Using Anamorphic Lenses on Gimbals and Stabilizers

If 2016 was the year of VR, 2015 was drones, 2014 was the year of the gimbals and three-axis gimbal stabilizer.

The idea was that almost anyone could pick up a gimbal and with minimal training, execute smooth cinematic shots on a DSLR.

We were obviously interested in seeing how handheld gimbals can be used with anamorphic lenses. Although manufacturers rate their gimbals for plenty of total weight- that spec can be deceiving. A gimbal still requires that a balanced camera across three axes- pan, tilt, and yaw. Distribution of weight can be just as important as total weight for the gimbal to function effectively.

zhiyun anamorphic lens
GH5 and anamorphic on the Zhiyun Crane

When shooting with anamorphic lenses- you are adding additional elements to the front of your setup. Although we have stripped down our lenses for minimal weight, such as the 1lb (0.3kg) Isco Micro, and the lightest single focusing solution out there, it will still change the distribution of weight and require some additional adjustments for shooting with anamorphics on gimbals. And if you’re interested in adding adapters that turn your dual focus lens into a single focus, this can be even more challenging to balance.

A total setup, including a Panasonic GH5, a 50mm lens, our custom clamp, and our custom single focus anamorphic lens weights approximately 3lb in total. This is among the very lightest single focus anamorphic setups available. 3lb is also right around the maximum payload of the Zhiyun Crane- a small, foolproof handheld gimbal that we like to use.

The Anamorphic Gimbal Trick: Adding Weight

For best practice, balance your gimbal by the three axes first, before activating stabilization motors. When adding an anamorphic lens to your setup, you will have to adjust for a new center of gravity. This will mean bringing your camera a bit further back on the mounting plate of the gimbal to compensate to the forward weight.

Depending on your gimbal, you might have a physical limit as to far you can adjust each axis before bumping into the arms of the gimbal. If you run into this limit, try this simple solution. Strategically add some weight to the rear of the gimbal, counterbalancing the heavy weight from the anamorphic lens in the front.

zhiyun crane anamorphic lens weight
1lb of steadicam counterbalance weights

Simply attach balance weights to the gimbal. The Zhiyun Crane, for example, features two 1/4-20 screw threads underneath the mounting plate. This is a perfect place to add weight for anamorphic lenses. Use a socket cap screw and a wingnut to help lock down the weights tightly without any play.

zhiyun crane anamorphic lens counterweight
Counterweights attached to the Zhiyun baseplate

If your gimbal or DSLR does not have screw threads for mounting, you can easily add weights via the hot shoe mount on the top of the camera via a hot shoe to 1/4 adapter.

Add weights one at a time to find the perfect counterbalance. Avoid overloading your motors or tiring out your camera operators with a heavy rig. We like to use small stabilizer balance weights that allow for flexible operation. Even a few ounces can make a huge difference to your balance.

zhiyun crane anamorphic lens gh5 counterweight

What gimbals work?

The Zhiyun Crane- Steadicam Anamorphic in a Backpack

For mounting the Isco Micro on the Zhiyun, we find that 3-4 weights added to the the back of the mounting plate counteract the anamorphic and balance the gimbal. Because of the length of the setup, the Z axis might be difficult to determine balance. Fortunately, that is the easiest axis to guess on.

Panasonic GH5 gimbal

Once the setup is mounted and balanced, the Zhiyun crane will be near its maximum payload. Although the gimbal may function, the tilt axis may start “nodding” repeatedly. Switching to the full follow mode increases the motor strength and prevents any nodding at all.  You now have a perfectly stable setup usable even with rapid movement.

zhiyun weight mode
Press the “mode button” twice to stabilize the extra weight and prevent “nodding”

To enter full follow mode, use the Zhiyun app, or double-tap the camera button on the crane. You will be ready to shoot.

The DJI Ronin

We have no issues mounting anamorphic lenses on the DJI Ronin- even with a single focus adapter. The flexibility and size of the Ronin allows for easy anamorphic operation without requiring additional balance weights.

Other gimbals

Filmmakers can adapt any gimbal that has flexible balancing options. The lateral movement will be your main concern when using gimbals. By measuring our lateral center of gravity, we can approximate how much movement we will require to balance.

The Canon 5D Mark II, with an 85mm Zeiss and an Isco Micro will have a center of gravity approximately 3″ from the back of the camera. This means your gimbal must allow for 4″ of space behind the mounting plate to balance the camera setup. You can guess the center of gravity by balancing the camera setup in your palm, and measuring how far forward your balance point in your hand is from the back of the camera.

If your gimbal doesn’t have 4″ of space behind the mounting plate, add weight to the rear of the gimbal or camera.

Panasonic Gh5 Anamorphic on Zhiyun Crane
A super compact gimbal setup. Anamorphic in a backpack

More anamorphic stuff

If you’re looking to test out exactly what lenses will work for your DSLRs, head on over to our anamorphic lens calculator to test. Select your sensor size, your aspect ratio, and you are informed and ready to shoot! Our anamorphic lens comparison chart allows you to determine the size and weight of the anamorphic lenses in our store.

If you are interested adding anamorphic flares to your toolbox, please visit our anamorphic lens store for demos and examples. We have spent several years collecting anamorphic lenses to weed through the junk, making modifications, and assembling ready-to-shoot packages.

If you are interested in learning more on working with anamorphic lenses and DSLR, please check out our anamorphic tutorial blog for more anamorphic tips and tutorials!

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