DJI has started shipping the Ronin S, their new one handed gimbal with integrated follow focus capabilities. We already have some listings of the Ronin S for rent on KitSplit, fresh off the assembly line.
If you are thinking of renting one for an upcoming production, here are the key features you should be paying attention to as you make your decision versus competitors or the earlier generation Ronin M.
Integrated Follow Focus
Hands down the feature that is most talked about with the new Ronin S is the little knob there on the side. It’s a follow focus knob, and it should allow camera operators to simultaneously operate the gimbal with one hand while following focus on the other hand.
It does it through an RSS to USB cable that comes included with the stabilizer by default. While we anticipate that eventually most of the major platforms will be supported, the support is rolling out in waves, and we highly recommend doing a bit of research to see if your camera is currently supported if you are planning on using the follow focus feature.
Right now the best supported camera is the Panasonic GH5 and GH5s, and there are reports that the Nikon 850 is also well supported though we haven’t used it ourselves yet. We can confidently report that the GH5 support is stellar: plug in the cable, select “PC tether” mode and you are off to the races with a gimbal where you can pull focus.
One thing to be conscious of when using this combination is sensor size. While cameras like the Canon 5D Mark IV and the Sony A7SII are popular, they are both full frame sensor units, and with a full frame sensor you are going to have a smaller depth of field for the same framing you would get with a smaller sensor like the MFT size of the GH5.
The integrated follow focus is also something that requires practice and might not suffice in all situations. If the storyboard calls for a long creeping tracking shot that lands in a close-up on a hamburger on a table where you can see glistening sesame seeds, the integrated FF might not be your dream. If you are shooting a BMX competition and will be living in wide shots in a day exterior but will be getting closer in to mediums and then back out to wides from the follow truck, the focus system will perform well.
One handed vs. two handed
The previous unit in the DJI lineup that the new Ronin S could be considered to replace is the Ronin M. However, it’s not really a replacement for the M, since the M was built around the traditional 2-handed layout, while the S is DJI moving into the single handed layout that is more popular with their competitors.
Two handed layouts are popular since it lets you spread the weight of the rig (with the camera, monitor, follow focus and other accessories) over both of your arms. With the whole package getting up to as much as 12 lbs (4 for the unit and up to 8 for the payload), that would be appreciated here. So why has DJI moved towards another direction?
First off, there are shots that you can more easily get with a single hand than with two. Going down low, moving it up, pivoting it around…all of those twists and turns of operating are more fluid in a single hand where you can stretch it out from yourself. And if the weight gets low enough, with a mirrorless camera and a prime lens you could have the whole package under 7lbs,and (if you hit the gym enough), single handed is very doable with this rig.
In addition, the gimbal comes with a built in tripod, and DJI suggests you use it for your second hand when you want. This keeps both your main operating hand and your second hand much lower than a traditional dual hand setup, which creates much less strain on your arm than the high hand position needed for traditional 2-handed gimbals. If you are framing performers roughly your own height, this layout will likely lead to less fatigue.
Exceptional battery life
One of the main drawbacks of the Ronin S is the 4-pound weight. However, the reason for that weight is the battery, which offers a claimed 12 hour useable life. Users are in fact reporting lives up to the hype.
Considering the duration of shoots, which often run longer than 12 hours, having a unit that can make it through the day is a tremendous bonus. Since many producers want to work the gimbal full time once they’ve paid to bring one out, being ready for a long day of constant gimbal work is an appreciated feature for the platform.
On the flip side, the battery handle grip can also be swapped out, and we do wonder if eventually DJI might make a lighter weight, smaller battery handle for situations where that might make sense. You could potentially leave one on the charger, and the other on the gimbal, and save a bit on weight.
Still a mirrorless platform
While that 8lb payload might have some of you thinking you could squeeze a Panasonic EVA 1 with a lightweight prime lens on there, this is still very much a platform designed for mirrorless lenses and the occasional DSLR shoot.
The limitation is not weight in this instance, it’s size. In order to accommodate the physically larger body of something like an EVA1, even with a prime lens, the Ronin would need much longer arms to allow for properly balancing the camera. DJI does offer a great gimbal for those larger packages, the Ronin 2, but the S is really targeted for the shooter working with a GH5, A7SII, X-H1, or 5D Mark IV. Even the weight of the Mark IV might not be the ideal pairing with this platform.
This isn’t a drawback, it’s a feature. By keeping the arms shorter, targeted at the platforms it’s going for, DJI is able to make the gimbal smaller, lighter, and with less powerful motors, which is going to lead to longer battery life and easier use on set.
Those are the big takeaways for DPs considering using the Ronin S on an upcoming job. Depending on what sort of gig it is, you might be able to fly solo with this stabilizer and get great shots your clients will love that wouldn’t have been possible as a single operator before. But if the shots get too complicated you’ll want to have someone else handling focus, and if the camera gets large enough considering bumping the rental up to a Ronin 2.
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Featured image courtesy of Charles Haine.