A beginner's guide to camera stabilizers, gimbals, gyros, and more!
Camera stabilization has come a long way from the traditional counter balanced mass stabilizer. A traditional stabilizer is basically a pole with adjustable weights on the bottom and an adjustable mount at the top for the camera. Counter balanced mass stabilizers have been dropped recently in favor of modern camera stabilizers like the Beholder EC1 and the Zhiyun Crane. A camera stabilizer, like the Crane or the EC1, weigh around 2.2-2.5 pounds including batteries and can be folded/stored in a backpack. These stabilizers support a wide range of cameras/lens, are quick to setup, and can be remotely controlled. The value of a modern camera stabilizer for today’s competitive filmmaker has never been more important.
If you still feel like a noob, don’t worry. OwlDolly.com and GimbalGuru.com bring the best content and information regarding camera stabilizers. Don’t get stuck, get the best in camera stabilizer support from OwlDolly or GimbalGuru. Both OwlDolly and GimbalGuru offer warranty repair, out of warranty service, replacement, from the Los Angeles warehouse. There is no charge for warranty service/repair/parts, the only cost to the customer is shipping. Also check out both OwlDolly and GimbalGuru’s YouTube channels for tutorials, setup videos, test footage, and more.
Tips on Buying a Camera Stabilizer:
Before buying a camera stabilizer, understanding your camera package is important in terms of finding the right gimbal for you. For example, a Sony A6300 with kits lens weighs 520 grams. A Sony A7SII with 16-35 F4 weighs 1,138 grams. Both of these camera packages will work with either the EC1 or the Crane. Depending upon the camera package, accessories like a shotgun microphone can be mounted to the hot shoe of the camera.
In terms of lens choice, a wide lens is recommended. Any lens greater than 35mm will accentuate camera movement and make framing more demanding. Lenses of 24mm and below are recommended to achieve the best results when filming with a camera stabilizer. Lens adapters can be used with either the Crane or the EC1. Note that if the ratio exceeds 1 : 3, camera body mass to lens mass, it is possible the stabilizer will have performance/balancing issues. These performance issues can be possibly fixed with adjustments to PID and counterweighting the camera’s mass to be more equal to the lens’s mass.
Once a camera package is decided upon, the next step is deciding what stabilizer is right for your filming needs. Currently the best camera stabilizers use encoders. An encoder motor, uses a field-oriented control strategy which means the motor can produce an even torque curve and increase battery life up to 6 times. Both the Crane and the EC1 are built with encoders and offer a much better user experience when compared to previous camera stabilizer technology. Also the encoders allow for the stabilizer to be inverted or under slung at any time, without any need to adjust a setting.
The greatest difference between stabilizers like the EC1 and Crane is not the payload but the software each system runs on. The Beholder EC1 and Beholder products run on Simple BGC which offers a great deal of control but the program has a high learning curve. The Zhiyun Crane runs on a company designed software that offers similar function to Simple BGC without the trouble of connecting to a computer. The Crane uses a smartphone app for remote control, firmware updates, and modification of settings. You can't go wrong with either stabilizer in terms of performance.
The features of both the Beholder EC1 and Zhiyun Crane are top of their class. The Beholder EC1 has encoders, 20 hours of battery life, a payload of 5 pounds, point and lock, 4 filming modes, LCD status display, digital joystick, quick release plate compatibility with Manfrotto, Simple BGC, and about 12 inches in length. The Zhiyun Crane has encoders, 6 hours of battery life with two battery sets for a total run time of 12 hours, a payload of 4 pounds, 3 filming modes, analog joystick for greater control over speed of movement, Bluetooth, Bluetooth remote control, smartphone app control/modify/update, and about 16 inches in length.
Paylaod Capacity and Performance:
Does higher payload mean better performance? Nope. The idea that a stabilizer with more muscle will equate to quicker response or higher speed is not a correct assumption of how these systems work. A high payload stabilizer will have motors with greater torque response but not necessarily a faster ability to stabilize. Generally, the strength of the motor can be gaged from the size of the motors. Meaning, more metal equals more muscle.
Where to Buy the Best Camera Stabilizer:
OwlDolly and GimbalGuru offer the best customer support and also the best prices on camera stabilizers without all the extra costs of the bigger retailers. Watch out for rebranded stabilizers sold by vendors like B&H, Adorama, and others. Beholder stabilizers sold under the Ikan brand name are not produced by Ikan but made in China by Team Rebel Design just like our Beholder Stabilizers. Some resellers state that changing internal settings will void the warranty. Customers that purchase from GimbalGuru and OwlDolly are allowed to change/modify PID settings without fear of losing their warranty or support. When it comes to camera stabilizers, customer support is key. For first time users, having an extra bit of help can mean the difference between having a great weekend shoot or total frustration.
Getting Smooth Shoots with a Stabilizer:
Walking correctly to minimize vibrations and camera movement will take practice. A few tips for smoother footage are to wear shoes with soft rubber, walk holding the stabilizer inverted, use your body/arm as a shock absorber, take shorter steps to reduce walking gate, roll your feet while walking, and walk backwards because the body seems to move slower with more control. Just like with weight lifting, body posture/position will result in greater muscle control and smoother operator movement. Sometimes getting a shot will require the use of both hands or reversing the footage in post because it was easier to capture the shot lowering the arm vs raising the arm. To lower fatigue, we recommend using a camera and lens combo that is light such as the A6300 with kit lens. Also we recommend watching Bruce Lee’s “Be Like Water” for inspiration on how to flow like water with your body’s inertia. It’s important to work with your body’s inertia to avoid bobbing and floating camera movements.
Stabilizer supports can help add stability when carrying heavy camera payloads due to added strength of using two hands. Also these supports can function as mounting platforms for external audio recorders, LED lights, and more. A stabilizer support is a great addition to the gear bag but not necessary to access the full potential of a camera stabilizer. Recommended stabilizer supports are the GimbalGuru Stabilizer Support and the Beholder Stabilizer Support. The Beholder EC1 has two 3/8th inch mounts on either side of the handle and a 3/8th inch mount at the bottom of the handle. The Crane can be attached by the ¼ inch mount at the bottom of the handle.
Practicing is Worth the Effort:
Both the Beholder EC1 and Zhiyun Crane offer an intuitive filming experience. For first time users, learning how to move correctly with a stabilizer and control body movement will be a challenge. We recommend practicing with the stabilizer before the big shoot. Your arm is not a jib, nor is your body a tripod, so learning how to control/minimize body movement will take a bit of practice. To get the most out of a camera stabilizer will require a few afternoons of capturing test footage while practicing camera movement, and then later reviewing the footage.
With practice, the EC1 and Crane will give a filmmaker a tool that can imitate the camera movement of a Jib, a Dolly, a Slider, a Steadycam, and more. Capture a wedding, showcase some real estate, chase the lines of a classic car, create a one shot movie, film from the first person view, tell a narrative, vlog, or shoot a skate video! A single handle camera stabilizer can give any level of filmmaker a creative competitive filmmaking edge.