The Year of the Gimbals
Like anything in the production industry, new technologies and equipment come and go in crazes. This year’s big talking point has definitely come from the introduction of the handheld, 3-axis gimbal stabilizer. When Freefly first released their revolutionary brush-less gimbal technology, in their Movi M10 it turned a lot of heads in the industry. Many professionals had a long list of questions for the Movi M10 before they would truly adapt to the technology. Could it rival the veteran Steadicam? Was it a temperamental device? Was it a device for amateurs rather than professional shoots? Was it really worth its hefty price tag?
It’s been almost a year since our first Movi arrived and we think the rig has more than answered the previous questions it was presented with. Over this period we have tested the rig to its limits. We have understood its capabilities & found our preferred ways of setting up and operating the rig. During this time, the concerns the industry had about such a device have quickly become diminished. More and more people are quickly turning to Freefly’s Movi M10 as a cheaper and more flexible way to capture smooth camera movement. We have become very passionate about the Movi, we have seen how capable it is and how much production value it can to any shoot. The rig has gifted the industry with a new dimension to filming camera movement. The Movi has truly cemented its place in the ranks of camera equipment and it definitely won’t be going anywhere, any time soon. Let’s not forget the technology is just over a year old, we’re certain there will be many more innovative releases in the coming months making the 3 axis-gimble an even more impressive device.
There is a battle-taking place.
It’s no secret that the technology behind Freefly’s Movi M10 has been around for some time. They where just the genius’s that put all that technology into a hand held rig and pioneered it into the production industry. Being the first to do so, they also have the most expensive rig on the market. It wasn’t going to be long until other manufacturers seen a gap in the market and could utilise Freefly’s pricey rigs with lower costing rigs of their own. The number of copy cat rigs around has quickly moved into double figures, there is literally dozens of designs. Freefly’s dominance is now rivalled with numerous manufacturers claiming their devices are clearly on par with the Movi but a lot cheaper. Some designs however are clearly lacking the precision and durability that the Movi offers. Looking at test footage from the devices you can clearly see camera shake and wobble. However, this is not the case for all of the copycats out there.
There is no way a complete list of all the gimbal options out there, so we have decided to look at four of the most popular and exciting rigs on the market and noted the pros and cons that come with the devices, so you know exactly what gimbal is for you.
So we start no further than Freefly’s Movi range, what we consider to be the God Father of all the gimbals.
Special Features –
- Carbon Fiber build.
- Cutting edge interactive software.
- 3-man operation mode.
- Numerous upgrades and accessories available such as Movi M5, M10, M15, M20. The Movi ring designed to make hand off more achievable. New Movi remote control enabling remote follow focus and iris control.
- Quick attach/release mechanism for mounting the gimbal to other devices such as octocopters.
- Tool less balancing
- Inverted operation
- 3 to 4 hours of battery life
- Firmware upgradable
Freefly systems pioneered the 3 axis gimble and are setting the gold standard in this niche market and their rigs prices demonstrate this. They are now the household name, so much so that many people have started referring to every 3-axis gimbal as a ‘Movi’. Freefly has a system that works, and it works brilliantly well. The Movi is an unbelievably durable rig and because of this it is being used on professional film and TV sets over cheaper copy cat rigs. We have heard of a few shoots where the production have tried to save cash by using them instead of the Movi M10 and end up having to be rescued by the Movi. The poor man buys twice. It’s important to highlight just how robust Movi is. We have used the rig day in day out for just under a year and it hasn’t yet shown any signs of wear and tear even when it’s presented with its maximum payload on a regular basis. Several of the shoots have also been in some very harsh environments with extreme weather and there hasn’t been one hiccup.
The footage that Movi is capable of capturing is by far the smoothest out of all the gimbles out there so far. I’m sure other rigs are capable of achieving similar results, but so far there is a lack of test footage to prove this. The design and technology that makes up the Movi is extremely professional, in the simplest words… It works fantastically well and is brilliantly efficient to use. The interactive Movi software that Freefly provide is extremely user friendly and is a clear step ahead of its competitor’s attempts. It allows users to program the rig very specifically to optimise the gimbal for every shoot. We consider this maximum importance, especially as we use a variety of camera set-ups on a daily basis. We MUST have a level of control over the Movi’s motor outputs and it’s operational performance at all times to ensure our footage is of the highest quality. Gimbals without this technology may be quicker to set up and calibrate but it’s hard to believe this wouldn’t result in shaky or wobble footage with certain set ups.
