What is a Glidecam?
Glidecams are a group of mechanical camera stabilizers. They work by balancing camera weight to achieve camera stabilization. The mechanism is entirely operator-driven which means the videographer has to be skilled in glidecam control to use this stabilizer.
What is a gimbal?
Gimbals are battery-powered electronic devices that use micro motor movements to achieve camera stabilization. These devices have programmed settings that can be used in different filming conditions. They also work with software that allows for periodical function and settings updates.
Glidecam vs. Gimbal: How do they compare?
A thorough glidecam vs. gimbal comparison needs to pit both device types against each other in terms of features, functions and uses.
So, in this first section, we go through the differences in glidecams and gimbals based on their features and functions.
Using a camera stabilizer is all about controlling the movement of the camera. Avoiding unwanted movements that cause jittery and shaky videos, then maintain the natural movement of the video subjects.
Gimbals are usually controlled using buttons and a joystick. The bulk of the work of stabilization is done by the gimbal motors which are already programmed to correct extra movement once the subject is locked. In essence, gimbal stabilization is machine-controlled (better put as AI) (1).
Glidecams on the other hand are controlled by the operator. The glidecam can be moved in the exact direction for filming on one hand, while correcting unwanted movements and camera shakes with the other hand. This makes glidecam stabilization exhibit more natural movement of the subject.
- Battery usage
The distinction with this feature is pretty straightforward, glidecams are mechanical while gimbals are electronic devices. This means only gimbals use batteries.
What this means is that glidecams have no issues with battery power duration, only gimbals. So, this can be an advantage for filming in places with no power source or for a very long duration. Although, the glidecam has to be controlled with the hand which can also be strenuous.
- Ease of setup
Setting up a camera on a gimbal or glidecam is more or less the same. The only difference is that it takes more time to balance properly on a gimbal to ensure the responsiveness of the gimbal controls on the camera.
Here’s another feature that goes in favor of glidecams owing to their mechanical design. Basically, a glidecam is made of moving metal pieces. Whereas, gimbals consist of chips and sensors, and also a battery, which makes the device susceptible to damage when under harsh conditions.
With the whole camera movement depending on a glidecam operator (2), it allows for more responsiveness to subject movement when filming. Not that gimbals aren’t responsive as well, but it takes split seconds for the motors to stabilize the video when filming fast-moving action.
Versatility has to do with the type of devices that can be used in each type of stabilization device. Both gimbals and glidecams accommodate a wide range of cameras. However, each gimbal is often compatible with only a handful of devices based on the controls and software. Whereas a glidecam can work with any camera that can be balanced on it.
- Ease of use
As gimbals are largely automated, there’s no debating that they are much easier to use than glidecams. Glidecams require a bit of technical skills and operational experience, as opposed to merely having to learn button functions with gimbals. Glidecams also have a much deeper learning curve than gimbals, which means it takes more time and consistent practice to master their use.
- Weight and payload strength
As regards the weight of the gear themselves, it’s hard to judge whether gimbals are heavier than glidecams or not, as there are different products available. In general, gimbals seem lighter owing to their smaller builds.
When it comes to payload strength, however, glidecams are built to balance heavier camera payloads than gimbals. This is because gimbals have electronic components which would only become more prone to balancing error with larger sizes.
Like we just highlighted, gimbals have particularly small sizes as a means of reducing balancing error in their moving parts. Whereas, glidecams are much more chunky, so as to ensure ease of handling and also to properly balance larger camera and lens combinations.
Glidecam vs. Gimbal: Which should you use for which video?
Now that we’ve discussed glidecam vs. gimbal features, it’s time to consider how each device type performs in common video recording positions.
- Follow mode
Follow mode is the easiest and most common videography stance. It involves filming a subject who is moving in front of the camera person, who follows in the same direction.
To record follow mode on a gimbal is as easy as it comes. This is the default mode when recording on a gimbal. It doesn’t require any additional settings, just choose the preset mode and the gimbal helps deliver silky smooth footage.
With a glidecam, recording in follow mode is also quite simple. Once the subject is locked in on the camera, the videographer only needs to hold the glidecam in position and move after the subject for a well-stabilized recording.
The reverse follow mode is similar to recording on follow mode, the difference here is that the cameraperson faces the subject and, therefore, moves in the opposite direction. This is also a pretty common recording move, especially used in interviews and videos where the subject addresses the camera directly.
