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If you sometimes wonder how a drone video is so stabilized, or how the photographs are perfectly clear even in windy conditions, it’s due to a drone’s gimbal.
What is a gimbal in drones?
A gimbal is a sophisticated support system for a drone camera with one to three brushless motors and electrical internal components and sensors such as IMU. These help the drone camera remain stable at a specific angle and tilt on the yaw, roll, and pitch axes, as seen in 3-axis mechanical gimbals.
However, there are more types of gimbal cameras for drones. We will cover them in this article and explain how they work.
Drone gimbals, in detail #
When a camera is mounted on a drone, it’s situated as a load on a specifically-engineered gimbal.
Knowing DJI, almost all their standard drones come with three-axis mechanical gimbals.
A three-axis mechanical gimbal will stabilize the drone camera on all these axes: yaw, roll, and pitch.
- The yaw of the camera gimbal will turn the entire gimbal camera to the left or right as you change directions, but the drone will not change any direction. It’s like the drone peeks in one direction before turning.
- The roll relates to tilting the camera drone on one side whenever you turn the drone, or the gimbal stabilizes such turns to keep the horizon line straight.
- The pitch refers to the drone camera tilt up and down. The cogwheel adjustment on a drone remote controller will adjust the tilt of the drone camera. A 90-degree down-tilt basically sets the drone camera facing straight down.
The drone camera and gimbal components, including the brushless motors, are perfectly balanced on the same structure to give the gimbal motors as little workload as possible.
» MORE: Best Drones Under $1,000
How many types of gimbals exist for drones? #
To summarize this, there are drone cameras with no gimbal, one-axis gimbals, two-axis, and three-axis, as is the most common.
However, there are also drones with four-axis gimbals, such as the Autel EVO Lite.
We can also look at expensive commercial drones with special camera gimbals for a DSLR or RED camera, but these are rarer still.
Let’s review the most common gimbal types in detail.
No gimbal #
The camera drones with no gimbal are, in fact, what we see on custom FPV drones (not DJI FPV or Avata) or fixed wings.
These cameras are fixed into the FPV drone frame and can only be manually adjusted to the camera angle to fly forward.
With FPV drones, we don’t really need gimbals. We don’t photograph, and as the drone will only fly forward and at specific speeds, the footage obtained is quite decent.
Moreover, FPV drone footage obtained via the video transmission camera is often stabilized and post-processed in video editing software.
But most FPV pilots care little to film with such cameras, as they often add an action camera such as a GoPro to the FPV drone.
Therefore, there’s not much interest in having a gimbal on an FPV drone camera.
» MORE: FPV Drones vs. Regular Drones (Explained for Beginners)
One-axis camera drone gimbal #
However, the DJI FPV and Avata are another story. DJI made these FPV drones for simplicity, so they had to add a gimbal to the drone’s camera.
Not a three-axis, as this would be impractical, but a one-axis mechanical gimbal.
The gimbal found in the DJI FPV and Avata only tilts the camera angle up and down.
Therefore, when you film with these drones in Normal Mode, especially with the DJI FPV, and turn left or right, the entire horizon and image will tilt to one side.
The lack of a multi-axis gimbal was solved with DJI Avata’s HorizonSteady feature that will help the image stabilize on the roll axis through software.
A one-axis gimbal may have the same IMU and components as with other types of gimbals but will host only a brushless motor for remotely adjusting the camera tilt angle.
The role of this one-axis gimbal on DJI FPV and Avata is to change the camera angle when in flight, whereas, with a custom FPV drone, you will have to manually adjust it with a hex key.
» MORE: DJI Avata – Hands-on Review (From an FPV Beginner)
Two-axis camera drone gimbal #
An example of a drone with a two-axis gimbal is the Holy Stone HS720E.
This drone camera gimbal has two motors to help with the roll and the pitch, keeping the horizon line straight and tilting a specific camera angle up and down.
Two-axis camera gimbal drones often feature electronic image stabilization to further stabilize the video.
» MORE: Holy Stone HS720E Camera Settings (Explained)
Three-axis gimbal stabilization #
Next, we have the most common drone gimbal stabilization and almost the most advanced.
A three-axis mechanical gimbal will have three brushless motors, as mentioned, and helps the drone stabilize with the roll, yaw, and pitch.
What is different about a three-axis mechanical gimbal is that it’s not only used to readjust the tilt and camera angle manually but has technological advancements to keep the camera stable in place, even in high winds.
The three-axis gimbal can also eliminate vibrations and sudden movements, helping you create unique, smooth drone footage.
