What is a gimbal, anyway?
Think about the head of a chicken. When you hold a chicken tight and move its body around, its head stays perfectly straight. That’s what a three-axis gimbal does for your camera—it holds that camera still while you move around. People have described and use gimbals for thousands of years for many purposes, including as ink pots, incense burners, and more. A gimbal for a video camera is set on three axes that move in different directions, so your shot doesn’t suffer while you and your camera move around. When you know how a three-axis gimbal works, your working knowledge will help you put it together and set it up when you’re ready to shoot. Take a look at these tips for positioning a 3-axis gimbal and keep them in mind next time you set up your shoot. You’ll be prepared for any kind of movement.
Anatomy of a Gimbal
First, let’s look at how a gimbal works. What are the eponymous three axes that help it move so smoothly?
The first axis is called the “roll.” It sits just behind your camera and helps you roll it around in a circle. If you’re aiming for a spinning shot like the famous falling nightmare in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the roll axis will help you turn that camera round and round.
The second axis is called the “tilt.” This piece sits just to the side of your camera and allows you to tilt the camera up and down vertically. Tilt up for a majestic shot of the sky, and tilt down to show a person’s feet walking.
The third and final axis is called the “pan.” This small circular piece sits underneath your camera and helps it move back and forth, from side to side. It’s called a pan because it helps you pan back and forth between people or settings. The pan axis is attached to an arm that you hold in your hand to shoot while the three axes do the rest of the work for you.
When these three axes work together, they offer superior camera stability for movement-heavy scenes. When you lock one or two of the axes, the system allows you to maneuver a single one at a time. You’ll be able to pan from side to side without tilting, and you’ll be able to roll the camera round and round without wobbling.
Balance the Tilt
When you balance your camera, make sure the gimbal is turned off before you do any tinkering. Ensure that the camera is tightly and securely attached to the mounting plate at the bottom of your gimbal. For extra stability, have a tripod on hand. When you balance any axis on your gimbal, balance it as close to the motor as possible. Think of the motor as your center of gravity.
Once you’ve affixed your camera to the mounting plate (usually with a special mounting screw), make sure it’s tightly attached to the tilt axis. Then, let go of your camera and see if and how it flops. If it flops forward, it’s front-heavy, which often happens due to the weight of the lens. If it flops backward, it’s a little back heavy. Take some time to fiddle with those mounting screws and balance the camera. If you’re having some difficulty with it, move the tilt bracket up or down until the camera doesn’t flop anymore. Test it by pointing the camera straight up, with the lens pointing to the ceiling. If it doesn’t flop around at all, your balance is golden!
Balance the Roll
Once you’re sure your camera won’t flop backward or forward, it’s time to test the roll axis. Tilt it to the left and right and adjust as necessary. Once you’ve tinkered with your 3-axis camera gimbal and gotten to know its components, this part will be easy.
Get used to adjusting the camera. If your camera falls to the left when you let it go, adjust your roll arm to the right and vice versa. As you get closer to the perfect balance, the adjustments you’ll need to make will get smaller. With enough practice, you’ll become a pro at micro-adjustments.
With the gimbal’s power still turned off, test the camera’s balance and make sure it stays still. Then, turn the power on to watch it in action!
Balance the Pan
Because the pan axis is at the bottom of your camera and affixed to a pan arm, you’ll need to unlock the axis and loosen that pan motor. Make sure you’ve turned off the gimbal to avoid wasting battery power.
Hold on to that pan arm below your camera and tilt it forward. (You should already have your tilt and roll axes balanced when you do this.) While it’s tilted forward, make sure the pan arm stands parallel to your body, perpendicular to the floor.
Now, make some adjustments again. If the camera rotates to the left, adjust the pan axis to the right and vice versa. Once you’ve done all the adjustments you need, tighten the pan axis to keep it that way.
Tilt your camera up and down, round and round, and side to side. If the camera is still and balanced from all angles, your gimbal is ready to go! To use all three axes while you shoot, make sure all three are unlocked before you turn the gimbal back on. If you want to capture specific types of shots with the help of a gimbal, lock one or two of the axes.
To keep your camera from wobbling while you execute complicated shots, affix it to a gimbal and take advantage of all three of its axes to keep you steady. Glide Gear offers a variety of 3-axis camera gimbals to add production value to your video or feature film. Next time you feel a little wobbly on your feet at a shoot, consider investing in this handy piece of equipment to keep you steady. Remember these tips for positioning a 3-axis gimbal as you set your new gimbal up for the first time. With time and practice, you’ll become a master of balance.