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Interactive Communications

DIY Motorized DSLR Brushless Gimbal

February 25th, 2014

Here at Interactive Communications, we like to experiment. We’ve built DIY camera rigs and try the nightly builds of Magic Lantern firmware on our Canon cameras. Heck, I even built my own timelapse camera slider, going so far as to write my own program to set the move speeds. We do it because we want to tell the best story and have different tools to use to do that.

So in 2012, when we saw the short video that Vincent LaForet did with the Movi, our jaws dropped. Fast-forward just under a year and now the do-it-yourself crowd has built a community around these gyro-stabilized camera gimbals, blossoming out of the RC hobby.

A couple of us in the office are in to the RC hobby. Flying helicopters and quadcopters kind of got us thinking; we could build one of those! And so we decided, when the right project came to our attention, we jumped on the opportunity to build one.

The finished gimbal during its debut shoot

The gimbal at its first real video shoot

Before I get too much further, I want to make this clear: This is NOT a how-to. Realistically, if you are toying with the idea of making your own camera gimbal, then you have to be able to tinker or pay up for the out-of-the-box solutions. However, I’d like to give some tips that would have helped us from the start.

Our parts list (all from HobbyKing):

  • Turnigy PRO Steady-Hand Gimbal 3 Axis KIT
  • Quanum AlexMos Brushless Gimbal Controller 3-Axis Kit Basecam
  • Turnigy HD 5208 Brushless Gimbal Motor (BLDC)
  • Lithium Polymer Charge Pack 18x22cm Sack
  • TL-262 Thread Locker & Sealant High Strength
  • Hobbyking 2-8S Cell Checker with Low Voltage Alarm
  • Cable Ties 160 x 2.5mm White (100pcs)
  • 5.6mm x 13mm M3 Nylon Threaded Spacer (10pc)
  • EC3 plugs (10pairs/set) (USA warehouse)
  • Turnigy 420 Balancer/Charger 2S~4S
  • Wire Mesh Guard Black 3,6, and 8mm (1mtr)
  • HobbyKing Power Supply 100~240v 5A
  • Turnigy 2200mAh 3S 20C Lipo Pack

Totaled out to be around $600 shipped vs the Movi equivalent at just under $5,000.

Additional parts were bought from Quadframe.us who we were able to provide IMU and AlexMos board cases. We also took several trip to our local hardware shop, where we got our nylon screws, nuts and spacers for mounting the board. Here’s a short video that includes some shots with the gimbal:

Some notes and tips (specific to this build)

  • The Hobby King frame is not easily adjustable and thereby very frustrating to balance. Be prepared to tighten and untighten the screws about a thousand times.
  • The hardware provided with the frame was not quite adequate, it was missing motor mounting screws and it was not in the motor box. Some screws broke threads or just didn’t work. Have some additional screws on hand!
  • Another suggestion to Hobbyking: Please include a stand for the gimbal, it would save people so much time and frustration. What we did was use two light stands to hold up the gimbal, which worked great but if there was an option to buy a simple stand, we would have definitely done that.
  • Get yourself a halfway decent set of hex drivers, they will save your fingers and sanity.
  • Providing a case for the IMU and the AlexMos board would be really helpful in protecting the electronics, especially if people are going to fly this on a camera ship and if it is intended on being used on a production shoot.
  • A longer IMU cable would have been tremendous; we tore ours off so many times, eventually creating a longer one.
  • Header pins for the IMU would have been nice so we wouldn’t have to keep resoldering the wires.
  • BE SURE to check all axes for friction-less motion, it is super important and gave us too many headaches.
  • BALANCE is essential to the success of this, we followed the basics from the Movi online manual on Vimeo and found it very helpful.

So the big question is, was it worth it?

Yes and no. We saved a ton of money by doing it ourselves and we sure as hell paid for it in the time we spent tinkering and adjusting the thing. In the end, I can build one of these things with a bit more confidence and the experience we gained is new territory in the world of cinematography. So to answer the question, it was mostly worth it minus the times we wanted to throw the gimbal through the window.

