DJI Ronin Disappoints

ronin promo

After hearing fantastic things about the DJI Ronin 3-axis stabilized gimbal system, and being wowed by the demo videos on the DJI website, I was looking forward to using one on my own projects. Sadly, my experience couldn’t have been worse: not only will I never use the Ronin again, I will probably not use ANY gimbal system.

Here’s what happened: I hired a Ronin and operator for a shoot, intending to use it for a week-long commercial project. This particular owner/operator has delivered terrific footage for colleagues of mine, so operator error was not an issue. Indeed, he set the Ronin up quickly enough, but once the camera was in place, the bad news started coming.

First of all, once gimbal was balanced, I discovered that I couldn’t plug an audio cable into my camera, because the weight of the connector would throw the gimbal off balance. It was – barely – possible to plug in a video monitor, but only if it was jury-rigged to the top of the Ronin itself. In my 15+ years of commercial video production, I have NEVER come across a piece of professional-grade equipment that does not allow for audio/video monitoring of the camera. This particular fact – which, to me, is of huge importance to anyone who is shooting anything other than pure b-roll – has been omitted from everything I’ve seen written about the Ronin.

Secondly, trying to get the Ronin to hold the camera at a tilted angle (for a low-angle tracking shot) turned out to be almost impossible, as it (naturally) kept trying to make itself level. Apparently, there’s a “second operator mode” that allows for this, but neither the Ronin’s owner nor anything on the Ronin website had indicated that this was the case.

Finally, after my clients had watched me and my crew waste almost the entire morning struggling with this gadget, I made the decision to pull the plug. I apologized to my clients, my crew and I set up a traditional dolly & track in about 20 minutes, and we got the shot we needed, flawlessly.

Later on that day, I decided to give the Ronin a second chance. Since the audio and low-angle factors had been such problems, I tried to use it to stabilize some hand-held, eye-level b-roll shots. In order to do this, the Ronin’s owner tried to convert it to “Upright” mode, so that the camera could be held at eye-level, but the device refused to cooperate, continually trying to flip itself over. At that point, I gave up completely on the thing.

Hindsight being 20/20, after the shoot, I spoke to my colleagues, who basically said things like, “Oh, yeah, of course, you need a prep day to get everything tuned up for your camera. Then it’ll be great.” Naturally, nobody – including the owner/operator – had mentioned this to me ahead of time. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time or inclination to baby-sit temperamental electronics. I need gear that works the way I want it to work, every time I need it to. So, for now, I’ll stick to good ol’ dolly, crane, and tripod, and I might take a closer look at some of the steadicam-style gadgets on the market.

  34 comments for “DJI Ronin Disappoints

  1. Chris Tangey
    December 1, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Yes, well said. I’m afraid there is too much hype around many of these various “gizmos” and some of that includes the exclusion of critical information, either through ignorance, poor testing or worse, pay-for-comment. This is why I love reading your stuff, it is thorough, unbiased and likely to save us pros a lot of money in the long run. Thank you.

    • Alexander
      December 1, 2014 at 7:03 pm

      Thank you, Chris! I was anticipating immediately being criticized by Ronin fans, so I greatly appreciate your kind words.

