In October, our media production team picked up a new tool: the Zhi Yun Weebil Lab camera stabilizer kit. In addition to some basic testing, I had the opportunity to put the stabilizer to work in producing “Posters Actually,” a parody video to promote the 2020 Research Computing Symposium. In that time, I’ve found the Weebil Lab to be an easy to use, if difficult to master, tool for video production.
We partly chose the Weebil Lab because online user reviews indicated it was a good fit for our Sony aIII DSLR camera and it has indeed been the perfect size for the device. Once the camera is properly seated and balanced on the gimbal, it fits very snugly. This does mean affixing an audio interface, shotgun mic, or led light to the camera is not-feasible. Should you need to, there’s a 1/4-20 screw thread at the base of the gimbal where you can add a bracket for these things – though you would need to be careful not to partially block the motion of the gimbal.
Balancing the camera on the stabilizer, often a notoriously difficult process, is rather straightforward. Zhi Yun provides step-by-step instructions for balancing each axis, which only took a minute or two by the time I knew what I was doing. When done properly, I rarely needed to worry about the calibration during the shoot.
Operating the Weebil Lab is a bit of an art. There are six different shooting modes, but really two primary modes. L for “Locking” mode and PF for “Pan Follow” mode. PF will follow the motion stabilizer of the while keeping the other axes locked. L will not follow the motion of the stabilizer and instead keep the camera fixed in its initial perspective. Additional, buttons for “Following” mode and “PhoneGo” mode essentially allow you to do whip-pans at varying speeds. Knowing when and how to use these various modes, in addition to using a directional joystick to move the camera, is crucial to achieving the full potential of this device. For the most part, I was happy to just leave it set to Locking Mode, and using trigger for Following mode when I needed to adjust the angle of the camera.
Understanding those operations, I better realized that a camera stabilizer is not a substitute for an actual SteadiCam and trained cameraperson. Filming an extended tracking shot, with a moving subject and turns around corners, will still take a lot of practice and coordination if you want your camera pointed in the right direction.
In addition to the stabilizer itself, we opted to get the Creator Package which came with a variety of accessories for the device. Notably, this included a Follow Focus motor and belt, a belt and monopod, and a phone holder attachment. In practice, I found these all nice to have even though I didn’t really use them in the field. I found the camera’s auto-focus good enough to keep up with what I was filming, though the focus motor would’ve allowed me more precise control. The belt and monopod are helpful for extended filming, particularly when you don’t have a place to set the camera down for a moment, but I found it a bit cumbersome to use for a short shoot in an enclosed space.
The phone holder, which screws snugly onto the gimbal’s base, is basically essential if you want to use a mobile device to control the gimbal. Not only does the app provide a live preview from the camera, but it also allows for some more sophisticated cinematography. Like keyframing in an editing software, you can set starting and ending orientations and have the gimbal fill in the path between. This works great with time-lapses, which you can also program using the app. As far as these kinds of apps go, I found the connection steady and easy to pair.
Overall, the Weebil Lab will an essential tool in my video projects going forward. Even without choreographed camera moves and pans, I found it liberating to not have to worry about setting up a tripod and lumbering around with it. I was able to move through the shoot much quicker and put the camera in places I normally wouldn’t be able to.