The world of videography can be a confusing place. Gear terminology is often thrown around freely — making it difficult for video amateurs to understand exactly what they need to get started.
This confusion is only made worse by the fact that the world of camera tech is full of gadgets that seem to be designed for either the same or very similar purposes. One example of this is stabilizers (often referred to as a Glidecam) and gimbals.
So, in this article, we will first define the difference between stabilizers and gimbals, before helping you figure out which is best for you and your next project.
The key difference between stabilizers and gimbals is that a stabilizer relies on gravity to balance your camera while shooting, whereas a gimbal relies on motors to do the same. Both stabilizers and gimbals are used to stabilize camera footage during movement.
While we’ve explained the basic differences between a stabilizer and a gimbal, there is more to learn in order to accurately decide which is best for your needs. So keep reading as we go into further depth on the differences (and similarities) between stabilizers and gimbals.
What Is A Stabilizer?
Anything that stabilizes a camera could hypothetically be considered a stabilizer, including a gimbal.
However, when discussing camera stabilization, most refer to analog, gravity-reliant camera balancers as stabilizers — while referring to their motorized gimbal counterparts as gimbals to avoid confusion.
Stabilizers are often made from plastic and metal and do not usually contain any electrical components.
Stabilizers operate using weights and gravity to stabilize your camera during filming and movement.
If you have balanced your camera correctly on a stabilizer, you can achieve smooth footage.
Stabilizers are often referred to as “Glidecams.” A Glidecam is a popular brand of stabilizer, though other brands produce essentially identical products.
What Is A Gimbal?
Gimbals are defined as “a mechanism, typically consisting of rings pivoted at right angles, for keeping an instrument such as a compass or chronometer horizontal in a moving vessel or aircraft.”
They are also used in photography and video.
Gimbals use gravity and weight to balance a camera in such a way that allows it to move freely in (often) and direction.
Gimbals are often made from plastic and metal and, depending on the gimbal, may contain electrical components such as servo motors.
GImbals come in all shapes and sizes, depending on their intended use. Photography gimbals are more simplistic and are meant to be placed on a tripod, while video gimbals are often much more complex and designed to be carried or attached to a drone.
Gimbals can range wildly in price, depending on materials, build quality, and brand.
What Are Stabilizers And Gimbals Used For?
The main purpose of both stabilizers and gimbals is to achieve smooth camera footage while filming.
Both devices can help to produce more professional-looking footage by reducing issues like shaky footage and jittery camera movement.
Both stabilizers and gimbals are popular among filmmakers (especially amateur filmmakers) thanks to their accessibility, relative ease of use, and typically lower cost.
Considering both devices are designed to accomplish essentially the same task of stabilizing camera footage, you may be wondering: “Which one should I choose?”
Well, next we dive into the pros and cons of each gadget.
Stabilizer Pros And Cons
- Price: Stabilizers, for the most part, are considerably cheaper than gimbals. Unlike their motorized counterparts, they don’t feature any electronic components to add to their cost. What you are paying for when you purchase a stabilizer is the design and materials.
- Weight Capacity: Stabilizers can typically hold heavier camera setups than gimbals. Some stabilizers are known to feature weight capacities that are almost double that of your average consumer gimbal.
- Panning: Stabilizers are known to achieve beautiful panning motions easily thanks to their design. Gimbals can struggle to achieve the same movement, though an experienced gimbal operator should be able to pull it off with ease.
- Sturdiness: Because stabilizers don’t rely on electronic components, they are considerably less delicate than gimbals. They can be used quite freely without much worry of breaking.
- No Batteries: As there are no electronic components in stabilizers, there are no need for batteries. This gives them a great “grab-and-go” quality that you don’t get from gimbals which often require at least a few hours of charging. Furthermore, there’s no need to worry about running out of power when using a stabilizer!
- Movement: Because stabilizers don’t have motors or a gimbal system to balance, they are less resistant to movement like footsteps. The natural motion of your body when walking with a stabilizer can cause a bobbing movement which is often caught on camera.
- Difficult To Use: Stabilizers are known to be difficult to use, at least for beginners. Don’t get me wrong, gimbals have their own steep learning curve, but in the case of a gimbal, you have a lot more to rely on (like motors).
- Set-Up Time: Stabilizers can take a while to set up, and centring a stabilizer can take a long time to master.
- Smoothness: While it is completely possible to achieve perfect buttery-smooth footage on a stabilizer, they are just simply not as smooth as gimbals.
- Trouble With Longer Lenses: Due to their design, and the time that it takes to recentre a stabilizer, using longer lenses (think 70mm and above) can be a pain. The front-heavy nature of a long lens camera setup can cause issues when balancing your stabilizer and the previously mentioned bobbing motion can be made worse and more apparent.
GImbal Pros And Cons
- Ease Of Use: Gimbals are known for being easy to use right out of the box. Thanks to their AI and motors, they make smooth footage very easy to achieve right away.
- Smoothness: Because gimbals incorporate AI and motors, they are able to achieve smoother footage overall than an analog stabilizer — with the possible exception of certain movements like panning (though we already mentioned an experienced gimbal operator should be able to pan no problem!).
- Set-Up Time: Gimbals use detachable plates, similar to the ones used on tripods and monopods. While you will still need to balance your gimbal before use, these plates cut down on the set-up time significantly.
- Creativity And Fun: Because of their multi-axis design, gimbals allow for all kinds of experimentation. This can include trippy upside-down rotating shots or even seflie, vlogging shots. Stabilizers simply can’t compete on this level.
- Price: Gimbals can be expensive, at least when compared to stabilizers. Because of their components and the complexity of their design, gimbals typically cost far more than other forms of analog stabilization.
- Delicate: GImbals vary greatly in build quality. And it is most certainly a case of “you get what you pay for.” That said, even higher-end gimbals can feel delicate due to their many axes and many technical components.
- Prone To Malfunction: Because they rely on complex electronics, AI, and motors, there is a lot that can go wrong with a gimbal when operating. You shouldn’t run into too many issues if you use your gimbal correctly, but when compared to a stabilizer there is a much higher chance of malfunction.
- Batteries: Thanks to their electronics, gimbals require batteries. These batteries need to be charged and will eventually run out — presenting another factor to consider before going out to shoot.
Which One Should You Choose?
So, now that you know the difference between a stabilizer and a gimbal, which one should you use?
Well, if the price is a factor, I would suggest opting for a stabilizer.
Despite their cons, stabilizers are a great affordable way to up your production quality on a budget.
They are also great for those put off by complicated electronics and the headache of batteries.
However, if the price is no object and you are more tech-minded, a gimbal is hands-down the better option for you.
Gimbals are able to produce better, smoother footage than stabilizers and are overall easier to use. They will also allow you to achieve some breathtaking shots that are simply impossible to get with an analog stabilizer.