Deciding which drone to purchase is already stressful for the most part. With so many specifications, features, and various gimmicks to choose from, people forget the stuff that actually matter for their intended purpose. In this article, we will be focusing on one of the lesser-known drone characteristics that tend to go under the radar. As the title implies, we are referring to gimbals, specifically 2-axis and 3-axis gimbals.
But first . . .
What Is a Gimbal?
Let’s start off with the basics. A gimbal is a support system that allows an object to remain horizontal regardless of the motion around it. They are the most common solution for image stabilization with various implementations. Ever since drones came up on the big scene, gimbals followed in their path. And it’s nothing surprising. A gimbal is required for each and every single one of those marvelous aerial photography drones. It’s basically the secret behind that smooth and shake-free footage aerial photographers are able to capture.
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When shopping for an aerial photography drone, besides specs such as flight time and operating range, you will eventually stumble upon a part in which you have to decide which gimbal best works for you. The 2-axis or 3-axis gimbal? It’s the biggest dilemma people tend to have. Why is that so?
A 3-axis gimbal is not necessarily better than a 2-axis gimbal. Saying a 3-axis gimbal is better is like saying a car is better than a motorcycle simply because a car has more wheels. Both 3-axis and 2-axis gimbals have their own pros and cons.
2-Axis vs 3-Axis Gimbals
Let’s start with 3-axis gimbals. As their name suggests, 3-axis gimbals rotate around all 3 axes, giving them full range of motion. This is essential for footage since your camera will be able to rotate omnidirectionally, effectively eliminating all shakiness and allowing you to focus on your mounted camera wherever you want. On the other hand, 2-axis gimbals are basically the same as 3-axis ones with the lack of a single axis. In most cases, we are talking about the lack of a jaw axis with both pitch and roll remaining intact.
Now let’s compare how both affect other features due to structure.
The 3-axis gimbals generally provide better video stability than 2-axis gimbals. This is because 3-axis gimbals stabilize your video on all 3 axes (yaw, pitch, and roll) while 2-axis gimbals stabilize only on the pitch and roll axis. Jello, or jittery horizontal movement, is more obvious in videos taken using a 2-axis gimbal due to the lack of stabilization in the yaw axis. The 3-axis gimbals are able to greatly reduce and sometimes completely eliminate jello due to a third motor that helps absorb unwanted movement in the yaw axis.
However, 3-axis gimbals are heavier. To illustrate this point, Walkera’s G-3D gimbal (3-axis) is about 48 g heavier than its 2-axis sibling. In contrast, 2-axis gimbals are lighter, though not as effective as their 3-axis counterparts. That’s because they lack a single brushless motor, making them draw fewer amps and be generally lighter than 3-axis ones. Note that the heavier your drone, the less agile it becomes, so every gram you put on your drone counts.
Bring extra batteries with you if you go for 3-axis gimbals as they drain your battery slightly faster than 2-axis gimbals. This is because 3-axis gimbals draw more battery power due to having more motors for stability.
The 3-axis gimbals are logically more expensive than their 2-axis counterparts because of the single brushless motor responsible for smooth stability. Going back to our previous example, Walkera’s G-3D gimbal costs roughly $50 more than the 2-axis model.
Which Works for You?
When choosing a gimbal, think about what activities you’ll be doing with it. Photography? Cinematography? Drone racing? Delivery? Scientific research? Disaster management? Surveillance? Agriculture? When you get specific with your answers, you start to identify the capabilities the gimbal should have to meet your needs.
For filmmakers and photographers
If you plan to record professional aerial footage, you will definitely want a 3-axis gimbal. Despite its weight and cost, a 3-axis gimbal captures far better videos than a 2-axis gimbal. Video stability is crucial when producing documentaries or Hollywood-grade films, which is why 3-axis gimbals are the favorite choice of professional cinematographers. As mentioned, using 3-axis gimbals will result in shorter flight times, so to solve this problem, simply bring along extra batteries when you go out flying. This isn’t really a problem for photographers and filmmakers alike since extra batteries are part and parcel of their checklist when they get to work.
