A gimbal is a pivoted support that allows the rotation of an object about a single axis. A set of three gimbals, one mounted on the other with orthogonal pivot axes, may be used to allow an object mounted on the innermost gimbal to remain independent of the rotation of its support.
While a gimbal can be any support that can pivot around an axis, most gimbal systems look like a series of concentric rings. The outermost ring mounts to a larger surface, like a boat’s instrument panel. The next most massive ring connects to the outermost ring at two points that are perpendicular to the outer ring’s surface mount. Then, the third largest ring mounts to the second largest one at two points perpendicular to the connection between the first and second ring, and so on.
Each ring can pivot around one axis. How is this useful? On its own, it’s just interesting to look at. But by mounting an object to the center of the system, you can make sure the object can face any particular direction at any time.
Well, almost any direction at any time. One problem with gimbal systems is gimbal lock. Gimbal lock occurs when two axes in a three-gimbal system align. When that happens, the object’s movement is limited. An entire range of motion becomes impossible. This is what you see on the right in the above illustration.
Gimbal lock is a serious problem. There are two ways to avoid gimbal lock. One is to adjust the gimbals, either by maneuvering the surface so that the gimbals swing another way or by physically resetting the gimbals themselves. If gimbal lock does occur, the gimbals must be reset to work again. Another solution is to add more gimbals to the system. Adding a fourth gimbal helps eliminate gimbal lock, but it also makes the system bulkier and more complicated. Since most gimbals are part of electronic systems, adding more complexity is not always the best choice.
Handheld 3-axis gimbals are used in stabilization systems designed to give the camera operator the independence of handheld shooting without camera vibration or shake. Powered by three brushless motors, the gimbals can keep the camera level on all axes as the camera operator moves the camera. An inertial measurement unit (IMU) responds to movement and utilizes its three separate motors to stabilize the camera.
With the guidance of algorithms, the stabilizer can notice the difference between deliberate movement such as pans and tracking shots from an unwanted shake. This allows the camera to seem as if it is floating through the air, an effect achieved by a Steadicam in the past. Gimbals can be mounted to cars and other vehicles such as drones, where vibrations or other unexpected movements would make tripods or other camera mounts unacceptable.
9 Best 3-Axis Gimbal Stabilizers (2018)
DJI Ronin-M 3-Axis Gimbal Stabilizer v3 (Best all-around)
Zhiyun Crane v2 (Best for mirrorless, light cameras)
Evo GP 3 (Best for GoPro 3)
GoPro Karma Grip
Zhiyun Smooth-Q (Best value gimbal for smartphones)
Osmo Mobile 2 (Best for smartphones)
Osmo 4k Camera Bundle