The DJI Ronin-S was hotly anticipated before release and at time of writing, is still heavily backordered. There are plenty of other gimbals out there — including the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 that I looked at earlier this year — so what makes this one special? And is it worth the hype?
If you’re in the market for a gimbal, you’ve likely watched several online videos already — hey, I made one myself! — and of course that’s a great way to judge the quality of the footage that the gimbal lets you capture. You’ll probably already know the basics: the offset rear motor means you can see the camera screen clearly, it’s a little heavy, and it’s been very popular. But this is a complex product, and some of its features can be pretty subtle. Here, I’ll use the amazing information density of text to dig in deep with another Five Word Review:
Professional, Flexible, Powerful, Compatible, Heavy.
The box it ships in makes a great flight case, and spare screws and port covers are included in a neat little box. DJI do a great job of making you feel like your money has been well spent before you even touch the product. But when you first pick up the battery grip, it feels amazing. It’s like you’d imagine a real light saber would feel, and like the best Apple products, it feels “right”, just instantly the exact thing you never knew you wanted. Fit and finish are important to a product’s long-term reliability, and the Ronin-S absolutely nails this. Looks great, feels great, nothing’s loose. The software doesn’t have any rough edges, and there’s ongoing support, with four firmware updates so far since launch.
For those who want more, there’s a full ecosystem planned to support the Ronin-S. DJI Wheels and Force Pro give control to a second operator, plus you can purchase an add-on LCD screen if you’d rather not use the companion iOS/Android app. You can mount the gimbal on a remote-control car if you’d like, or add an external focus control, or swap to a two handle system. I don’t think I’ll be taking up many of those options myself, but some pros definitely will. Some of those extras are detailed here.
Probably the best feature of the gimbal is the mode system, and to discuss that properly, let’s step back. A gimbal’s job isn’t just to “smooth things out”, it’s to interpret what you wanted to do based on your movements. If you shake a little, the gimbal should probably try to compensate. Yet if you move a little further, or a little more quickly, should the gimbal follow what you’ve done, or oppose your movements and try to compensate for them? And if it does move, how quickly should it move, and should it respond instantly or after a delay?
With the app, you can dial in exactly the behaviour you want, under “SmoothTrack”. Speed governs how fast it moves, Deadband governs how much of your movement it will ignore, and Sensitivity governs how closely your movement is followed. These settings are stored in one of three separate modes, and during operation you can switch easily between these modes by tapping the mode button, or move into a special “Sports” mode by holding the mode button down.
In Sports mode, you’ll get instant response and maximum speed, allowing you to quickly pull off whip pans and fast tracking. By setting up the other modes using a bit of cunning, you can have a mode that moves smoothly and quickly but resists smaller movements, a mode that moves around slowly but more easily, or anything inbetween. If you’ve ever struggled to get a gimbal to do what you wanted, the modes here will let you set up just the right combination of responsiveness and stability.
In each mode, you can control how swiftly the joystick moves the camera, and even which axes the joystick controls. Setting one of your modes to control the Roll axis gives you access to the “infinite roll” party trick, and while you probably won’t use this for every shoot, it’s a unique and occasionally useful ability. Be sure to reset the gimbal position with a quick double-tap of the front trigger before you roll, or you can find that the lens isn’t in the dead center of the rotation.
That front trigger will lock down the camera position when held, ideal for switching between normal, underslung and flashlight modes. Triple-tapping it will also spin the gimbal 180° for “selfie mode”. These are all useful, and it doesn’t take long to get used to the controls. There are a couple more buttons and dials, but not all cameras can make use of them — yet.
I shoot with a Panasonic GH5, and if you do too you’ll be pleased to know that the Ronin-S works really, really well with it. A supplied USB-C cable connects the gimbal to the camera, you tap a menu item when starting up the camera, and then the well-balanced focus wheel on the side and the record button on the main grip will both work properly. The camera will also autofocus when half-pressing the record button in MF mode, and thankfully, a recent firmware update makes it possible to initiate recording without focusing and vice versa. For me, the ability to keep my hands off the camera is what finally let me move to a full-size gimbal in the first place — I needed to be able to focus.
