Incorporating a gimbal into your videography can add variety to your shots and help you become a more dynamic filmmaker.
That said, buying a gimbal won’t magically improve your shooting. Like any element of filmmaking, using a gimbal requires forethought.
Much of this forethought comes down to lens selection. As any videographer knows, there are a lot of lens options out there. And each of those lenses will provide a different look and feel to your shots.
So, with this in mind, what lenses should you use with a gimbal? Are some lenses better for gimbals? And which lens should you choose to use on your gimbal?
Choosing a lens for your gimbal is highly subjective. There are no fixed rules and each lens will provide a different style to your shots. That said, a prime lens with a medium focal range of around 28mm or 35mm will be suitable for the majority of filming situations.
Now that you have a sense of what lenses work in most situations, let us take a deeper dive into specific lens selection. We’ll also finish off with a lens combination that will prepare you for 99 percent of shooting scenarios!
Lens Factors To Consider
Lens focal length is the first and most significant choice to make when selecting a gimbal lens.
Focal length essentially defines how much of a scene will be captured — the longer the focal length, the narrower the view and the higher the magnification.
The truth is that there is no “right answer” when it comes to picking a focal length for your gimbal.
From wide to telephoto, there is a use case for each type of lens (we’ll cover each of these use cases more later).
That said, it is important to acknowledge that gimbals are used for smoothing movement. Because of this, it’s safe to say you will usually be using your gimbal to capture some sort of moving shot.
Telephoto lenses, in the 50mm plus range, tend to exaggerate gimbal shake, footsteps, and essentially any movement made by a gimbal operator. So, telephoto lenses are less recommended for use on gimbals.
While there are many situations in which you could use a telephoto lens on a gimbal, a general rule of thumb is to avoid the gimbal-telephoto combination unless you have a reason to use it.
Instead, it is generally smart to opt for a wider lens on your gimbal, say 35mm and wider, especially for beginners. This is because wide lenses help to hide mistakes and provide exaggerated motion blur around the edges of your frame.
That said, going too wide, can exaggerate this effect too much — potentially giving your audience motion sickness.
For most gimbal shooting scenarios, it is safe to stick to something mid-range around 35mm.
Lens aperture should be the next factor you focus on when picking your gimbal lens.
Aperture, also known as the f-stop, can be thought of as how much of your shot is in focus.
The higher your aperture is, the more of your scene will be in focus.
Lower aperture settings do the opposite, creating a shallower depth of field.
When paired with a gimbal, this shallow depth of field can help you capture more cinematic-looking footage.
For example, if you set your lens to a low aperture and move forwards with your gimbal toward a subject, they will start out of focus before being revealed to your audience.
Most lenses’ maximum f-stop is 22. It’s usually the lower apertures that will cost you more.
Many cheap lenses will only go as low as 4 stops, but higher-end lenses can go much lower.
Prime or Zoom
There are two types of lenses: primes and zooms.
Prime lenses are fixed at a certain focal length, while zooms have a range of focal lengths they can be set to.
You might wonder why anyone would pick a prime, but they are actually widely considered to be better for filmmaking, and especially gimbal use.
Zoom lenses are built with more glass. This makes them heavier, longer, and more expensive. Furthermore, on a gimbal, you won’t really be able to use the zoom function of the lens anyway (it is possible, but not generally useful).
The one benefit of a zoom lens is its ability to be set to different focal lengths. This could be a great asset, as you wouldn’t need to bring multiple lenses to a shoot. With a zoom, you could simply bring one lens and set it to the desired focal length.
Personally, I still prefer prime lenses.
Prime lenses are smaller, lighter, and cheaper than zooms. This makes them ideal for gimbal use. Their cheaper price also makes lower apertures more accessible.
Focus comes in two flavours: manual and auto.
Manual focus means you will need to focus on a subject manually, using the lens’s focus wheel.
If your lens has autofocus capabilities and is compatible with your camera, then your camera can automatically detect a subject and tell your lens to focus on it.
Most cameras today have continuous autofocus — meaning your camera will track and focus on subjects using AI while you film.
Lenses with autofocus can be set to manual focus as well.
It may be tempting to use autofocus on a gimbal. In theory, it should make shooting a breeze, right?
