Review: Beholder Lite Gimbal For DJI Phantom Quadcopter

I recently purchased a Beholder Lite camera gimbal for my DJI Phantom quadcopter, and I am very pleased with it. Bottom line for those that don’t want to read this entire post… The Beholder Lite is hard to beat for the price, as long as you have some time to tune the gimbal.  Output video is very steady when flying reasonably, and still images are far more crisp than they are without a gimbal. The final output is not quite as good as the H3-2D Zenmuse, but it is still much more than acceptable. Plus, you can buy almost 4 Beholder Lite’s for the cost of one Zenmuse. However, when flying aggressively, there is a lot of vibration. Read more for an explanation, pros & cons, plus tips for set up and some sample videos.

DJI Phantom with Beholder Lite Gimbal

DJI Phantom with Beholder Lite Gimbal

Background

Um… What is a camera gimbal?

First, a gimbal is: “a pivoted support that allows the rotation of an object about a single axis. A set of three gimbals, one mounted on the other with orthogonal pivot axes, may be used to allow an object mounted on the innermost gimbal to remain independent of the rotation of its support.”

Basic Gimbal (photo: Wikipedia)

A camera gimbal is a set of these gimbal supports that enables the camera’s movement to be independent from the support structure. In this case, the camera gimbal allows the camera’s orientation to be independent from the orientation of the helicopter. Check out this video for more detail:

The Beholder Lite Gimbal

The Beholder Lite gimbal is a direct-drive brushless gimbal. This means: 1) the motors are brushless motors, and 2) that the motors directly drive the support arms for the gimbal; there are no servo arms or other moving parts in the gimbal assembly. Brushless motors are faster than traditional/brushed servo motors, so they offer a smoother response and better stabilization. I have used the Phantom with no gimbal, as well as with a brushed/servo gimbal, and the brushless direct-drive gimbal is by far the best quality.

I mentioned that I am very happy with this gimbal, though it has not been without its own hiccups.

Pros:

  • Very stable footage ****once properly installed and tuned****
  • Still images are more crisp
  • Videos are far more stable, though aggressive flying will cause significant vibration (this happens with all gimbals, though some more than others)
  • Very affordable compared to similar gimbals on the market.

Cons:

  • Installation instructions are not very good. They are based on pictures only, and do not clearly identify motor orientation or wiring. I originally had the motors in the wrong direction, and the motor polarity reversed. This third-party post (with video) was very helpful for installation. I’ve provided additional installation details at the bottom of this post.
  • The gimbal is marketed as “ready to go” – you just assemble it and start flying. Once assembled, I had lots of vibration to the point of being unusable. I seriously considered returning it. However, I had to manually change settings before I could get some decent footage. This was both physical (in the mounting), and in software configuration. I had to adjust the output gains before the gimbal would provide stable footage (details below).
  • The vibration absorbing mounts are too soft. You will get vibration from the camera oscillating below the copter. Luckily this can be corrected but sticking some foam ear plugs inside the vibration mounts (see details below).

Both aggressive flying and high-wind environments will cause additional vibration in both the copter and gimbal, so keep those in mind when you are filming. 

Sample Video Footage

I still don’t feel like I have the gimbal settings (gains) 100% dialed-in, but I have it close enough to get some high quality footage. I have found that the 1080p@60fps video mode on the GoPro camera has the best results. 2.7K@30fps has too much rolling shutter effect for the footage to be really usable. I also have not balanced the propellors on my copter, which will also help to eliminate vibration. Here are a few samples from the camera/gimbal combination. All of this footage was captured with a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition.

1080p@60fps with Post Processing via Adobe Premiere: I still think I can get it more stable by changing a few editing parameters and changing the sequence of my scaling and effects, but I am very happy with this output.

1080p@60fps Non-Stabilized: “Day for night” color correction, non-stabilized, GoPro with ND filter, just for fun…

2.7K@30fps with 10% Warp Stabilization The footage is far better than it is without a gimbal, but there’s still some rolling shutter effect evident (capturing Tony’s hex liftoff).

Aggressive Flight: This footage is completely raw, without any post-processing or stabilization. This shows output when flying aggressively. This was *very* aggressive flight – full speed in ATTI mode. I recommend that you *never* attempt to shoot professional footage flying like this:

Sample Still Images & Compositions

Here are just a few still images and compositions captured with the Beholder Lite gimbal. You can see more on my Flickr page.

