What Is a Gimbal on a Drone? (& Why You Need One)


In drone photography and videography, precision is everything. An unstable, shaky, or jittery shot makes footage unwatchable, therefore, having a gimbal is paramount to your drone’s success.

But what is a gimbal on a drone?

A gimbal is a device that offers stabilization. It’s necessary to protect your camera from external forces likely to knock it out of place, keeping each frame smooth and stable.

So, it works by reacting to movement and alerts the controller to initiate motors to maintain a steady payload on each axis.

There are several types of gimbals in the market. So, it’s crucial to consider the type of gimbal best for your needs before buying.

Read on to learn more about drone gimbals and the best gimbal drones.

How Do Gimbals Work?

A gimbal works by detecting the motion direction of your camera. Then, it moves the parallel axis keeping the camera pointed at your subject.

So, as the drone is continually changing position while being swayed and bumped by strong winds, the camera attached to the drone remains steady.

In simple terms, you can say that the gimbal cancels unnecessary motion in the three axes of movement- pitch, roll, and yaw.

Nonetheless, to thoroughly understand the concept of a gimbal on a drone, you must first know the work of the three axes specific to a drone.

  • The pitch, also called the tilt, is the up-and-down camera movement.
  • The roll moves the camera clockwise and anticlockwise (left and right).
  • The yaw or pan is the left or right 360 degrees movement.

Additionally, a gimbal incorporates several parts to ensure the footage is as steady as desired.

Camera and Sensor

Camera and Sensor
Source: Reddit

The camera sensor is in the first stage of a working gimbal. To effectively record an image, the camera sensor detects light and conveys that information to construct the image.

However, the sensor will only work effectively when on stable ground.

What if the drone is racing or in strong winds? This could lead to shakiness. The best way to solve this shakiness is to reduce the camera movement. That’s where the gimbal comes in.

Gimbals compensate for these movements to keep the camera stable.

Remember that the mounting must be firm to allow the gimbal and its control unit to work effectively.

Inertial Measurement Unit

When the camera is working, the IMU module detects any movement. The IMU comprises an accelerometer and a gyroscope.

The function of an accelerometer is to establish the gimbal’s direction. Is it left, right, up, down, forward, or backward?

Conversely, the gyroscope controls the axes of motion: pitch, yaw, and roll.

After establishing all the movements, the IMU transfers the data to the GCU.

Gimbal Control Unit 

Gimbal control unit

(GCU) or the gimbal’s brain gets data from the IMU. Once the gyroscope feeds a small computer with data, the GCU enables the gimbal motors to move accordingly.

But first, the control unit uses an advanced algorithm to decide if your actions are cautious.

If the movement isn’t necessary, the GCU commands the motors to move away from the sensed movement.

All the processes happen in actual time.

Brushless Motors

A gimbal features a 3-phase brushless motor wound with several turns to show a lot of resistance and inductance.

Brushless motors

These brushless gimbal motors provide smooth motion using small currents to produce force. After detecting motion, the gyros turn the motors on and off quickly until they find a good position.

Brushless motors usually “lock” into specific positions, only established by the current position of the magnets and coils.

Brushless motors shouldn’t carry any constant load. A gimbal motor under high load produces vibrations that become hard to keep smooth.

Preferably it would help if you mounted the camera to balance the whole gimbal rig. 

To do this, make sure the gimbal is balanced before mounting the camera. If it’s a 3-axis gimbal, make sure the pan, tilt, and roll are balanced; i.e. they don’t hang out of proportion without any weight added to them. 

After making sure they are balanced, mount your camera. 

Each gimbal will have its instructions, but mostly it’s placing the camera on a designated section and securing it in place with screws. Again, test for balancing across all the axes.

If the camera swings out of proportion, adjust its position until it balances on all axes.

Even though some gimbals have more potent motors than others, only the gimbal controller can drive the motor. 

Gimbal controllers work like flight controllers in drones, they determine the power to assign to each motor depending on the movement the gimbal needs to take to balance the camera on the axis.

Damping Anti-Vibration Absorber

Any gimbal must have damping anti-vibration absorbers. These absorbers prevent gimbal vibrations, noise, and shocks, to provide smoothness to the footage.

Damping Anti-Vibration Absorber

To work effectively, ensure you place the dampers between the gimbal and the drone. The construction of these dampers features carbon fiber and 4 rubber balls.

Does Your Drone Need A Gimbal?

If you’re starting to get serious with drone filming, a gimbal is one of the must-have components that’ll help you upgrade your work. You can buy a gimbal separately or buy a drone that comes with a gimbal.

So, what is the purpose of a gimbal?

