According to Wikipedia a Gimbal is a pivoted support that allows the rotation of an object about a single axis. Interestingly , gimbals pre-date Jesus Christ by almost 300 years, yet if you are not a rocket or aeronautical engineer or a film maker you’re likely to never have heard of this device.
As this post got a little longer than I originally expected I also recorded a short video to demonstrate the device.
Further down the page you’ll see a few recorded test rides I did with the gimbal mounted on the handlebar and on a chest strap.
When I started recording my bike rides the one thing that became impossible to miss is the shaking, especially if the camera is mounted directly onto the bike and not worn by the cyclist (like on top of a helmet or on a chest strap).
Digital Image Stabilization can significantly improve the image quality, but there is a limit to what it can do, at least in commercially affordable cameras. As the 1st action camera I bought didn’t have it, before going on the Camino de Santiago I decided to invest a little more and bought myself a Sony HDR-AS30V which I reviewed, or rather, wrote about in July 2015 (it was a long post about all the cameras of my life).
I like this Sony camera, but as I started to do more and more videos I took yet another step and spent a little more money on a more professional GoPRO 4 Silver camera, which I also wrote about on this post in November 2015. Even in a similar configuration it is hard to miss the fact that the GoPRO records almost 3x more information than the Sony Camera does (the file sizes are an indication, even if not a very scientific one), yet the GoPRO still didn’t solve the problem of the shaking. As a matter of fact, it made it even worse as in generation 4 GoPRO took away digital image stabilization completely. So, the result ended up being a very nice, but “shaky” Ultra-Def picture which can be seen in all videos I recorded during my Via Francigena pilgrimage to Rome last year, made worse by the fact I record everything in time-lapse, so everything looks extremely accelerated.
Looking into solutions to minimize the shaking is when I found there are such things as 3-axis motorized devices that keep the camera steady, as well as things like mechanical steady cams often used by film makers, which are however, bulky and large as they work with counter balancing weights. The solution appeared to be one of these devices that would mechanically keep the camera steady. To fully stabilize a camera the device needs to move in all 3-axis (X, Y and Z in 3 dimensions), so it needs to have 3 motors, hence the title 3-axis gimbal (there are gimbals that stabilize the camera in only 1 or 2 axis as well).
GoPRO launched itself such a device in October 2016 called the “Karma Grip” to fit as a stand-alone device or the be used in conjunction with their Drone of the same name (the “Karma Drone”… GoPRO has a lot of Karma). By doing that GoPRO actually entered this action-cam accessory market quite late as many Chinese companies were already profiting from it for years. At £250 (or USD 320 at time of writing) it was just as expensive as my GoPRO 4 Silver itself, and just under the Black version, their flagship model (now replaced by their GoPRO 5 camera).
Even though, as I mentioned before, Chinese manufacturers appeared to be quick to profit in this action camera / GoPRO corner, this market is relatively new and the options are relatively limited. I watched quite a few YouTube videos reviewing some of these devices. At the end, price together with the fact I wanted to use one for cycling became the strongest factors.
For those who money is not an issue, one new device launched earlier this year (2017) appeared to check all my boxes as it is also additionally waterproof, but at a cost of £350 (even more than the GoPRO one), the Removu S1 gimbal was even more out of reach.
Even on the lower end part of the market, gimbals are selling for £150 to £200, which I considered to be too much money to spend on a hobby for an amateur, not to mention it becomes one more thing to carry and charge during bike rides… Yet I bought one, after all. So what made me change my mind?
Watching my own videos made me change my mind! I think I am a bit of a perfectionist, I am afraid (not easy to be a perfectionist on a low income, but I try). While on my cycling trips I spent a lot of time caring about these things… making sure the camera is rolling and everything else is as good as it can be on my cheap setup, sometimes even to the point of feeling a little bit guilty as I should just be enjoying myself. After the trip I spend countless hours editing these videos, making sure I can make them as good as they can be, taking into consideration my equipment, skills and knowledge limitations. I’ve learned a lot over the past 2 years and I was becoming a bit irritated with the stabilization barrier. So much time and effort only to be challenged by a simple mechanical issue (actually simple in terms… “stability” of all sorts has been humankind’s’ greatest challenge for ages).
