Thread: Steadicam vs. Gimble

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  1. #1 Steadicam vs. Gimbal 
    Senior Member Tomas Stacewicz's Avatar
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    For the last week or so I have done a lot of research (in particular on YouTube) regarding the pros and cons of steadicams (as in the cheapo knock-offs from China that don't require a west) versus gimbals (3-axis electronic stabilisers). During this research I have searched for affordable alternatives, and the one model that has come forward as a very attractive alternative is the Zhiyun Crane v2, put against my favorite amongst affordable and high quality steadicams, the Laing P-04S. I don't own any of these models, and thus only can rely on second hand sources. I have never worked or held a gimbal in my hand. But I have some breif experience of a very cheap steadicam, the FlyCam HD-3000 (a knock-off of the GlideCam knock-off of SteadiCam). The FlyCam didn't work well with my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and lens combo, and I didn't particularlity like that model, but I got a first hand sense of the potential and challanges of steadicam operation, as can bee seen in this clip.

    I have searched the forum for a similar tread, but the only one I did come across dealt with the URSA Mini. My needs are towards the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, i.e. a lightweight solution of stabiliser system. Although my own research revolves around the Laing and Zhiyun, this thread rather addresses the subject from a more general standpoint, not to these particular brands per se. However, the requirement is a small and lightweight cinema camera (such as the BMPCC or BMMCC). Also, I want to address the most affordable alternatives, i.e. bang-for-the-buck solutions that offer cheap alternatives of high quality prosumer models. Hence my personal choice of the Laing P-04S (which is considered by many to be a better stedicam than the cheaper GlideCam models) and Zhiyun Crane (which seems to be optimized for the BMPCC and BMMCC amongst the BMD cameras).

    Please don't bring the Ronin M or any other hight-end professional model of a gimbal to this discussion, as that would require it to be measured against the brand SteadiCam and such industry standard stabilisers used since the 1970s, raising the price beyond my means. What I want is realistic, workable and affordable solutions for indie filmmakers on a shoe string budget, well below the 1K budget limit.

    I was on the verge to abandon the Laing steadicam for the Zhiyun gimbal, but doing some more research between steadicam and gimbal reviews and footage, I'm not so shure anymore, having returned back to the steadicam camp again, at least for now. I'm interested in hearing your own personal views on this matter, in particular if you have a first hand knowledge of the subject.

    In the following list the pros of one system often becomes the cons of the other competative one (with a few exceptions); the pros and cons are addressed in relation to one stabiliser system against the other. My own conclusions (and personal opinions) are the following:

    Steadicam

    Laing P-04.jpg

    Pros:
    • A lot cheaper and thus more affordable alternative
    • Handles vertical stability much better, in particular when walking and running
    • Immediate "hands on" control over the camera, in particular when following a subject
    • Handles heavy weights better, up to 15 kg, making it possible to use a full rig with cage, follow focus and mattebox, as well as heavier zoom lens and mic
    • Not as sensitive to touch on the camera or lens, making focus pulling easier (although not optimal)
    • Easy to balance, generally
    • No motors that may create unwanted sound picked up by the mic mounted on the camera
    • No batteries required - all mechanical; unlimited operation
    • Simple design with no electonics that withstands hard handling and doesn't break easily in the field, and is weather proof
    • Robust materias using aluminum alloys and carbon fibre
    • Versatile, manual operation for panning, tilting, duch angling and inverted mode; simply pull or push with your left hand where you want it
    • Possible to use with a stabilising west, making it a true stedicam, although raising the total price and making it equal to that of the gimbal
    • Doesn't age and becomie obsolete, as the technology hasn't changed dramatically over the last decades; established tech
    • More organic or analog feel to the motions


    Cons:
    • Heavier and thus more straining to the arm
    • Not as portable, equivalent of a tripod, and with a west attached not portable at all
    • Large, unwieldy and difficult to use in cramped conditions and with ankward arm and body positions
    • Doesn't handle horisontal stability that well, requiring lots of technique, although an arm brace wrist support might help a lot, and a west perhaps work around it fully
    • Requires lots of training and experience to master fully, especially to stabilise horisontally


    Gimbal

    zhiyun-crane-v2-5e5.jpg

    Pros:
    • Handles horisontal stability much better
    • Quite easy to balance
    • Robust materias using aluminum alloys
    • Versatile, electonic operation for panning, tilting, duch angling and inverted mode, creating smooth movements
    • Possible to operate by remote
    • Lighter and thus less straining to the arm
    • Portable, equivalent of a monopod, and ideal for run-and-gun situations
    • Small, wieldy and optimal to use in cramped situations, and easier to use with ankward arm and body positions
    • Possible to mount on a tripod, monopod, slider, boom or crane
    • Easier to master; ideal for amateurs
    • Possible to use with a additional dual handle attachement (resembling the Ronin), raising the price further and almost hitting the 1K limit


