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.