Adobe San Francisco Office

San Francisco City Hall

Installation Details

In addition to the gimbal’s manual, I strongly recommend that you read both of these posts and watch the videos for detailed installation instructions:

Pay particular attention to motor orientation and wiring. The motors look symmetrical, but their weight and operation is not. The pitch motor should have the wire coming out the side that is closest to the copter. The roll motor should have the wire coming out the side closer to the camera. If you have your motor polarity reversed, you’ll know b/c the gimbal will vibrate back and forth. This won’t hurt it, and you can just reverse the wires easily if this happens. In the picture below you can see my motor orientation:

Motor Orientation and Wiring

Motor Orientation and Wiring

Very important: make sure your gimbal is balanced. If the power is off, the GoPro should not fall in any direction. It should just stay where it is. Having it perfectly balanced is key to having smooth footage.

The rubber vibration dampeners are too soft for the gimbal. If you fly it “stock”, you will get a TON of vibration from the gimbal oscillating under the copter. Use some soft foam earplugs, roll them up, and put them inside of the dampeners. I used the cheap foam orange ones you get from any drug store, and they work great. I put one in each of the 6 vibration dampeners. Another picture below, so you can see the orange ear plugs in the dampeners:

Earplugs to Stiffen Vibration Dampeners

Earplugs to Stiffen Vibration Dampeners

Once your gimbal is powered up, if you have vibrations while the copter motor isn’t even running, then you need to adjust the gains and tune the gimbal itself. I had to do this. You can connect using a standard micro USB cable (from any Android phone), and use the software here: https://code.google.com/p/brushless-gimbal/downloads/detail?name=BruGi_049B_r161.zip&can=2&q= and drivers here: http://www.silabs.com/products/mcu/pages/usbtouartbridgevcpdrivers.aspx (windows only)

Not entirely necessary, but I also put Moongel in between the gimbal and the copter body to absorb vibrations, and I also put it on top of the gimbal’s gyro board to absorb vibrations that may affect gimbal orientation (see picture below).

Beholder Lite on DJI Phantom

Beholder Lite on DJI Phantom

Do not get the white wires too close to the power wires or to the motors. They are very light weight, and can get interference from power wires, motors, and motor wires. You will get inexplicable vibrations if this occurs.

One last thing… If you use zip ties on the gimbal for extra safety, keep them very loose. If you compress the dampeners, the bottom plate will hit the controller board, and cause significant interference with gimbal operation. Everything will be fine one second, then completely out of control the next.

Battery Life

Before having a gimbal, I could easily get 12+ minutes of flight time per battery. With a servo-based gimbal, I could get about 10+ minutes per battery. With the Beholder Lite, I get a max of 8 minutes per battery. I set a timer for 7 minutes, and be sure to bring it down as soon as the time goes off. However, this seems comparable to battery life with other brushless gimbals that friends/coworkers use. The decreased battery life is due to additional weight of the gimbal, plus the additional power consumption from the gimbal motors.

What Next?

Use Creative Cloud to process all of your video and images to make them the best they can be! Here are some very useful posts for processing your content with this configuration (or similar configurations)…

Videos from Russell Brown:

Videos from Colin Smith:

And have fun!

  • Randy Jay Braun

    Andrew this is a wonderful review! This gimbal appears to be a great alternative. I did, however just splurge for the Zenmuse…. It was such a pleasure to meet you and fly next to you at Photoshop World last month in Vegas. Seems we are all Phantom addicts so quickly!

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      Thanks Randy! Great to meet you at Photoshop World too! Yeah, the Phantom has quickly become an obsession. I’m always looking at new ways to tweak the output & copter performance.

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      also, the zenmuse is easier to get up and running quickly. I spent a lot of time tuning the beholder lite

  • Jim Southard

    Andrew: Are you using FPV through your Gopro camera? I was curious as to how you were framing your shots during your videos. It seems at times there was quite a bit of distance from where you would be standing. Thx. Jim.

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      I currently do not have a FPV setup, All of my work to date has been line of sight, with a little bit of guess work for camera position. However, I just ordered a FPV system, which will hopefully be here by the end of the week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

      • Jim Southard

        Andrew: Which FPV system did you choose? I have heard mixed feelings about runing FPV through the Gopro vs. using a seperate FPV camera for safety.

        • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

          I ended up going with a KumbaCam setup (http://kumbacam.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=60). It’s not a top of the line FPV system, but it does the trick for my needs. I just use it as a view finder, and it pulls the video from the GoPro. I’ve used it to proerply frame both video and still images, though it blinks every time the GoPro takes a picture. If i were using this as my main way of flying the copter, I would probably want an external camera that won’t blink. I also need to upgrade to clover-leaf antennas b/c it loses signal or gets interference as you are flying.

