Using A Zoom Lens On A Gimbal: Everything You Need To Know

by | Stabilization

Zoom lenses (aka telephoto lenses) are popular among photographers because of their range and adaptability. These types of lenses are also popular for economic reasons.

While a zoom lens may not cost less than a prime lens (in fact they are often more expensive due to the extra glass used in their design) they give photographers the ability to take a variety of shots with only one lens.

This means photographers don’t need to purchase or carry around a range of prime lenses in order to adapt to any situation.

They are also often included as a kit lens when purchasing a camera package for these very same reasons.

This is all very well and good for photographers, but what about videographers? And more specifically videographers using gimbals?

Perhaps you are transitioning from photography and only own a zoom lens. Or perhaps you have just purchased your first camera and it came with a zoom kit lens. Well, in this article we will examine whether or not you can use your zoom lens with a gimbal.

The short answer is yes, it is possible to use a zoom/telephoto lens with a gimbal. However, using prime lenses on gimbals is usually more recommended because prime lenses cannot extend or shift their centre of balance — something which can unbalance a gimbal.

Keep reading for details on using your zoom lens with a gimbal, and whether it or not it is a good idea to do so.

Should You Use A Zoom/Telephoto Lens On A Gimbal?

There is no practical reason to not use a zoom lens on a gimbal. If your zoom lens physically fits on your gimbal without exceeding your gimbals weight allowance, then, by all means, use a zoom lens on your gimbal.

But this doesn’t mean that using a zoom on a gimbal is optimal or the best choice.

Prime lenses are better for video thanks to their (usually) lower apertures and lightweight designs — making them a better choice for both filmmaking in general and gimbal use.

While it’s possible you could hypothetically get away with using the zoom function of your zoom lens while operating a gimbal, it’s not recommended.

First of all, shifting using your lenses zoom function while filming on a gimbal will likely result in camera shake and bad footage.

Secondly, this would shift your camera setup’s centre of gravity, causing your gimbal to become unbalanced. As we will touch on later, you can readjust your zoom lens’ length on a gimbal, it just requires rebalancing your gimbal afterwards.

With these potential issues in mind, it is still possible to use a zoom lens on a gimbal. Just make sure to follow the steps below and select the right type of zoom lens for your gimbal.

Best Type Of Zoom/Telephoto Lens To Use On A Gimbal

Internal Zoom Vs. External Zoom

Not all zoom lenses are created equally.

Because of the huge number of zoom lenses that exist, some will work far better on a gimbal than others.

The first way to categorize zoom lenses is whether a lens has internal zoom or external zoom.

Think of a lens with an external zoom like a classic telescope — you know, the ones that pirates use in old movies?

These lenses zoom by extending outwards — changing the shape and length of the lens as they zoom further in. These lenses are often far cheaper than internal zoom lenses.

External zoom lenses are often longer and bigger than internal zoom lenses. This is because they house the entire zoom mechanism inside of a shell. This makes them bulkier, but also sturdier. Internal zoom lenses are often much more expensive than external zoom lenses.

While it may seem like an internal zoom lens would be more suited to a gimbal, both lenses may be similar in their gimbal capability. This is because while an internal zoom lens may not change shape, its centre of gravity still shifts internally when adjusted — you just can’t see it.

That said, it is possible that the internal mechanism of internal zoom lenses weigh less than the full external mechanism of external zoom lenses. Therefore shifting less weight around when zooming in.

If this confuses you, don’t worry, either option could work on a gimbal.

Weight And Size

Whether internal zoom or external zoom, both types of lenses come in a range of weights and sizes.

Because of the nature of zoom lenses, many of these options may be longer than prime lenses.

Zoom lenses also use more glass than prime lenses, making them heavier as well.

With this in mind, it may be wise to pick a smaller and more compact zoom lens for your gimbal.

While you can always weigh your zoom lens and camera setup to ensure it does not exceed the weight capacity of your gimbal, the size of the zoom lens may still present problems.

Zoom lenses with longer lenses may shift your camera setups centre of gravity too far forward. This in turn places too much strain on your gimbals motors.

This said it is often possible to shift your camera backwards on your gimbal. This can compensate for extra lens weight. But keep these issues in mind if you are set on using a very long zoom lens.

Read More: How Much Weight Can Gimbals Carry? Payloads Explained

Focal Range

There is no “right” answer to the question of what focal range of zoom lens is best for a gimbal.

While keeping in mind the issues that can arise around the size and weight of lenses (bigger focal ranges can result in bigger, heavier lenses), the focal length of zoom you choose to use with your gimbal largely comes down to personal preference.

That said, using something like a 24mm-70mm could give you a nice range of options without the need to switch lenses.

Want to shoot wide to capture the room? Zoom out to 24mm and balance your gimbal.

Want to zoom in and capture the detail of someone’s face? Zoom in to 50mm or 70mm and rebalance your gimbal.

How To Use A Zoom/Telephoto Lens On A Gimbal

Using a zoom lens on a gimbal is all about balance.

  1. Start by setting up the camera with everything that will be used during filming. This could include your camera, zoom lens, lens filters, and microphone (don’t forget the battery!).
  2. Set your zoom lens to the focal length you want to film with. While you may be able to balance your gimbal with your zoom lens set to any length, it is recommended to set your zoom lens to a mid-length (think 50mm on a 24mm-70mm).
  3. If your camera is front heavy causing your gimbal to droop forwards, shift your camera setup backwards in order to compensate.
  4. Proceed to balance the camera as you normally would with a prime lens.
  5. Your zoom lens camera setup should now be ready to shoot with.
  6. If you decide to readjust your zoom lens, make sure to follow steps two and three again.

Bottom Line

It’s true there could be a few benefits to using a zoom lens on a gimbal.

These include the ability to shift the focal length of your shot without changing lenses as well as the money saves by not purchasing multiple prime lenses.

However, if money is not a factor, then collecting two or three prime lenses at different focal lengths is likely a better call.

Prime lenses are better for video thanks to their (usually) lower apertures and lightweight designs — making them a better choice for both filmmaking in general and gimbal use.

New To Gimbals?

With so much to learn, mastering your new gimbal can be hard. Get started with our in-depth beginner guide to gimbal filmmaking.