Well, in reality, most autofocus technology just isn’t quite “there” yet. If you rely on autofocus for gimbal shooting, you may see “focus-hunting” in your footage. This means your camera was “hunting” for subjects and quickly jumping around, focussing and unfocusing. This obviously isn’t ideal.
I would recommend using manual focus on your gimbal. Simply set your lens to the desired aperture and focus on something a meter or two in front of you. This way, you will focus by physically moving towards or away from your subject.
Another option is to invest in a focus motor. This is a device that attaches to your gimbal and allows you to control the focus wheel of your lens with a gear and motor system.
Weight and Length
Because gimbals rely on perfect balance to operate, the weight and length of your lens are highly important.
Most reasonably sized prime lenses will be no issue for your gimbal as they are typically short and light.
However, zoom lenses and telephoto lenses can be very long and heavy, making them less than ideal for most gimbal use.
While it is possible to use long zoom and telephoto lenses on your gimbal, you may find them cumbersome to shoot with for an extended period of time. If your lens puts too much strain on your gimbal’s motors, it can cause gimbal shake.
Read More: Why Is My Gimbal Shaking? Causes & Solutions
Some lenses include built-in image stabilization.
This technology helps to smooth out your footage by softening your movements in-lens.
While it’s true that gimbals also stabilize your camera’s movements, image stabilization can help to further soften any jitters.
Essentially, the gimbal will be responsible for the bulk of stabilization, especially for large movements. But your lenses’ stabilization can help further reduce shake, jitters and other small movements.
Basically, using in-lens stabilization in combination with a gimbal will result in even smoother footage.
When To Use Each Lens
Lenses in the 35mm and below category can be considered wide.
These lenses show more of the scene.
For gimbals, these lenses are best suited for establishing shots as they provide a wider view of your scene.
Wide lenses also provide exaggerated motion blur around the edges of your frame. This makes them ideal for exaggerating forwards and backwards movement.
Telephoto lenses are lenses that magnify your image to a great degree. These can be considered any lens higher than around 50mm.
These lenses will show less of your scene.
These lenses are not as recommended for gimbal use, in part because they exaggerate any side to side camera movement. This means any jitter is exaggerated on a telephoto.
However, when operated with intention, these lenses can be used to great effect on a gimbal.
This could mean capitalizing on the exaggerated movement by layering your shots and creating a parallax effect.
Or, use you could use a telephoto lens to capture action far away, and simply take great care to not move more than needed.
Any lens around 35mm might be considered a mid-length lens.
The human eye sees around this range, making it quite a pleasing focal length.
With medium-length lenses, you essentially balance out the effects of telephoto lenses and wide lenses.
We recommend a two prime lens shooting kit.
This means a wider main lens for general shooting, as well as a narrower lens for capturing more detailed action.
Here is one possible combination:
A 28mm prime lens makes a great go-to option for general gimbal shooting.
Most 28mm lenses are small, compact, and light.
More importantly, this focal length offers a pleasing focal range similar to a 35mm lens.
However, a 28mm will widen your shot just a little, offering more of the exaggerated motion that looks great with gimbal movement.
Because of these factors, it’s a versatile lens that will be useful in the majority of gimbal shooting scenarios.
A great option for full-frame Sony users is the Sony FE 28mm f/2 Lens.
A great option to pair with a 28 mm lens would be something near a 50mm prime lens.
These lenses can also be found at a compact size, and offer another option for getting tighter, more detailed shots when needed.
While a 50mm or 55mm lens wouldn’t be ideal to use as your main gimbal lens, it’s great in combination with a 28mm thanks to the variety it can bring to your shots.
A great option for full-frame Sony users is the Sony Zeiss FE 55mm F1.8 Lens.
As you can see there is no “right” lens to use on your gimbal.
While gimbals have certain parameters that might impact your choice of lens, you can still get creative and try out unique lens and gimbal combinations.
While I have offered some lens recommendations in this article, I would still highly encourage experimenting to see what works for you.
For example, if you plan to shoot real estate videos, you might find you prefer a wider lens.
Or, say you want to use your gimbal to capture wildlife, you might opt for something a little more telephoto.
The choice is up to you.