          • Jim Southard

            I will check that out. Are you using the manual tilt control and seventh channel with your beholder light? I turned on the gimbal control on the phantom and the beholder went to about 30 degrees down at power up instead of being level. The phantom software shows output when I manually turn the seventh channel but the gimbal just stays at 30 degees and does not move. Any suggestions? I would like to get the foward props out of my footage by tilting the gimbal down. Thx.

          • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

            I modded the remote to add a knob to control pitch, following this example: http://skypixel.org/post/59236103638 Just be *really* careful not to damage the board when removing the old pot. For the gimbal settings in the Naza controller software, I have the Gimbal on, with the following:

            Pitch:
            Max: 1000, Center: 0, Min -1000

            Roll:
            Max: 0, Center: 0, Min 0

            Automatic Control Gain:
            Pitch: 0
            Roll: 0

            Manual Control Speed: 100

          • Jim Southard

            I ordered a control nob to fit the top hole on the back of the radio. When I use a screw driver to move the switch, nothing happens. The gibal just stays at about 30 degrees down and works when i move the quad. If the software is turned off, the gibal sits level and works properly when I move the quad. I am woundering if my wiring to the naza is wrong? I have yet to see any good directions for the wiring. Thx.

          • Jim Southard

            Andrew: I ended up getting it to work. I got james over at Rebel to provide a fix below.

            A
            quick fix to that is to change two parameters in GUI. Swap rc-channel number
            between pitch and roll. Then connect manual pitch(f1)to gnd and roll pins on
            gimbal controller.

          • Sean Lynes

            Jim,
            I’m confused. They now include a connector that would go from the 3 connections (red red black) on the receiver to two other connectors. One with Red and black…and the other with just a red wire. I tried using a simple servo connector as the FPV guys says and shows. I’ve tried F1 and F2, ive set my gains to the ones above, and ive tried connecting to the pins both ways. SHEESH! The FPV guy contradicts himself over and over… Nobody shows a simple video how to setup the phantom with the assistant and where the connects goes exactly. NOTE: I have the new phantom that is not PPM and has other differences like the self tightening props. So the instructions didn’t match and I had some trouble early on.

          • Sean Lynes

            Here is a pic of the connector…and of course nothing about this in the manual, videos, anything!

          • Jim Southard

            I used one cable on the F1 and one on the F2. The one with the 3 wires I have going to the gimbal. What I ended up doing with trial and error was only having one of the red wires pluged in to the gimbal for for tilt. Basically I have the plug sidways and only one wire plugged in on the gimbal three post terminal. This really only matters for the manual tilt. The gimbal works without this plug anyway. You will need to turn on the gimbal in the NAZA as well.

          • Sean Lynes

            Yes, that worked. Sheesh what a pain. I found a reference to a similar approach earlier. Thanks!

          • Jim Southard

            Sean: The gimbal will work without anything but power from the quad. The only thing the quad provides with that cable is the tilt feature. The gimbal likes to vibrate quite a bit and you will need to play around with the settings in the gimbal GUI board as Andrew indicated. His numbers did not work for mine but were a good starting point. I am still tweaking vibrations. I think the quality of the parts seem good but the gimbal has been a far cry from plug and play.

  • Nick Staib

    Hi Andrew. This is a beautifully organised Beholder Lite resource. Thank you for compiling and sharing…

    I have just moved mine to an F550 and agree 100% with the need for foam ‘dampeners’ in the suspension. I think they would have worked better in compression.

    I notice a kind of vibey high speed vibration in mine at rest. More so with 3S power than 2S power. I’m assuming this means I need to dable in the dark arts of PID tuning!

    Anyway you can share the settings that worked best for you? Do I need to reduce gains?

    Cheers, Nick

  • Nick Staib

    Andrew – sorry one other question. I see that you advocate “The roll motor should have the wire coming out the side closer to the camera.” This looks counter-intuitive as the wire is then being moved around as well, and from what I can see contradicts both the manual (albeit not very clear pics) and also the way that Bo seems to have set his up on the links you kindly provided.

    Can I ask if your recommendation is based on testing both positions and then realising that ‘your’ way works better?

    Thanks again, Nick

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      Thanks Nick!
      If you’re getting that high speed vibration at rest, you’ll need to adjust your PID gains… no question. That’s exactly the same issue i was having. As soon as I attached power, i could hear it vibrating, and if the camera was on, there was a ton of jello.

