s ideal for scenarios where the subject’s movements are not just restricted to a single plane and require the camera to fluidly move in multiple directions while still maintaining stability and avoiding unintended rotations.

  • POV Mode
    POV (Point of View) Mode on a gimbal offers a dynamic first-person perspective by responding to movements across all axes, simulating the experience as if the audience is looking through the eyes of the gimbal operator. This mode enhances the Full Follow Mode by introducing the ability to roll the camera, adding a rotational dimension to the standard pan and tilt. The result is the capability to produce captivating, spiraling shots, delivering a dramatic flair to any footage.

    This mode stands out especially when filming action sports, dance sequences, or any other scene where a more immersive, fluid, and organic camera movement is desired. It gives videographers a unique tool in their arsenal to capture more stylized and artistic shots.

Practicing Basic Moves

After understanding the modes, it’s time to get moving:

Pushing Shot
  • Description: The fundamental gimbal techniques where the operator either moves closer to (push-in) or further from (push-out) a subject or scene.
  • Use Cases: Effective in emphasizing or de-emphasizing a subject, creating dramatic reveals, or showcasing specific details of a scene.
  • How to Execute: Begin the movement by initiating each step from the heel, transitioning smoothly onto the toes. Ensure you avoid sudden push forwards or pull backs, as these can cause a jerk in the footage. A pro tip to maintain consistent motion is to control the movement by bending and extending the knees smoothly, offering a controlled transition throughout the move.
Follow Shot
  • Description: This technique requires the camera operator to follow a subject either from the front or behind.
  • Use Cases: Best utilized when tracking a moving subject, such as someone walking or running.
  • How to Execute: With your gimbal, frame the subject and maintain a consistent distance, ensuring they remain in focus and don’t move out of frame. When moving backward, ensure the path is clear to avoid tripping. Incorporating elements like leading lines can heighten the cinematic feel of the shot. Slowing down the footage in post-production can also add a dramatic touch.
Tracking Shot
  • Description: Instead of following behind or in front of a subject, this move involves filming them from the side, emulating traditional dolly shots seen in big productions.
  • Use Cases: Provides a dynamic perspective of the subject’s side profile as they move.
  • How to Execute: Rotate the gimbal so the camera is turned 90 degrees, facing the subject. Move forward in one steady motion, keeping the subject within the frame. Utilizing a monitor can assist in maintaining framing.
Parallax Shot
  • Description: The subject stays relatively still while the world seems to rotate around them, creating a visually compelling contrast.
  • Use Cases: When you want to emphasize a character or object while showcasing a changing background.
  • How to Execute: Hold the gimbal firmly and circle around the subject, trying to keep them at the center of the frame. This move creates an illusion that the background is shifting while the subject remains stationary. For maximum impact, slow down the footage in post-production.
Reveal Shot
  • Description: The reveal shot strategically introduces or “uncovers” a new scene, subject, or element to the audience, adding an element of surprise or emphasis.
  • Use Cases: Ideal for unveiling new settings, pivotal characters, or key narrative elements, capturing the viewer’s attention.
  • How to Execute: With your gimbal, smoothly transition the camera upwards or forwards to disclose the previously hidden scene or subject. To heighten the effect, start with foreground objects partially or entirely blocking the view. As the camera advances or rises, the main subject or scene is gradually revealed. For instance, using a city street wall as an initial cover and then moving the camera sideways can transition into revealing a vibrant street festival or a hidden alleyway café, adding an element of surprise and storytelling to your footage. This technique adds depth and anticipation to your footage.

What to Consider in a Gimbal

When venturing into the world of gimbals, it’s not enough to simply grab the first one you see on the shelf or the one a friend recommended. The device has evolved into a sophisticated piece of tech, and understanding its various facets will significantly enhance your videography experience. Here are some crucial considerations to mull over before making your purchase.

  • Weight Capacity : The number one rule of gimbals is to ensure it can adequately support your camera’s weight. Every gimbal comes with a specified weight capacity, beyond which the motors might struggle, or the gimbal could even get damaged. Especially for those using heavier DSLRs or mirrorless cameras with large lenses, ensuring your gimbal can comfortably bear the weight is vital. This not only guarantees smooth footage but also prolongs the life of the gimbal.

