July 9, 2018
Field Test

Field Test: DJI Ronin S is Meant to be a 'Category Destroyer'

DJI finally joins the single-handed prosumer club with a heavyweight over-achiever.

Gimbal innovation is downright exhausting. The company's new design innovation—such as the angled design that allows for clearly viewing the screen on your camera—swept the market within 12-18 months. This summer, pretty much all of the features a user can want have been piled together into a surprisingly affordable unit from DJI, the company's first "one-handed" stabilizer. The unit is called the Ronin S

The Ronin S has the angled roll motor, allowing you to easily see your camera screen if not working with an external. It has an integrated follow-focus system. It works with industry standard mounting plates (though the DJI version comes with a threaded hole for a lens support). It's pretty much....all the things.

It's important to remember that the Ronin S is too big to be your "'Bring it everywhere' scout tool."  We had some hope that we would pick it up, it would feel light, and that we would leave one in our kit full-time to fire up for blocking. Sadly, that is not the Ronin S. 

The Ronin S is designed to be the ultimate gimbal for mirrorless camera shots (and maybe some DSLR to boot), but it's not going to be the right tool to live with you in scouts. What it is is 4lb of highlight specialized equipment that makes your GH5, XH1, and A7SII shots exceptionally smooth, and that is where it really performs.

Credit: Charles Haine

The weight is not a deal breaker. 4lbs is indeed heavy if you want to leave it in a backpack all day, but for short shoots, it's perfectly acceptable. While this is technically a single-handed gimbal, its layout is such that most of the time we were using our other hand to focus the lens and provide stability. We then used the tripod to take some weight on our belt or hip. 

It's easily usable for shots in the 1-to-2 minute duration, which is realistically the duration you'll mostly use these for. Yes, there are amazing seven minute shots in movies, but frankly, we just don't end up doing too many of them throughout our shooting lives.

The trick isn't usually operating, but rather writing, casting, directing, and lighting it so that the shot stays interesting for the full seven minutes. Once you've done all that, holding this for a long take won't murder you; you'll just need a slight break before you do another.

Credit: Charles Haine

The flip side of that extra weight is that the battery life is astounding. Once we fully charged it, we kept using it for testing, playing, and photographing. We put it down for a few days and then picked it back up, and found that it had only lost one bar. DJI claims a 12 hour useable life, and we have every reason to believe that that is true.

Credit: Charles Haine

We can't talk about this unit without talking about its cost, rather aggressive considering what comes in the box. DJI has obviously had to save cost somewhere, but one of the places the company has decided to do it is somewhat fascinating: as opposed to the "pelican" style case that is nearly standard now, the Ronin S ships in a molded foam case.

I think we're OK with this. It appears that it will hold up to some abuse, that it could easily be slipped into a pelican if it needed to (for flying or shipping purposes), and is a fair place for DJI to keep costs down while focusing on delivering real value. We would rather the money we spend go to the stabilizer itself anyway.

Credit: Charles Haine

The standout feature is the integrated focus. At launch, it is only working with the GH5 (loaned to us for this test by the wonderful folks at LensRentals), but it works. Mount your camera, use the included RSS to USB-C cable to plug it in, and set the camera to PC tether and you have a built-in focus wheel right on the gimbal to pull focus with. 

Yes, there are Bluetooth options from many competitors (or you can rig up external motors) but we've experienced issues with Bluetooth accessories in the past. A solid cable connection that "just works" is an amazing bonus. It will also work with DJI focus motors if you have lenses that work with external motors.

Credit: Charles Haine
Operating a gimbal and pulling your own focus is tricky, and there's a reason it's often the job of two or three people (one framing the shot, one moving the gimbal, and one pulling focus). However, sometimes you are out in a "one mule team" and want to shoot something cool. This isn't going to be the perfect focus pulling tool for that, but it will allow you to get some shots you couldn't before. 

Where it will really be beneficial is in situations where you have the room to edit around soft focus moments. For instance, when shooting a music video or dance sequence, an operator can shoot dynamic moving shots and keep more of it in focus than before, offering up more options in the edit suite while accepting that it might not all be perfectly tack sharp. Having spent some hands-on time with it, that seems like the real application of this focus integration. 

If you want to do a long, slow creep-in on the gimbal that lands on a close-up of an eye, you're going to be better off splitting the job up between two separate people. You could even try the autofocus (which is getting pretsophisticatedted in the Panasonic and Sony lineups).  

Credit: Charles Haine

DJI says the company will support external record and focus control for every manufacturer it can and that the holdup for other cameras is on the manufacturer side. It's interesting that it's Panasonic first. The GH5 is the perfect camera for this stabilizer and will likely be a popular combination.

However, the GH5 has a much smaller sensor than a comparable unit from Sony (like the A7SII with its full-frame sensor) which means that the Panasonic will have a bigger depth-of-field for the same field-of-view. Honestly, the Gh5/Ronin S combo is a dynamic one, and while we're excited to try the A7SII combination, that will likely still require an external focus puller since the depth-of-field will end up pretty small.

Even once Sony and Canon support rolls out, we're not sure that the focus tool will be that useful on a full frame sensor, that is, unless you're working in day exterior on a wide lens. When the depth-of-field gets really small, like "just one eye sharp, not the other" small, it's going to be hard to pull that yourself while also worrying about framing.

The Ronin S is clearly meant to be a category destroyer. DJI has the resources to bring the unit out at a price that is incredibly competitive while still offering real features and integrations.  The weight is heavier, but for what you are going to do with it, it'll be OK. 

