Thanks to the wide variety of camera-stabilizing gimbals on the market, it’s relatively easy nowadays to shoot steady, professional-looking video footage. Major manufacturers like DJI and Zhiyun offer a variety of gimbal lines, and there’s a whole mess of products within those lines. I’ve tested several of the best gimbals for different requirements and written this guide to help you choose between them.
Whether you’re trying to figure out the difference between the Ronin SC and RSC 2, or are just looking for the best option for stabilizing your smartphone footage, I hope this guide can shed some light on the answer. Below, I’ll go through three categories of gimbal: smartphone gimbals, compact/mirrorless camera gimbals, and larger DSLR-capable gimbals.
The Importance of Gimbal Payload
Before looking at specific gimbals, it’s important to understand the difference that payload ratings can make. Gimbals, regardless of their size, use a set of motors to turn your camera around different axes, like pitch, yaw, and roll. These motors effectively cancel out unwanted movements caused by handholding your camera.
These motors have to be powerful enough to move your camera quickly and precisely in the right directions. If the weight of your camera setup is too much for the gimbal (or not balanced properly), they won’t be able to stabilize your footage, or could even result in your camera just flailing around as the gimbal fails to stabilize it.
As a result, the recommended payload is one of the most important factors when choosing a gimbal. A gimbal that can’t support your desired camera and lens setup is useless, while buying a beefier gimbal than necessary can be quite expensive and heavy.
To help narrow things down, gimbal manufacturers have essentially divided their product offerings into the same three categories we’ll be looking at in this article: phone gimbals, small camera gimbals, and large camera gimbals. The sweet spot in price and weight for many videographers will be the small camera gimbals, but even phone gimbals are popular among a lot of video creators, so I’ll discuss them first.
DJI’s OM 5 and OM 4 SE
DJI’s OM 5 phone gimbal is the latest entry in their OM series. Interestingly, it includes a set of tradeoffs compared to the previous OM 4 SE model and isn’t necessarily the better choice for everyone. In short, the OM 5 is better for users who want the gimbal to do as much for them as possible, while the OM 4 SE is for those who want a simpler gimbal with better battery life.
The OM 5 is smaller and includes a much greater emphasis on software features through DJI’s app. The gimbal supports the newer ActiveTrack 4.0 algorithm, along with templates for specific shots like Park, Beach, City, and Food. The OM 5 also includes a built-in selfie stick.
The OM 4 SE, meanwhile, still supports the same mounting mechanisms, payload, and the perfectly serviceable ActiveTrack 3.0 algorithm. But it more than doubles the battery life, all while coming in at a lower cost ($99 vs $169 at the time of this article’s publication, although you can check the current prices at those links above).
With those factors in mind, if you don’t need templates, I consider the OM 4 SE a better value. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for the most support in shooting, the OM 5 is a great option for getting started with the fundamentals of smartphone video.
Zhiyun’s Smooth Q4
As a direct alternative, Zhiyun makes the Smooth Q4, a gimbal that sits roughly between the OM 4 SE and OM 5, both in features and price point. The Smooth offers many of the same features as the OM 5, including the integrated selfie stick, optional clip-on fill light, intelligent shooting modes, and foldable design. It’s about $20 less than the OM 5.
While I like DJI’s app significantly more, I’ve actually found myself using Zhiyun’s Smooth Q4 more frequently. On mobile, I’m not using either brand’s app, but instead filming with Filmic Pro to get better image quality. (As a bonus, Filmic supports both the OM 4 and 5, as well as the Q4, obviating the need to deal with manufacturer apps.) Since the app difference isn’t a factor, I’ve instead based my choice on the mounting mechanism, which is much nicer on the Q4, at least for my iPhone 13 Pro Max.
With a large phone, the “arms” of DJI’s mounting mechanism don’t have the best grasp of the phone, while Zhiyun’s thicker, rubberized pads seem to have a much nicer grip. While something like this might seem minor, I feel like it really is the dividing choice between these three very similar options.
The Smooth 5, also from Zhiyun, is a larger smartphone gimbal, featuring both a more advanced control interface and mounting mechanism that supports a slightly higher payload than the previous options in this list.
Although the Smooth 5 has a larger side control wheel and a more advanced control layout, most of its features are duplicated in the Zhiyun Smooth Q4 that I just covered. So, I think the Smooth 5 is primarily aimed at mobile videographers who need the extra payload for things like lens add-ons.
This gimbal is about $20 more than the Smooth Q4, although it goes on sale occasionally, and is actually the same price at the time I’m publishing this article. I tend to suggest the lighter Smooth Q4 to most mobile videographers, unless you know you’ll need the bigger motors for whatever reason.
Small Mirrorless and Compact Camera Gimbals
Arguably the sweet spot in the gimbal world is the lineup I’m going to talk about next, intended for lightweight mirrorless and other compact cameras. These gimbals aren’t much larger than the ones meant for a phone (some even weigh less than the Zhiyun Smooth 5), and they’re still relatively inexpensive.