    • Gregg Smith
      May 5, 2015 at 5:38 am

      Hi Alex. I hate to say it, and disagree with your initial judgement, but I have to agree with Rory, Kash and Edward in that every problem you had points to operator error, or at least a lack of knowledge on the operator’s part :
      Firstly, the Ronin really needs a separate monitor for the operator to be able to compose the shots – other than the cable for this there should be no other connections to the camera as this will unbalance the gimbal whenever they move or flex. Record the audio separately (either on a Zoom or equivalent or onto another camera).
      Secondly, the Ronin comes with an RF controller that you can use to manually control the angle of the camera – your operator should have known this and it should have been in with the package and used to set the angle for the low shot. Alternatively you can use the app to set the angle or simply tilting the Ronin back past the deadspot will result in the camera then tilting up or down accordingly so it could have been set using this and then returned to a ‘neutral’ position for doing the low angle shot looking up (again, something your operator should have known and been able to do).
      With regards the eye level shots, you have the option to put the camera into upright mode (which can be a bit hit and miss, depending on how heavy the camera is and how well it has been balanced), or just have the operator physically raise the Ronin so that the camera is at eye height (this can be a little uncomfortable for a long period of time, but you can purchase extended arms that make it easier).
      These are all things that the operator should have made you aware of. That, and the (apparent) need to spend a prep day setting your camera up – what a load of baloney – makes me think the operator wasn’t as familiar with the rig as he should have been.
      The whole point of the Ronin is that it can be pretty easily set up on set within about half an hour (or less if you know what you’re doing).
      Please don’t get me wrong, I do not work for DJI and do not claim to be an expert Ronin operator, but I have played with the system and was able to offer my clients the exact shots that you were after without much hassle.
      Where the Ronin falls down is when you put anything larger than a DSLR or (at a push) a Red Epic with a small prime lens and lightweight wireless follow focus on – it just isn’t designed for working with ‘big’ cameras out of the box.
      There are workarounds – I’ve seen extensions for the pan adjustment slider that meant a full size Alexa could be flown on it (in either upright or normal mode) but out of the box you won’t be able to ‘fly’ the bigger rigs (what were you using by the way?)
      The Ronin, like steadicam rigs, relies on the skill of the owner / operator and if they know what they’re doing then you’re in good hands.
      I am neither a steadicam operator nor a dedicated gimbal operator, but I can get passable footage from the Ronin, hence it has been hailed as a great tool for a one man band. To get great footage, you simply need to be using it every day and certainly know what it is and isn’t capable of – which sadly your operator did not seem to know.
      This seems to be a classic case of a bad craftsman blaming his tools. Sorry.

    • Alduin Sheppard
      September 2, 2016 at 10:57 pm

      I’m sorry for your unfortunate circumstance and experience using the ronin m. I’ve had it for about close to a year or more and have had some great success using it. It just seems like your issues are just user errors. I mean it’s a sophisticated device, it does require a read through the manual and a bit of practice. I would never send anyone on a shoot without proper familiarity with the camera system and the gear used. It’s a no brainer. It would be the same mistake as giving a machine gun to a monkey.

  2. Chris Tangey
    December 1, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Not a “fan” of anyone Alexander 🙂 a true Pro, spending their own hard-earned money, can’t afford to be. In the end equipment manufacturers are just like us, “only as good as your last gig”

  3. December 2, 2014 at 3:29 am

    The ronin is just a 3 axis gimbal and there are so many options out there in terms of gimbal stabilisation.

    The problems you had with this shoot are the exact same issues you would have faced with any other 3 axis system out there. The market has been flooded with really affordable, solid and a pretty reliable pieces of tech.. but only in the right hands.

    The operator should know his tool back to front if he is going to be offering a service as an operator. The angled shot you wanted to achieve would have been possible if the operator knew how to set it. Also the gimbals unwillingness to do the “mode” shots was probably down to how it was tuned and balanced by the operator, due to his knowledge of the system being used… but could very easily also have been due to defects or faults in the system. A test shoot or prep day would have made these issues apparent.

    An external video and audio feed is possible with most gimbal systems with the right budget and available tools and I totally agree that a days prep with the system should have been considered and presented as an option/requirement.

    I find that in many situations with these gimbals, there is too much of a rush to just get some in with the capability of using one, without a proper brief or real understanding of what is required on the shoot. All of your issues could have probably been avoided given the right communication, time allocation and understanding of what is required on the day in terms of execution and requirements.

    Gimbals are awesome tools when they work and I’m sorry your first experience was a bad one!

    • Kash
      April 18, 2015 at 10:16 pm

      You are totally right. If the operator knew more about his gimble then the shots could have been achieved. Learn the ronin first then talk .

    • Jason
      December 20, 2016 at 2:44 am

      Exactly!

