Best Camera Gimbal for Your Quadcopter

If you want to shoot high-quality video using your quadcopter, you simply must have a gimbal.

A quadcopter stays in stable flight only because the flight controller constantly changes of adjusts speed of the motors. It continually changes the angles of yaw pitch and roll. If it were not for this continual adjustments, there is no way a quadcopter can fly.

When you have a camera mounted on a quadcopter, the video can become very shaky due to all of these adjustments and constant changes.

But that's not all - the motors cause a lot of vibrations and all of these vibrations are transmitted to the camera. And this contributes to the shakiness in videos as well.

Even if you get the best flight controller on the market that does a great job of stabilization, you will still not be able to eliminate all the vibrations - and the videos will still be shaky.

If you're serious about capturing a really smooth video that does not have jello, there are a few things you can do.

  • Use either servo or brushless camera gimbals
  • Use a camera with built-in digital image stabilization
  • Mount a camera with digital image stabilization on a 3 axis brushless gimbal
  • Edit the videos after you record them with image stabilization software on your PC
  • Do all of the above :-)

We will discuss each of these options in detail here.

Camera gimbals

A gimbal is a mount for your camera that shields the camera from vibrations and other unwanted movements. There are essentially two main types of gimbal: 

  • Servo gimbals
  • Brushless gimbals

Servo gimbals

servo camera gimbal

As the name implies, these use servo motors to compensate for the vibrations. The main advantage of these is a very low cost and these do not have a lot of weight.

The really low-cost models do not use the best servo motors. So there will be quite a bit of shakiness in the video if you choose to go with the really cheap ones.

Servo gimbals that use very high quality servos can be very expensive.

Many people choose to use servo gimbals because most flight controllers have built-in support for these. So if you're going to be using one, chances are your existing flight controller will be able to support it and you will not need an extra controller board.

So you can end up reducing the weight - and thus have more flying time. The flipside is, for some applications the reaction time of servo motors is simply not good enough.

Unless you want to capture professional quality video, servo gimbals might be good enough.

On the other hand, if you want the smoothest possible video these are not what you are looking for.

Brushless gimbals

These use brushless DC motors instead of servo motors. These have much lower reaction times than servo motors - and so the video is a lot, a lot smoother than what you would get if you were to use a servo gimbal.

But then these also happen to be heavier. And you might need an extra controller board. Which does mean the flying time will be reduced. 

There are two kinds of brushless camera gimbal:

  • 2 axis
  • 2 axis brushless quadcopter camera gimbal
  • 3 axis
  • 3 axis brushless quadcopter camera gimbal

A 3 axes brushless camera gimbal insulates your camera movement in any of the three axes - roll, yaw and pitch.

On the other hand, a two axis gimbal does not insulate your camera from unwanted movements on the yaw axis. It only keeps it from vibrating on the roll and pitch axes.

Obviously, a 3 axis brushless camera gimbal is far superior to a two axis one because the resulting video is almost totally free from all vibrations.

The flipside? A 3 axis gimbal draws more power from your batteries and is also heavier.

Which one should you choose?

It depends on what you're looking for. If you want the smoothest, professional-grade aerial video then you would want the best three axes brushless camera gimbal.

On the other hand, if you're looking to shoot video that's good enough and not necessarily professional grade, investing in a three axis gimbal may be overkill.

You'd also want to note that if you're going to be capturing mostly photographs and not videos, the two axes gimbal would be all you need. You do not need the three axis gimbal for aerial photography.

If you're into FPV and not really into aerial videography, at two axes gimbal should be more than good enough for your needs. Of course, if money is no issue you'd want to get a three axis gimbal for the best possible FPV experience. But if you are on a budget, a two axis gimbal should be good enough.

DJI Phantom 2 and Phantom 3 quadcopters come equipped with 3 axis brushless camera gimbals - which is why some of the best aerial videos you see online are shot using DJI quadcopters.

If you are a beginner and are just getting started with drones, there's really no reason why you would need a camera gimbal. You instead would want to buy a quadcopter simulator and master controls. 

Cameras with inbuilt digital image stabilization

camera with inbuilt digital image stabilization

Some cameras - like the Sony HDR-AS100V - have inbuilt algorithms for video stabilization. This may not seem like a big deal, but it certainly is. The image hardly ever jiggles - even with no gimbal - something that's never possible with even the best GoPro.

You would want to note that the camera removes large shakes, but is less effective in correcting for high frequency smaller vibrations.

The camera corrects the video after it's captured using an inbuilt software.

The video quality is very good, but not GoPro Hero4 quality.

Mount a camera with digital image stabilization on a 3 axis brushless gimbal

Doing this should give you a video that is very smooth and free of almost all vibrations. The three axis brushless gimbal will shield the camera from vibrations on all three axes.

And vibrations and unwanted movements that do manage to reach the camera will be handled by the camera's digital image stabilization software. It doesn't get much better than this. 

Process the video using a digital image/video stabilization software on your PC

If you're not planning to buy a camera gimbal or a camera inbuilt digital image stabilization, this can be a good thing to do.

That said, no digital image stabilization software can remove all kinds of vibrations and shakiness in videos. If you have high-frequency vibrations, chances are they will not go away.

You'd also want to use these in the software on a really powerful computer - not on a computer with outdated hardware.

You would want to note that there's more than one approach to image stabilization. And many of these approaches are fairly new - not more than a year or two old. As more and more people start using GoPro cameras and Google Glass, the demand for digital image stabilization will increase. And better approaches will be developed.

One of the easiest things you could do to make drone camera videos more easily watchable is to create a timelapse video. And this is what many people choose to do. While time-lapse videos are a reasonably good option, they do not remove shakiness in videos.

One very promising approach that is very new is hyper lapse videos - created by researchers at Microsoft. It's possibly the best software you can buy it right now, but it is not the cheapest. And you would want to have the latest 64 bit version of Windows and high-end hardware if you want to make it work. If you can afford all that, this would be the best software to buy for image stabilization.

You could also use Adobe after effects for making your videos smoother and more professional looking. But then, you'd need to buy Adobe after effects - and have a computer with high-end hardware for this to work.

At the moment, there are quite a few other software you can use to make your videos look more professional by eliminating a lot of the shakiness.

All of the above :-)

Seriously, this is the best thing to do. If you want the video to have the least amount of shakiness, you would want to mount a camera with inbuilt image stabilization on a 3 axis camera gimbal. And process the video on digital image stabilization software.

The only drawback with most cameras that come with inbuilt digital image stabilization is they do not have the highest resolution - not comparable to the latest GoPro Hero4 Black. But then, GoPro cameras do not come with inbuilt image stabilization. So there's always a compromise you will have to do - though the vast majority of folks who are not into professional aerial videography do not have to worry about it.

If you want videos with the highest resolution, you will want to use a GoPro Hero4 Black mounted on a 3 axis camera gimbal - and then process it on an image stabilization software.

And if you want videos with the least bit of shakiness, you will want to use a camera with inbuilt image stabilization instead of a GoPro.

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