For the former settlement in California, see Gimbal, California.
Gimbals are by no means a new technology: The gyroscopic device has been in use since ancient times to keep objects stable in turbulent environments. Today they’re deployed in endeavors from aeronautics to filmmaking to submarines. Cupholders on ships, for example, employ gimbals. As do many drones — a gimbal on a drone is like a Steadicam in the sky, ensuring your footage stays stable and smooth while you fly.
For a pretty good visual of how a gimbal works, imagine holding up a chicken (yes, a chicken) — now move its body all around as its head stays in one place. A gimbal does sort of the same job as that chicken’s neck: It keeps your camera stable and in one position, making sure you get smooth video even as the drone moves, turns and vibrates in flight.
So that’s traditionally been the task and test of a good gimbal: stable video. But with Solo, that was just our starting point.
And yes: First and foremost, the 3-axis Solo Gimbal nails its prime directive. It keeps your GoPro rock steady as you fly, delivering professionally smooth and fluid “jello-free” HD video to your mobile device, stabilizing the camera to within 0.1 degrees of pointing accuracy. But many of us at 3DR have spent several years as professional cinema pilots, and we knew from this experience that gimbals promised much more than stability: They could actually control the camera.
In making the Solo Gimbal, we decided to work closely with GoPro, the world’s most popular action camera company, to make the first gimbal capable of fully controlling the GoPro in the air. The Solo Gimbal accesses the GoPro through the HeroBus port, and gives you the exclusive ability to snap photos and start and stop recording video while in flight, which means that when you land you now have “fat free” footage — just the shots you want. On HERO3+ and HERO4 cameras you’ll also be able change FOV, FPS, shutter speed, exposure compensation and more. (These functionalities aren’t available at the time of this writing, but will be available with a coming firmware update.) The Solo Gimbal even charges the GoPro so your camera battery doesn’t die during flight.
When you combine the Solo Gimbal with Solo’s controller and computer intelligence, you also get fine-grain tilt control of your GoPro. This includes saving and toggling between camera angle presets and instant sweep speed adjustment: Set and save start and end points for your camera tilt and the gimbal will automatically shift camera position between them more smoothly than any cinema pilot could, even slowing to ease in and out of the first and last frames so you don’t get any hard, jerky movements. And a wheel on the right paddle of the controller lets you adjust the speed at which the gimbal executes these automatic tilts. You don’t have to try time and again to execute that perfect camera move — just set up the shot you want, press a button and let the computer do the mechanical work.
Turn moments into movies
Here’s Solo’s killer app: Smart Shots. The Solo Gimbal does what no other consumer drone can: It taps Solo’s intelligence to help you get perfect shots automatically. It’s much more than simply sticking to preset flight paths in the air: This is the one-touch, one-take cinematic aerial motion control that we call Smart Shots, and with the Solo Gimbal they come into their own.
We’ve synched the gimbal’s communication with the autopilot and Solo’s onboard computer so they all work together to keep your camera pointed where you tell it to point, so your shots are framed exactly how you want them. For instance, use Cable cam to set the frames at the beginning and end of your cable, and Solo will remember the exact camera position for each. Then you can just hit “play” and Solo’s computer will fully control the gimbal, including camera pointing, while Solo flies itself along the cable for the automatic perfect shot. Truthfully, not even seasoned cinema pilots can execute such sophisticated shots this smoothly and consistently.
The Solo Gimbal also allows users to engage with Solo in different ways, which you can think of as “layers of autonomy.” Solo can do all the work (handling both the flying and the camerawork) or you can do all the work — or you can split the workload with Solo, effectively turning Solo into a two-operator system. Let Solo execute controlled flight so you can focus on working the camera — panning and tilting to get the exact shots you want. Alternatively you can control the flight while Solo controls the camera. Worried about the landing gear getting in your shot? The gimbal communicates with the computer and autopilot so Solo always knows where the camera is pointing in relationship to its legs — as long as you don’t swing it around too aggressively, Solo will automatically keep the landing gear out of the shot. It’s a virtual 360-degree gimbal.
The Solo Gimbal delivers all of these advanced capabilities while providing a painless and tool-free method of installing and removing your GoPro. It’s available from our store, as well as through our resellers, for $399, and it’s shipping now.