    Cons:
    • More expensive and thus less affordable alternative
    • A weight limit of 1.8 kg, limiting the camera configuration to a light weight prime or small zoom lens, and with no additional follow focus or mattebox
    • Sensitive to direct touch, creating jitter as the motors start to compensate and overreact, making focus pulling impossible
    • Indirect control over the camera which lessens the control over the pans and tilts, creating delays, and electronic feeling of detachement from the talent or object of filming (in a similar way that a servo steering system detaches the driver from the road)
    • Motors that may create a distracting sound, especially when strained under heavy loads
    • Batteries required which limits the operationality (however, usually up to 5 or 6 hours)
    • Compex design with electonics that are susceptile to damaging with hard handling, vulnerable to mishaps, and less weather proof
    • A technology that easily becomes obsolete with new and more advanced models and more complex software; new tech that needs further development
    • More "robotic" or digital feel to the movements


    Please comment, confirm, refute, add, remove, refine, etc.
    Last edited by Tomas Stacewicz; 05-22-2017 at 02:29 AM. Reason: Typo editing
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  2. #2  
    Senior Member shijan's Avatar
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    +1 for steadycam

    The main cons for me is straining to the arm. Brace wrist support might help but i don't try it. Spring arm makes things perfect but people probably will afraid you in the street
    Requires training but actually you can learn basics and feel the gear in few days.
    Try to get one with fine adjustable plate (not simple arca swiss clamp). This saves you tons of time when setting up things. Foldable weights is nice option, i plane to modify my in this way. Wondlan MAG205 or similar clones is nice inexpensive option. There are also smaller foldable steadicams they probably work with something like Blackmagic Pocket without cage.

    Gimbals probably work better when you just need to point the camera in front and walk.
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  3. #3  
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    Another +1 for steadicam.

    I have no experience with gimbals so I can only comment on my use of the Laing steadicam I used. First things first, the arm brace is useless. You need the vest. Period. Even with a light load, your arm will tire out and doing multiple takes will destroy you. That will ruin any chances of consistently repeating a shot. I also have to recommend a version with a monitor on the bottom sled (or at least figure out a way to rig one to the bottom). It's there on the real steadicam for a reason: it works. It's necessary for comfortable operation and proper balance.

    Speaking of balance, yes, balancing a steadicam is easy if you know what to look for, but it does take time and proper attention to detail to know what you're doing. Static balance is easy, this doesn't mean the system is stable. You need proper dynamic balance as well, otherwise you'll be fighting the stabilizer more than working with it, resulting in wobbly shots and an unstable horizon. This video on YouTube explains it best.

    As you mentioned, you have tactile control over all aspects of the camera. You can instantly choose when and how fast to pan, and can gently feather the rotation as needed. You can instantly whip pan 180 degrees on cue, landing the perfect shot (With practice). This requires a high quality steadicam, though, so expect to do more takes on a knockoff system.

    Finally, you need practice with a steadicam system. There are old training videos on YouTube you should watch. I would recommend trying out the various exercises in your free time if you chose this setup. No, you won't master it in a couple days (Why do you think real Steadicam operators get paid so much?), but you can absolutely get usable shots if you put in the effort. The key thing to learn about this is keeping a proper, comfortable grip and having a feather light touch with the pan. Every little thing will affect the balance and position of the camera, but once balanced right and with the right technique, you can make it do whatever you want.

    One thing that you'll need, regardless of which system you choose, is a wireless follow focus of some sort. Otherwise all of your shots will have to be following the subject at a fixed distance to the camera (Which is fine. I did this too, for a time).
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  4. #4  
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    +1 steadicam... But
    1. You need a vest with arm.
    2. Will have to learn how to use it. It has a learning curve.

    I have a glidecam but not the vest. I borrow my friend's vest when I need too but also used it without the vest. The latter just does not do any good so I want to get a vest that is not as expensive as the Steadicam vest. Flycam has a vest but I have not research if I can put the Glidecam on a Flycam arm and vest. Wondering now if anyone have tried this.
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  5. #5  
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    I like my Zhiyun Crane – but for a light camera.

    I own the Zhiyun Crane now and I've used off-brand Steadicams before. I can only say that this gimbal is finally one that works out of the box and is really easy to operate. You can operate it with one hand, but not all day. The movements don't need to look robotic, but you need to train like with any tool.

