Learn why smartphone gimbals are the relatively inexpensive phone accessory that allows you to capture fluid, professional-quality recordings.
As smartphone cameras keep improving, adding more sensors and better lenses every year, they're great choices for aspiring filmmakers. While smartphone cameras are far from perfect, their portable size and proximity make them incredibly practical. Even budget phones like the iPhone SE, Google Pixel 4a, and One Plus 7T are perfect for vlogging, creating social media content, and creating videos on YouTube. For filmmakers on a budget, a smartphone can serve as a rear view camera (or B-Cam) for certain recordings. However, most smartphones, including the high-end smartphones, suffer from shaky footage that ultimately becomes unusable.
Smartphones are not the best choice for capturing footage when the user or subject is moving. Certain phones have image stabilization built in, but this is achieved by cropping the footage and sometimes doesn't look as good. To get stable footage from a smartphone even with sudden, sharp movements, you need a smartphone gimbal. The good thing is that smartphone gimbals are relatively affordable these days. And unlike other smartphone accessories, they are not manufacturer-specific.
What is a gimbal?
Gimbals are great for capturing quick action, but are also useful for stunning time-lapses when attached to a tripod. Image via July Prokopiv.
Gimbals have been around since the 3rd century BC. BC, which preceded the invention of the daguerreotype by more than a dozen centuries. So it's safe to say that gimbals are not a new technology. What is new, however, is the invention and mass availability of motorized 3-axis gimbals, which can keep the cameras stable despite the movement of the user.
A 3-axis gimbal stabilizes the tilting, swiveling and rolling of the camera. The tilt controls the up and down movement, the pan controls the side-to-side movement, and the roller controls the back and forth movement. There are two types of gimbals, but 3-axis smartphone gimbals are motorized and use a tiny motor on each axis to keep the camera stable. There are cheaper 2-axis gimbals out there, but ultimately they're not worth the savings when you consider how much stability a 3-axis gimbal offers.
Smartphone gimbals these days have a variety of functions, such as: B. a joystick to pan and tilt, time-lapse and hyper-lapse modes, subject tracking and much more. Newer smartphone gimbals are cheaper and also have improved battery life. If you already have a smartphone with a decent camera, a smartphone gimbal is the next logical step when it comes to making videos. That is why it is the best smartphone filmmaking accessory.
For vloggers, the gimbal is a must-have to walk and talk at the same time. The gimbal functions both as a selfie stick and as a stabilizer and ensures stable, perfectly framed pictures. If you're looking to start vlogging, I recommend doing this as one of your first upgrades – only after a portable diffuse LED light.
What gimbals to buy
DJI Osmo Mobile 4
Known for its ubiquitous consumer drones, DJI is undoubtedly a giant in the camera gimbal space. This company makes gimbals for phones, smartphones and the Osmo Pocket, a small gimbal with a built-in camera. The original Osmo was a very expensive camera gimbal that required a phone to operate. The Osmo Mobile cut the fat, lowered the price, and brought stabilized footage to anyone with a smartphone. Since then, DJI has not stopped perfecting the Osmo Mobile. They added even more features, improved battery life, and made them more compact and easier to carry around.
I still own the original Osmo Mobile and it still works fine to this day. However, the Osmo Mobile 4 makes a strong case for why I should upgrade. The Osmo Mobile 4 can be folded up when not in use, making every excursion a breeze. I especially like how quickly the phone can be attached using magnets. You can tap the phone on the gimbal and start recording without having to adjust the buttons. You can either stick a magnetic ring holder to your phone, similar to a PopSocket, or a detachable magnetic clip.
There are almost too many features to list. However, you can expect mainstays like ActiveTrack 3.0, Gesture Control, Hyperlapse and Time Lapse, Slow Motion, and so many others. With a battery life of 15 hours, this gimbal can be used all day. It's $ 150, but that's a far cry from the staggering price of the original Osmo Mobile, which was $ 300. While the Osmo Mobile is more expensive than the competition, DJI has been around for a while and has won consumer trust.
Zhiyun Smooth 4
The Zhiyun Smooth 4 is similar to the Osmo Mobile 4 in many ways, but it differs in one big way: it costs only $ 89. It's not as compact as the above, but you can expect most of the same features at a discount. The Smooth 4 offers tracking, slo-mo, hyperlapse and time-lapse as well as a long battery life. However, it also adds some new features.
