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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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).
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.
- 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