  4. December 6, 2014 at 2:52 am

    I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience. In my opinion the Ronin is an amazing piece of machinery when handled correctly and used for the right shots. Because I have added this piece of machinery to my list of equipment, my business has been doing much better. I have owned the ronin since they came out.
    I have to agree with the above post from mailroryallen, if he/she is an operator he/she must know it inside and out. The problem with these pieces of equipment is the same problem we face with drone technology. They are marketed ready to use, no experience necessary almost like toys when in fact, they are not. They are very complex tools and need to be understood and handled correctly. I have been on multiple shoots with my Ronin and sometimes it acts up or reacts in a manner that it is not supposed to. That is the difference between hiring someone with experience and someone who just purchased one. I never kept my director waiting more than 2 minutes if I encountered a problem.
    Hopefully you have not lost all faith in brushless gimbals, give it another shot.
    PS – before you hire another operator give that person you camera and all equipment that is going to be mounted. That way the Ronin operator can work out any problems before getting on set. That is what I always do. I highly recommend it.
    take care and good luck.

    • Alexander
      December 6, 2014 at 8:05 am

      Edward, I agree with you 100%. Hindsight is 20/20!

  5. February 19, 2015 at 2:22 am

    Sorry to read if your disappointment with the Ronin. I’m not a Ronin owner but have worked with these and other gimbals many times.

    Sometimes gadgets are used as people think they are a way of working quicker and more efficiently. Sadly this isn’t always the case although (nearly) everything has its time and place.

    Despite not being an gimbal operator I can tell you straight away that the shot you planned IS possible but needs an assistant to control the tilt and pan (or a thumb controller which I guess your operator didn’t have).

    The problem with making such cheap and accessible technology is that it makes everyone /think/ they are an operator. The privilege of calling ones self this title comes with experience and practise, not when you’ve spent a days rate on a new bit of tech.

    I hope you don’t duscount gimbals in future, they not a miracle tool but some very interesting effects can be had in the right time and place. 🙂
    Chris
    Director of Photography
    http://www.timelapsey.com

    • Alexander
      February 19, 2015 at 8:28 pm

      I agree with you. I over-estimated the Ronin’s ease of use and flexibility. Based somewhat on the hype, I thought it would be a silver bullet that would replace a steadicam, dolly and jib. Clearly, that’s not the case, and even if it were, it would require more setup than I allowed for. Lesson learned!

      • July 10, 2015 at 11:41 pm

        your lack of preparation and research into the equipment is the problem! not the equipment. Why the hell are you, the director/producer not totally up to speed on the equipment you rent for a shoot. Your lack of knowledge is the problem. Of course you can attach sound and hdmi monitoring and almost anything you want to the ronin. You just have to have some clue what you’re doing. You obviously don’t. stop blaming the gear and take a closer look at the real problem…..you!

        • Alexander
          July 11, 2015 at 5:54 am

          Thanks, Steve! I’ll keep that in mind.

  6. Christian
    March 3, 2015 at 5:32 am

    That’s a shame mate, but seriously you should consider rephrasing this article, your experience was your own fault. We monitor ours audio and video, the balance is fine. If you’d read the user manual, this is fine.

    Articles like this do nothing but damage the reputation of a great product.

    Our Ronin is great…..but we learnt how to use ours properly. Sounds like yours was configured completely wrongly…..no fault but your own. 🙁 shame.

    • Alexander
      March 3, 2015 at 7:19 am

      Your point is well taken, Christian. In my own defense, I’ll only say that I did hire someone with the Ronin – I didn’t try to configure it myself. But, I’ve been doing video for a long time, and if I made the mistake of misunderstanding the Ronin’s requirements and capabilities, I suspect other people might do the same. For that reason, I think that sharing my experience has some value, even if it is somewhat personally embarrassing to me!

      • Phil
        February 20, 2016 at 7:13 pm

        I would definitely call this operator error, and not your fault of course. I’ve had my Ronin for a week and already knew how to deal with all the issues you had as I read them. The guy simply did not know what he was doing.

  7. Tim
    March 8, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Hi!

    I read your article and I also don’t really agree with the way you phrased it. I own a Ronin for a week now and the only time I had with before I used it today on my first shoot with it was to learn the basics of balancing it! Today I used it a whole day at a very busy event I did production for. No time to fiddle, just go and shoot. The only thing that took time was balancing it and figuring out the app. The rest was working flawlessly!

