I don’t shoot on a gimbal all that often. When I do, it’s usually for b-roll. But I’m usually doing it with manual focus lenses. It presents some challenges, but they’re pretty easy to overcome. Sure, plenty of cameras have autofocus these days when shooting video, and it’s getting better and better all the time, although it’s still not perfect.
Imperfect systems that are quite easy to confuse are the problem that wedding photographer and filmmaker Matt Johnson has with autofocus when shooting on a gimbal, too. So, in this video, he talks about three of his top tips for shooting video on a gimbal using manual focus lenses.
1. Shoot wide-angle lenses
A wide-angle lens is going to offer you a lot more depth of field relative to your field of view. If you’re using a lens 24mm or wider, then even at bright f/1.4 apertures, once you’ve focused more than a few feet in front of your, the whole world is going to be in focus. This means that you don’t have to worry about things drifting in and out as you move around with the camera.
2. Stop down your aperture
You don’t have to go all the way down to f/22, but even just stopping down to f/5.6, f/8 or f/11 with regular (non-wide-angle) lenses can make a big difference to your depth of field depending on the focus distance. And when you’re outdoors, you’re often shooting at those smaller apertures to keep your exposure under control anyway.
3. Stay the same distance from your subject
If you are shooting with a relatively shallow depth of field, just make sure to always keep the same distance between yourself and your subject. This doesn’t mean you can’t move, you just have to move with your subject. If you’re walking in front or behind them, then move at the same speed so that they stay the same distance away. If you’re tracking them from the side, walk parallel to them at the same speed. Or, if your subject is standing still, you can still orbit around them, Michael Bay-style.
I’d also personally add a fourth way to work with manual focus lenses on gimbals. And that’s to get a follow focus. I’ve used several gimbals from Zhiyun and Moza with manual focus lenses mounted to the camera. Many gimbals offer follow focus units to let you adjust the focus of lenses at will, without relying on any kind of electronic connection between the gimbal and camera or camera and lens. So, take advantage of them if you can.