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  • Writer's pictureDuncan Curtis - Director


If you have even the most basic interest in, film and video production, you will, no doubt, have seen shots delivered by drones, gimbals, SteadyCam, jibs, dollies and other camera moving equipment. The results are, indeed, very impressive and add an extra layer of quality to a video, but each comes with its own set of considerations and cost implications. In this article we’ll examine each option to help you decide which may be best for your individual video needs.


Drones have developed a lot in the past few years and now seem to be everywhere. There’s no denying the benefits they add to a video project, but they are subject to more health and safety and legal restrictions than other moving camera technology.


The most essential advice here is not to cut corners. Professional drone operators must have professional certification to show they know where they are allowed to film and where they are not. Restrictions vary depending on drone size, but in general they can’t be flown over crowds, must be kept below a certain height, can’t be flown within existing commercial and military airspace without specific permission, can’t be flow in built up areas and must be in the operator’s line of sight at all times. Additionally, operators must comply with privacy laws and be aware of what they are and are not allowed to do with the footage and photos. The operator must also have the correct drone operation insurance in place.


It may be tempting to bend the rules and some, less reputable operators may be willing to take risks, but, if caught, the fines and consequences can be severe. As the client, it is essential to check that a drone company has the correct certification and insurance in place.


It’s also worth remembering that drone flying is weather dependent, with the smaller ones particularly unable to fly in windy conditions.


Having said all of that, drones offer a huge variety of shots not achievable through other solutions, including great, stabilized movement along all axes, 360 filming without the risk of getting other equipment or crew in shot, and greater speed and distance options, Drones can fly between and through obstacles, over any terrain and have the ability to follow people, vehicles and action smoothly.


The advantages of drone filming are huge and it’s no wonder they are used so much in modern film and video production – as long as you obey the rules!


The cost will depend on the size of the drone and the operating crew. Some can be flown by single operators, whereas larger drones that carry heavier, cinematic cameras, require two people – one to fly and one to operate the camera. CAA/police checks and permissions will also add to the cost, but are essential to drone filming. It’s almost impossible to cover the whole price range here, and it’s best to speak directly with a drone company/operator to discuss requirements and get an accurate quote.



Jibs come in a variety of sizes and lengths depending on the requirements of the shoot, from mini-jibs, which can be operated by one man, to Jimmy Jibs, which can vary in length from 6 to 30 ft. As you would expect, the larger the jib, the more expensive they are.


Jimmy Jibs normally require at least two crew members, one to swing the weighted jib arm and one to operate the camera. Depending on the size of the jib and location considerations, further jib techs and spotters may be required for safety reasons.

Where the mini jibs are very restricted in how wide and high they can move, the Jimmy Jibs offer incredibly diverse movement and shot variety. A skilled crew can move the camera extremely accurately at a variety of speeds and are permitted to swing above the heads of crowds, where drones are not allowed to fly.


Recce days are essential for jib crews to assess any safety, location and construction concerns before the filming day, and this needs to be factored into the budget. Due to the people and recce/setup time involved, Jimmy Jibs are normally a more expensive option than drone filming.



A gimbal is a stabilized camera support, which allows handheld camera operation with vastly reduced vibration or shake. The size of a gimbal depends on the size of the camera it needs to hold. Larger, film cameras will require larger rigs, whereas gimbals designed to hold DSLRs or action cameras will be much smaller. The latter have become very popular in corporate video productions as they offer the ability to follow and track around and through action incredibly smoothly for a low cost.

Good gimbal operation requires practice, but the steady results add an extra, professional level of quality to a video. They are quick and easy to set up and can be used virtually anywhere.


The drawback is the limited range of movement compared with drones and jibs. You can only get as high as your arms can reach and the speed of movement is generally slower to avoid the ‘bounce’ of running footsteps. You can, however, shoot smoothly at ground level for those low-level sports action shots.


Low cost and fast setup make gimbals a good choice for many shoots.



Similar to gimbals, SteadyCam offers stable movement to handheld camera operation, but unlike gimbals, they also help to stabilize vertical movement. You have probably seen SteadyCam operators at sporting events. They’re the ones wearing the back-supporting vast, from which extends a sprung arm, on which rests a pole with the camera on top, balanced by weights and monitor at the bottom. When properly balanced, operators can run with the SteadyCam to follow fast action while keeping the shot incredibly smooth. Steadycam was originally designed to carry large, broadcast cameras, which is why most operators were built like bulls. These days, as cameras have reduced in size, smaller SteadyCam rigs are also available.


The benefits are incredibly smooth shots at faster speeds in all axes. The cons are that they can take a little time to set up and, as they require specialist operators, they are normally additional to other cameras on a shoot.



I’m sure you have seen dollies used in behind-the-scenes movie footage. They’re the wheeled units that run on tracks or rails. As with jibs, they come in many different styles and sizes, from simple wheels attached to the bottom of tripods that run on plastic tubing, through fold-out “suitcase” dollies that the camera tripod and operator can stand on, to large, film production dollies, with seats for the camera team, that run on heavy metal tracks. The last two require extra people (known as ‘grips’) to set up and push the dollies while the cameraman operates the camera. Generally, the larger and heavier the dolly, the smoother the end shots will be.


Dollies offer the ability to follow actors/presenters at high speed and track past scenery very smoothly and the tracks can be extended to any length you require. On the down side, they can take time to set up and their movement is restricted  to the horizontal plane. Where the smaller versions are cheap, they can be less smooth. The larger options can be expensive, particularly when you factor in the extra crew needed to move the dolly.

Sliders are a less expensive option. They too offer smooth movement in horizontal planes, but their movement is even further restricted to the length of the slider (normally between 1 foot and 6 feet). They work best if you have something in the foreground to track past to enhance the relatively short movement . Sliders work well for motion control setups as many can be programmed to follow a set distance in a set time, making it easier to composite several shots on top each other, while precisely matching the speed of movement for every take.

There is no doubt that all of the above options add a lot to a production, but cost is a big factor. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for and you won't be able to shoot a Hollywood Blockbuster on less expensive equipment. Work to your budget. A good production company will be able to advise on the best options for your video, but, as always, "never lose sight of your message." Creativity is essential to stand out from the crowd, but anything that detracts from your message will be detrimental to your production. There are times when simple is best.

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