Do I Need a Gimbal for the iPhone 12 Pro Max? (No)

Photo: Grateful thanks to Aziz Acharki on Unsplash!

Does the iPhone 12 Pro Max really need a gimbal?

The short answer is “No.”

The built-in stabilization of Apple’s premier iPhone is very, very good. (For proof, see Matti Haapoja’s sample footage here.)

But is it good enough for all purposes? In my short time with Apple’s fattest phablet, I’ve decided that I don’t need a gimbal, but that it is wise to have some form of external stabilization for added assurance.

I’ve visualized five use cases, with a separate solution for each one.

1. Walk-around convenience. The phone alone, nothing added.

2. A standard, cheap phone clamp with a standard cheap tripod ball head attached. (See photo.) Use case: walkaround or close-in work, or situations where I want to remain inconspicuous while ensuring that I won’t accidentally stick a finger in front of the lens. This arrangement makes a secure grip that I can adjust to the most comfortable position by sliding it left and right on the phone and adjusting the ball head.

3. Same as #2, but using a small twisty tripod such as a Gorillapod. This is for situations that I regularly encounter, for example shooting in school classrooms where I need a secure grip and the convenience of being able to set the tripod on a table. The flex legs let me quickly tilt the phone up or down.

4. Monopod. I took the 12 Pro Max mounted on a monopod to an impromptu social-distanced singalong on our community green. I was concerned that even with the monopod planted securely on the ground I wasn’t able to hold the rig completely steady (cut me some slack, I just turned 79). Not to mention tracking shots when people moved around. I needn’t have worried. The clips were rock-steady. Simply amazing.

5. Tripod. Don’t overlook the sheer utility of this old, boring, bog-standard support solution. A light tripod is surprisingly maneuverable — I find I can fold the legs in and use the tripod as a monopod, or as a non-motorized stabilizer by carrying the weight with one hand gripping the extended tripod neck about two-thirds of the way up and using the fingers of my other hand to steady, rotate, and prevent swaying. Of course, when you set it down there won’t be the slightest trace of undesired motion.

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