If you’ve just entered the world of photography or videography and are wondering ‘how do the pros keep their shots so steady?’, the answer is quite simple – they’re using a gimbal stabilizer.
There’s been a lot of buzz around gimbals, mainly because they’re ridiculously easy to use while changing the rulebook for taking photos and filming. Wave goodbye to blurry images and bobbing clips, as using this simple device allows your footage to be as precise as you want it to be.
The topic of gimbals is pretty broad; there are drone gimbals, camera gimbals, and smartphone gimbal stabilizers, as well as two-axis and three-axis gimbal stabilizers. Today, I’m going to dive deep into the latter, explaining the main differences between the two, and pointing out a few things I believe you should keep an eye out for. Without any further ado, let’s jump in.
Gimbal Stabilizer Terminology
While I was researching gimbal stabilizers, I encountered a ton of technical jargon, which made me research the terms I needed to understand to even begin grasping what gimbal stabilizers are.
Since I want to help you learn everything there is to learn about these wonderful devices, I wanted to briefly mention some of the terms that we’ll see throughout the article.
- Axe – the singular of ‘axis’
- Arm – a part of the stabilizer that grips the smartphone/camera. The number of arms corresponds to the number of supported axes
- Pitch – upward and downward (vertical) camera movements, sometimes referred to as ‘tilt’
- Roll – circular camera movements, typically revolving around the camera’s lens
- Yaw – sideways (horizontal) camera movements
- Compensation – when the stabilizer’s arms perform movements opposing the camera’s movements
These words typically have other meanings, which is the reason why I wanted you to understand what I am talking about when using them in the context of gimbal stabilizers.
What is a Gimbal Stabilizer?
A gimbal, or gimbal stabilizer, is a mechanical device designed to support the object it holds and allow it to fluidly rotate around its axes. I would like to emphasize that just like smartphones, most objects that you can mount on a gimbal can be rotated even without one. However, the gimbal stabilizer keeps unwanted movements, shaking, and bobbing at bay.
In my research, I have discovered that the first gimbal was invented in either Ancient Greece or Ancient China. Most sources agree on the timeline – gimbals were most likely invented between the 3rd and 2nd century BC. However, some state that a Greek inventor called Philo Mechanicus was the first to use one while others believe it was an engineer from the Ancient Chinese Han Dynasty called Ding Huan.
Fast-forward to today, modern-day gimbals are so different from their predecessors that comparison is almost impossible. The original gimbals featured dozens of arms that would support rotations around the three axes. Modern-day gimbals feature between two and three arms, each being dedicated to supporting rotations around its axis specifically.
Furthermore, modern gimbal stabilizers are digital. Featuring battery-powered motors, they’ve rendered ‘analog’ stabilizers obscure, offering more dependable performance and a range of additional options.
Speaking of which, most stabilizers of today feature onboard controls that allow you to use various functions of your smartphone either from the device or remotely.
Why Do You Need a Gimbal Stabilizer for Your Smartphone?
The simplest answer to this question would be that the accuracy of your photo and video shooting would be drastically improved. While cutting-edge digital cameras come equipped with various features that eliminate (or minimize) camera shake, smartphones usually don’t. That’s why smartphone gimbals are so popular.
Another important benefit of smartphone gimbal stabilizers lies in the length adjustments. Whether you’re using a 2-axis or a 3-axis stabilizer, there are so many customization options at your disposal through which you can reinforce its versatility and be prepared for virtually any situation.
Performing ‘trick shots’ is also much easier with a gimbal stabilizer, as you’ll have the ability to position yourself more flexibly to take that perfect shot.
What Is a 2-Axis Gimbal Stabilizer?
The main purpose of a 2-axis gimbal stabilizer is to eliminate pitch and roll. It’s essentially designed for taking still photos and videos, as it doesn’t help with the stabilization of horizontal movements.
When tracking moving targets, beginner photographers probably won’t find much use for a 2-axis stabilizer. One of the most common uses of a 2-axis gimbal stabilizer, however, is as support for your smartphone while taking pictures. An excellent choice for beginner content creators would be Zhiyun’s Smooth X Gimbal Stabilizer.
As a handheld stabilizer in the budget range, it rocks some pretty advanced features, such as the ZY Cami smartphone app, Bluetooth connectivity, and simple onboard controls, which allow users to switch between landscape and portrait shooting with the click of a button.
The main reason why I’ve opened up my review of the Best 8 Smartphone Gimbal Stabilizers with the Zhiyun is that it covers all the bases of a high-quality stabilizer; it’s cheap, it’s decently sturdy, very easy to use, and it gets the job done.
What Is a 3-Axis Gimbal Stabilizer?
In my research of gimbal stabilizers for smartphones, I’ve noticed that many authors pointed out that the ‘only’ difference between a 2-axis and a 3-axis gimbal stabilizer is an additional arm concerning the latter.
That’s simply not the case. While it’s true that the main difference between these two types is that 3-axis gimbals can stabilize yaw in addition to pitch and roll movements, there are several other notable dissimilarities that I’ve found to be almost equally important.
First and foremost, 3-axis gimbal stabilizers for smartphones can be quite heavy. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that these gimbals are usually bigger and feature an extra motor.