If you want a scout tool and are going to rent the Ronin 2 for your Sony Venice shoots, look further down the line at the Osmo Mobile 2. And if you are going to get serious about this unit, spend some time at the gym working on upper body strength!

Available now for $699

Tech Specs:

  • 4.1 lb / 1.86 kg
  • Eight-Pound Payload Capacity
  • Trigger and Mode Buttons for Control
  • Offset Roll Motor for Screen Visibility
  • One-Handed Operation
  • Battery Grip Lasts up to 12 Hours
  • Camera Control via Included Cables
  • Includes Focus Wheel
  • Additional Functions via Android/iOS App

Your Comment

16 Comments

I have had one for a couple of weeks and got four nice takes with it for a short film we just did. Best accessory I know about is a parade flag holder. Usable in action only in a trail-behind-the-subject shot but worth having for between takes, moving over to the location, etc. https://www.amazon.com/Double-Carrying-Parade-Flagpole-Holder/dp/B007P4Q...

July 9, 2018 at 4:22PM

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Great writeup. One thing though...you mentioned that you can use DJI Focus motors for manual lenses. I was told directly by DJI support that the current DJI Focus motors will NOT work with the Ronin S, and that they are in the process of making a new focus motor for the S.

July 9, 2018 at 5:31PM

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I've heard that it should work with the new Blackmagic 4k Pocket Cinema camera but does anyone know if it will fit an older Blackmagic Cinema Camera?
The weight limit sounds compatible if the camera is bare bones with just a lens and body but what about the distance between the side motor and the camera mount?

July 9, 2018 at 6:48PM

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Anton Doiron
Creator/Filmmaker
647

It's not about the fact that you can mount a Fs7 or arri on it..
Can you hold it should be your question.
I have tried Crane 2 with heavy setup and I can't hold the full thing enough to walk smoothly.
At one point, your body is the limit.

July 9, 2018 at 10:25PM, Edited July 9, 10:26PM

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visionrouge.com
DoP freelance cameraman 4K HK & Shanghai.
29

Exactly! 4lbs plus a camera and lens and whatever else ... this will end up being 10+ lbs ... sorry, this is just a waste of money if you plan on trying to hold it

July 10, 2018 at 10:04AM, Edited July 10, 10:04AM

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Hmm...

That’s like saying that I shouldn’t buy a car because the speed limit is 75 on the highway but my speedometer goes to 150. Just because it “can” doesn’t mean you do it...

This is an amazing tool that paid for itself on its first shoot. Oh, and if you need a shot with a C200 (or similar) it’s so much quicker than the Ronin or Ronin M. And for me, time is money.

July 11, 2018 at 5:09PM, Edited July 11, 5:09PM

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July 10, 2018 at 4:06AM, Edited July 10, 4:06AM

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Gerard M.
1139

Does the focus knob work with the 4K pocket?

July 10, 2018 at 9:22AM

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Sam Hakes
Videographer
91

So how much does DJI pay for these reviews......

July 9, 2018 at 11:02PM

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I'm guessing enough that the reviewer has completely forgot that this "category destroyer" still doesn't provide support for Sony cameras and still suffers from the one-hand operation design flaw. "The Stabilizer to End All Stabilizers"? Seems to be a strong assessment. I'm still not sure why I'd choose this over a Movi Pro...

July 13, 2018 at 5:45PM, Edited July 13, 5:46PM

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matthew david wilder
Director/Cameraman/Editor/Colorist
151

Anyone know if this can hold an EVA-1? It fits the weight class, but it's an awkward shaped body for weight distribution compared to a DSLR.

July 10, 2018 at 7:41PM

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JJ
1

It holds the same payload at the Pivot by Ikan (which claims to be able to hold cinema cameras like the C200) and has a similar angled rear arm. So in theory it should be able to right? Anyone know for sure?

July 10, 2018 at 7:50PM, Edited July 10, 7:58PM

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JJ
1

Sadly, That camera weighs almost literally nothing. Almost all of your weight will be just in the lens. I don’t think that you would have enough clearance to actually balance anything without a significant amount of counterweights

July 13, 2018 at 2:06PM, Edited July 13, 2:07PM

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Casey McBeath
DP/Gimbal Operator
17

I had a full size Ronin and sold it - I now have a Crane 2 (which I LOVE) but I do miss the Ronin's ability to handle larger cameras.
Pros of the Ronin:
- works with the GH5 for focus!
Pros of the Crane 2:
- light enough to hold it for long periods of time

Both come with the tripod base and all day battery.
Crane 2 comes with a nice carrying case that fits everything - I throw it in my checked luggage on travel shoots.

July 13, 2018 at 12:32PM, Edited July 13, 12:32PM

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Travis Johansen - Minneapolis
Director of Photography & Producer
2

The DOF difference between the GH5 and a Full Frame camera is 2 F-stops, so if you can shoot with a lens that is 2 F-stops faster than you would with a Full Frame camera the DOF is the SAME.

This is relatively easy to do with "normal" and telephoto lenses ( especially with GH5 speedbooster adapters ), but for some wide angle lenses you can only open up to f/1.4 on the GH5 which matches the DOF of f/2.8 on a Full Frame camera.

Generally I don't find the DOF difference to be that big of a deal for me, where being able to shoot 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 with the GH5 has been a big improvement over shooting 8-bit footage. ( color correcting for sh*tty fluorescent lights is not so bad now )

July 13, 2018 at 12:57PM, Edited July 13, 12:59PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32755

The simple fact that the BeSteady Mini exists Negates the possibility for the S being a category destroyer. But it’s probably a good second-place finisher

July 13, 2018 at 2:09PM, Edited July 13, 2:09PM

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Casey McBeath
DP/Gimbal Operator
17