Film producers in the past typically employed very expensive Dollys or Steadicams that use physical moving parts to keep things steady. These tools aren’t computer assisted, so they require the operator to be highly skilled in using them.
How it works
Gimbals are a more recent ‘digital’ kind of miniature stabilizer. They have their very own little brain and use sophisticated motion detecting abilities to essentially differentiate between the videographer’s intentional movements and unwanted camera shake.
Let’s consider your phone for a minute. It most likely has accelerometers and gyroscopes built-in which enables it to sense when you’ve flipped the screen or lifted it off the table.
A gimbal also has all that sensing capability PLUS some moving pivots and a camera mount. By utilizing quiet (obviously you don’t want the sound of motors being picked up by the mic!) brushless motors that make micro-adjustments to the arms, the mounted camera can be completely steady.
A gimbal is a platform that can rotate along at least one axis. An image often associated with the gimbal is that of three concentric circles connected to each other perpendicularly at two points. The whole setup is mounted on a base similar to a boat’s instrument panel.
One axis is in charge of counteracting the up and down movement or the tilt, also called yaw. The other one is for the side to side motion or the pan, otherwise known as pitch. And lastly, you have one for the front and back shift or the roll.
When you mount an object at the center of the system, the object maintains a level position however you maneuver the base. So, how does it stay unperturbed, balanced, and upright? The secret lies in the axes! They move around to counteract external movements to keep the center at a level position.
A normal bowl, for example, will spill its contents if you tilt it at a certain angle. Turn it over, and you can expect everything inside to fall on the floor.
But if you integrate a gimbal system into this bowl, then it remains at an upright position, regardless of how you are holding the base of the gimbal or its outer circle. The bowl’s roll, pitch, and yaw axes make instant adjustments to counter shake, jolts, and other movements. Thus, the content inside the bowl is not spilled.
Gimbals in a camera stabilizer make use of a complex system of electronics, sensors, and motors. Nevertheless, the aim is the same—to cancel out external motion. This is to provide a stable platform for the camera.
Basically, if you have a 3-axis gimbal, then you’ll find a motor placed on the three different axes around the camera. As the sensors detect bumps, shakes, and jolts on these axes, electric brushless motors work almost instantly to counteract these movements. And in the midst of all these activities, the camera keeps a level head in relation to a particular direction.
This technology is a great leap from traditional camera stabilizers that rely on counterweights to balance and provide you with smoother transitions or movements.