Zhiyun’s Crane-M2 S sits just on the mirrorless side of the phone/mirrorless gimbal dividing line, with plenty of advanced features. The M2 S is very compact, capable of folding down into a tiny, 549-gram package. The gimbal retains support for mounting a phone, while adding support for action cameras, compact cameras, and some small mirrorless cameras.
While the M2 S supports cameras like the Sony a7, Canon EOS R, and Nikon Z lines, it’ll be limited to very small primes and only the lightest zooms. In my mind, this gimbal is really positioned as a step up in performance and features from a phone gimbal, able to support compact cameras and action cameras, while being able to stabilize mirrorless cameras in a pinch.
If you are OK with the ensuing lens compromises, this gimbal can represent an excellent value at $270 (on sale for $240 when I published this article). Despite its compact size, the M2 S still offers the wide range of features available from the larger M3 gimbal. Among these features are USB-C PD fast charging, a bright fill light, and even a small display to show your gimbal’s status and modes.
DJI’s Ronin SC is a slightly older model, but is still a great option for stabilizing small mirrorless rigs. DJI lists the payload as about 4.4lbs, which in practical terms means it can support Sony a7, Canon EOS R, or Nikon Z cameras with either f/4 zooms or typical primes.
I’ve used this gimbal for about a year now, and I’d suggest that payload rating may be a bit high. For instance, my Nikon Z7 with a 14-30mm f/4 lens needs to be balanced pretty precisely to eliminate any wobble in use. To be clear, it can support it, but you don’t have a ton of wiggle room for poor balancing or additional weight, like from a shotgun mic.
The Ronin SC is built from magnesium, aluminum, and composite materials, keeping it under 2.5 pounds / 1.1 kilos. The gimbal can also be partly disassembled, splitting the battery apart from the gimbal head mechanism. This makes the gimbal more portable than it otherwise would be – although it’s still a step up in size from the other gimbals I’ve discussed so far.
This gimbal does come with a reasonably useful carrying case. While it’s made out of a solid, hard foam material, it’s not as durable as a true carrying case. I certainly wouldn’t consider checking it as luggage, for instance, and I’d even have my doubts about traveling extensively with it, as the latches are just a thin plastic material. The case is perfect, however, for just transporting the gimbal around town for local shoots, or for storing the many accessories that the gimbal comes with.
Accessories are one area where the SC shines. Both in terms of what’s included in the box, and what’s available as first and third party accessories, the SC is well equipped. In the box, you get the gimbal itself, a QR plate, phone holder, lens support, and camera cables that support operation with most major cameras. Beyond the included accessories, the SC supports focus wheels, focus motors, a separate command unit that adds a screen for operational control, and a cheese plate for mounting additional aftermarket accessories.
It’s nominally a $440 gimbal, but frequently on sale. At the time of this article’s publication, it’s on sale for $280.
Larger Mirrorless and DSLR Camera Gimbals
If you need a high payload for your lens, camera, and accessories, the gimbals so far are unlikely to work. The next step up is to get a dedicated DSLR-capable gimbal. I’ll cover two of my favorite options below.
The DJI RSC 2 takes everything that DJI got right with the Ronin SC and improves upon it. Payload jumps from 4.4lbs to 6.6lbs, making the gimbal capable of supporting all the major mirrorless cameras with 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses. The design is now foldable, making it easier to transport the gimbal, as well as enabling shooting at different configurations.
The addition of a dual layered QR plate makes setup and teardown easier, while reducing the need for balancing. As a big bonus, the mounting plate supports both Manfrotto and Arca-Swiss mounting plates. The inclusion of a 1-in screen reduces the reliance on a phone for configuration. Lastly, battery time is pushed out to 14 hours of operation, while charging even faster than the SC. Even the carrying case has been improved, moving to a splash resistant, more sturdy nylon design, with a zipper in lieu of the plastic clips.
However, the $450 list price on this gimbal is unlikely to see substantial discounts for a while.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been testing Zhiyun’s Weebill 3, a gimbal targeting the same market as the DJI RSC 2. It brings some interesting and different features to the table compared to the DJI gimbal.
The Weebill 3’s most notable difference is the Weebill’s emphasis on ergonomics. By including a spot for a wrist rest and extendable sling grip, Zhiyun claims to reduce the effort necessary to hold your camera by 40%. While I can hardly test that 40% figure empirically, I can indeed say that the gimbal is incredibly comfortable to use, even on protracted shoot days.
The Weebill 3’s wrist strap helps spread some of the weight across your arm, taking the load off your hand. Furthermore, it’s very easy to adjust, with a large thumbscrew and notched plate to lock your camera in place. The thoughtfulness even extends to the little feature of a magnetically-attached wrench for securing the QR plate to the camera.
Beyond shooting ergonomics, Zhiyun has also attempted to make it easier to set up and teardown your rig, with the Weebill 3 including both a fill light and a dedicated microphone. In theory, this means you just have to click your camera in via the QR plate and attach a USB-C and 3.5mm cable to your camera to have stabilization, external audio, and even a light.