An excellent three-axis camera gimbal can even help the drone capture long-exposure photographs at night when the drone is flying and hovering.
This is an incredible advancement from what we used to have a couple of years back in terms of drone stabilization and gimbals.
Therefore, if you’re looking for a beginner drone, make sure it has a three-axis mechanical gimbal. You can’t go wrong.
» MORE: Best Budget Drones with 3-Axis Gimbal
How does a four-axis gimbal work? #
This is a new type of gimbal that will work exactly like a three-axis mechanical gimbal but has something new.
The design and an extra motor allow the camera gimbal to turn the camera 90 degrees from landscape to portrait mode.
With this type of camera gimbal, we can look at a true mode of vertical shooting for social media without cropping or digital adjustments while maintaining the full resolution.
It’s possible we will see more often drones with four-axis mechanical gimbals in the future since the use of drones for social media content continues to increase exponentially.
Can drone gimbals be changed or upgraded? #
If you crashed your drone and the only thing broken is the camera gimbal, sadly, you may have to change the entire gimbal or the camera itself.
The camera will likely not be removable from the gimbal, but it depends. Many DJI drones have a simple disassembly process of the camera from the gimbal.
What we recommend if you don’t know what you’re doing is to contact a drone service or send it back to the manufacturer, as they can exchange the gimbal or camera for you.
Upgrading a drone camera gimbal is another story.
For instance, if your drone has a one or two-axis camera gimbal and you want to change it to a three-axis one, you’ll unlikely be able to do that unless it’s a custom drone.
The camera drone gimbals are calculated to work in the drone frame precisely as manufactured.
Changing to a three-axis or different gimbal may create fit issues with the new gimbal. Also, there’s an entire IMU processor and firmware that you cannot change to introduce compatibility between the new gimbal and the drone.
» MORE: Best Drones for Night Time Use (Photography & Video)
Drone gimbal parts #
Gimbal housing: This is the entire gimbal frame, which will house the motors, the wiring to the camera, the IMU, and the wiring from the IMU to the drone.
If a gimbal is damaged and has to be changed, but the camera is okay, there’s an entire disassembly process where you have to remove the gimbal system from the drone.
Further, the camera will be connected to the IMU, which is connected to the gimbal housing by wires. These also have to be carefully removed.
Moreover, the IMU will have a thermal compound on it. If you change the gimbal, you will need to add a new thermal compound to the IMU before installing the camera, or the gimbal will overheat.
IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit): It has a three-axis accelerometer and three-axis gyroscope, magnetometers, barometers, and other sensors to sense rotation on all axes in a three-dimensional space. This is always placed on the gimbal housing.
Camera: The camera can likely detach from the gimbal, as with many DJI drones, but not always.
A camera will have a lens, CMOS, and an electronic component to transmit the data or images received by the drone to the VTX module.
Wiring: The wiring of the camera drone and the gimbal is not complex. If you change the camera on a gimbal or the gimbal itself, you will not have to know how to solder because it’s most likely a plug-in process.
» MORE: Why is My Drone Tilting to One Side (And How to Fix It)
Can a drone gimbal hold more than a camera? #
Drone gimbals have advanced a lot in the past few years, so it’s not uncommon to find drones with multiple cameras.
An example would be the DJI Mavic 3 Pro or DJI Air 3; these drones have a gimbal with three and respectively two cameras.
But the cameras are mounted in the same housing system on the gimbal, and not separately.
Therefore, manufacturers produce gimbals to host their cameras with enough stabilizing power to face even extreme weather conditions.
Do drone gimbals require calibration? #
Occasionally, a drone gimbal and IMU will require calibration to function correctly.
This can happen randomly, after crashes or transportation, or after being placed near a strong magnetic field.
Usually, the gimbal calibration is done via the software used by the drone to fly, like the DJI Fly App.
When changing the entire gimbal, additional software may be needed to calibrate the new gimbal.
We recommend checking the following article to determine how to calibrate a drone, including the gimbal and IMU.
» MORE: How to Calibrate a Drone (Ultimate Guide)
Do drone gimbals break? #
A drone gimbal is the easiest part that can break. It’s a sensible mechanical device that can fail during transportation without a proper cover.
Moreover, if you connect your drone to the computer for data transfer and you have to power it on, ensure you remove the gimbal cover.
Otherwise, the motors will force the gimbal into its case and can quickly break.
This is a common mistake seen across many drone forums where gimbals fail entirely after the drone has been powered on while the gimbal cover is still attached.
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