      I got that motor orientation from somewhere online… I can’t recall exactly where, but I went through lots of permutations of trial and error changing things around until I found something that worked. I did notice that the motor connection wires are in opposite directions where they attach to the board (note, you can also reverse polarity in the software config), but it is working great for me. I honestly think it could work well either way, b/c I saw the biggest improvements after I started tuning via the software interface.

      Here’s what I am using for gains:

      Pitch Motor:
      P = 12, I = 7.722, D = 16.602, PWM% = 26

      Roll Motor:
      P = 18, I = 5, D = 100, PWM% = 28.8

      Yes, the roll dampening is set at 100 (the max). For roll, this is very far from the default setting… I’ve spent hours tuning this, and it’s pretty solid now. Here’s an example recorded with these settings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OX9cZX3KKk

      Note: when you change gains settings, be prepared for the gimbal to have a panic inducing seizure :)

      Good luck, and have fun with it!
      (this is such a fun & addictive hobby)

      • Nick Staib

        That is great info Andrew. I’ve now downloaded the gimbal “assistant software” and the associated windows drivers but struggling to read my existing pid gain settings so that I can see what they are and edit them. Nothing is easy, eh – but then if it were we would quickly tire of it all :)
        Thanks again!
        Nick

        • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

          Awesome, glad you got it worked out! Yeah, I noticed massive improvements after changing the PID settings. I’m much happier with it now.

  • Jeff

    Hello Andrew.

    I’m wondering if you could shed some light on how exactly I’m supposed to use the “balance” set screws?? The manual doesn’t do a very good job of showing me what to do with these.

    Thanks!
    Jeff

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      I just adjusted the vertical positioning of the arm which connects to the camera until it was balanced. You can move that arm up or down on the motor. It was a lot of trial and error. Basically, I kept adjusting it until the the gimbal no longer favored any direction when the camera is attached. When it is balanced, if you leave the camera at about a 45 degree angle, it will stay there. If it is not balanced, when you put the camera at about 45 degrees, it will fall forward or backwards. The gimbal doesn’t really have a way to balance for the roll direction. You’d have to do add weight to one side until its balanced (I didn’t have to do this).

  • boik

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  • http://www.quadcopterhq.com/ QuadcopterHQ

    Great article! Do you still recommend the Beholder Lite as the best cheaper gimbal on the market now? Or are there any other new models in a similar price point that are better?

    http://quadcopterhq.com

    • http://tricedesigns.com/ Andrew Trice

      Thanks! If I were to do it again, I would just buy the Zenmuse. The Zenmuse has dropped in price dramatically since I wrote this. Originally it was $750, now it’s only around $350. I am happy with the Beholder Lite, but it has required significant manual tuning to get solid performance out of it. The Zenmuse also has a proactive response (it’s controlled by the copter’s IMU), and the Beholder is reactive (it is controlled by it’s own gyro/accelerometer). Thus, the zenmuse gives you better performance, with far less maintenance. Though, One HUGE advantage of the Beholder is that it is made out of aluminum which is far less brittle than the Zenmuse’s plastic. I had a very hard crash 2 weeks ago, which ripped the gimbal from the copter… it’ bent the gimbal arms, but I was able to bend them back and everything still works great. The Zenmuse would not have survived the impact of that crash. If there were a Beholder Lite that was controlled by the onboard IMU on the copter, I’d take that in a heartbeat.

  • http://adobekungfu.tumblr.com/ Zach

    Great stuff, Andrew. I’m getting started with a Phantom 2, Zenmuse gimbal, GoPro Hero 3 Black. Can you describe your .mp4 ingest workflow with Premiere Pro? I’ve had mixed results and have read elsewhere that the GoPro Studio software can be useful for file conversion prior to importing into PP.

    Here’s my first effort:
    https://vimeo.com/96463662

    Loved the high speed clip. Looked like you had a close call there!

  • Alston Antony

    Hi Andrew Trice,

    This is a great insightful article in my point of opinion! I like the way you have constructed the points about Gimbal Technology. I have a couple of questions for you.

    1) Does Dji Phantom Series Quadcopters are ideal for Gimbal or is there any other inexpensive alternatives?

    2) You mentioned that Gimbal can reduce the battery life, but is there any way how we can enjoy Gimbal while enjoying maximum battery life? or at-least some techniques to prevent it? because I own the Dji Phantom Aerial UAV Drone which has less flight time than Dji Phantom Vision 2+ which flight time is considerably low.

    Anyways, thanks in advance and just bookmarked this site. All the best and can’t wait to check your new posts on Quadcopters :)

    http://www.bestquadcoptersreviews.com/dji-phantom-review-top-2-dji-phantom-quadcopters