Possible the biggest factor in favour of the Movi is that Freefly got there first. Now it’s a case of its competitors playing catch up while Freefly are already working on their next innovative releases and upgrades. The guys are real camera enthusiasts and this is reflected by the questions they have been answering with their latest developments. They already have multiple models of Movi, The M5 is fantastic for 90% of the people out there, and you can rent an m10 if you need a bigger payload. Of course we highly recommend Movi’s. Yes they cost money, but they’re hands down the best and during our experience with the rigs than have more than paid back their price tags in performance.
For anyone who is looking to purchase a gimbal for themselves, The price of the Movi may be a stumbling block from the outset. Unless you are thinking of using the rig on a daily basis it would probably make sense to purchase a cheaper gimbal on the market. For an amateur filmmaker looking to add a gimbal to their kit collection we would recommend buying a cheaper rig or purchasing Movi’s M5 model.
Next up the Ronin, comes from a company with a background in making aerial drones with gyro-stabilizers, DJI. They’re probably best known for the Phantom, the GoPro aerial drone that’s made high altitude shots available to just about anyone.
- Auto Configuration
- 3-man operation mode.
- 3 different modes for a sole operator (standard, inverted & suitcase mode).
- Quick attach/ release mechanism for mounting the gimble to other devices such as octocopters
- The rig comes in a custom Peli style case for transportation.
- Mobile Bluetooth assistant software.
- Firmware upgradable.
- Clean setup (minimal wires).
- Unbelievable price tag
We consider the Ronin to be a contender for the best copycat gimbal currently available. This is purely an assumption based on research we have been doing since the device was presented at NAB 2014. We haven’t yet had the chance to test it out ourselves and compare it to our Movi’s. The instant attraction to DJI’s Ronin is of coarse its price tag. At under £3000 this is definitely a great gimbal option for any independent filmmaker looking for a bargain. For this price you also receive a custom Peli style case, an extra battery and a remote control for a dual set up. So for more or less the same price as a Movi M5 you can purchase a rig that is capable of flying a Red Epic.
DJI are a big Chinese company with over 1500 employees, this may be seen as a positive or negative to some. Like Freefly they have a history in making aerial drones and it seems that the Ronin was built to enter a gap in market for people looking for a lower budget gimble. Unlike some of the other copycat gimbles out there, the Ronin is a superbly built device with some really cool features. It offers a range of different operational modes that are unique to the gimble. You can shoot in standard mode, holding the device in it’s most familiar way. Upright Mode, which allows the gimbal to be flipped over and operate the camera closer to eye level without straining to lift it. Or Suspended Operation Mode that offers low slung, close to the ground gimble movement. This is a really nice idea by DJI and definitely a major selling point over it’s rival in the same price range such as the DEFY or BeSteady. Another superb feature the Ronin offers its users, is its Auto Configuration. The Ronin’s setup is designed to be extremely easy. The entire rig can be built without any tools and it has an auto configure setup to calibrate the camera. It also connects to your phone to give you fine tuning options.
Although the Ronin looks to be built solidly, it is made entirely from aluminum. This isn’t a huge factor when flying cameras such as DSLR’s but once a Red epic is mounted weight becomes a huge factor. Any gimbal operator will tell you that fatigue comes around very quickly on set, they are responsible for the full weight of the rig so anything heavier than carbon fiber really isn’t ideal. DJI has always been more of a consumer company, rather then a professional company. Therefore making their prices affordable for most people. This raises a question of the quality of the Ronin gimbal. Will the Ronin be a solid build that can take a beating like the Movi? Only time will time. From reports we’ve read so far it does seem that DJI have upped their game and made a quality rig with an amazing price tag. It is however still early days and there really isn’t enough on set evidence and test footage to place Ronin next to Movi on the pedestal. DJI have turned up pretty late to the gimbal party. The Ronin has a maximum payload of up to 15 lbs meaning it can fly a Red Epic, but is this as far DJI are looking to take it? With Freefly soon to be releasing the M15 & M20 versions of their gimbals and DEFY already releasing there G12 rig that will allow operators to mount much heavier camera/lens combinations(Sony f55 & Arri M). This is a demonstration that these manufacturers are truly trying to push handheld gimbals into the realms of professional production. DJI are clearly a large distance behind them and so far haven’t mentioned anything about a future Ronin upgrade or any accessories for the rig. To us, this seems like a clear indication that DJI have targeted the consumer rather than attempting to make a rig that will challenge its rivals onto professional film and TV sets. There are also a few cases in online forums that the Ronins tilt motor struggles to handle the heavier cameras. Once again this is just speculation and we’re sure in the next few months, we’ll have a better idea if this Rig is a steal or priced so low based on it’s performance.
