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Put the "Pro" Back into your GoPro videos with the FreeVision Vilta

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I bought a GoPro a few years ago, because, like pretty much everyone else at the time, I saw those amazing videos of people snowboarding or mountain biking and wanted to make my own action-packed videos. After mounting the GoPro on my bike and filming myself riding around New York City a few times, I ended up giving up because the footage from the GoPro alone was pretty much unusable. The shakiness, coupled with the rolling-shutter artifacts from the GoPro’s CMOS sensor made for some really harsh video. Those high-end promotional videos had something I didn't—gimbal stabilization. So, when I got the chance to review the FreeVision VILTA 3-Axis Gimbal, I figured I'd give it a second try, and boy—what a difference it made. Flying through the streets of New York with the Vilta strapped to my chest resulted in video that was so smooth it looked like the GoPro was mounted on a dolly.

So, what is It?

The FreeVision Vilta is a 3-axis motorized gimbal designed for the GoPro HERO5, HERO4, or HERO3/3+. The system consists of two parts: the top part is where the motor system and controls sit, and a detachable bottom handle allows you to hold the VILTA more easily while also quadrupling the system’s battery life. The locking camera sled on the FreeVision VILTA is designed to hold the GoPro HERO5 securely, and a small adapter is included for the HERO4 and HERO3/3+ cameras without their waterproof cases, which is fine, because the VILTA is not waterproof (though I can attest it handled sweat just fine).

Like other 3-axis gimbals, the FreeVision VILTA has three separate motors that can independently move the mounted camera in any one of three axes, which are pan, tilt, and roll. Once a tool for only for the Hollywood elite, the cost of motorized gimbals has fallen dramatically in the past few years, and light action cameras like GoPros make for great candidates because the cameras are so light.

Why Use a Gimbal?

GoPros, and virtually all other consumer cameras, use CMOS sensors that scan each video frame from the top to bottom, instead of all at once. These rolling shutters usually sample each frame fast enough that it isn't noticeable in normal situations. But if the camera moves too fast, you will get that dreaded jello effect that makes straight lines look wobbly.

Since action cameras are basically designed to be used in these situations, the jello effect is nearly unavoidable. Aids like digital image stabilization will not help, because the artifacts are at the sensor level, and digital stabilization only counteracts shake between frames. I shot some sample footage in which I had one GoPro mounted on the gimbal, while I had another mounted without a gimbal. I think the results speak for themselves.

Mounting Options

There are two ways of mounting the FreeVision VILTA. The first is with your typical GoPro three-prong mount. To find the prongs, you must detach the VILTA from the battery handle, which reveals the fold-out prongs beneath the motor. If you use this method, I strongly recommend more robust metal GoPro mounts, such as the K-EDGE mounts, because the weight of the Gimbal, even when detached from the handle, is enough that plastic would make me nervous were the joint to be stressed.

The second way of mounting the FreeVision is via the rosette mount on the side. FreeVision makes no mention of this; however, it looked suspiciously similar to the rosette on the DJI OSMO gimbal system. So, I figured I’d give it a try, and sure enough, the FreeVision works perfectly with mounts designed for the DJI OSMO. These mounts are far more robust, and are strong enough to mount the FreeVision Vilta with the extended battery grip attached, meaning you can shoot for hours without worrying about the battery.

Powering Options

Speaking of power, the battey life of the FreeVision VILTA greatly depends on whether you are shooting with or without the battery handle attached. Without the handle, the battery lasts 60–90 minutes, about the length of a GoPro battery. But with the battery handle attached, the FreeVision's battery lasts for an impressive nine hours. This extended capacity is extra useful because the FreeVision can also power a GoPro camera with the separately available FreeVision GoPro HERO5 Power Adapter or HERO4/3 Power Adapter. With a power adapter and the battery handle, you can run both a GoPro and the FreeVision for 6–7 hours from a single charge without worrying about swapping tiny GoPro batteries every hour. If you need extra battery capacity, you can also purchase additional battery handles for even more run time.

