Gimbal technology is moving at an incredibly fast pace, and as a result this article will be outdated in a few months. The technology and quality of your gimbal is far more important than what is carrying it, whether that be an aircraft, ground vehicle, or your hands. Think about it: you can take a quality camera gimbal with good stabilization and strap it to the back of your dog — the footage will probably come out great.
In the course of about 24 months, the industry has seen two major developments to camera stabilization. First there were potentiometers, which controlled the voltage current to the servos, and (very slowly) told them which way to turn. While amazing at the time, to look at footage from potentiometer-driven stabilization systems today is quite painful.
Development #1: In winter of 2012, FreeFly Systems (industry manufacturer) announced the launch of a new product called the Radian. Using electronic gyros and accelerometers, the Radian provided nearly instant reaction time to the servos and in turn the stabilization of the camera. The only problem was that it was still a servo-driven system, with belts and pulleys and all the slop that comes with that type of linkage. Another issue was that while announced in early 2012, the Radian didn’t actually hit the public market until September of that year.
Development #2: Enter brushless gimbals in early 2013 – these are stabilized directly by brushless motors and controllers. Brushless motor-driven gimbals offer several attractive advantages over traditional servo-activated systems. Brushless motors are faster to react than servos, they are smoother through their rotation and they are directly connected to the axis they are moving, as opposed to the belt-and-pulley driven servo systems.
Brushless technology has been around for a little over a year, just long enough for most of the major bugs to be worked out and the prices to begin to drop as more companies develop and release new product. However, the technology is still in its infancy, as reinforced by the following disclaimer issued by several on-line retailers:
“Brushless gimbals and controllers are very new to the market and is an emerging technology. You will need some patience and effort to get it to work as seen on youtube. THIS IS NOT A PLUG AND PLAY DEVICE!”
Like all modern stabilization systems, brushless systems rely on advanced gyro and accelerometer data that allow the control board to counteract movement of the gimbal, keeping the camera locked in place and smooth. The camera operator can control the camera through the control board via a transmitter. The early brushless controllers only provided stabilization/control for 2-axis – the pitch (tilt) of the camera and the roll (side to side) axis. Now, stabilization/control of the pan axis is available on the same control board.
So, where do you start looking for a 3-axis brushless gimbal? First off, you need a gimbal/control board that is capable of carrying the camera you want, within your payload limits. Most of the brushless gimbals on the market today are designed around DSLR cameras. Larger cameras require larger brushless motors with enough torque to counter-act the inertia of the camera. Several brushless motor companies have started to make motors designed specifically for gimbals and they are quite unlike flight motors. The control board also needs to be able to handle the power required to move these large motors.
FreeFly Systems has developed a very nice brushless gimbal capable of carrying the RED Epic and other cinema cameras, but the price is at the top of the market ($15K+) and can be a tough pill to swallow knowing how fast new and cheaper products are coming to market. Probably impacting sales, the MoVi had some major delays coming to market, and has not been available until just recently.
Defy makes a cleanly-designed brushless gimbal called the G5, but it is limited to cameras 5 lbs and under until the release of the larger G10, which will be the cinema camera version (sometime in the future…). The G5 also has a lead-time of 10-12 weeks for delivery. Defy also makes a smaller brushless gimbal for small cameras called the G2.
There are other promising products on the market from BeSteady, BrushlessGimbals.com, and Photoship One. In the past we have used a customized 3X Pro HD gimbal from Photoship One, and were quite impressed with the quality of construction and operation. It will be good to see how their new brushless Phoenix gimbals perform.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be providing a detailed review of the F10 Pro brushless gimbal from BrushlessGimbals.com. This model looks to have some good promise with very high tourque motors and cages, and a robust design. Stay tuned for our upcoming review on that.
Now go play!
All photos by Jeremy Swanson
The amount of fun that we have doing our jobs is sometimes ridiculous. Inevitably, we’re in a spectacular location working with teams of passionate and talented people who also love what they do. When everything is clicking on a production, the energy is contagious and people get giddy shooting amazing shots. On some days, everything just falls into place: crew is on time, the transportation is organized, the athletes are ready and pumped, and Mother Nature delivers a very rare and special show.
What most people don’t see is the phenomenal amount of planning, preparation, hard work, editing and pure luck that come into play to make a shoot successful. To give you a glimpse, here’s how a particular day shook out during the filming of INSIGHT, the new short ski film by Vital Films of Aspen, Colorado.
April 10, 2013. The alarm goes off at 3:30 am; way too early for a sane person. Head to the office to load up the gear we prepped the night before. The Colorado high country has been blessed with some late-season storms, but we’re at the end of the line for shooting this segment of the film. The ski lifts close tomorrow. This is it, gotta get it done. The van is packed with gear and we head up the road to meet the crew at the base area for the 5am call time. The snowcat is warmed and ready when we arrive, all set to claw its way up the hill with the entire crew onboard.
About halfway up to our first location, we realize that we are breaking through a snowy cloud layer that was laid down overnight. All of a sudden we are being dazzled by impossible columns of shimmering crystals, hanging frozen in the air and illuminated by the rising sun. We all start to scurry, about 15 of us, readying our gear to start shooting the moment the cat stops.
We jump out of the cat and everyone is scrambling to start laying down B-roll shots of the amazing scene. It’s totally frigid out and fingers go numb quickly, but we just keep rolling. Matt and Cael from Vital Films work on getting tight detail shots of Aidan.
We ready the copter and get in the air as quickly as possible to start getting B-roll of the surreal morning scene.
We are shooting Aidan on a series of huge terrain features, and our position on the hill allows us to follow him with the copter for a solid distance of around 1500’ before flying back up hill. As we flight-track him on the features, we are dropping in elevation which allows us to essentially fly in dive attitude and get some huge speed. Bringing the copter in for a quick battery change.
Here’s a great sequence shot by Jeremy Swanson. Notice the copter in the upper right of the photo.
This was one of those days where everything fell into place. We had a blast working with a talented and passionate crew. Huge props to Jeremy Swanson, Vital Films, Aidan Sheahan, Aspen/Snowmass and all involved. Check out the finished product on Vimeo’s Staff Picks.
The national media ads that you see running for ski resorts right now were primarily all shot last season. Seasonal campaigns often require a lot of advance planning. In March of 2013, we had the good fortune to be a part of the team shooting the national ad campaign for Aspen/Snowmass in Colorado. Our role on the team was as the aerial production crew, and we spent several fun and challenging days working with a large team that included Chase Jarvis, Warren Miller Entertainment, Factory Design Labs, Vital Films, photographer Jeremy Swanson, and the rockin’ Aspen/Snowmass content crew. This team would work hard for days on end, chasing light, snowfall, and skiers all around the Elk Mountains to capture the most breathtaking images possible.
Fast forward six months, and the results of this highly coordinated campaign are beautiful magazine ads, videos, web ads, movie placements, and more. All of these stunning pieces of imagery help to tell a story of a particular organization, and to shed some light on their culture, location, and philosophies. Aspen/ Snowmass has one of the best company cultures around – a highly professional organization, committed to environmental solutions, giving their guests an unforgettable experience, and nestled in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Check out how it all went down in this BTS video from Chase Jarvis and crew: