Video Production Technology: Tripods vs Gimbals

Kevin
Camera Technology Production Uncategorised
video-production-technology-tripods-vs-gimbals

Video Production Technology: Tripods vs Gimbals

Kevin
Camera Technology Production Uncategorised

Gimbal Video Production, will it replace the tripod?

DJI Ronin M in operation.

 

As a company that provides gimbal video production, we have seen the rise in popularity of gimbals first-hand. But could this device be considered as revolutionary to filmmaking as the humble tripod was?

Many video producers can point to the tripod as the tool that set them on the path to serious filmmaking. Regardless of camera or lens or codec, a properly-used, good-quality fluid head and legs can be the defining line between a professional-looking piece and an amateur one. Once video producers learn this, many of us never leave home without one. Now however, the tripod is no longer alone on this pedestal.

Tripod affordability made unintentionally shaky video unacceptable. Increasing user-friendliness and expansion of gimbals into most budget sizes has made smooth, dynamic camera movement a necessary offering for any production. 

From Steadicam to Gimbals – How We Got Here

The brushless 3-axis gimbals we know today are a natural extension of the Steadicam, itself a relatively new addition to the filmmaking landscape. American cinematographer Garrett Brown first came up with the idea of the Steadicam in the early 1970’s, but it wasn’t until the end of that decade that its implementation would be fully realised.

 

Examples

Films like Bound for Glory, Rocky and The Shining cemented the Steadicam’s place in cinema history, untethering cameras from the tripods, tracks, or cranes they had been previously bound to. Most importantly, the Steadicam allowed video producers to begin thinking of camera movement in a different way.

Cinematic Video Marketing with DJI Ronin 2
DJI Ronin 2

But before moving to motorised gimbals, let’s rewind a little bit. The concept of a gimbal isn’t new at all. In fact, it’s over a thousand years old. The Ancient Greeks conceived it for pottery while Chinese inventors came up with a similar design for burning incense. Since then, gimbals have been used throughout history, from early navigation systems to rocket engines.

DJI Ronin 2 in operation.

2013 is when everything changed. The MoVi M5 and M10 made brushless motorised gimbals a reality and were announced to much excitement. For the first time, video producers were given access to beautiful Steadicam shots at a reduced price and with less required expertise, but MoVi was only the beginning. Rival companies began offering even less expensive gimbals in the MoVi mold. Most notably, DJI released the Ronin line, which has become the other dominant force in the gimbal video production industry.

We invested in a Ronin 2 last year and immediately took it out for a test run! The result is in the below video.

For the test, we mounted a RED Epic-W 8K with a RED Pro Prime Cinema lens and asked our production assistant to walk around in the car park. Our Camera operator lifted the nearly 15 kilograms of equipment to shoot this short sequence. Normally you would expect a lot of shake when you are filming with all of that weight and walking around. But just look how smooth this footage is.

We liked it so much, we utilised it in a video for one of our clients.

 

Droning On

All of these changes are propelled by the emergence of drones, which also use gimbal video production technology for stabilisation. Within two years of the MoVi announcement, video producers were offered truly inexpensive gimbal video production options such as the DJI Osmo. Gimbal video production was now available to video producers of every budget, making it hard to avoid seeing video content that didn’t employ a gimbal in some way. From commercials to YouTube videos, the saturation of gimbals in the video market has put a premium on smooth camera movement. Even vloggers are taking advantage of being able to walk, talk and film simultaneously.


DJI Osmo

We’ve seen the skyrocketing of gimbal use first-hand. The freedom gimbal video production have given video producers in just a few short years is amazing. There is, however, a learning curve. Yes, gimbals are easier to operate than a Steadicam, but balancing a MoVi or a Ronin takes time and practice.

What Do We Do Now?

Gimbal shots are all the rage. Why wouldn’t they be? Anyone paying for video work can see what smooth movement can bring to a project. This isn’t nuanced like colour science. A good gimbal shot can be flashy in a way that makes someone pause from their social media scrolling. In today’s video-driven world, that’s worth real money. On the filmmaker’s end, gimbals can be a less-expensive way to add real production value to a limited budget. The benefits are universal.

What about my tripod?

When we say that gimbals are the new tripod, we don’t mean that they’re a replacement. Like tripods, gimbals are becoming a mandatory item for video producers to be familiar with and know how to use. Also like tripods, they offer a fairly easy learning curve and don’t require the kind of specialisation their Steadicam counterparts did.

Finally, and most importantly, both gimbals and tripods come at such a wide price range that video producers can evolve with them. A filmmaker might start with a cheaper tripod to learn framing and basic camera movement. They then advance to a high end broadcast tripod for the smoothest, most perfectly-timed shots. A filmmaker beginning on an Osmo today could be ready for a MoVi in a year or so.


Zhiyun Crane – a popular one-handed gimbal

“Your Scientists Were So Preoccupied With Whether Or Not They Could, They Didn’t Stop To Think If They Should”

It’s also worth mentioning that, again like tripods, just because we can gimbal the hell out of a shoot doesn’t mean we should. The market is already saturated with the gimbal look, so video producers still have to be competent in a range of disciplines. Camera motion for camera motion’s sake is ineffective, and there’s an abundance of it out there. This is similar to the shallow depth of field craze when the Canon 5D MKII’s video mode arrived, where everything was shot wide open.  Sufficient pre-production is required to know when motion is needed and when it isn’t.

Are gimbals necessary for every shoot? Absolutely not. Neither are tripods, technically, but most video producers will tell you they’ve kept one with them even when they didn’t plan to use it. For video producers trying to capture attention in the scrolling world of social media video, or those trying to attract bigger clients with something impressive, a gimbal is not only a necessary piece of gear to have access to, but to master.

What does the future hold for Gimbal Video Production?

Conversely, maybe you could argue that gimbals have become a style – and styles fade, don’t they?

Yes, gimbal video production offers affordable solutions to the type of camera movement video producers have wanted to make for a century. Those movements, however, aren’t often as nuanced as the movements made on a tripod or slider. Gimbal smoothness is instantly identifiable in the finished product. A gimbal shot almost always makes the camera appear to float, relies on a wide-angle lens to make focusing easier and often features low or high angles that gimbals have unique access to. In other words, gimbal shots have a look. If that look doesn’t change, isn’t refined or doesn’t develop over time, the gimbal shot could face the same fate as the 70’s zoom, rarely seen today due to its dated affect. If that’s the case, then gimbals aren’t necessary, they are a luxury, one we perhaps shouldn’t be overly excited to embrace.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, though, we don’t think this is the case. Gimbals can be used subtly, and their usefulness as a potential time-saver means they’re here to stay. The Steadicam certainly didn’t peak in 1983, and it’s doubtful that gimbals will peak now. On the contrary, the technology is still only developing, something that is plain to see with the likes of the Ronin 2 and MōVI Pro, kit that is really pushing the technological boundaries.

 

 

 

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