Making Movies – Part 7

In Part 6 I discussed a range of accessories that can make movie production easier and professional looking. Hand- held gimbals are becoming a major part of this, but the cost of motorised ones had me avoiding getting one. However, after numerous failed attempts at getting the static gimbal to work with my main cameras, I was facing a very frustrating brick wall that I couldn’t penetrate. While the static gimbal is supposed to be able to handle the weight of my cameras (much like a Glidecam), I was beginning to suspect that wasn’t the case. No matter what I did and no matter how many videos I watched on how to balance this gimbal, I could not get it to work. The shoulder rig on the other hand is great but is more a substitute for a tripod in awkward situations but, when moving about, the shoulder rig shows lots of jitter and movement. The more I pondered the subject matter that I would be recording, moving about was going to be a major part of anything that I did and what I had wasn’t going to cut it.

Glidecam HD-PRO (source: Glidecam)

Glidecam HD-PRO (source: Glidecam)

So after watching numerous videos of motorised gimbals in use, as well as reviews of various brands suited to heavier cameras, I had a look at eBay to see how much these gimbals cost lately and, while not cheap, they have come down in price considerably. And when I saw one of the highly recommended ones for sale for under $500 (nearly half the price of the Glidecam), I bit the bullet. But before I talk about that, I’ll cover what I discovered about the static gimbal and how I’ve managed to get it to work. Out of frustration with the fact that it wouldn’t work with my main cameras, I thought I’d see how it would go with my Olympus Tough TG-5. The TG-5 is, in a way, a better balanced camera as the lens doesn’t move when focusing or zooming, so once attached to the gimbal, nothing changes. But when I first attached the TG-5 to the gimbal, it was way too light, so I added an alloy block that I had lying around from another project, which roughly doubled the weight (500g rather than 250g) and suddenly things were looking promising.

S60 Steadicam Static Gimbal/Camera Stabiliser

S60 Steadicam Static Gimbal/Camera Stabiliser

S60 Steadicam Static Gimbal/Camera Stabiliser

S60 Steadicam Static Gimbal/Camera Stabiliser

S60 Steadicam Static Gimbal/Camera Stabiliser and Olympus Tough TG-5

S60 Steadicam Static Gimbal/Camera Stabiliser and Olympus Tough TG-5

With this revised setup and smaller camera, the gimbal was now easy to balance and worked as I had hoped and the addition of the quick release plate provided a further adjustment option so that I could leave the main plate untouched once set. I put a scribe mark on the camera adapter plate so that I could position the camera in the same spot each time and, after testing the removal and placement of the camera several times, it seemed to work. So from what I’ve discovered, this particular gimbal is not really ideal for heavier camera setups, especially those approaching 2kg, but works quite well with cameras at least half that weight and much less. I think it would be ideal for say a bridge camera or similar that has a fixed lens, whether zoom or not and especially for cameras with internal zoom and focus mechanisms. The short clip is from my first outing with the gimbal and TG-5 and isn’t too bad, but clearly shows where practice is essential when wanting to use these devices to their maximum potential.

So now back to the motorised gimbal. As I said, I watched many a YouTube video on these gimbals and while no gimbal was considered perfect, the FeiyuTech a2000 model generally came up with good reviews (most reviewers say that the a2000 holds up to 2kg, but with the latest firmware update is now 2.5kg according to the FeiyuTech website) and sufficient for my needs. Other gimbals in this price bracket that were also highly regarded were the Zhiyun Crane and the Moza Air. Again, like with the action cams, every reviewer had a different take on all of these gimbals so you had to note carefully where opinions differed and agreed. I ended up buying just the main package and not the one with the double handle, which is available separately if desired, and with Australia’s new import GST rules in place, being able to get such a great deal was a bonus.