While the focus-by-wire behavior of native lenses isn’t ideal, it’s not hard to get a decent shot, and it’s far better than moving the focus wheel on the lens itself. For this feature to work properly, the camera has to be able to control the lens, so if you’re using full manual glass, you’ll need an additional focus motor (available at extra cost).
For users of other cameras, reports are mixed. The Canon 5D MkIV and Nikon D850 and D5 use a hardwired cable and allow focus pulling and record operations like the GH5. However, Sony support is via infrared, which can be less reliable, and not all other cameras allow focus pulling with the wheel. Check the DJI site for the current supported camera list, and update firmware through the “DJI Pro Assistant for Ronin” app on your Mac or PC.
One last note on compatibility is with the included “Manfrotto-style” tripod plate. While you can mount this plate to a Manfrotto 500-series tripod head, you can’t use a native Manfrotto plate on the Ronin-S — it’s one-way compatibility only. This does make it easy to shift your camera from the Ronin to your tripod, but it’s a shame I can’t just swap plates freely.
The Ronin-S is powerful in a couple of different ways — both in its motors, and in its capabilities. In terms of raw grunt, it won’t complain if you mess around with the camera while it’s balanced and in use. You can flip around the screen, zoom the lens in and out, and the gimbal has enough leeway that it just deals with these disturbances. It can also deal with heavy wind, and record smooth footage at up to 75kph. While this leeway would certainly be reduced if you were to mount a heavier camera (claimed payload is 3.6kg) the extra power is certainly welcome.
While the joystick and control buttons give an operator excellent control, the mobile app’s features extend its capabilities a good deal. As well as more basic timelapse and hyperlapse controls, you can set up a motionlapse: a timelapse with motion control, moving the gimbal (a frame at a time) through up to five pre-set points. You can also program motion control to move smoothly, for a video-based motion control shot, though they’ve given this the name “Track”.
You could argue that’s a misleading name, because it doesn’t actually track a subject like the Zhiyun Crane can. That gimbal lets you track a moving subject if you mount your phone above your camera, and that’s not what happens here. However, the Track feature does reliably move your camera through a pre-defined series of positions, with full control of the time each move takes, and how long it stays in in each one.
Excess motor power does come at a slight cost in terms of weight. Heavier than a Crane 2 by about 600g, its build quality comes to the rescue with a comfortable grip, and the included (but removable) tripod functions as an extended grip or an easy support to put it down when not in use. I’ve found that resting the end of the tripod in my belt is a happy middle ground, and while I wouldn’t want to carry it around all day, I’ve found the extra weight tolerable.
While I would have preferred the whole thing to be lighter (carbon fiber perhaps?) the fact that you can put it down at any time mitigates this somewhat. It’s also possible to add a handle between the battery and the tripod to spread the weight out sideways, but at the end of the day, it’ll be a personal decision as to if you can carry the weight of this or any gimbal (or rig/monitor/big lens) for as long as you need to. If you’re used to shooting on a tripod, it’ll be an adjustment to make, and perhaps an excuse to build up your upper body fitness.
At the end of the day, a gimbal gives you new shooting options, and even though the GH5’s IBIS feature does a great job of removing jitters, you’ll still need a gimbal if you want to move smoothly at any speed. For me, this gimbal has been very reliable and lets me capture more stable shots in more situations than I was previously able to. Camera control and compatibility is crucial to that, and you’ll want to check carefully to see if your camera will work as well as the GH5.
Compared to the Osmo Mobile 2, the Ronin-S is (obviously) far more powerful, holds a far more capable camera, impresses clients far more, and is, of course, far heavier and more expensive. And because of price and weight, the Osmo Mobile 2 will actually be a better option for some filmmakers: even a higher-end production can certainly sneak in a few iPhone shots. But if you want to increase your production quality and can handle the weight, this one stands out in its category. The mode switching, the build quality, the features and (most important) the reliability are all top notch, and it’ll be coming with me on every shoot from now on. Be wary though — as soon as you touch the grip, you’ll want one. Highly recommended.
Price: DJI Ronin-S US$699 / AU$1099