At Movi-Hire we have regular contact with various kit houses in the UK. What we can say first hand, is that there have been numerous companies that have purchased Ronin’s and they have completely packed in after only a few weeks of use. This isn’t a problem with the gimbals structure but a more serious problem with it’s software and electronics. DJI is a Chinese company and from what we have heard the customer service is almost non-existent and in certain cases it’s taken upwards to a month to even receive a reply from the company. This is very worrying, and for us, it completely out weighs it’s attractive price tag. After all it’s still a £2500 investment and reliability is crucial on a shoot.
The Defy G series are designed by film makers for film makers
Special Features –
- Carbon Fiber Build
- Quick attach/ release mechanism for mounting the gimbal to other devices such as octocopters.
- The rig comes in a custom cut transport box.
- Clean setup (minimal wires).
- Numerous versions available to suit a wide array of filmmakers such as G2, G5, G12.
- Innovative accessories available such as a powered handle bar and mini bar to power accessories. They are also working on a pan and tilt thumb joystick for sole operator.
- Remote control for a second operator.
- The G12 designed for high end cinematographers and therefore rig is capable of flying heavier cameras such as Red Epic with a Mattebox without being too front heavy.
- Toolless balancing
- Roll arm has a double locking clamp ensuring heavy payloads don’t move or shift during use
Defy where the second major manufacturers to introduce their gimbal to the production industry. This was both fortunate & unfortunate for them. By releasing their rig after Freefly, they missed out on the opportunity to be the leading name in the market and have to deal with possible being labeled as a copycat company. However, this has also helped them to take advantage of some of the design shortcomings of the Movi. They where the first company to release multiple versions of their gimbals that are specifically tailored to handle different weight combinations, accommodating filmmakers of all abilities. Freefly have always had plans to do this but it seems DEFY got there first, this demonstrates that they are definitely more than just another copycat company. The Defy is built superbly; it is made from carbon fiber and is lightweight. They have released a range of outstanding accessories that are unique to the DEFY. They have designed a top handled bar that can power a monitor or follow focus directly for up to 8hours via DTAP connection. The powered bar is rechargeable and limits the number of wires present, making the DEFY on of the most clean cut designs out there. They have also created an attachable 5v mini bar that can power a paralinx or teradek wireless video for 12hours, again, no wires needed. Another development is a pan and tilt thumb joystick for its handle bar, meaning an operator has more control over framing in one-man band mode. DEFY was founded by a collective of filmmakers and this is clearly evident with the innovative features they are introducing to their rig. Their G12 model is definitely aimed at high-end productions and cinematographers, its capable of flying a Red epic with a matte box and this is something Freefly’s Movi M10 cannot achieve. The DEFY is also cheaper than the Movi M10 by some margin, but will it’s G12 model be able to stand it’s ground next to the M15 & M20 when Freefly finally release them? Only time will tell.