In practice, I find these features are a great backup, but neither will replace an external light or shotgun mic (nor do I think anyone expects them to). Still, I’d rather have them than not.
Like the DJI RSC 2, the Zhiyun Weebill 3 is capable of supporting the largest mirrorless cameras and heavy lenses, like 24-70mm f/2.8 zooms. In use, I found the gimbal performed very well, yielding properly-stabilized footage without any micro-jitters.
Additionally, it’s surprisingly resilient to sloppy balancing, as I found out with my 14-30mm f/4. For photographers who care more about shooting quickly than using the lightest possible gimbal, even lightweight mirrorless users may want to jump up to a gimbal like the DJI RSC 2 or Zhiyun Weebill 3.
There’s never been a better time to consider picking up a gimbal. Whether you want to take your phone footage to the next level, or are getting into shooting video with your mirrorless camera, a gimbal can make a wide range of dramatic and exciting shots possible.
As always, when shopping for gimbals, just like tripods, keep the payload in mind. Choosing a gimbal that can comfortably support your current weight load – and more if you want room for error when balancing your gimbal – is essential to getting good results.
If you have any questions about gimbals, let me know in the comments below.
A lot of useful information here, particularly for someone like me living out in the back-of-beyond with no easy way to actually see these things before I buy. I would be looking in the small mirrorless type category. How much help are these things for filming from a boat? I don’t mean in a storm, but the waters here can be a bit choppy.
None of those would support my Z7 and 400 f2.8. What happened to all of the heavier duty gimbals from the likes of RRS, Wimberley, etc. etc. etc.
These are motorized gimbals for video use, not tripod-head gimbals for long lens use.
Jason might be good idea to clearly identify the topic, I too read the article hoping for information on a gimbal for a Nikon D850 with a 200-500m lens.
Hey Mark, as Jason pointed out, these are motorized, camera stabilizing gimbals for things like video, timelapses, and panoramas.
Gimbal tripod heads, for use with long lenses are going to be a bit simpler in implementation – a larger budget gets you a lighter, sturdier head (see aluminum, then carbon fiber), as well as nicer features like balance markings and fluid damping. So, it’s really just a case of finding one with the payload you need, in the budget range you want. I personally really liked the Sirui PH-10 with my Z7 and 500mm from a few articles ago.
Yea, as mentioned above, the title of the topic should be more concise.
As stabilizing gimbals are the more common usage of the term “gimbal”, I think the headline is accurate, particularly with the context of the lead image. I’ll try to identify gimbal tripod heads by name in future pieces, however.
NO it is not you are badly mistaken. Bird and wildlife photographers everywhere are very sure you are wrong, especially if they own a large lens and use one of the many brands.
This is now a source of confusion. The simple solution is to be more precise with your headings and titles.
I agree with Alex – if you search in Google for “best gimbals,” this is the type of product that always shows up. But you’re right that it can be confusing, since both have “gimbal” in the name. If we write an article for what you’re interested in, it will be called “Best Gimbal Tripod Heads” or similar.
They are both called “gimbals” by their respective user groups. (Maybe both groups are wrong now)
One type is for long lenses. A lot of these are sold. The other type are video stabiliser gimbals. (Which they should be called)
It is significant that the only comments are from people commenting about the misleading title, isn’t it?
‘They are both called “gimbals” by their respective user groups. (Maybe both groups are wrong now)’
This appeal to popularity is the logical fallacy argumentum ad populum.
gimbal: A type of mount for an instrument (such as a gyroscope or compass) in which the instrument is free to rotate about two perpendicular axes.
— Oxford Reference
gimbal: a device with a circular part that turns around a fixed central axis (= straight line), used for keeping a compass, camera, or other piece of equipment in position when it is inside a moving vehicle or object.
— Cambridge Dictionary
gimbal: a device that permits a body to incline freely in any direction or suspends it so that it will remain level when its support is tipped. One place you might encounter gimbals is on a ship, where they are used to keep compasses and other things level with the horizon in contrast to the pitch and roll of the vessel at sea.
The suspension of the compass bowl in gimbals (originally used to keep lamps upright on tossing ships) was first mentioned in 1537.
— Encyclopædia Britannica
A gimbal is a pivoted support that permits rotation of an object about an axis. A set of three gimbals, one mounted on the other with orthogonal pivot axes, may be used to allow an object mounted on the innermost gimbal to remain independent of the rotation of its support (e.g. vertical in the first animation). For example, on a ship, the gyroscopes, shipboard compasses, stoves, and even drink holders typically use gimbals to keep them upright with respect to the horizon despite the ship’s pitching and rolling.
Thanks for the interesting info, Pete. My opinion remains that people Googling “best gimbal” will be looking for these motorized video products nine times out of ten. But in deference to the fact that “best gimbal” technically includes objects made as early as the 3rd century BC, I’ve added “video” to the title :)
I’m delighted you’ve changed the title, hopefully, it will prevent further wasting the valuable time of people who are searching for the best gimbals available today for stabilizing rocket motors 🤣