    Here’s an example of what we shot today: https://instagram.com/p/z-JrjUyjOq/?modal=true
    (it is a little bumpy at the pass on part, but it was the only one we could upload fast after we shot it!:))

    But on the other hand, if you hire someone that sells themselves as a Ronin operator (and you probably paid a lot extra for this “service”) then you have the right to be mad and disappointed when that someone doesn’t deliver on his promise!

    My advice is to read up and watch online reviews and user tutorials etc. and hire it yourself for another project.

    I jumped without knowing where I would land, but the Ronin guided me all the way down and made me land safe and sound! The product is awesome, just need to spend some quality time with it!;)

    You have any examples of your videowork? I would love to see what you make!

    Grtz,

    Tim

  8. Jon M
    March 10, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    I would just like to weigh in here briefly, I used the Ronin with C300 mounted last week for the first time and I was really impressed.. The issue you had with the low down tilted angle shot is operator error in my opinion. Purely a lack of knowledge about the product and it’s operation. Also wireless monitoring is completely attainable with an experienced crew involved. I appreciate your post but it smacks of inexperience, it comes down to having a good crew in my opinion. Good luck.

  9. March 14, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    Fact 1: Any regular Steadicam Operator (real ones) do the same shots in no time.

    People are using a good tool for the wrong reasons.
    It’s a great tool for certain shots (tiny places, low to high mode shots on the go and many kind of shots where gimbal goes really good) but when you try to replace the right tool for the shot like Steadicam in hands of a Steadicam Op is (or other tools), problems begins.

    It’s a great complement of steadicam. I have one. Just that. A good complement.
    There is no reason to resume all the problems you could get trying to replace right tools for the wrong ones. At the time. All the people knows the problems you can get doing that with gimbals. Few months ago many DPs and producers where cutting Steadicam from his budgets just because they saw a few videos on ytube. After 1 or 2 days they where calling you asking for help.

    Don’t get me wrong. Its a good tool but:

    Fact 2:
    Steadicam Operators have no problems to say: hey its a good shot to use a gimbal.

    Gimbal fans says I can do it all. I have no problems. You don’t know how to use the tool, etc!

    Steadicam Ops knows his own limits – Gimbal fans just hide them.

    Hope to ear one day a professional gimbal op saying: Its a Steadicam what you need for this shot. That only going to happen when they start to become professionals and not just fans of the tool.

    Right tool for the right tool I say – hope to see professional Gimbal Ops in the near future.

    +14 years as Steadicam Operator
    I use MoVI, Ronin or Helix just only if its the best for the shot!

  10. Nicole
    March 18, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    The problem with your experience is lack of preparation and lack of honesty on the part of your operator. First off, you should NEVER use a brand new device for the first time on a client commercial shoot.. your 15 years of video production experience should have drilled that lesson into your head. Especially one as finicky as a steadicam of any type or brand. They are NOT unbox and play devices, they require training and in this case advanced tech knowledge.

    I have to be honest, but I laughed when you wrote, “First of all, once gimbal was balanced, I discovered that I couldn’t plug an audio cable into my camera, because the weight of the connector would throw the gimbal off balance.”

    Soo, you are saying you were surprised that a carefully weighted and balanced device was thrown off kilter when you added additional weight after the fact…. That was a joke, right? I mean a regular steadicam that’s even less precisely calibrated would have that issue. Maybe you don’t know how they work but you need to place ALL of the weight on the device before calibrating it. I would think that would be common sense. You know, physics and all.

    Then you fault the device for doing precisely what it’s built to do, ie. keep a shot level. If you knew a head of time that you intended to use a device you had no experience with on a commercial shoot I would think at the very least you would have taken the time to research it. You said you looked at the site, correct? I’m guessing that means you only made sure they had one because if you HAD done even the slightest bit of research you would have watched the “Introducing the Ronin” video were at 2:37 they explain how to get dynamic shots with a second operator. That video was uploaded July of 2014 four months before you posted this blog.. so “no information on their site” is a cop out for “didn’t do any research”.

    And finally, considering the incompetence up to this point I can only imagine what your operator was doing wrong to get the eye level shot.