Control Options

The VILTA can be controlled directly via a joystick on the unit or via the FreeVision app, available for iOS and Android. The iOS and Android apps can also pair with a GoPro, as well, so you don’t need to switch apps to control both units at the same time. The FreeVision can also trigger GoPro recording wirelessly as if it were a GoPro remote—a handy feature.

In use, FreeVision VILTA has three different following modes between which you can switch via the trigger on the handle or through the smartphone app. The default mode, and the one I found the most useful, is the Semi-Follow mode, denoted by a yellow light. In Semi-Follow mode, the attitude (essentially placement) of the camera's tilt and roll are locked, but the gimbal will slowly pan to follow lateral changes in direction. This allows the camera to follow you when you turn. Another useful mode is Follow mode (red light). In Follow mode, only roll is locked, and both pan and tilt will slowly re-center, based on how you move the camera. This mode is useful for handheld shots where you want to control the direction in which the camera is pointed, without using the joystick.

The last mode is Lock mode (green light), which locks all three axes. This mode would be useful in situations where you want the camera to stay fixed in one direction no matter how the handle is moved.

Limitations

Nothing is perfect, and there are a few issues one should be aware of when using this, or any motorized three-axis gimbal system. First, the noise from the electronic motors is quiet to the ear, but because of their proximity to the GoPro, they end up being very loud in the recording. If you want good audio, you need to get an external mic system of some sort, and place the mic somewhere a bit farther away from the gimbal. In addition, there is way to remove the noise through the Freevision APP. Once the gimbal, CAM, and APP are all connected, you can find the command, as attached, to remove the noise. FreeVision’s latest software/firmware update, via APP connectivity, will enable you to cancel the noise automatically.

Second, your physics teacher lied to you when she told you there were three spatial dimensions, because when it comes to gimbals, there appear to be four. The three this covers are pan, tilt, and roll, which does not include vertical movement. Because of this, vertical movement will still end up in your video, so you must be very careful to not move the gimbal vertically when filming. This can be especially hard when walking, but luckily, I learned how to roll step in marching band, so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

Conclusions

All in all, I found the VILTA to be a surprisingly capable gimbal system. It was easy to set up, had excellent battery life, and the results (especially when coupled with the more robust DJI OSMO mounts) were great. I had little problem with drift, which can be a problem on some motorized systems, and could fully focus on the road when using it. It has been a few years since I first tried, and failed, to capture professional-looking video with a GoPro—it turned out the only thing I was missing was a motorized gimbal system.

Have you had similar experiences with your GoPro camera? Share them with us, in the Comments section, below.

8 Comments

Looks like a really nice gimbal.   I was wondering has this gimbal been tested using other action camera's such as the YI 4K action camera?   I would be very interested to know how it works out.   This is the only gimbal that is two into one meaning you can mount it on a motorcycle handlebar, then later remove it and click on the battery filled handle for all day recording.

I think there needed to be a better baseline test where both the visionfree gimble/gopro and just the go pro were BOTH mounted to the bike handle bars instead of one straped to the bike and comparing it with the gimble staped to the body. The human body is not as ridgid as a bike frame and therefore making the gopro with the gimble on the body look WAY better. 

Hero 5, and now 6, have stabilization built in. I wonder how that compares to gimbal stabilization, and whether combining the two would be even better...or would they conflict with each other?

Gimbals have a greater range of motion the electronic video stabilization can handle.  Shake is handled well, but not jarring motion over a larger range, like dirt road bikers use.  There are plenty of videos on other gimbals that have looked at this.

Hero 5, and now 6, have stabilization built in. I wonder how that compares to gimbal stabilization, and whether combining the two would be even better...or would they conflict with each other?

The comparison with/without the gymbal is not correct, as the camera withoutgymbal is mounted on the handlebars of bike, much less amortized than the one mounted on the body of the biker.

Hi,, what is the chest mount you are using?

I would like to do some snow skiing videos.

thanks,

steve

I recommend using mounts designed for the DJI Osmo, as they are more stable and you can use them with the VILTA's extended battery handle to get much better battery life. The exact chest mount I was using is this one.

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