For even more impressive video stabilization, pair a camera that has built-in stabilization with a 3-axis gimbal. Any video shake that has not been eliminated by the camera gimbal is taken care of by the camera’s own video stabilizer. It is also important to note that 2-axis gimbals can perform as well as their 3-axis counterparts when it comes to taking still images. The only thing that really sets these two gimbals apart are videos. So if you focus strictly on taking still images from the air and hardly do any videos, a 2-axis gimbal will do just fine especially when you have a tight budget.
For FPV enthusiasts
If you’re after the sheer fun of flying a drone in “first person,” you will want to choose a 2-axis gimbal. Due to its lighter weight, 2-axis gimbals provide longer flight times and agility.
Although 2-axis gimbals tend to produce more horizontal shake in your video feed, it is not significant enough to affect your flying. Generally speaking, FPV enthusiasts prefer to fly without any gimbal, mounting the camera directly onto the frame. This setup allows for a far more agile drone, but if you must have a gimbal when flying FPV, then go for a 2-axis gimbal.
For commercial and industrial use
When you hear aerial surveillance, chances are you’re thinking about security cameras designed to catch lawbreakers or possibly spying and monitoring your personal movements and actions. Truth be told, drones indeed serve the commercial and industrial sectors well. Fire departments, private companies, builders, couriers, and emergency rescuers will benefit from a 2-axis gimbal’s battery life, cost, speed, and light weight when attending to the public.
For scientific research
Where once scientists could only observe the earth from above by piloting aircraft or satellites, today they are refining their research without being actually “up” there. Drones now helps scientists gather data fast enough to enable timely assessment of the implications of population or topographical changes. Some fields of scientific research like monitoring wildlife or geographical data require high-quality images to ensure accuracy. A 3-axis gimbal greatly helps these researchers, whereas a 2-axis gimbal is enough for fields that benefit from sensors and sensory imaging such as geological surveying, agriculture, and archeology.
For casual users
Things are not that strict when it comes to casual user, those who are not using drone footage for any type of commercial purpose but for fun or family footage. For these types of users, the biggest concern probably won’t be the type of gimbal their drones come with. They are usually more interested in the specifications (flight time and operating range), as well as autonomous features and all that good stuff.
If your budget is not too tight for a proper investment and if you plan on doing a lot of aerial recordings, go for a 3-axis gimbal model. On the other hand, if you’re on a tight budget but still want to shoot decent aerial footage and photos, the least you can get is an EIS-powered drone. Electronic image stabilization (EIS) reduces the effect of image shake caused by strong winds or UAV vibrations, ensuring stable pictures at high levels of zoom. It’s not as good as a 2-axis gimbal, but it will still be able to do the task of eliminating blurriness from your footage.
To summarize, if you are in need of high-grade images and videos, then 3-axis gimbals are an absolute must for you. On the other hand, if you are dependent on a drone’s capability to do the nitty-gritty of manual labor or to pack a lot of sensors, you should be fine with no gimbal (this is especially true for FPV racers) or a 2-axis one.
Don’t Forget to Protect Your Drone
Flyaway drones are a nightmare for drone owners around the world. The worst part is that they can happen any time. Preventing drones from flying away may be a challenge, as they stem from various reasons such as strong winds, radio interference, faulty firmware upgrade, loss of connection, piloting errors, or software glitches. What if you’ve invested so much in your equipment, including a pricey 3-axis gimbal?
The best option drone owners have is to be prepared ahead of time. Mounting a GPS tracking device like Trackimo on your drone is an effective and affordable countermeasure against drone flyaway. The device is small and lightweight, so you don’t have to worry about it affecting your flight. It’s actually the same device that is used as animal tracker.
To locate a drone equipped with GPS, simply call the device, and you will instantly receive an SMS containing the GPS location of the tracker. If fully charged, the tracker’s battery can last for a couple of days, enough for you to look for your lost drone. The device is also waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about it and your drone getting wet in the rain.
Don’t let a flyaway situation prevent you from enjoying all the features your drone offers. With right planning and preventive measures, you won’t have to worry about losing your drone anymore.
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