We recently received the new DJI Ronin M, an electronic gimbal that is smaller and cheaper than the standard DJI Ronin. To put this stabilizer to the test, we decided to put it through a series of demanding tests... while drunk.
We began these tests by comparing footage from 2 Nikon D750 cameras, one stabilized and one hand held. I was using a Tamron 24-70mm lens locked at 24mm and Patrick was using a Tamron 15-30mm locked at 24mm. As expected the Ronin absolutely destroyed the hand held camera in terms of stabilization but something else also became very apparent, it wasn't super convenient to use. This isn't a knock against the Ronin M itself, it's more of a general observation about the stabilizing units themselves. Let me explain.
Traveling with this thing isn't easy
Simply driving 5 minutes to our first shooting location was a struggle. The camera had already been balanced and being that I personally am not very experienced in that area, I didn't want to dismantle the Ronin and then balance it all over again once we arrived. I've read online that once you get some practice, balancing the Ronin only takes a few seconds. Although I do believe that some people may be capable of that, I imagine it's going to take quite some time before I can balance it in less than a few minutes. Since the Ronin can't really be laid down (it needs to be hung from a custom stand), I decided to sit in the back of the car and hold it. Apparently the bumpy car ride was enough to screw something up and I was forced to recalibrate the Ronin before the first shoot anyway.
You will draw a crowd
Charleston is a very casual city. Photographers and videographers are everywhere and nobody really seems to mind. We went into a restaurant for dinner and my team filmed me setting up the Ronin on the table and a few seconds later the owner walked out and asked to see our "permit" to film. This would have never happened if we all had DSLRs and tripods. The Ronin, and other electronic gimbals like it, are always going to draw a crowd. Holding this thing makes you look like James Cameron filming the next Avatar. If you want to be the most popular guy in the bar, it's great. If you're trying to quickly grab a video clip (without a permit) it's going to be a problem.
Ronin M vs Steadicam
All of these complaints really have nothing to do with the Ronin M itself though. Let's actually talk about how the unit worked. Now I want to be perfectly honest and say that I have never used anything like the Ronin M before. The only thing that have to compare it to are the mechanical Steadicam and Glidecam systems that I've always struggled with. Steadicams, especially when they are used with the arm and vest, can be amazing, but they require a talented person to use them. A "Steadicam Operator" is a job title on movie sets for a reason. I would struggle to get perfect shots with a perfectly balanced system while a veteran would be able to make flawless moves. The Ronin M felt a bit more "foolproof." Without me really thinking about it, the Ronin was able to capture flawless pans and tilts (which can be fine tuned with the app). These moves require a bit more skill with a manual Steadicam system.
I feared that the battery life would be a one of the biggest negative aspects of this Ronin and I was wrong. A single battery can stabilize the camera for up to 6 hours! With 2 charged batteries you won't have any issue filming all day.
Customizing the Ronin M
The DJI App that wirelessly connects your iPhone to your Ronin can calibrate, trim, and customize every aspect of the Ronin M. I was extremely impressed by how many different options there were. As I continue to use the Ronin for different types of shots I'm sure I'll appreciate these options even more.
The included remote control
The Ronin M also comes with a remote control. The RC looks exactly like the controller of the Phantom and it works just as easily. If the Ronin M is on and the remote is off, the Ronin will perform moves on it's own (as you have set in the app). As soon as you turn on the controller, the Ronin M will stabilize the camera but any movements (pans, tilts, and rolls) will be controlled with the remote. Once you turn off the remote the Ronin immediately beings working on it's own. The remote can be used to quickly calibrate the Ronin (to find the "center") or it can be used while a camera operator is using the Ronin to actually frame the shot. I personally haven't used the remote like this yet but I'm very impressed that it was included in the price.
Even though the Ronin M isn't always convenient to use, I have to admit that no stabilizer really is. As someone who hasn't gotten to try any other competitors, I personally love the Ronin M and I have a really hard time thinking of improvements (aside from some way to set it down without the stand). I can remember just a few years ago when the Movi came out for $15,000 and completely changed the game. Today you can get the Ronin M for just $1400! I haven't used the Movi systems but it's hard for me to believe they could possibly be 10 times better. Once again DJI has created a product that is so amazing and ahead of it's time (for the price), it feels like I am living in the future. This technology doesn't feel like it should be affordable yet.
If you're the type of videographer that has the time to slow down and work toward capturing a few perfect shots, I can't recommend the Ronin M enough. If, however, you are the run and gun type, you may want to consider something a bit smaller. You aren't going to be sneaking around inconspicuously with the Ronin M or any other electronic stabilizer of this size. I know I have so much more to learn about the Ronin M and it's competitor. Maybe I will run into some major issues in the future and If I do I will update you, but as of right now, I'm a huge fan of the Ronin M and I'm excited to use it at my next video shoot.