They are generally more expensive, but that’s not always the case. For instance, DJI’s OM 5 smartphone gimbal is fairly cheap and Zhiyun’s Smooth Q2 is far from pricey.
Another good example would be Zhiyun Smooth 4, which is a professional gimbal stabilizer for iPhones and Android smartphones. The brand played into Smooth 4’s best features perfectly, adding numerous accessories to the bundle, including a handheld stick, a tripod, and a portable carrying case.
Zhiyun wanted to enable rookie influencers and content creators to take premium quality selfies and short-range footage for their TikTok and YouTube content, which is often best done with a 3-ais stabilizer.
2-axis vs 3-axis Gimbal Stabilizers?
Now that we know what 2-axis and 3-axis gimbals are, let’s have a small contest. The following sections are dedicated to determining which gimbal stabilizer type fares better in terms of versatility, practicality, battery lifetime, and ultimately, value for the buck.
Many people believe that 3-axis models are superior to 2-axis gimbals in all fields, but I’d beg to differ. A 2-axis can do pretty much anything a 3-axis gimbal can, but only if you are skilled and experienced enough.
The first and most obvious difference between the two is the third dimension of gimbal support – yaw. The ability to stabilize horizontal camera movements is not necessary for certain situations.
If you’re a veteran photographer that mainly shoots wedding photos or still lifes, you don’t need a 3-axis gimbal. However, yaw stabilization can be remarkably helpful in pretty much all other scenarios.
That’s not the only thing that separates 2-axis and 3-axis gimbal stabilizers versatility-wise. The additional motor provides more power, and for boutique models that means more accuracy.
As far as onboard controls are of concern, the type of stabilizer is of little consequence. Top-tier manufacturers equip their stabilizers with versatile controls, regardless of what category the model belongs to.
I’ll briefly circle back to Zhiyun Smooth X Gimbal Stabilizer as the best representative of 2-axis gimbals. It features play and record controls, as well as a button that allows you to instantly switch over to a different video mode. However, 2-axis gimbals of such versatility are too few and far between. This round goes to 3-axis gimbals.
Gimbal stabilizers are supposed to make your smartphone video and photo shooting easier. That’s not always the case, especially with bulky models that weigh quite a bit.
As I mentioned earlier, the additional motor in 3-axis gimbals brings in extra weight. Although the additional 0.5 pounds may not feel like much when you pick the stabilizer up, it makes a big difference in the long shot.
The dimensions aren’t as big of a deal as the learning curve, though. Some gimbals are just not as easy to use right out of the box.
If you search for gimbal stabilizer mounts on any reputable online marketplace (especially Amazon), you’ll notice that there are more than just a few mid-tier models that have tons of bad reviews. The thing is, the stabilizer may be pretty good, but the mounting instructions aren’t always clear, and using a gimbal stabilizer isn’t the most straightforward thing for some beginners.
I wanted to emphasize the importance of the practical aspect of the gimbal stabilizer’s performance. While it may be true that 3-axis gimbals are better-rounded and generally easier to use once you’ve grasped how they’re supposed to be used, it’s far more common for 2-axis gimbals to be more practical right out of the gate.
I feel it needs to be said that the type of batteries you are using plays a huge part in how long they’ll last in a gimbal stabilizer. Li-Ion batteries are, by default, better and last longer while Li-Po batteries are a bit eco-friendlier.
As established, 3-axis gimbals feature another motor. This motor requires as much battery power as any of the two in 2-axis gimbals, meaning that 3-axis models are typically more ‘power starved’.
If you’re looking for a budget 3-axis gimbal stabilizer for smartphones that comes equipped with a long-lasting battery, Zhiyun’s Smooth 4 is what you’re after. It offers about 12 hours of battery life. I should also point out that Smooth 4 is one of the few exceptions; 2-axis gimbals generally consume less battery power.
Price and Value
One of the reasons why 2-axis gimbal stabilizers are still pretty popular on the market is because they’re usually cheaper than 3-axis gimbals.
They’re a bit easier to make, and obviously, they require fewer materials to build. Secondly, 3-axis gimbals are considered newer technology, so most online vendors can’t justify a steep price tag on a 2-axis model. Of course, there are quite a few exceptions, but the landscape generally looks like this.
When it comes to value, it ultimately comes down to the user to determine it. What you need from a gimbal stabilizer equates to how valuable it can be to you. In my review, FeiyuTech’s Vimble 2S is one of the top value picks, offering an excellent set of strong features without costing a small fortune.
Subjective preferences have the most impact when someone is deciding which gimbal stabilizer type is the best. Some people don’t mind the extra weight and battery power consumption and focus on the benefits of stabilized yaw movements. These people usually prefer 3-axis gimbals.
Other people appreciate the fact that 2-axis gimbal stabilizers are a bit smaller and lighter, and to some extent, a bit easier to use. And then there are students of photography and enthusiasts who don’t want to commit too much by spending hundreds of dollars.
If you are still unsure about which gimbal stabilizer you should buy for your smartphone, check out my review of the 8 Best Smartphone Gimbal Stabilizers in 2023.
Photo Credit: Unsplash