-Darryl

12 Responses to “DIY Motorized DSLR Brushless Gimbal”

  1. Tim says:

    Wow, nice job and thanks for posting this. I was very close to buying one of these gimbals from hobbyking but will probably end up making my own or going with a better designed one with easy adjustments. Do you like the alexmos board? I’ve had good results with my budget 2 axis Martinez board. With the 5208 motors, did you feel like they were up to the task or at the limit of their usefulness? Thanks.

  2. Darryl says:

    Hey Tim! So glad you commented, I’d be happy to answer your questions. The Alexmos/Basecam board is great, I think it is definitely worth the cost in the end with the amount of support and updates it gets. I’ve had a little experience with a 2-axis Martinez board I have on a GoPro gimbal that I have and it works pretty good too, I just don’t know how the software and hardware holds up to larger motors like we have.

    Speaking of motors, I neglected to include the fact that when we ordered we had to get the 5206 motors from Hobbyking instead of the 5208, they were out of stock. That said, the motors generally work great. I emphasize generally. Our pitch motor was super touchy because of the way the gimbal mounted, another ding on the gimbal frame itself. It would eventually bind and be really inefficient in its operation. What we had to do is use a different motor, we got an iPower gimbal motor of the same size and it works and spins perfect. The motors hold up well for the weight we put on it, we load a Canon 60d with the 17-40mm L lens on there and get no issues with the motors carrying that weight.

    Overall, definitely go with a better frame that has easier adjustments. These gimbals require a lot of adjustments on the fly and a whole lot more patience. Hope this helps!

    -Darryl

  3. José Xavier says:

    Hi,
    thank you for the information. I got a 3 axis gimbal from hobbyking too and I’m using the iPower GBM5108-120T on all but can’t make it work properly, can you share your PID values? :)

  4. Marten says:

    Hey Darryl.

    We are trying to build a stabilizing gimbal for a DSLR on a quadcopter.

    How much does this gimbal you made weigh?
    Assuming 3lbs for camera and lens, we can lift about 4-5 lbs max for the gimbal set up.

  5. Darryl says:

    Hello Jose! I don’t think sharing PID settings will be the solution, stock settings should be a good place to start, if anything, try increasing the power setting. Use this guide to help tune your gimbal, I found it very helpful to just know what does what. These things are not easy and you should take some time to do a lot of trial and error. -Darryl

  6. Darryl says:

    Hi Marten,

    The gimbal with the camera is around 5 pounds. We added an external monitor the the frame, so that adds additional weight. Hope your project goes well, it sounds pretty exciting. -Darryl

  7. engo says:

    Hi!

    I’d like to know if a nex sony could possibly be used on the gimbal HobbyKing?
    But maybe this 5208 motors is too powerful for nex? An motor must be adapted to the weight of the device or the more powerful is better?

  8. Darryl says:

    Hi engo, the HobbyKing gimbal frame will work with any camera, it’s the motors that you want to make sure matches. I’m not 100% sure but generally those 5208 size motors are for DSLR cameras. For the NEX cameras, I would be inclined to use a smaller motor like the 4006 size motors.

  9. Rick says:

    Hi,

    First of all thanks for creating this page, its very helpful. I bought one gimbal just like this(including the seme motors and the Alexmos) Well, i mounted everything but i got into a frustrating part: my roll motor is not working well, it seems like the weight of the gimbal is forcing it and creating a friction. I already unmounted everything and I couldn’t solve it. If you had the same issue please tell me how did you solve it. Thanks a lot.

  10. laid says:

    Hi Rick,

    Thanks for the comment! We had some pretty bad issues with friction and our motor. THe way that the motor mounts to the frame is vital! First off, if you remove the motor that is causing you trouble, make sure to see if it spins freely to start. Then pay attention to how it mounts and try different screw combinations. If all else fails, like it did for us, we went up and bought a new motor. Specifically we got the iPower 5206 gimbal motor.

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