  • A gimbal eliminates and corrects unwanted motion caused by strong winds or a moving drone. This guarantees smooth, clear, and stable footage.
  • Depending on the axes, a gimbal for drones supports several types of movements. So, if you decide to pitch, roll or yaw, the gimbal ensures a smooth transition of these axes.
  • Because it comes built-in or can easily attach to your camera, a drone gimbal with a camera allows you to film comfortably for an extended period.
  • A gimbal gives room to mount more camera accessories on your drone. For instance, you might need a microphone to add sound to the footage.
  • The latest gimbals on the market also offer actual time footage. They allow real-time video coverage with excellent HD quality.

Different Types of Gimbals

The market has different types of quadcopter gimbals that come with individual pros and cons. Here are the most common gimbal types:

Fixed Gimbal

As the simplest type, the fixed gimbal features a single bar for securing the camera in place. Usually, the fixed gimbal is compact and lightweight, which makes it ideal for small drones.

A significant disadvantage of the fixed gimbal is it doesn’t last long. In most cases, the fixed gimbal is not resilient enough to handle harsh conditions.

2-Axis Gimbal

As its name suggests, it’s a gimbal with 2 axes supporting the camera tilt and roll.

Installing the 2-axis gimbal between the drone and the camera is effortless. Because it works on 2 movements, it consumes less power to keep working for more extended periods.

Since it’s somewhat lightweight, it doesn’t weigh down the drone, allowing you to maneuver the drone easily for better angles of footage.

The downside of the 2-axis gimbal is that it’s not ideal on smaller drones.

3-Axis Gimbal 

3 axis gimbal on the dji mini SE 2

This is the most common type of gimbal for drones. Nearly all drones for filming, either by beginners or professionals, have a 3-axis gimbal.

A 3-axis gimbal stabilizes footage on the three axes; pitch, roll, and yaw. As the drone changes direction using its rudder, it goes through an added movement where a 3-axis gimbal stabilizes.

A significant disadvantage of the three-axis gimbal is draining the battery faster because it has three motors, instead of one, and each of the motors needs to be powered.

This requires you to carry backup batteries to be able to complete your filming.

360-degree Gimbal

The 360-degree gimbal on the drone also works on a 3-axis. This gimbal allows the camera to move freely from the drone.

In this case, allow your drone to hang motionless in the air as the camera rotates 360 ​​degrees. Ultimately, you add more taste to your images.

The Best Drones with Gimbals

If you want to take jaw-dropping footage, the best drones with gimbals are necessary! Here are a few best examples in the market.

DJI Air 2S Fly More Combo

DJI Air 2S Fly More Combo

This is the current best 3-axis gimbal drone on the market. As an excellent and compact drone, this is best for hobbyists. Here’s why;

The DJI Air 2S upgrades portability and strength to a higher level, providing improved features in a small package. Hence, it works best for drone enthusiasts on the go for filming adventures.

Additionally, the several shooting functions such as the 5.2k resolution at 30fps, 4k at 60fps, and intelligent flight modes offer excellent image quality.

Better still, the gimbal allows the range of options to be within reach for convenience and ease of use.

A significant con in this drone though is the lack of side obstacle avoidance sensors.

DJI Spark

DJI Spark

DJI Spark is your best shot if you are looking for the best 2-axis drone. It is a mini drone that works perfectly for both hobbyists and professionals.

The DJI Spark features improved DJI technologies that usher beginners and effortlessly improve professionals into the drone-flying world.

As a mini drone, it only weighs 300g and offers an incredible flight time of 16 minutes. It also flies a range of 1.2 miles from the remote control.

The 2-axis gimbal stabilizes the drone to prevent pitch and roll bumps. This allows you to achieve high precision and smooth footage. 

The camera takes a high quality of 1080p, taking 30 frames per second. This is an ideal and affordable filming drone.

The disadvantage of DJI Spark is the reported out-of-the-blue loss of GPS connection.

Holy Stone GPS Drone

Holy Stone GPS Drone

The Holy Stone drone is another excellent choice for a 2-axis gimbal drone. It’s a fantastic drone for beginner pilots.

The 2-Axis Gimbal with a 4K camera is a guarantee for stunning and vivid aerial footage. Thanks to the brushless motors and flight time of 26 minutes, you get enough time and a stable flight for perfect images.

Holy Stone is also user-friendly. It has multiple functions like automatic take-off, headless mode, and optical flow positioning, which makes flying easy, especially for a new drone pilot.

Don’t worry about losing this drone; it has features like smart return to home, emergency stop, one key return, and a GPS module.

A significant downside of Holy Stone is that it’s sometimes unresponsive to the remote control. You find this drone taking off randomly and unpredictably.

Frequently Asked Questions

Final Word

If you already own a drone with a built-in gimbal, you may never have to worry about how it works, but it’s still good to know its role.

And if you prefer building your rigs, I hope you now understand what is a gimbal on a drone, how it works, and how to choose one.  

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Peter Karanja is a licensed drone pilot from Kenya, freelance writer and drone enthusiast. He has been using drones for land survey, GIS, and photography for the past three years. Being a drone user, he loves writing about drone applications, safety tips for using drones, and the best ways to get the most out of a drone.

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