Gimbals versus Sliders

You wouldn’t use a power drill to sink a nail and although you wouldn’t want to use a hammer to sink a screw, in a pinch and with a bit of extra effort - the hammer could get the job done. In the same way a slider is the perfect choice for many shots, but with a bit of extra effort a gimbal could get the job done - and because of this many video creators have decided a gimbal is the only tool they need. Throughout this video I’ll show you how these two can’t replace one another by highlighting a number of key differences - with a subtle bias for the slider.

If you’ve had the opportunity to work with a 3-axis gimbal, you will know first hand how challenging it is to accurately repeat a specific camera movement. Gimbals are totally reliant on the inputs of your movements - and regardless of how proficient and practiced you may be, ultimately it’s you and your movements that greatly limit a gimbal’s precision. 

Regardless of whether you have Arnold Schwarzenegger arms or not - no one is capable of holding a gimbal for extended periods without feeling some serious arm fatigue. In contrast, you don’t need a gym membership to push a 10 kilo camera system along a slider. There are gimbal-support systems, such as the ready rig, that aid in reducing a gimbal’s strain on your arms, but their use does restrict the gimbals movements.

Staying with the topic of weight - gimbals have considerably narrow and often limited load capacities: one gimbal will work with a smartphone, a slightly larger gimbal is need for a Digital SLR and an even bigger one for a significant production camera. The Ronin-S maxes out at 3.6 kilos - camera systems heavier than that and a bigger gimbal is required.

 
 

Gimbals are easily offended, that is to say they’re sensitive. You’re unable to interact with the camera while the gimbal is being operated. Yes, you might be able to gingerly touch a rear LCD screen to adjust auto focus, but the overall lack of direct operability quickly raises the price tag associated with a gimbal. A quality wireless follow focus system and off camera monitor are not inexpensive. A slider is much more forgiving and tolerates significant interactions without ruining a shot. You’re able to pull focus, adjust iris - even pan and tilt while using a fluid head.

Setup times are significant for gimbals, they need extensive balancing and calibration upon setup and with every lens change, most gimbals require a mobile device to calibrate and execute special functions. Whereas, with a properly leveled tripod - plop your slider on the sticks, mount the camera and you’re off to the races. Once on a slider, you’re able to change lenses, adjust monitors - without the need to balance or calibrate anything. Of course, you’re not going to pull off crazy multi-operator hand-off shots with a slider, like you can with a gimbal.

To maximize a gimbal’s potential you need a crew larger than just yourself: you’ll definitely require one individual to hold/wear the gimbal, likely a second person to pull focus, maybe a third to remotely control pan,tilt and roll - and possibly even a fourth person to ensure the whole choreographed dance doesn’t bump into anything while moving. A one handed gimbals, such as the DJI Ronin-S, do cater well to single operator use, but they come with a few sacrifices.

Where I feel sliders hold the most significant advantage over gimbals is precision. As mentioned earlier, your body movements greatly limit how precise a gimbal can be - this is why the majority of gimbal shots are captured with wide focal lengths accompanied by lens or in-camera image stabilization systems - they help mask the inaccuracy of the operator’s movements. This lack of precision can greatly hinder your efficiency when shooting, trying to repeat a shot isn’t likely to produce the exact framing as the initial shot. Additionally, the wide focal lengths generally used result in most gimbal shots all having a similar look and feel.

 
 


To be fair, a gimbal is capable of producing shots that a slider can’t come close to matching. A gimbal isn’t confined to a linear path, or restricted to a track’s length and it can be handed off between operators mid shot, can be mounted on a jib, can roll - essentially it’s a long list.

The slider I’ve been using for the past few months is a Rhino Slider Evo. It’s an impressive piece of kit that can add a great deal to the production value of your videos. The entire system feels very well constructed and will undoubtedly survive a few accidental bumps in its lifetime. It doesn’t weigh a lot, but it also doesn’t weigh a little. The rails are carbon fiber and are quite manageable alone, but the motion control system adds a fair bit of heft. The entire system breaks down into manageable pieces to be easily carried in a bag and can be assembled surprisingly quickly. 

With the motion control system, the Rhino Slider Evo makes it very easy to create a terrific parallax camera movement - which doesn’t need to be limited to boring talking heads. A parallax camera movement is when the subject remains relatively static within the frame and the camera moves to either side of the subject so that movement in the background and foreground is accentuated. You’re able to create this parallax effect with a gimbal - and can take it even further by completing a full orbit, but you need to be operating the gimbal to do so. This Rhino Slider Evo can loop its parallax movement, which is fantastic if you’re a solo camera operator, as you’re now free to monitor your A camera or actually pay attention to what your subject is doing.

 
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The Rhino Slider Evo doesn’t necessarily need the motion control system to be worthy of a place on the side of your bag, with just a simple fly-wheel, movement becomes incredibly smooth - the momentum of accelerating and decelerating by hand is dampened perfectly. 

I chose this slider because of its adaptability and portability. I’ve used a number of Kessler Crane sliders, including the second shooter, stealth and a few older styles too, but most of the Kessler systems are beefy and not overly portable. I’ve also used the Cinevate Duzi 4 which is an outstanding slider that produces ridiculously smooth movement and it’s built in Canada, but it only has a fly-wheel and is not expandable with any motorized control system. This Rhino Slider EVO can be used, without a fly-wheel, with a fly-wheel, with 1 axis motion control or two axis motion control and it’s light enough to be carried up a mountain with a mule.

I’ve said it before when speaking specifically about gimbals, but it applies to sliders as well. Just because you have access to a slider… or gimbal - doesn’t mean every shot deserves camera movement. Don’t over do it. Yes, camera movement is a simple way of increasing the perceived production value of your footage and it can easily strengthen emotions being conveyed - but knowing when and how to use camera movement demands significant practice and experience.

It’s worth reiterating that gimbals and sliders are both terrific options for adding dynamic camera movements to your video. Each excel with differing shots and each delivers a noticeably different look or feeling. Admittedly, I’ve been a bit harsh on gimbals, they’re incredible pieces of kit that have immense potential limited only be your mind. However, I still don’t believe a gimbal can out-right replace a slider, they both have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Neil Fisher