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Aerial Cameras

Brushless Gimbal or Digital Image Stabilization?




What is the difference between digital image stabilization and gimbal? Good question! because today David Tolsky will be walking you through all pros and cons of both technologies.

When you look at today’s most popular UAV’s, 9 out of 10 of them will incorporate the use of a mechanical “gimbal” for camera image stabilization. There are reasons for that, probably the biggest being that it doesn’t interfere with image quality. I’ll get to that in a moment. To understand how the 3-axis brushless gimbal works I turned to for the best explanation. Here is the condensed version:

Phantom 3 Gimbal3 axis refers to the camera being able to adjust in all directions, up/down, forward/backward, left and right. Three quiet and powerful brushless motors are what is used to make these adjustments. What goes on in the inside is what makes this device do what it does, provide stable, smooth (for the most part) images in adverse conditions. Electro-mechanical devices such as accelerometers and gyroscopes react to which way the camera moves from outside sources such as wind, and counter-react to stabilize the camera. Electrical impulses are fed to an inner computer of sorts which processes the information lightning fast and puts the outer motors to work.

The gimbal has become the go-to, tried and true method of camera stabilization for the “prosumer” to the serious remote pilot. You’ll find proprietary gimbals on all DJI systems, 3DR Solos, Yuneec Typhoons and many others. Heavy lifters (Cine Alta, Matrice 600 and the like) would not fly without them.

Digital Imaging Stabilization (DIS).

This is a technology by which the image is cropped by onboard software with an image stabilization formula applied. There are pros and cons with this type of stabilization, and its performance will vary from one manufacturer to another depending on the level of sophistication. The obvious con is that when you crop the image sensor digitally, you also lose image resolution and therefore image quality. Also there are more chances to get jello effect on the camera with digital image stabilization. The biggest and only advantage of DIS is that it doesn’t add the exterior weight of a gimbaled camera, therefore UAV batteries last longer for more flight time. 

Digital Image Stabilization Jello Effect

Digital Image Stabilization Jello Effect


What drones are using Digital Image Stabilization?

The Parrot Bebop 2 uses this type of image processing as well as the new Yuneec Breeze drones. Both of these UAV’s are lightweight prosumer model drones that come in at the $500 price point. Is there a correlation between digital image stabilization and lower priced lightweight “prosumer” model drones? I think it’s safe to say that digital image stabilization is a cheaper method of stabilization found in entry level or “training drones” as a singular approach. But DIS doesn’t stop there as you will see…

Yuneec Breeze

Yuneec Breeze- Photo by David Tolsky

Manufacturers such as DJI and even GoPro’s Karma utilize a combination of both mechanical gimbal and digital stabilization. In these cases the DIS acts as a backup image stabilizer, “cleaning up” what small jitters the gimbal may leave behind, if any. Loss of image quality is much less of an issue here because the digital image stabilization doesn’t have to work as hard.

What do you need?

Comparing a gimbal mounted camera with its digital counterpart is like comparing a joystick controller with an app based version. You will find some version of  gimbal stabilization as you start to spend more money and get more serious about smooth aerial video. To get those types of results usually comes at a price in the form of more weight and less flying time per battery. For those with a more stringent budget, just beginning to experiment with aerial video and photography, you are more likely to buy a UAV with some form or electronic or digital imaging stabilization. This group is less concerned with image quality and more concerned with getting the hang of this aerial photography thing.

And by the way …

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the third way of stabilizing your video images, PostProduction Stabilization software. This method is used by professional aerial videographers but novices are becoming more and more aware of its amazing capabilities. This category of image stabilization could warrant a future article by itself! For now I’ll mention some of the more popular programs that you may want to Google; Deshaker, Mercalli, Warp Stabilizer for Adobe After Effects and ReelSteady for Adobe After Effects.

Thanks for reading!

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