FeiyuTech a2000 motorised gimbal - (source: FeiyuTech)

FeiyuTech a2000 motorised gimbal – (source: FeiyuTech)

There are enough reviews describing the FeiyuTech a2000, including unboxings, so if you’re interested in such things YouTube has plenty to watch. While I had the batteries charging (18650 batteries are cheap and readily available), I went about balancing the camera and found that balancing is much easier than with the static gimbal. My only concern was that to get my camera to fit, I had to place it on the gimbal opposite to what was shown in the instructions (the pitch axis motor on the left, not right). It wasn’t until the batteries were charged could I find out whether this arrangement would work. I also installed an Arca Swiss quick release clamp on the provided Manfrotto plate, as all of my gear uses Arca Swiss plates of one form or another as I find them a lot better. Once the batteries were charged, I could test it out and can report that the gimbal works perfectly. This arrangement also gives me clear access to the camera battery and SD cards, something for others to consider. Another bonus is that I can zoom without having to do any readjustments, something that’s impossible with a static gimbal.

FeiyuTech a2000 gimbal and Olympus E-M1 MkII with 14-35mm f2 lens

FeiyuTech a2000 gimbal and Olympus E-M1 MkII with 14-35mm f2 lens

FeiyuTech a2000 gimbal and quick release plate

FeiyuTech a2000 gimbal and quick release plate

The controls work well and the joystick has a variable speed depending on how far you move it across (delicate movement required). There are also quite a number of options available from the function button and the phone app also works very well, with some features that fixed a couple of annoyances. When balancing the camera on the gimbal I managed to get it very close to perfect, but when I turned on the gimbal, there was this slight tilt to one side and the level gauge on the camera clearly displayed this tilt. When I went into the app, there was a fine tuning option that allowed me to set the camera perfectly level and there is also an option to change the joystick to work in reverse should that better suit your style. I also found that in some positions the motors started to vibrate badly and this was fixed by adjusting the motor dynamics in the app. There are quite a few other features available in the app, such as adjusting the panning/tilt speeds as well as camera control. You can supposedly update the firmware via the app, but for some reason the latest firmware version won’t show up and I had to use my PC to do the firmware upgrade. That said, the app is one of the best I’ve ever used for a camera. A couple of instructional videos for those interested in more information.

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App - wireless connection

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App – wireless connection

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App - main options screen and don't know what the red battery indicator means

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App – main options screen and don’t know what the red battery indicator means

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App - setting options

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App – setting options

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App - how to micro-adjust camera angle

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App – how to micro-adjust camera angle

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App - how to remove vibration

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App – how to remove vibration

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App - not recognising new firmware

FeiyuTech a2000 Android App – not recognising new firmware

Now none of these gimbals stabilise for up and down movement that you get while walking, so you still have to make considered movements so that the resultant video doesn’t bob up and down annoyingly. That said, some of the initial footage that I shot does have slight bobbing like with the static gimbal but isn’t all that annoying, for me anyway, as I feel that it gives more of a true reflection of someone walking uphill, rather than being on a set of rails and pushed along. However, this is where practice makes perfect and where a gimbal shines, providing movements that you would find much harder, if not impossible, to do with conventional tools like a Glidecam. Those that have ‘grown up’ using the likes of a Glidecam sometimes do find the motorised gimbals not to their liking, but for those who have never used the former or struggled to get one working, they shouldn’t have any issues.

There are two things that I’d love to have for this gimbal. The first is a simple remote like the currently available Smart Remote Control, which is not compatible with the a2000 gimbal. If you’re using say a monopod to extend the reach of the gimbal, you can’t really control camera movements with a mobile phone, so a remote that emulates the handle control would be excellent. The other thing that would be great is a powered base to which you can attach the gimbal, a bit like with the double handle unit but without the handles, so that you could use the gimbal on a slider or tripod etc. The current configuration can be used on a slider, but a low profile unit would be ideal and again a remote would be great for this use. And in Part 8 I’ll go into more detail as to some of the interesting ways that you can use the FeiyuTech a2000 gimbal with existing accessories.