We aim to keep our shots steady, so the viewer can focus on the story. For that we generally rely on our Manfrotto tripods (or the world, if we need a different angle). But sometimes a tripod is simply not the answer.
Back in news, when following the action, we would throw our ENG cameras over a shoulder and move where we needed. The weight of the camera and the way it was balanced kept the shake to a minimum. Now though, we don’t have those meaty cameras to counteract the body’s movement. We needed a solution.
Enter the DJI Ronin.
The 3-axis gimbal system makes walking smooth, running seamless, and our moving interviews clean.
In New York, we strapped up a wireless to our 5D, balanced it out on the Ronin, and got an outstanding moving interview for a project with Pandora. In San Antonio, we used the same process and were rewarded again with outstanding active interview footage as we followed our character around the East Side Community.
The Ronin’s versatility goes beyond moving interviews, too. We’ve used it to capture commercial footage, to mimic a 100+ ft dolly (Dave is in great shape), and execute some outstanding pan/tilt/jib-like reveals.
DJI’s Ronin internal controls are manipulated through the DJI Assistant App. Connecting with your phone to the rig via Bluetooth, the App allows you to control the motor speed, stiffness (the 5D operates well with its stiffness set around 15 or 20, while the bigger FS700 appreciates a higher setting, around 30), and other motor-based operations. It also gives you real time readings of battery life, tilt/pan angles, an Auto-Stabilize feature, and the ability to switch from operator control to remote control and back.
And, since the Ronin comes with a remote controller — allowing for the person holding the rig to focus on holding the rig, and another person to focus solely on what the camera is doing — evolving past interviews or basic moves is not something you have to order more parts to do. Though, we do suggest getting a paralinx system so a second monitor can be used by the camera op to see what the camera and rig operator is seeing.
It takes a little while to learn how to balance your camera on the rig, and a few more attempts to master it, but the learning curve is manageable if you’re willing to devote time to practicing before heading out. Following a character is pretty seamless if you’re familiar with shooting off the shoulder, but the fancier shots — especially the ones that require a remote camera operator — will take extra practice.
We do recommend finding a way to attach a remote follow focus. Touching the camera mid shoot, even with the 3-axis gimbal, adds shake and is unreliable. A remote focus is a must-have.
We’ve found that our Ronin does not play well with the Canon C100 MKII or the Sony FS700. Though we can get both cameras to work with the Ronin, the full range of motion is not available. This was not something we anticipated. As a result, most of our Ronin work has been done with the Canon 5D.
Over all we are happy with the Ronin. Based on our ELM rating system for E (efficiency), L (learning curve) and M (magic/quality), it gets a pretty good rating:
- E - Once the camera is balanced on the Ronin, the sky is the limit, but getting to that point can take 15-20 minutes. You’ll have to plan that into your shoot. If you are running and gunning, it is not the ideal pick.
- L - Mastering balancing the camera on the Ronin might take a few tries, but once you have the process down it’s quick and easy.
- M - This piece of equipment increases the quality of a production. There is no doubt, its "magic" factor is undeniable if you have the time to put the Ronin together.