Disclaimer – I don’t work with DJI or have an affiliation with them but I am a beta tester for the Ronin – whilst I consider my views balanced and unbiased and have attempted to present them as such, its important for me to disclose that we have a connection to DJI for the purpose of beta testing the unit.
UPDATE: The latest version of the IOS app for the Ronin now allows the pan axis to be have its centre re-calibrated. A very useful piece of functionality.
3 Axis Gimbals
Whilst you will have read much of the hype and hyperbole around the availability, use and application of 3 axis Gimbals – much of which declares or proclaims Steadicam Operators worldwide redundant, there remain many challenges facing the operator of such devices when trying to achieve a Steadicam style shot (particularly if you throw a whip pan into the mix).
Truth be told (and this is what I wrote in Definition Magazine), such devices are unlikely to dispatch Steadicam type stabilisers to the scrapheap. No, instead, they are another tool, another device which the discerning shot maker, cinematographer or camera operator has the choice to bring into play. As such, each device in the toolkit is likely to have its own unique properties and considerations.
Having owned and operated the Movi 10, I wasn’t convinced of its place in my own ‘toolkit’, despite this I was keen and interested to explore what it could do and how it would go about it. The functional quality is just as important as the technical quality and the Movi, in my opinion, seemed to me to be lacking in functional quality and didn’t give me the intuitive and predictable performance I wanted. Whilst still available to hire from our sister business BeyondR3D, its not my chosen weapon of choice for moving the camera.
Enter the Ronin
My feeling at first (and when reading the NAB reports etc.) was that the Ronin was just another gimbal. However, after exchanging notes with my West Coast friend and colleague Pedro Guimaraes and studying his work with the Beta Ronin, it became clear this was something much more special than previous Gimbals.
So… after some friendly banter with the DJI guys (including email, phone and twitter), I was invited to beta test the Ronin myself but here in London in the UK. Now, clearly having access to such a piece of kit potentially introduces as many issues as opportunities. Its a pre-release version and may not function as intended due to ongoing development. However, being knee-deep in the lensing of a feature film with a scene specifically designed for such a stabiliser, it seemed too good an opportunity to pass on.
After a little waiting, the boys at DJI came through with the goods and the Ronin landed on my doorstep So… this post relates to my views of the kit having blocked and shot footage in anger with it.
Quality of build
Its good. Very good. Unlike many of the 3 axis devices available, it feels very high quality in its build and it uses high quality hard anodised aluminium and carbon fibre in its construction. Unlike many such devices, this one appears to have been designed from a fresh start rather than assembled based on what was in the parts bin that day. This is evident when you realise that all of the electronics and cabling are fully integrated into the design so no loose flying leads etc.
Quality is also evident when you explore the Ronin’s modular design, its tooless assembly and balance and integration. What does this mean? Well, by way of an example, the battery – its not just attached with Velcro – its properly designed in a tray which clamps into the rig and uses fixed rather than floating contacts. It just ‘feels’ more professional. Add to this the availability of longer arms for longer/heavier camera/glass packages and you realise its modular and can accommodate small cameras from Blackmagic through the Red Epic/Scarlet range and yes, on to the Alexa (albeit, at this stage, we’ve only tried the Alexa M with a minimal configuration)! The limitations mostly relating to the operator being able to lift and move with the heavier payloads without too much fatigue.
The kit also comes with a quality ‘easy-up’ heavy duty stand and plastic ‘Peli’ style case with custom foam for the rig. The Ronin’s top handle also connects to the rig via neat, small and compact dovetail and I can see an after market developing here for widgets and the like to connect the rig to jobs, items like the Gorelink and to other grip equipment.
It performs! And.. it performs very well! It comes with an iOS app (Droid to follow) and a desktop app to programme, configure, calibrate and update the device. In practice, we hardly touched it. It will sound odd to any Movi Operators out there but we simply built the camera, fitted the included dovetail and LW 15mm bars and installed it into the Ronin (which is tool free). We then hit the Auto Calibrate button and watched it work its magic. I swear we only did an approximate/rough balance but despite this it calibrated itself and stabilised perfectly. Maybe three or at the most, five minutes from start to up and running! The app is clever enough to warn you if the balance isn’t quite right and it can’t auto calibrate.
The system has a regular and inverted mode together with a ‘briefcase’ mode. The former allows low through regular and then higher lens heights whilst the latter is an interesting mode where the rig will operate in a very ‘slim’ configuration which is useful in and out of narrow gaps, windows etc. In practice, this means the lens height is quite low but could still be an effective mode with some excellent creative possibilities.
In tests, our battery lasted around 4.5 hours, it should be noted that we didn’t power down the rig in this time and all the time it is powered up, it is stabilising. We were also powering a Teradek Bolt via the in-built P-tap on the camera platform (the Ronin has two of these and a USB port to provide 2amp 5 volt power).
Since the system ships with a remote, it seemed only fair to give it a go. This takes you into the domain of a two operator set up with the first being the muscle to schlep the rig around with a broad or loose frame held and the second operator finesses the frame and composition with the remote control. The remote works very well and is predictable so no surprises or runaways when you’re not expecting them. You can dial in end stops and limits using the app and can finesse the speed with three speeds available for each move (these speeds themselves can also be programmed and customised). It didn’t take long before even a novice remote operator could get the hang of the system. And the results? Well they were great!
Summary… for now…
Well, there will be more to come as we finalise the blocking for our 5-8 minute oner for our current feature film but for the meantime,the Ronin should be taken seriously. Its a great and fully functional bit of kit with a UK pricing point of less than £2.5k (plus VAT) – a fraction of the Movi 10 price. Can it do a whip pan? Nope. So for now, it wont replace my Steadicam rig. As stated earlier, its another tool in the toolkit.