Recording ‘Reverse Follow’ on a gimbal is neater than with a glidecam. This is because the camera is majorly focused on the subject’s face which makes slight jitters more pronounced. A gimbal can deliver videos without any wobbles whatsoever when recording reverse follow. Hence, a gimbal is the best choice for videographers who record mostly in this direction. An example would be television camerapersons.
- Low mode
Recording low mode is not easy to pull off either with a glidecam or with a gimbal. It entails recording a subject on the move with the camera close to the ground. Holding the camera in this position while moving can result in a wobble video.
That’s why using a gimbal or glidecam in this recording position is important. Glidecams often have a flippable handle which makes recording in ‘Low Mode’ quite smooth. And the resulting video follows the subject well while keeping the natural movements.
With a gimbal on low mode, the operator has to find a position that locks the subject well from the desired distance. Once the videographer can maintain their position, the shoot produces a result like with the regular follow mode, stable and clear.
When recording zoomed-in footage, the focal length of the lens is high which means every hand movement is exaggerated more. Very stable gears are preferred for balancing when recording far-away objects using a zoom lens. This is applicable in situations like wildlife videography and sports recording.
Usually, videographers prefer going with stable setups like a tripod or monopod. However, for the best stabilization, gimbals are much more suitable. The hand movement involved in stabilization using a glidecam can cause shakes with a zoom lens, hence gimbals are most preferable.
- Live recording
When covering a live event, fluidity is needed. As subjects move freely, the videographer does the job of closely following their movement which can require a swift response. For optimal responsiveness, glidecams are the best choice. Not only does it allow for faster response, but it also ensures easy controls, as opposed to potentially having to switch modes while using a gimbal. Even at that, professionals cover live events with a gimbal and produce sleek videos.
- Moving vehicle shots
Recording out of a moving vehicle is a common stunt among filmmakers. Much of the shakes and unwanted camera movement here comes from the vehicle and not the videographer’s handling. So, recording with a glidecam here makes the video more susceptible to shakes. Gimbals are much more effective when filming out of a moving vehicle.
- Action sports
Recording clean videos of action sports require highly responsive stabilization. This is why action cameras come with quality in-body stabilization, then the external stabilization does the job of actively following live-action. Glidecams perform best when recording action sports like mountain biking, snowboarding, and the likes.
The fact that hyperlapse requires a consistent focus on the subject over a long period of time already indicates an edge for gimbals. Recording hyperlapse with a glidecam would reflect minute shifts in hand movement when the footage is compiled. The small hand movements normally pass as natural movements but they become more pronounced in hyperlapse videos. Picking a gimbal in this situation is a no-brainer.
- Creative videos
Shooting a creative video like a music video often involves splicing different recording moves together, and some unusual ones like the 360 infinity roll. It all depends on the story the video creator is trying to tell. So for situations like this, it might be best to work with both a glidecam and a gimbal, if they’re both available. But overall, a glidecam might seem the better option because it supports more freedom of movement.
Gimbals are great for filming, especially when smooth footage is of priority. Gimbals are best used for short films, documentaries, and creative videos.
Glidecams are similar to Steadicams in that they are both mechanical camera stabilizers. However, glidecams are produced by a different brand from Steadicams, and the products are usually handier.
When it comes to camera stabilization for videos, the glidecam vs. gimbal comparison has no clear winner. It all boils down to handling and which type of video is being filmed. For videos involving lots of fast camera movement and fluidity, a glidecam would be more appropriate. Whereas, for videos focused mainly on the subject and requiring the best stabilization possible, a gimbal would come in handy.
Either way, both glidecams, and gimbals are pretty effective gears and would give one their money’s worth. Do you favor any of the two camera gear types? Let us know why in the comments below.
- Keep It Smooth Blog. (Oct 20, 2017). How Does A 3 Axis Gopro Or Dslr Gimbal Work? Evo Gimbal. Retrieved from https://www.evogimbals.com/blogs/evo-blog/how-does-a-3-axis-gopro-or-dslr-gimbal-work
- Tom Strojnik. (Jan 30, 2020). GLIDECAM TUTORIAL – Tips For Super Smooth Shots 2020. Tom Strojnik Channel. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVBBnjWl6KE