So, when I saw a product being sold at a discount price in Amazon, I bit my lips, opened my pocket and went for it. That was a Neewer Zhiyun Z1-Rider. Before you become all too excited, let me quickly tell you that I returned it to Amazon right after my 1st use. I was so disappointed…
In all fairness, I purchased it on an Amazon Warehouse deal, which are not brand new, but this item was listed as “like new”. Perhaps I did receive a faulty item, but to start with the item I received wasn’t exactly the item Amazon had pictured in the page. The Gimbal I received had no tripod screw mount on the bottom and had several exposed wires which immediately made alarm bells sound in my head. GoPRO and other Action Camera gimbals are supposed to be used in rather rough conditions. Having those tiny, and extremely fragile looking, exposed wires did not inspire my confidence. I think later models have solved that issue, but I didn’t have one of those, I had that one. Yet, I decided to give it a go.
On my very 1st use the device could not keep the camera steady for even a few seconds after movement started, tending to point the camera downwards and to the left. At the end of a 15 min ride the bottom motor appeared to developed an even bigger fault being unable to stabilize the camera at all in that axis.
As I was completing the returns form in Amazon, my frustration with having bought a, pardon the word, “crap” device grew, but I continued to watch the market and then I came across a device I had already previously seen in YouTube reviews, the Feiyu FY WG 3 axis Wearable Gimbal.
At least this device withstood the 1st and 2nd rides, so for now it is a keeper. Having had the bad experience before, I actually was already quite excited about this one right at the start during the unboxing. The device feels a lot sturdier and the build quality feels a lot better, just by touching it. It’s an all metal construction, which makes it a little heavier, but then what difference can a dozen grams make for an amateur? In terms of performance I was a bit on edge, but then as I don’t know if any other motorized gimbal is able to perform to my desired standards I am taking it easy on it.
The main problem when recording time-lapse videos from a handlebar mounted camera is vibration, as you perhaps have seen in the review video I posted on top. Unfortunately none of the two gimbals I tried could compensate for these very fast types of tiny movements. I actually don’t know if there is an affordable device in the market today that could do that, so if you know of one, I’d appreciate if you could drop me a comment in this post or send me a message through the contact form.
If you want more detail in terms of the gimbal’s operation, feel free to download the device’s manual straight from the Feiyu Tech’s web side, which also has a number of other downloads available such as the latest gimbal firmware, the software to update the firmware and the USB driver (windows and Mac, I believe).
I think I said and wrote enough… So let’s take a look at the test ride videos, shall we?
This 7 min video shows a test ride where I mounted the gimbal on the bike’s handlebar side by side with the Sony HDR-AS30V I mentioned above. Unfortunately the gimbal was too close the the Sony, so the GoPRO caught the view of the Sony cam on it’s left hand side. Still a watchable video though and I think it should give you an idea not only of the performance of the gimbal, but also of the gimbal vs. Digital Image Stabilization (on the Sony cam)
The next 13 min video is a test ride I did from Slough to Eton with my friend Fernando. We both had good reasons to ride this day (not that we need one). Fernando had just purchased his new touring bike and I wanted to test the gimbal mounted on a GoPRO chest strap.
The results are encouraging and wearing it so close to my body reduced the vibrations on the camera quite significantly (and when I tell my girlfriend that I am a stable guy she doubts me, here is the scientific proof of that), but the chest strap had to be quite tight to support the extra weight of the gimbal, which became a bit uncomfortable over time. On this ride I had also mounted the gimbal on a too low position with the GoPro mount attachment connected to the back of the gimbal body, near the battery compartment as shown the the picture below.
On my return ride (the next video) I moved the position of the camera in the chest mount used the attachment on the bottom of the gimbal and the camera in inverted position. There improved the picture, but forced me to tighten the chest strap even more. Not sure it is something I would like to wear for 8 to 10 hours non-stop as that is sometimes the length of time I record time-lapse video in 1 day of touring. Time will tell…
So, the next video 1 min video is a time-lapse video recording of a portion of the return journey from Eton to Slough with the bottom of the gimbal attached to the chest strap.
So, I think this is it. Was my 1st “gadget” post in quite a long while, I had to make it count 🙂
Hope this was useful to someone and if you like it please, share, comment and subscribe.
Thank you for your time!
Note: Some links on this page lead to Amazon product pages. If you decide to buy from them I get a small commission. Feel free to shop around though.
Do you like these posts? Why, then, don’t you pay me a coffee to help with the blog hosting cost and as a caffeine incentive to keep me going through the long hours of the night?
(Suggested amount: £2.00 or USD $3.00 or 2.50€ or whatever you want to give)