  • Compatibility : Not all gimbals are created equal when it comes to device compatibility. While some are designed for smartphones, others cater to compact cameras or professional DSLRs. Ensure that the gimbal’s design and features align with your device. This also includes checking for any specific gimbal software or apps that may be required.

  • Ease of Setup : Time is of the essence in videography. Whether you’re trying to capture a fleeting moment or setting up for a professional shoot, you don’t want to be wrestling with your gimbal. User-friendly designs that allow for swift setup are a blessing. Look for gimbals that come with clear instructional manuals, or even better, intuitive designs that make the setup process self-explanatory.

  • Durability and Build Quality : A gimbal is an investment. Thus, paying attention to its build quality is paramount. Gimbals made from quality materials such as high-grade aluminum or reinforced plastic promise durability. Consider the gimbal’s construction and if it feels sturdy. While lightweight gimbals are beneficial for portability, it shouldn’t come at the cost of fragility.

  • Battery Life : The joy of capturing that perfect sunset shot could be ruined if your gimbal’s battery decides to give out. Always check the battery life. Many top-end gimbals offer usage times of 10-12 hours. Furthermore, gimbals that come with swappable batteries are a boon. They allow for continuous shooting without needing to halt and recharge, which is particularly beneficial for long shooting sessions or travels.

  • Portability and Design : If you’re a travel vlogger or someone who’s constantly on the move, a bulky gimbal can be cumbersome. For such users, gimbals with a foldable design or detachable parts are ideal. Portability also includes the ease with which you can pack the gimbal and its resistance to wear and tear during transit.

  • Software and Features : Last but by no means least, the software side of gimbals is where much of the magic happens. Modern gimbals come equipped with a plethora of features driven by their software. Object tracking, multiple modes (like portrait or landscape), time-lapse settings, and motion-lapse capabilities are just the tip of the iceberg. Regular firmware updates ensure that your gimbal stays updated with the latest features and improvements. Before buying, explore the software offerings of the gimbal and ascertain they align with your needs.


Is A gimbal really necessary?

Gimbals, while revolutionary for stabilization, have certain disadvantages. They can be bulky, adding weight to a filmmaker’s equipment load, making prolonged handheld shooting strenuous. Gimbals also require frequent calibration to ensure precise stabilization. This process can be time-consuming, especially for beginners. Battery life is another concern; a drained gimbal becomes non-functional until recharged. Furthermore, over-reliance on gimbals can hinder a cinematographer’s learning of manual stabilization techniques. Lastly, while gimbals have become more affordable, high-quality models can still be a significant investment for some enthusiasts.

Is it worth buying a gimbal for a phone?

If you’re keen on elevating the quality of your mobile videography, a gimbal for your phone is a worthwhile investment. It drastically reduces shaky footage, offering professional-grade stabilization. Especially for content creators, vloggers, or those documenting travels, a gimbal ensures smooth and cinematic shots, enhancing overall production quality. Additionally, with phones increasingly boasting advanced camera capabilities, pairing them with a gimbal allows users to maximize their device’s potential. However, consider the frequency of your shoots and your budget before making a purchase.

What are the disadvantages of a gimbal?

Gimbals, while revolutionary for stabilization, have certain disadvantages. They can be bulky, adding weight to a filmmaker’s equipment load, making prolonged handheld shooting strenuous. Gimbals also require frequent calibration to ensure precise stabilization. This process can be time-consuming, especially for beginners. Battery life is another concern; a drained gimbal becomes non-functional until recharged. Furthermore, over-reliance on gimbals can hinder a cinematographer’s learning of manual stabilization techniques. Lastly, while gimbals have become more affordable, high-quality models can still be a significant investment for some enthusiasts.


I’m a professional photographer with 17 years of experience in a wide range of photography, and over the course of my career I’ve had the opportunity to use a variety of photographic equipment now I would like to share my knowledge with you through this website. I hope Cameraindepth.com becomes the go-to destination when selecting the best gears for any project. Here you can access unbiased reviews and make an informed decision when choosing gears.

Sittha Sathutham Photographer and Writer

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