The PhoneGo mode, which you can switch on at the push of a button on the cardan, releases the full potential of the motors to track even the fastest subjects. The Vertigo Shot is another great feature that changes the size of objects in the background. This creates what is known as the vertigo effect that movie geeks will love.
The Smooth 4 also has a wheel for pulling focus and zooming, which I haven't seen on any other gimbal. The dial is a nice touch and something videographers will appreciate as it allows them to get the right focus every time.
Zhiyun may be a newer name, but they have been providing affordable camera equipment for years. Although they lack the notoriety of DJI, their products are affordable, which makes them worthwhile options for those looking for a quote. The Smooth 4 has a rating of 4.3 from nearly 4,000 reviewers on Amazon alone.
In short, you might want to learn how to pronounce this mark.
Unlike the other two gimbals on this list, the Smooth-X is a 2-axis gimbal that only controls roll and pivot. It's not that impressive mechanically, but you can't beat the price. While smartphone gimbals prices have been falling in recent years, the $ 50 price tag for the Zhiyun Smooth-X is shocking. At such a low price, it's easy to mistake it for a poorly made device, but it has tons of rave reviews. However, the bad reviews on Amazon seem to be due to a compatibility issue. So before buying, please check that your phone is compatible with the gimbal. Here is a handy list.
The $ 50 gimbal is specially designed for vloggers as it can switch from landscape to portrait recording mode with the push of a button. When the gimbal is not in use, it can be folded into a nice, compact shape for easy storage. When used, it is not much larger. The gimbal also has a telescopic handle that extends outward to meet those wide angle vlogging shots. To get the most out of this gimbal, I recommend using the tripod feet for recording videos with your head talking too.
I would love this all to be gimbaled, but the app has some amazing features too. Apart from subject tracking, which is almost a matter of course these days, you can expect gesture control, integrated editing in the app and time-lapse. It also includes what is known as SMART Filmmaking, which offers templates with music and special effects. There is a slow motion recording mode but it is only available to iPhone users at the moment.
The combination of the low price, compact frame, and great features make it a reliable option for vloggers, travelers, and anyone looking to further enhance their smartphone video. Although this third axis is missing, it is still sufficiently stable for most recordings. I don't know what else to say other than that it costs as much as some iPhone cases that mess up my brain.
Why I think gimbals are amazing
I bought my first smartphone gimbal years ago when they showed up at Best Buy. I bought the first Osmo Mobile for $ 300 and have been with me ever since after surviving multiple phone upgrades. The original Osmo Mobile showed promise, but like most new consumer tech products, it was only the first of many on the road to perfection.
At $ 300, it wasn't cheap, the battery life was terrible – it still takes three hours to charge – and it was awkward to carry. An app had to be downloaded and used in order to use the gimbal, which wasn't very good especially for Android users. Regardless of all the cons, I still use it regularly.
I originally bought the Osmo Mobile because a customer asked if I could record his son's soccer game. I knew I had to do it from the stands as they wouldn't let anyone on the sidelines, so it would have looked awful with just a smartphone. It was my very first paid video gig, so I invested in the gimbal and it worked.
Usually, remotely zooming in on a subject with a smartphone results in extremely unstable shots. However, the gimbal fixed this so I was able to capture all of the highlights in smooth 1080p. Since I only had the phone at the time, I also used the DJI GO app to cut the footage. I was happy with it and the customer got a nice video of their kid playing soccer. I'm sure it could have looked better, but I'm glad I just did it with an iPhone and smartphone gimbal nonetheless.
Granted, my original Osmo Mobile is getting longer and longer. But it is still relevant today and will continue to work with every smartphone I get in the future.
Gimbals and smartphones: the perfect pair
Whether you're spending the day on the beach, ice skating with your friends, or going on a trip, it's always a good idea to bring a gimbal. Due to the extended battery life and the ever smaller footprint, it's not much of a hassle to bring one with you. Smartphone gimbals add quality to every shot and they're especially worth it when a smartphone camera can't cope with the shaking and sudden movements of everyday life.
Though smartphone cameras have come a long way, they still can't stand the smoothness of a gimbal and are so affordable now. If you're serious about filmmaking and videography, a smartphone gimbal is a smart first purchase to get you started. Solid gear won't make you successful on its own, but it will complement your skills and bring out your best creativity.
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Cover picture about Juli Prokopiv.