    Any steadicam that can carry more than the Zhiyun would need a vest or you would tire very soon.
    Last edited by Nomad; 05-22-2017 at 08:07 PM.
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  6. #6  
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    Gimbals are not there yet. The movement they produce isn't quite natural and smooth, especially when making pans with joystick buttons.
    Robotic is the word.
    I hope at least in 2020 we will see a better gimbals with a truly smooth motion.
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  7. #7  
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    Have both.
    Set up time is faster with the ZC, batteries aren't an issue with the ZC - one set lasts all day.
    If you're just looking to use it on shoots for alternative shots, no vest and heavy rigging, then the gimbal is great.

    I use one BMPCC with a Rok 12mm as a "permanent" ZC camera. It's already balanced and with a couple of quick tweaks you're off and running.
    And can't agree with previous post - gimbals are definitely "there yet", but like all creative toools you have to learn to use it well.
    Last edited by jimagine; 05-22-2017 at 03:52 PM.
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  8. #8  
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    The movements look much more natural if you don't use the joystick, but follow mode. It's your hand which is in control then, might need some individual tweaks of the parameters.

    Another option is an assistant controlling movements with a smartphone.

    I second the notion that gimbals are there by now, there's a world of difference between this one and a Pilotfly from only 2 years ago.
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  9. #9  
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    I'll try a more detailed version:

    Your Steadicam Pros:
    A lot cheaper and thus more affordable alternative
    Not that much if you want good bearings and easy adjustment

    Handles vertical stability much better, in particular when walking and running
    Only with a costly vest and well balanced springs, with one hand gimbals your arm does the same job

    Immediate "hands on" control over the camera, in particular when following a subject
    Needs a lot of training and a very soft touch

    Handles heavy weights better, up to 15 kg, making it possible to use a full rig with cage, follow focus and mattebox, as well as heavier zoom lens and mic
    Not for a price that you seem to aim at

    Not as sensitive to touch on the camera or lens, making focus pulling easier (although not optimal)
    Not really

    Easy to balance, generally
    Modern gimbals too

    No motors that may create unwanted sound picked up by the mic mounted on the camera
    The Zhiyun is noiseless unless stressed by very bad balance

    No batteries required - all mechanical; unlimited operation
    True, but optional batteries in the Zhiyun can last much longer than your arm

    Simple design with no electonics that withstands hard handling and doesn't break easily in the field, and is weather proof
    I've seen cheap staedicams break by sudden, harsh movements

    Robust materias using aluminum alloys and carbon fibre
    Carbon fibre breaks easily on impact and is flexible to some degree, which means instability

    Versatile, manual operation for panning, tilting, duch angling and inverted mode; simply pull or push with your left hand where you want it
    As said above, needs good training

    Possible to use with a stabilising west, making it a true stedicam, although raising the total price and making it equal to that of the gimbal
    Probably more with balanced springs for elimination of vertical movements

    Doesn't age and becomie obsolete, as the technology hasn't changed dramatically over the last decades; established tech
    Yes

    More organic or analog feel to the motions
    Maybe

    .......
    Your gimbals Pros:
    Handles horisontal stability much better
    Yes.

    Quite easy to balance
    Yes

    Robust materials using aluminum alloys
    Yes

    Versatile, electonic operation for panning, tilting, duch angling and inverted mode, creating smooth movements
    Yes, very easy to change from an overhead position to a very low angle with the ZC

    Possible to operate by remote
    Yes, but needs an assistant running next to you

    Lighter and thus less straining to the arm
    Yes

    Portable, equivalent of a monopod, and ideal for run-and-gun situations
    Yes, can even replace a tripod in a pinch

    Small, wieldy and optimal to use in cramped situations, and easier to use with ankward arm and body positions
    Yes, can easily be handed to a second operator through an opening like a fence or window

    Possible to mount on a tripod, monopod, slider, boom or crane
    Not optimal, too high, a camera from a steadicam with a standardized mounting plate can quickly be placed on another device

    Easier to master; ideal for amateurs
    Yes and no, depending on the quality of motion you want to achieve, but that's true for both

    Possible to use with a additional dual handle attachement (resembling the Ronin), raising the price further and almost hitting the 1K limit
    Rather train your arm, you can handle vertical movements better with one hand (well, maybe it's only me)

    Hope this helps.
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  10. #10  
    Senior Member Liszön!'s Avatar
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    Regarding joystick movements, you have to get into SimpleBGC and fine-tune your RC settings. I use my gimbal as a remote pan & tilt head with a full sized controller, took me less than 10 minutes to make the moves buttery smooth.
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