DEFY is a gimbal company founded by filmmakers, and not engineers. This is excellent when it comes to them thinking of great new developments for their rigs but it also comes with a downfall. The lack of an engineering background has left their gimbals with many reports of structural and operational flaws that are substantial enough to warrant purchasing a different gimbal. This just isn’t the case with the Movi, Freefly have mastered the devices software and electronics and with over a year of industry experience, users know they are getting the most accurate and reliable rig currently available. The DEFY’s biggest problem is that the rig doesn’t come with any interactive software to fine tune it’s motors power outputs. They have been using this a selling point, claiming their rig is the quickest and easiest to set up but we aren’t completely sold on this. Without some sort of manual calibration it’s hard to think that certain camera/lens combinations would be achievable to capture useable footage. For a company like ourselves, who often use a range of different camera and lens combinations from job to job, we would always want to have control over the gimbals motor outputs. Without this feature it seems that an operator will be spending a lot of time going over the gimbal’s software with DEFY’s customer service reps. A huge no no for us. We aren’t questioning that the DEFY isn’t a brilliantly priced, quality rig. But just as they did to Freefly, it seems company’s like DJI are benefiting from DEFYs shortfalls on their first releases.
Letus is a well-known, well-regarded company that has been around for a while. Some know Letus for its 35mm adapters, first created in the days before DSLR’s. The Letus Helix has been developed over 3 years, yes… that’s before the MOVI debut!
Special Features –
- Quick attach/ release mechanism for mounting the gimbal to other devices such as Stediseg
Total re-design on the typical gimbal system
- Up to 4 axis
- Modular approach, you buy the axis that you need.
- Extremely lightweight
- Doesn’t require a stand while resting, the rig can be balanced on the ground or any smooth surface
- Integrated battery cage you run the rig and the camera from the same battery
- Its unique design allows you to hold the Helix much closer to yourself than any other system out there. This results in less fatigue.
- Easy to balance because its balancing system is designed along the first axis of your camera.
- 90 degree operation without a top handle
- Clean setup (minimal wires).
The Helix is a gimbal with a difference. It has no peers. Helix is built to be used on steadicam or comfortably handheld and development for this particular rig dates back to 2011. Unlike the other gimbals we have discussed there isn’t many examples of the helix being at present with the device being so new. There is however some really exciting features that it offers filmmakers. The Helix is much lighter, and therefore more portable than its competitors. Its unique design means it’s a lot more compact and can be held very closely to the body that makes a huge difference in control and ease of use. Meaning that it feels very light because you can keep your arms close to your hips. Perhaps its greatest feature comes from its modular approach. You can purchase multiple axes depending on your needs. Letus have become the first manufacturer to add a fourth axis to their gimbal. The existing 3 axis set up will sit inside a fourth axis which will allow the unit to be attached to a steadicam or easy rig, This will eliminate the weight from the operators body, whilst still leaving them with the function to maneuver the camera within it’s fourth axis.
Letus have also designed an intuitive way of tilting the camera. The right handle of the rig actually rotates, so tilt movements are made by the twist of the handle rather than a rotation of the entire rig like the other gimbals. A thumb joystick can also be connected to the other non-motorized handle to pan and tilt in a completely separate way. By eliminating the roll arms, and focusing the balance point to the optical axis of the camera, the Helix allows the user to do 360 degree rolls with the camera, and greatly aids in image stabilization. This also decreases balancing time. If an operator wants to change lens the only thing they need to adjust is the cameras forward and back position.
Another great addition to the Helix is the gimbals back plate that doubles up as a port for a range of connections (SDI and Power). With this brilliant inclusion users can now power their camera and send a video signal through the back plate and the camera isn’t restricted whatsoever by snagging or tangled cables. The provides the Helix with very clean finish even after a range of accessories has been connected. The Helix battery also has the capability to power both the gimbal itself and the camera.
Overall this is a very impressive development in the world of gimbal technology. Unlike the other manufacturers, Letus have opted against using the Movi’s typical format and created a gimbal that is completely unique and very exciting.
With the Helix basically being brand new and untested. As amazing as it may look from research, without a thorough review of the gimbal it would be a huge risk to purchase one. Letus are a well-known and respected company but even for them this is a completely new territory, so of coarse there may be issues down the line with their products. We know that the Ronin should simply work, because it is so close in design to Movi that its type has been battle-tested. Helix is so new that we can’t make similar assumptions until units get in the field. We have only seen minimal footage of the first production model, no footage of operating from the 4th axis, etc. Although Letus have made a lot of effort to present the Helix at various conferences, they haven’t yet given us a clear demonstration of the software that comes with the device. Ok so they are a well respected company that has been in the industry for sometime, but how well can they program software? Again only time will tell.
5/5(If the test footage is on par with Movi and if they let us see some software)