    You are right, the gimbal is temperamental… but ALL steadicams are. They aren’t toys, they aren’t meant for any photographer gone videographer to get pretty pictures on a whim.. they require effort, study, training, and experience. It is why Steadi Cam operator is a profession all it’s own in Hollywood and even though this device might make the job a little more accessible to a growing cinematographer it still requires the same respect and preparation time to be effective.

    You wouldn’t order a brand new camera you knew nothing about and run it on a paid gig.. why would you any other device. This isn’t a learn on someone else’s dime business.

  11. April 30, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    I own a ronin and all the things that you stayed you can’t do, I have done. Your operator sounds unprepared with proper tools for connections and mounting and he doesn’t sound like he has much experience operating the Ronin. Check yourself before you bash a product and post mindless rants.

  12. skipp dill
    May 4, 2015 at 11:41 am

    DJI would be wise to take a page from the DEFY G2X upright solution. The DEFY G2X maintains the camera orientation without the need to flip in post or spend additional money on a HD field monitor/battery/usb cable and attachment hardware. I have a ronin m on pre-order, but if this problem can not be addressed, I will have to cancel and wait on a more mature product.

  13. June 3, 2015 at 5:52 am

    C300 own Monitor on DJI Ronin?
    May I ask? Can I use the Minotir of the C300 o top of the C300 with the DJI Ronin? Or do I need a external Monitor?
    Thanks for helping me

  14. Jason
    June 4, 2015 at 10:18 am

    This is a space where I have seen the most professional conversations around video production and the discussion of 3-axis gimbals are leading my desire to learn more about them so that I can effectively incorporate them into my work.

    The DJI Ronin M is getting a lot of hype, however the need to flip the video in post when using in upright mode is a huge pitfall in my mind. There is a new competitor MOZA on the block that seems to have answered all the issues that people complain about with DJI. I am looking at the MOZA Lite (http://www.gudsen.com/moza-lite.html)

    All the current knowledge that I can find seems to be very biased and I have not been able to find trustworthy information on the MOZA product. Reading more and more on this site leads me to believe that I may hopefully get some unbiased opinions on here. So hopefully any of you could potentially share some insights on your thoughts between the Ronin M and the Moza Lite. Very new products to enter the market yes, but I would certainly appreciate your thoughts.

    There is of course the more professional tool for the job, the MoVi systems (unfortunately completely out of my current budget) – I am left wondering however in the case of this above rant article about gimbals: If the operator of the DJI Ronin was a professional, working in a professional production environment, with a client paying for a week long shoot with hired professionals, wouldn’t the MoVi systems be almost a demanded requirement for the shoot? Everything including build quality, customization, fail safes, reliability, and product advancements is insured with the MoVi products; expensive yes, but every single gimbal product to date seems to be chasing after or imitating MoVi – I am shocked to hear that the MoVi wasn’t even a consideration…

  15. October 8, 2015 at 8:35 am

    I’m also a Ronin owner and operator. After reading your post it looks to me like You didn’t know what exactly you can expect from this piece of equipment, but what’s really bad, it reads like the operator was extremely inexperienced in operating the Ronin.

    Besides that, going some into the details:
    I do not have any problem to plug in my external monitor, attach the screen to the handle bar, and also i do not have any problem to plug in the wireless mic cable additional, and then attach the device to the handle bar too. You just plug in the cables AFTER the balancing and it works. Of course on each change you have to do plug off and plug in, possible adjust again etc. but that’s just a question of knowing the Ronin and having experience in operating it.

  16. November 20, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    I just came across this post. And this was a total operator error. The learning curve of the Ronin is pretty easy. But as everything else you need to spend some time with the equipment alone. Take it apart and put back, test every single menu. The monitor is essential, and the operator should have the right monitor with right cable. In regards to audio, I use wireless mic sometimes, the problem is not the cable but the actual transmitter, you have counterbalance for everthing you add. I never record audio directly to the camera, even when the camera is on sticks, the audio is recorded independently and I sync it at the studio with a simple click. The lower shots can be done in briefcase mode which is in the menu, its evident that the operator didnt now about it. I only use briefcase mode when I am going to run in narrow spaces, or do lots of movement so the bar does not hit my legs, for simple shots I just hold the gimbal with one hand and drop it to the floor. The lower angles can be done in several ways. from the remote control or only by shifting the gimbal in smothing, You can control the speed of the move, the reaction and the sensitivity of the gimbal. That also operator error.

