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Making the Shot: Gimbal Vs. Handheld

Using a gimbal vs. handheld when filming - Gimbal

Using a gimbal vs. handheld when filming - Handheld


Since Freefly Cinema first introduced the gimbal in the 2010’s to the wider consumer camera market with the Movi system, followed some years later by DJI’s Ronin, the gimbal has since become one of the most popular pieces of camera gear used by all sorts of shooters, from novices to pros. Chances are you’ve picked one up at some point, and since too have been bitten by the smooth-as-butter bug. 


Don’t get us wrong, we love the gimbal, but here’s three quick reasons why you should put it down every once in a while.

1) On shots where critical manual focus is in constant flux.

Unless you have a wireless follow focus system or a camera with an exceptionally good autofocus, it can be difficult to keep your subject in constant critical focus, or to move in and out of focus as the shot calls for.  

This is especially difficult if you’re running a gimbal rig on your own without an extra hand to pull focus for you.  In this case, you would need to drop the gimbal down in order to re focus on your subject. This can prove even more difficult when shooting with a shallow depth of field.  With small handheld gimbals that are designed for single user operation like the Ronin-S, pulling focus yourself is more manageable, but a gimbal still might not fit the scene.

2) When the “floating camera” just doesn’t support the story.

Sometimes, silky smooth is not always the best choice when making a shot. Handheld shots, for example, can bring back the literal human touch to your project, reminding the audience that there is, in fact, a human element to your story. 

For some scenes, the purposeful shakiness of a handheld shot can add to the emotional development and organic feeling of your story. A handheld POV shot from the main character’s vantage point will better put the viewer in that character’s shoes than a smooth, robotic motion of a motorized gimbal. 

The type of shot you employ should serve the story somehow. If a gimbal shot doesn’t move the story along, it might not be the best choice for that particular scene. 

3) Repetition gets boring.

Don’t bore your audience with the same gimbal shot sequence over and over.  Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and cases where repetition can do a poetic service and help land the story’s mood.  But there’s also the dolly, Steadicam, Glidecam, crane, tripod, monopod, jib, and a plethora of other tools you can use to get the right shot depending on the scene, and that allow you to use something other than a wide angle lens.  Change it up!

Final Thoughts

A gimbal is an amazing tool, no doubt, capable of creating dynamic, moving shots so smooth that the camera looks like it’s floating in air. When overused, however, the storytelling power of the gimbal is reduced, and becomes a sort of “cinematic” gimmick. Make sure that the shot choices you make support your narrative, and mix up your shots to keep the audience engaged. 

We hope you find this info helpful, and we challenge you to put your gimbal down and try something else, like the classic tripod, a monopod, or just go handheld. Happy shooting. 

For more camera tips & tricks, please check out the PolarPro blog. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel as well as our newsletter for the latest from PolarPro.

Scott Fairfax 

Chief Copywriter, PolarPro 

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