Unintentional bumps and how to avoid them: The “ups and downs” of Gimbal and Steadicam

From small vibrations and vertical movements to sudden shocks and concussions: There are several possibilities to smoothen your video shots. Gimbal and Steadicam – which one is the right for you?

Let’s be honest: Movies without camera movement tend to be boring. However, many filmmakers hesitate to use camera movements: They cause inevitable vibrations during the shoot, especially when filming free-handed.

Clever engineers have developed solutions for smoothening unintentional movements. Two of the more sophisticated systems are called Gimbal and Steadicam – but how do they work and what are pros and cons? And which one should you use for your movie projects?

Gimbal: Handy and affordable

The Gimbal is a comparably small and light solution: The camera is mounted on a stick, and the magic happens in the pivot that links this stick with the camera. Small electrical motors will automatically balance the camera in all horizontal axes.

This makes the Gimbal a relatively easy-to-use, out-of-the-box and reliable equipment that can be used almost instantly with a maximum of freedom. It smoothens out most of your unintentional movements when following your protagonists by foot or walking through your scenery.

Is the Gimbal the right choice for me?

Even though Gimbal is a clever and compact solution, it requires a little exercise to get used to – it is easy to learn, but hard to master. Gimbal is also definitely the solution which provides more freedom, thanks to its compact design. Last but not least, Gimbal is on the smaller side of the budget, starting at about 150 USD.

However, there is one big downside: Gimbal does not smooth out bigger vertical movements. Walking will still result in swinging shoots. This is where Steadicams come in …

Steadicam: The allrounder

Whereas the Gimbal can be held in one hand, Steadicam solutions are literally all-embracing: The camera is mounted on a flexible, counter-balanced arm with electrical motors which automatically smoothens any movement along the vertical and the horizontal axes to a maximum. Just as in an office lamp, springs reinforce the steadiness. Walking, turning and any sudden movement is compensated, even climbing stairs results in a nice and steady flow.

However, physical and financial investment are considerable:

  • The Steadicam is buckled on the torso, therefore the weight on the entire solution including the camera will rest on the spine of the cameraman.
  • Steadicam solutions are expensive. They start at around 400 Dollars.
  • Compared to the compact grip of a Gimbal, the transportation of a Steadicam can be quite a hassle.

When to use a Steadicam

The Steadicam is THE ultimate solution in situations where dolly, crane or drone cannot be used. Using a Steadicam will result in smooth and stable tracking shots across uneven grounds – something that dollies simply cannot provide.

However, the sheer size of a Steadicam will prevent you from using it in smaller spaces. And be aware that the usage of a Steadicam needs quite some experience and know-how in handling – as well as some muscles.

There is no winner, just the right choice

A comparison of Steadicam and Gimbal is like comparing apples and oranges. Both are solutions for the same problem – but they are completely different in features, price, size and handling.

For most filmmakers, a Gimbal will be the right choice in almost every situation. Its accessible and flexible usage will make their videos instantly better. Directors with ambitious high-profile projects might want to have a look at the near-perfect ironing of the Steadicam – however they should have in mind that they not only need the equipment, but also an experienced and strong person to take advantage of it. Luckily, there are Steadicam-seasoned cameramen for rent in most major cities across the US.

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