  17. Tim
    December 21, 2015 at 2:15 am

    Wow, so negative, but all operator failure and honestly, lack of knowledge of what you use for your project on your side. Not professional at all…

  18. February 2, 2016 at 6:01 am

    I understand where you come from. Because I have been there too. I have to shoot a music video a year ago. I thought I was ready enough to shoot after 48 hours of training.
    Well I didn’t expect the stiffness and all the issues from the balance with the DJI RONIN. I thought that even I balanced the camera well enough it could least a couple of minutes without a worry.
    The app wasn’t working properly from an Android or Iphone. The Gimbal app on my laptop wasn’t working properly either so I had to downgrade the app.
    I never been so angry against a gadget like that. The video looked okay but not amazing, because we lost a lot of time and I had to shoot with my plan B equipment.

    I didn’t wanted to use the DJI RONIN after that. I had enough. It was a failure to me. But after a year, I came back to business. I wanted to be really good with this gear.
    I can see that it’s an art to know how to use this gear properly. Once you understand how it works, you’ll realise that it’s a fantastic tool.
    But as any tool you need to master it. And to be the best you won’t reach it after two days of training.

  19. Brett
    February 3, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    https://vimeo.com/102792637

    This link will help you with any problems. I was having problems getting into upright mode, and going through these proper setup modes you’ll see that it can support a wide range of cameras from a Sony a7 to a canon C500.

  20. Ryan
    February 19, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    So, would you buy a new camera and take it to a shoot without taking it out of the box to test out and setup properly? The Ronin isn’t a tripod or light stand, it needs setup properly to work right and get the shots you were expecting to get. Ridiculous.

    • Alexander
      February 19, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      No, but I would hire a camera operator based on the assumption that he would be able to get his equipment to do what it is marketed as being able to do.

  21. Gordon
    May 26, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    I too, bought into the Ronin. I wanted to use it with the Blackmagic URSA mini, Canon Cinema lens and wireless follow focus system. I spent a good deal of time researching it and it looked to me like everything should work fine and the set-up should be relatively easy. The problems started from the first time I tried to use it. I simply put a Canon 5D MIII since the Blackmagic was on back order at the time. The rig was extremely temperamental from the start and I quickly learned that the Cinema lens with follow focus was so front heavy, that it couldn’t be balanced. I attempted to purchase all kinds of stuff at Home Depot to counterbalance it to only still have issues. Not to mention that the rig was heavy. When the URSA came in, I quickly discovered that the camera was too long to fit on the Ronin. A Ronin operator that I use on a lot of my shoots came in and suggested that I look into Cinemilled. There I found arm extensions, an extended dovetail plate, counterweights and even a plate that would allow me to attach it to a jib arm. We also had to purchase a different jib arm system since the weight of the rig would exceed what we currently had. After the long wait to get all the Cinemilled parts in and the body rig harness system (did I mention it was heavy), I finally was able to fit the URSA on the Ronin and get it balanced, right up until you start attaching cables for monitors. I even purchased L adaptors to keep the cables from touching the arms, didn’t matter, cables throw the entire rig off. The one time I had the least amount of issues was when I ran the Ronin with the 5D with a 24-70 lens pulled back to its widest focal length and set at a really high f stop so I could keep everything in focus, with no monitor set up. I also found that the body rig makes, while it takes the weight off, makes any up and down movement from walking much worse. It’s great if you’re stationary and someone els pulls you on a dolly, but walking is out. The last shoot I tried to use it on, we spent the previous day (with the experienced Ronin operator) setting it up. The first day of the shoot we used it on, we spent more time dicking with it than we did shooting. For the rest of the week, we used a slider or jib arm where I planned to use the Ronin. This piece of equipment is one of the most disappointing things I’ve ever come across. The best line that my Ronin guy said to me was “As a Ronin owner and operator, don’t use the Ronin”

    • Alexander
      May 26, 2016 at 4:06 pm

      🙂

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